BENTONVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — Walmart has announced that it will provide employees with several new family-building benefits, including fertility and surrogacy coverage.
The retail giant named Kindbody, a family-building benefits provider for employers, as the fertility provider for its new Center of Excellence (COE) for family-building benefits. Employees will have access to Kindbody’s network of facilities across the U.S., including a new state-of-the-art clinic and in vitro fertilization (IVF) lab in Rogers, Arkansas, that will provide comprehensive virtual, at-home, and in-clinic care.
The facility is expected to open later this year, according to the release from the company.
“Providing access to high-quality health care is very important to us, and we’ve heard from our associates that improved access to fertility, surrogacy and adoption support is a priority for them and their families,” said Kim Lupo, senior vice president, Walmart Global Total Rewards. “Through Kindbody, Walmart associates in every corner of the country will have access to a variety of services to aid in their family-planning journey.”
Walmart employees and their dependents who are enrolled in a self-insured Walmart medical plan will be able to receive fertility care from Kindbody’s team, including board-certified reproductive endocrinologists and senior embryologists, at one of Kindbody’s Signature Clinics nationwide.
Services include fertility assessments and education, fertility preservation, genetic testing, in vitro fertilization (IVF) and intrauterine insemination (IUI).
Kindbody will also be available to help eligible associates access Walmart’s surrogacy and adoption benefits. These benefits include financial support of up to $20,000, lifetime max, for eligible surrogacy and adoption expenses.
Walmart benefits will continue to include enhanced maternity and parental leave for qualified full-time hourly and salaried associates that allows birth moms to receive up to 16 weeks of paid time off, according to the press release.
“We’re incredibly honored to become a Walmart Center of Excellence and provide high-quality care to Walmart associates, furthering our mission to make fertility and family-building care affordable and accessible for all,” said Gina Bartasi, founder and chairwoman of Kindbody. “Our partnership with Walmart signals that fertility benefits have joined medical, dental, and vision as standard workplace benefits for leading employers.”
JAMESTOWN, R.I. (WLNE) — Sharks in New England waters are not new. You will find them all over the world, including in Narragansett Bay. Our local sharks are generally not threatening with behavior closer to that of housecats than the notorious great whites.
Dr. Jason Ramsay, shark expert and associate professor of biology at Westfield State University, explained most of them are small and when they see you, they simply swim away. These local sharks include smooth hound sharks and their prey are not mammals. They don’t have sharp teeth; they have molar-like teeth for crushing crabs. Many of our local sharks are not a threat to people.
It’s the summertime that we mainly focus on the dangerous sharks in Southern New England waters. Every March through October the white sharks follow the migration of the seal population offshore. Their path following their food of choice keeps them away from the coast as they head to Massachusetts waters just off Cape Cod.
They don’t usually come into shore. They stay offshore tracking and going from prey population to prey population.
Even if you do see a fin, it doesn’t mean it’s a shark. Dolphins are often mistaken for sharks, as is the mola mola or ocean sunfish.
Ocean sunfish which have a fin on top and bottom of their body and although it looks like a shark, every fin doesn’t necessarily mean it is a shark. And not every shark has sharp teeth or even preys on mammals.
A 50 year old man from Box Elder died and three others were injured in a two-vehicle crash last week (Sept. 21, 2022) within the city of Box Elder.
Preliminary crash information from the South Dakota Highway Patrol indicates Derek Vice was driving a 2010 Chevrolet Cobalt westbound on Country Road when it crossed the center line and collided head-on with an eastbound 2016 Toyota Tacoma. Vice was pronounced dead at the scene. The 31-year-old male driver of the Toyota, Kyle Brown of Rapid City, sustained serious non-life threatening injuries while two juvenile passengers, a 5 year old male and a 7 year old female, received minor injuries. Those three were transported to a Rapid City hospital.
All four people involved were wearing seatbelts.
South Dakota’s Highway Patrol is investigating the crash.
The Highway Patrol is an agency of the South Dakota Department of Public Safety.
SEPTEMBER 22, 2022:
One person died and three others were injured in a two-vehicle crash yesterday (Sept. 21, 2022) within the city of Box Elder.
Names of the four people involved have not yet been released.
Preliminary crash information from the South Dakota Highway Patrol indicates that a 2010 Chevrolet Cobalt was westbound on Country Road when it crossed the center line and collided head-on with an eastbound 2016 Toyota Tacoma. The 50-year-old male driver of the Cobalt was pronounced dead at the scene. The 31-year-old male driver of the Toyota sustained serious non-life threatening injuries while two juvenile passengers, a 5 year old male and a 7 year old female, received minor injuries. Those three were transported to a Rapid City hospital.
All four people involved were wearing seatbelts.
South Dakota’s Highway Patrol is investigating the crash.
The Highway Patrol is an agency of the South Dakota Department of Public Safety.
WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden on Tuesday put the spotlight on Medicare and Social Security, hot button issues that could pack a political punch six weeks before the midterm elections.
His remarks at the White House were delivered days after the popular programs got little attention in House Republicans’ rollout of the agenda they promise to pursue if voters give them control in November.
Democrats’ proposed solutions have generally focused on increasing taxes on higher income earners while also promising to expand benefits.
Republicans accuse Democrats of further straining Medicare through recent efforts to lower prescription drug costs. Many Republicans have backed raising the eligibility age for Medicare and the retirement age for Social Security as part of a plan to keep the programs solvent without hiking taxes.
Because the government is paying out more in monthly Social Security benefits than it’s collecting in taxes, it’s projected to run out of reserves to fully fund benefits in 2035. At that point, it would have enough money to cover 80% of benefits.
The Medicare trust fund, which covers inpatient hospital services, will only be able to pay 90% of scheduled benefits after 2028.
Biden accused Republicans of wanting to cut the programs without detailing his own past promise to fix the funding shortfalls. Instead, he focused on recent steps to reduce prescription drug costs for Medicare patients.
Social Security and Medicare are consistently top issues for senior citizens who vote at higher rates than younger Americans.
What Republicans have said about Social Security and Medicare
The “Commitment to America” House Republicans announced last week promises to “save and strengthen Social Security and Medicare” without specifying how.
Democrats immediately pointed to a budget plan proposed by House conservatives earlier this year. The plan rejects as “fundamentally immoral” raising payroll taxes to cover Social Security’s shortfall. Instead, conservatives propose slowly increasing the eligibility age to reflect that life expectancy has increased since the program began. Benefits would also go up for lower-income workers and down for higher earners.
For Medicare, the eligibility age would rise, and the program would be turned into income-based subsidies for specific health plans.
Democrats have also attacked a proposed by Florida Sen. Rick Scott, head of the campaign arm of Senate Republicans, to require all federal legislation be renewed every five years. Democrats accuse Republicans of wanting to “sunset” Social Security and Medicare. Scott has said he wants to “fix and “preserve” those programs, without providing details.
What Democrats have proposed
A bill sponsored by nearly all House Democrats would increase Social Security benefits in various ways and apply the payroll tax for the first time on wages above $400,000. But most of the new benefits would be temporary, and the increased taxes would buy only about four extra years of solvency for the trust fund, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal think tank in Washington, D.C.
On Medicare, an effort by Senate Democrats this summer to boost taxes on some high earners to shore up that program was not successful.
“I can go to bed at night knowing that my out-of-pocket costs for all that I have is going to be affordable and predictable,” Bob Parant, a Medicare beneficiary from New York who is dependent on insulin, said when he introduced Biden at Tuesday’s event.
How Republicans have pushed back
Republicans have charged that Democrats’ efforts to control prescription drug prices – what they call “Democrats’ drug takeover scheme” – will reduce pharmaceutical companies’ spending on research and development, resulting in fewer new drugs.
Texas Rep. Kevin Brady, the top Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, has said repealing the provisions is likely a top priority for Republicans if voters hand them control in the November elections, Axios has reported.
Republicans have also attacked Democrats for not using the nearly $300 billion the government is projected to save by negotiating drug prices to shore up Medicare’s finances.
What they are saying
“I’ll protect those programs. I’ll make them stronger. And I’ll lower your costs, to be able to keep them,” Biden said Tuesday.
“We will not have as part of our agenda a bill that raises taxes on half the American people and sunsets Social Security and Medicare within five years,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said in March.
“Unfortunately, the president used his speech to attack his political opponents on the issue as opposed to putting forward his own specific plan to secure Social Security, something he has failed to do over the course of his administration,” said Maya MacGuineas, president of the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.
Two mothers stole more than £5,000 worth of sunglasses from a John Lewis store but were spared jail after a judge said she was taking the welfare of their children into account.
Lindsey Jordan, 40, and Paula Richardson, 35, returned to the department store on three days to nab the glasses, which have not been recovered.
The pair, who “planned and acted together” were both given six-month suspended sentences at Minshull Street Crown Court, Manchester Evening News reports.
Judge Baxter said: “This was clearly a joint enterprise in which you both planned together and acted together. You are both mature adults and make your own decisions and knew exactly what you were doing.
“You returned to the shop on three occasions and no doubt thought you were getting away with it. I know I have given you a chance and taken those children into account on this occasion. It won’t happen twice.”
Mark Pritchard, prosecuting, said Jordan acted as a lookout and distracted staff while Richardson took the sunglasses from the John Lewis store at the Trafford Centre in Greater Manchester on each visit between April and May this year.
The pair first offended on April 19, when they stole eight pairs of sunglasses ranging between £200 and £481, and valued at a total of £3,164.
They returned to the same store just three days later on April 22, carrying out what Mr Pritchard called “exactly the same operation” where they stole a further six pairs of sunglasses valued between £298 and £508, with a total value of £2,168. They then attempted to visit the store on a third occasion, where they were grabbed by store security.
The court heard how Jordan had 26 previous convictions from between 2001 and 2011, including shoplifting offences. Richardson has two previous convictions, including one for shoplifting in 2017.
Mr Carville, defending, said both defendants are mothers caring for children, and that Jordan has a child with special needs who requires specialist support.
The court heard how Richardson, from Everton, Liverpool, is a single parent of four children. He said both of the defendants had managed to “stay out of trouble” for several years and Jordan had written a letter to the judge in relation to her child’s circumstances.
Jordan, of Vauxhall, Liverpool, and Richardson will complete 30 rehabilitation activity requirement days. They both pleaded guilty to theft.
In the 1950s and ‘60s, the “Native church” in Juneau was packed for holiday services. Seven days a week it housed civic and church-related gatherings.
The Memorial Presbyterian Church served a predominantly Lingít congregation, true to its 1887 roots in a town that practiced segregation in restaurants and movie theaters into the mid-1940s.
Then, to “end segregation,” the Alaska Presbytery and the Presbyterian Board of National Missions closed the thriving Native church in 1962.
Maxine Reichert, Lingít and Athabascan, recently told the Northern Light United Church congregation the closure meant the loss of the Juneau Indian Village’s support system, “the heart of the community,” just as it was undergoing even greater trauma. The Juneau Indian Village, and just across the bridge, the Douglas Indian Village were destroyed for 1960s-era urban renewal and development.
Now the Presbyterian Church USA, Northwest Coast Presbytery, and Ḵunéix̱ Hídi Northern Light United Church have committed to pay nearly a million dollars in reparations for the harm and pain the closure caused.
The amount is significant but what it will be used for is even more so. Most of it is to go to programs to promote healing, cultural preservation, and education.
We’ll get into that some more but first, let’s go back to 1940, when pastor Walter Soboleff, Lingít, held his first service in Memorial Presbyterian Church.
Only he, his wife, and one friend attended.
But he was brilliant at growing a congregation. Soboleff advertised in the newspaper and broadcast his sermons on the radio. He reached out with hundreds of letters of support and encouragement to acquaintances, parishioners, and prison inmates.
The church offered Bible study, choir practice, prayer groups, and teenage fireside chats. It was open for day care, Girl Scout meetings, and health checkups. It housed visiting basketball teams from surrounding predominantly Lingít, Haida, and Tsimpshian villages.
The church “was an extension of our family, our extended family,” Judy Franklet, Lingít, said in a 2019 interview.
Franklet remembered, “playing with friends down in the, we called it the basement, but that’s where they held the potlucks and other activities. And then we had coffee probably right after the worship service. And I remember Dr. Soboleff very clearly giving part of the service in English and in Lingít. That was very special to us… you love to hear your own language.”
Franklet also recalled the day when Soboleff told the congregation the church was closing.
“I just remember I was in a state of shock and when I look back, I’m sure he was hurting. His explanations were just very short,” Franklet said. “It was just like you were hit in the stomach. It was such a surprise.”
Last year, as the Native Ministries Committee of the church began discussing reparations, “I remember one moment in particular,” said Lillian Petershoare, Lingít. “We were talking about the closure of the Memorial church and I said to everyone, ‘You know, what really disturbs me here is that in our research, we have seen that the Presbytery and the national church leaders came to Memorial many times over the years. The women of the church sponsored tea for the regional and the national leader. They were not strangers. They knew this church. They knew the people in this church.’”
She said it was inhumane of church leaders to abandon Soboleff to announce the closure alone.
“Why didn’t they come and have a beautiful ceremony to celebrate the wonderful work of the Memorial church and the Presbyterian church in the Juneau Indian Village? Its predecessor? Why wasn’t there all that circumstance? Why wasn’t there all that acknowledgement? Why wasn’t there that shared grieving?” Petershoare asked.
“If this had been a traditional Lingít setting, there would’ve been all of that protocol. And so there should have been.”
Petershoare said the national officials should have expressed the church’s deep roots in the community and its role in the life of the community. “We felt that profoundly.”
A former minister of Northern Light United Church, Phil Campbell, told filmmaker Laurence A. Goldin in a 2022 interview that as he met Native people, he learned time had not healed the wound of the church’s closure “even though it had been almost 50 years.”
“I did have one occasion to ask Dr. Soboleff about it. I was visiting with him a couple of months before his death as it turned out … as I began asking about this, I saw the pained look on his face. He was saddened and troubled by the question, and said in effect, ‘I don’t know why they closed it,’” Campbell said.
At the same time the Presbytery said it couldn’t afford to continue to subsidize the Native church, it loaned $200,000 to a White congregation to build a new church just a few blocks away from Memorial.
The Presbytery and Board of Missions advised the Native church members to join the new Northern Light Presbyterian Church. Less than half did. Most joined other denominations or drifted away from church altogether.
In the 1990s, a group of Indigenous members of Northern Light church formed a Native Ministries Committee. With Campbell’s help, in 2021 they wrote an “Overture,” (similar to a resolution) entitled “On Directing the Office of the General Assembly to Issue Apologies and Reparations for the Racist Closure of the Memorial Presbyterian Church, Juneau, Alaska.”
The Overture stated: “The forced closure of this thriving, multiethnic, intercultural church was an egregious act of spiritual abuse committed in alignment with the prevailing White racist treatment of Alaska Natives, statewide, and of Native Americans, nationwide.” It was distributed nationally to Presbyterian churches and discussed in regional and national gatherings of church leaders.
The Presbyterian Church USA adopted the Overture unanimously without amendment at its July General Assembly. In adopting it, the church acknowledges its justification for the closure ”merely substituted assimilationist racism for the previous practice of segregationist racism.”
The Overture includes a list of actions for reparations.
The church, with regional and national leaders present, will acknowledge, confess, and apologize to the late Walter Soboleff and his surviving family members “for the act of spiritual abuse committed by the Presbyterian Church’s decision of closure, which was sadly aligned with nationwide racism toward Alaska Natives, Native Americans, and other people of color.”
By adopting the Overture, the church committed to become engaged and accountable for “interactions with churches of primarily people of color congregations so that difficult decisions about support and funding are made in a spirit that recognizes the importance and contributions of these congregations to the Presbyterian Church (USA), which outweigh superficial considerations of their membership numbers or perceived lack of financial resources.”
The Overture also encourages Presbyterians nationwide to donate funds and to renew commitments to dismantle systemic racism and amplify the voices of people of color.
It urges all to continue to walk away from the doctrine of discovery, the idea that when a European nation “discovers” land uninhabited by Christians, it acquires rights to that land.
As one of the first steps in reparations, the church was renamed Ḵunéix̱ Hídi (people’s house of healing) Northern Light United Church.
As the successor and beneficiary of the Memorial Church’s closure, Ḵunéix̱ Hídi committed $350,000 for reparations, which will include the creation of art and remodeling of the Ḵunéix̱ Hídi church to be more welcoming to people of color and to reflect southeast Native cultures.
Money will go to scholarships and programs for revitalization of southeast Alaska Indigenous languages. Ḵunéix̱ Hídi will also gather oral histories and develop curriculum to teach the history of the Memorial Church.
Ḵunéix̱ Hídi will also pay for a “highly visible recognition” of the Memorial Church at its former location.
Reichert said additional money will go to “Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimpshian languages, (and) scholarships for students who want to go into the seminary to become ministers.” For these and other efforts, the church has committed nearly a million dollars.
The reparations were accepted by the local congregation, then at the regional and national levels. The commitments call for some soul searching, with the understanding that healing from racism is an ongoing process.
Ministries committee member Myra Munson said the history of racism, of slavery, of what happened to Indigenous people, and actions against LGBTQ people, “all of these things create a burden that maintains an “us and other” approach to the world and to each other in the community and at large nationally, and internationally. Every step we take that overcomes that or reduces it helps us all live in a healthier way and healthier place.”
Reichert said she was relieved when the General Assembly voted to accept the Overture. “It felt like Walter Soboleff and what he had been doing with Memorial Presbyterian church, he had been vindicated and, and I felt just really good about that.”
The Presbyterian church has a history of racism, perhaps most strongly exemplified in the boarding schools it ran to assimilate Indigenous children. The boarding school experience traumatized generations of Native children and led to the near loss of Indigenous cultures and languages.
However, Reichert said Indigenous people, “they have churches still existing, like in the Dakotas where they have a number of churches that are run by Native ministers. And a lot of them have not graduated from seminary and they have very little funding for those churches, but the Native people are still going to them and they still want that religion. But they want it in their own culture.” The reparations will help make that happen for Southeast Alaska Indigenous peoples.
AUSTIN (KXAN) — Several residents of a neighborhood in south Austin, Texas, claim to have seen the same thieves swiping packages from their porches again and again.
“We need to stop this now, especially before the holidays get started,” said Gabriela, one of the victims. “They’re hitting in the middle of the day, the middle of the night. Same car. Same people.”
Gabriela was already frustrated when it happened to her. But when she saw her neighbors posting surveillance videos of what looked like the same suspects and vehicle — a black Chevy Suburban with no plates — she stepped in, hoping to thwart the operation.
Specifically, she and her husband put a box of dirty diapers on the front porch.
“The same [people] came back and took [the] package,” she said. “And when they discovered it was a bunch of dirty diapers they came back and smeared those diapers on our front door.”
It didn’t stop there.
“Thirty minutes later, they came back with a giant bag of cow manure. They spread that all over our front porch and on our cars in the driveway,” Gabriela said. “That was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I called police, filed a report, and now there’s a detective on the case.”
The Austin Police Department confirmed an active case, and said the manure-smearing incident could qualify as criminal mischief.
About a mile away from Gabriela, Britany Walker confronted package thieves outside her home in a different way.
“I tried to pull on their emotions or something,” Walker said. “I just ran out and said, ‘I have a baby,’ and they looked at me and just laughed. It was a really upsetting moment.”
APD said porch-pirate victims are “well within their rights” to confront suspects, but it’s “safest to call 911 to report the incident if it’s in progress.”
The article suggests that big-name delivery companies should contribute to preventative measures.
“The law ought to facilitate greater private sector participation in combatting porch piracy by creating a civil cause of action that would allow delivery companies to play a larger role in the solution,” the author of the article argued.
‘Operation Front Porch’
Over in nearby Round Rock, Texas, the police department launches “Operation Front Porch” every holiday season.
During these months, residents can opt to get their packages delivered to the police department, so boxes aren’t sitting outside unattended.
“It was very successful,” said Commander Tom Sloan. “What safer place to have your package delivered to than the police department?”
Round Rock Police also have a community camera program that Sloan said helps investigators catch suspects more quickly. It’s a voluntary database that provides the department with a list of homes that have surveillance cameras, so investigators can reach out to homeowners and ask for video if a crime happened in the area.
Qatar has called up hundreds of civilians, including diplomats summoned back from overseas, for mandatory military service operating security checkpoints at World Cup stadiums, according to a source and documents seen by Reuters.
The deployment of conscripts, some of whom would normally defer national service because their work is considered vital, highlights the logistical challenge faced by the tiny Gulf Arab state hosting one of the world’s biggest sports tournaments.
The conscripts are training to manage stadium security queues, frisk fans and detect contraband like alcohol, drugs or weapons concealed in ponytails, jacket linings or even false bellies, according to training materials seen by Reuters.
Qatar has a population of 2.8 million – of which barely 380,000 are Qatari nationals – and expects an unprecedented influx of 1.2 million visitors for the tournament. It already has an agreement with Turkey which is supplying 3,000 riot police.
In early September the civilians were ordered to report for pre-dawn duty at the national service camp north of the Qatari capital Doha, according to order papers seen by Reuters, less than three months before the 29-day tournament kicks off.
The civilians were told they had been called up to assist with the World Cup and that it was their “patriotic duty” to do so, the source said. “Most people are there because they have to be – they don’t want to get in trouble,” the source said.
Some volunteers are also training alongside the conscripted force, according to the source, who has direct knowledge of the plan and the training.
Asked for comment, a Qatari government official said in a statement that Qatar’s national service program would continue as normal during the World Cup.
“Recruits will provide additional support during the tournament as part of the regular program, just as they do every year at major public events, such as the National Day celebrations,” the statement added.
Since 2014, Qatari men aged between 18 and 35 have trained with the military for at least four months as part of mandatory national service introduced by the emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani. Dodging the duty can incur a year in prison and a fine of 50,000 Qatari rials ($13,700).
Security with a ‘smile’
The aim is less about boosting the armed forces and more to build discipline and “enhance social cohesion and national unity,” according to Eleonora Ardemagni, an associate research fellow on the Gulf and Yemen at the Italian Institute for International Political Studies.
In past years, Qatari conscripts have participated in national day celebrations and arrangements for national sports day. Diplomats abroad have been able to defer their service.
The current group of civilians are on four months paid leave from their jobs at key Qatari institutions like state-owned QatarEnergy and the foreign ministry, the source said.
Qatar has brought diplomats home from several overseas missions, including in the United States, China and Russia, the source said. The diplomats are expected to return to their posts after the World Cup.
Conscripts report to the national service camp five days a week, where they attend training sessions conducted by officials from the security division of Qatar’s World Cup organizers, the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, the source said.
They are taught to approach fans with “positive body language, focus and a smile,” the source said, to abide by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and avoid discriminating against fans on any basis, the source said.
Training also includes hour-long marching drills on the parade ground.
On the morning of Sept. 22, about 30 national service participants stood to attention in one of the temporary security huts outside Khalifa International Stadium, one of the eight grounds where matches will be played.
Two officials briefed the men, who were dressed in trainers and track suits and mostly sported fresh buzz cuts. Outside, hundreds of national service participants toured the stadium perimeter where workers were setting up ticketing queues.
Don’t kid yourself: Thinking is hard. You can see this in grand master chess players, whose heart rates triple to cantering under their shirts. What separates champion Magnus Carlsen is his lethal stillness, a supremely thoughtful chill under pressure, which makes his recent behavior more startling. Basically, what Carlsen has done to chess is the equivalent of upending the board and scattering the pieces. Carlsen never gets upset — so he must be pretty upset.
What’s upset him is the possibility that Hans Niemann, a 19-year-old American, may have infiltrated the undefended world of table chess to beat him with a machine. Unless he’s just upset that Niemann beat him. Carlsen’s explicit accusation Monday that Niemann cheated in a match by relying on artificial intelligence to help select his next moves — an allegation Niemann denies — has plunged chess into smirky speculations of devices hidden in cavities. The ability to receive such computer-generated advice through hidden signals is also an “existential threat,” as Carlsen says, to an old-world culture in which competitors have played on trust without checking what’s up each other’s shirt sleeves or pants legs.
“The chess world has been pretty blasé and pretty relaxed in terms of taking the possibility of cheating seriously,” says American grandmaster and Twitch star Hikaru Nakamura, who for years played in tournaments where competitors simply hung up their jackets before sitting at a table, or were barely wanded. “ … Magnus has said something along the lines of, he’s not doing this for himself. It’s part of a bigger question, a bigger situation.”
Chess makes for strange bedfellow-fanatics. Amari Cooper of the Cleveland Browns is a chess addict and so was the filmmaker-auteur Stanley Kubrick. Asked once why he found the game so entrancing, Kubrick answered, “It trains you to think before grabbing.” Cooper loves chess for the same reason. All athletic actions are essentially micro-decisions, and even the fleetest and most impulsive seeming NFL receiver must make feints, counter-feints, and judgments.
Anyone who questions whether strategic thought requires an athletic-like stamina should consider the physical toll on chess players, who can drop 10 pounds or more in a tournament with their metabolic burn rates. In 1984, according to an ESPN story, Anatoly Karpov lost 22 pounds during his World Championship siege with Garry Kasparov. A pair of American physiology researchers, Leroy DuBeck and Charlotte Leedy, were the first to wire tournament chess players with a variety of sensors to verify the relationship between thought and action. The sensors showed that breath rates soared. Adrenalin surged. Pulses galloped; muscles contracted. All while the players sat virtually unmoving.
As Bobby Fischer once remarked. “Your chess deteriorates as your body does. You can’t separate body from mind.”
In recent years the proliferation of livestreams, fit trackers and other tools have created almost a game within a game at modern chess tournaments. Rubbernecking audiences watch for clues of mental cracking and physical distress in the quirky, contemplative figures bowed over the boards. At the 2018 Isle of Man International tournament, fitness metrics projected on a large screen revealed that grandmaster Mikhail Antipov torched 560 calories sitting stock still for two hours. By way of comparison, the average person will burn just 100 calories running a mile on a treadmill.
The champion at this game within a game has long been Carlsen, who is such a hard-training player that he famously visited the Norwegian Olympic center in 2017 to develop a physical regimen that would help him in the final stretches of five-hour matches. He does high intensity interval stints for 30-60 minutes on treadmills, hot yoga, and soccer, tennis, and basketball workouts.
All of which brings us to Carlsen’s quarrel with Niemann, and why he is apparently so suspicious of him. Earlier this month Niemann, a patently inferior player, beat Carlsen without breaking much of a sweat. Somehow, Niemann anticipated and swiftly blocked a tremendously obscure opening strategy by Carlsen. “I had the impression that he wasn’t tense or even fully concentrating on the game in critical positions,” Carlsen said in a statement released Monday.
This provoked Carlsen to a rare histrionic: In a rematch with Niemann last week, he resigned after just one move and stalked away from the board — a gasp-inducing gesture of protest that earned a reprimand from the international chess governing body. But it also achieved Carlsen’s main goal, which was to subject Niemann’s playing patterns to close examination. The scrutiny forced Niemann to acknowledge he used computer assistance in online matches at chess.com when he was 12 and 16, for which he was banned. Niemann insists his recent rise in board chess has nevertheless been legitimate. Asked at the Baer Cup to explain some of his match play that seemed less than explicable, he replied, “I’m a very intuitive player.” That wasn’t good enough for Carlsen.
“I believe that Niemann has cheated more — and more recently — than he has publicly admitted,” Carlsen charged in his statement on Twitter.
Carlsen appears to have seized the banner on behalf of a group of grandmasters who believe that machine intelligence is outstripping those who play purely with their heads — and that it’s not being captured by current analytics or tournament organizers. Grandmaster Srinath Narayanan of India tweeted, “We all knew cheating was a serious problem. We all knew it was rampant. We all kept quiet, not knowing exactly how to go about it. Magnus spoke about it and in a way that the world had no option but to take notice.”
The rare instances where someone has been caught indicate the possibilities: In 2015 chess officials discovered Arcangelo Ricciardi receiving signals in Morse code in his armpit.
Why should you or me much care whether a 19-year-old chess prodigy used artificial intelligence or a signal to solve a board challenge? Because the Carlsen-Niemann confrontation raises the important matter of “techno-solutionism.” Too much machine intelligence in problem-solving, as it happens, can be more confusing — and weakening — than helpful. The long-term cost of techno-solutionism can be a fatal slackness, both mental and physical. You don’t want to lose your conditioning for decisive human judgment.
Performing while sitting for five and six hours at a stretch is the most common office experience. We’re all familiar with the peculiar exhaustion that can come from that posture. It’s a tiredness that feels different from any other kind. That’s not your imagination. Clinical researchers have found that “decision fatigue” is a distinct form of expenditure, separable from the other physical or cognitive loads. It affects our behavior, and unaddressed it can result in reduced capacity for problem-solving, as the social psychologist Roy Baumeister and a team of fellow researchers demonstrated in a series of studies. In one, a group of collegians were asked to make product choices, on everything from whether they preferred pens or pencils. After making these small and not particularly important decisions, the choosers showed less physical-mental endurance than a peer group and less inclination to study for a test.
“Recommendation algorithms” can solve some problems, but they don’t always make us smarter or stronger. Not every probability deserves credence. Asked whether tech has been good or bad for chess, Nakamura said, “Wow that’s a good question. It depends on who you ask. For me, I’d definitely say that I really enjoyed learning the game without having this sort of second opinion, or superior opinion or, like, perfect opinion. I definitely liked not having computer programs which just knew the answer to everything. I think I’m in between. I think it’s been very good for pushing boundaries of our knowledge forward, but at the same time when you have these computers that are so much better than humans, and it’s possible to, in one move, gain an advantage and win a game it also is a problem.”
“At the end of the day when we’re talking about looking at the games, there are probably only a handful of people in the world who can say whether these moves look like they’re human, or not human,” Nakamura said. “There’s a limited pool of people who can have opinions that are legitimate. That also makes it very difficult. There’s really no agreement.”
Carlsen has called for better methods of detection and added, “I hope that the truth on this matter comes out, whatever it may be.” But the chess world may discover that machine intelligence or tech engines don’t solve its new problems any more efficiently than an age-old human practice: the honor code, the development of conscience, which solves problems before they begin. As the Russian chess grandmaster Alexander Grischuck once remarked about the explosion of chess online and the proliferation of tools with which to cheat, ultimately, “Everything rests on decency.”