Alone again, naturally.

For as long as I’ve been able to hold a pencil and take personality tests in glossy magazines, I’ve considered myself an extrovert. I like to be around people. I feel more energetic in a group setting. Like to talk, like new experiences, blah blah blah.

Then I became a freelancer, and spent most of a decade working alone out of my spare bedroom. Something must have changed in that time, because I now find myself…less of the textbook extrovert, in the sense that all I want after a day around people is a few hours alone, or nearly so. Last night I came home, changed clothes, walked the dog, threw together some dinner and sat on the couch for two hours playing a laptop game called 2048 (WARNING WARNING ADDICTIVE ADDICTIVE CURSE YOU ERIC ZORN FOR LINKING TO THIS), thinking sooner or later my cup would refill enough to blog a bit. Didn’t happen. Extroversion had finally exhausted me. It did yesterday, anyway.

Or maybe it was the getting up at 5:30 a.m. to swim. Yesterday was one of those days when I was steaming through the morning, smugly thinking I so totally have this life thing knocked. Swim, bakery for the first loaves of the day, home, make lunch for Kate, dry hair, assemble breakfast for me — oh, you are such a lovely poached egg, yes you are — sit down and get ready to put my customary six or seven drops of Sriracha on the egg, only to watch the whole cap come off and a tablespoon, easy, drown the egg. I sat there for a moment considering my options, and finally decided: OK, today will be chili-sauce egg day, and you know what? It was sort of delicious.

Now it’s Wednesday morning, and my wind has returned. Either that, or it’s the coffee. Working at home today.

This story caught my eye in today’s NYT, mainly because gentrification has been a topic of conversation in Detroit lately. It’s about how New York City rents — Manhattan rents, anyway — have started forcing bookstores out of a place that considers itself the center of the literary universe:

When Sarah McNally, the owner of McNally Jackson bookstore in Lower Manhattan, set out to open a second location, she went to a neighborhood with a sterling literary reputation, the home turf of writers from Edgar Allan Poe to Nora Ephron: the Upper West Side.

She was stopped by the skyscraper-high rents.

“They were unsustainable,” Ms. McNally said. “Small spaces for $40,000 or more each month. It was so disheartening.”

Forty. THOUSAND. Dollars. Every single month, even the ones with 30 days? Holy shit. And there you see the problem with turning the city, any city, into a gated community for the super-wealthy. Last year, a former head of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce self-published a book, a novella of all things, about his idea for how Detroit can save itself: By turning Belle Isle, its river park, over to developers and by making it a commonwealth of the United States. Of course it would be exempt from any and all taxation. And then a miracle would happen! Dubai with snow, Monte Carlo with snow, etc.

The book was atrociously written, and had a weird undercurrent of homoeroticism that one of the local snarkers had fun with; the story was populated almost entirely by men, and a strange attention was paid to details of interior decorating and clothing choices. But even this ham-fisted Cliff Notes version of “Atlas Shrugged” had some sort of subsidy for artists and artisans to live on the island. Even he understood that a world populated solely by the super-rich and the businesses they enjoy — hint: not bookstores — is a pretty grim place.

OK, now it’s after 8, and I have to get moving. Happy hump day, all.

Posted at 8:09 am in Same ol' same ol' |

46 responses to “Alone again, naturally.”

  1. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on March 26, 2014 at 8:21 am

    And my sorrow for the lost charms of bookshops aside, what flippin’ business is making enough to pay a $40,000 monthly rental? Selling knock-off handbags?

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  2. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on March 26, 2014 at 8:23 am

    Oh, and my favorite fictional funky bookshop, but even a hundred years ago they had to be across the bridge in Brooklyn.

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  3. coozledad said on March 26, 2014 at 8:39 am

    A city solely populated by the nouveau riches and libertarians is also going to be devoid of art, music, writing, and dance. It’s already a dystopia where old men believe talking about their watches will make prostitutes slash their fees for them.

    That’s another thing. In a libertarian future there will be no consensual sex except among those few who possess the currency- Platinum Star Wars figurines.
    After a few generations of this, they’ll complete the devolution back to hydrothermal worms.

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  4. alex said on March 26, 2014 at 9:42 am

    Just swished with coconut oil for about as long as I could stand it. Stuff’s rather flavorless, which helps, but I don’t know how anyone could stand to go the 20 minutes recommended by the oil pulling pitchmen.

    So Indiana is ditching “Common Core” by simply rewriting the same academic standards and calling them something else to appease the teabaggers, some of whom aren’t fooled and are making a big stink that our schools have any standards at all. Living in Indiana is like living in a neurotic family being held captive by a crazy uncle.

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  5. Deborah said on March 26, 2014 at 9:45 am

    My favorite bookstore in Manhattan is Rizzoli’s on 57th. But it is a shadow of its former self.

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  6. Pam (the sister) said on March 26, 2014 at 10:05 am

    In Westerville, where I live, the rents for business space in “Uptown” are so high that businesses go in and out on about a 12 month cycle. They close as soon as the lease is up. The City Council holds numerous meetings, brainstorming how to make Uptown successful, and nothing works. People claim it’s the lack of enough parking, the traffic, the need for more flowers on the light poles and more special events, not enough restaurants, etc., but it’s really the sky high rents. The buildings are all really old and there has been virtually no renovation or updating by the landlords who, for the most part, inherited the properties from their parents and are trying to live (without working) on just the rents. One of these days, the whole block will burn down, they’ll collect the insurance and their kids will have to get jobs.

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  7. Bitter Scribe said on March 26, 2014 at 10:35 am

    OK, maybe I’m dumb or something, but I clicked on that so-called addictive game and it’s just a 4×4 grid with two numbers, seemingly at random, that nothing happens to. No click or keystroke seems to do anything, and there are no instructions.

    Meh. It looks like Sudoku anyway. I’ve tried a few times to do a Sudoku and quit every time out of sheer boredom.

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  8. Peter said on March 26, 2014 at 10:35 am

    Pam (the sister) you are absolute right. In my neighborhood in Chicago, the business district looks like it belongs more in an abandoned factory town than in a hotly-totsy suburb. One hardware store, one Chinese restaurant, three real estate brokers (down from five), and a lot of vacant storefronts. However, two blocks away in any direction are a grocery store, ice cream shop, two restaurants, dry cleaners, etc. Why? Because two groups own most of the storefronts in the central area, and charge so much rent that no one can afford to lease the space.

    The best part is that there are four vacant storefronts that face the commuter train station. A friend of mine was looking to lease one space as a coffee shop, but the owner said no stores selling food would be allowed. WTF?

    I never get it. If I owned a commercial building, I would try to fill it up at any price on short or month to month leases. The tenants will pay for the upkeep and taxes, and if someone with big pockets comes along, kick them out. What possible advantage, other than being in a Bruce Springsteen video, is there in having vacant storefronts?

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  9. Bob (not Greene) said on March 26, 2014 at 10:51 am

    Peter, vacant properties get lower property tax assessments. Unless they can make a killing off rent, they’d rather have them empty to keep the taxes low.

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  10. Charlotte said on March 26, 2014 at 10:54 am

    Last couple of times I’ve been back in Lake Forest, historic Market Square is almost empty. Even Helanders, our beloved stationery store where we all bought all our school supplies and trolled for cool makers as kids has moved. Macy’s bought Marshall Fields and ruined it. From what people tell me — same story. Sky-high rents. So the central feature of town is nearly empty — in a fancy-pants town like LF. Meanwhile, Lake Bluff, has completely revitalized it’s downtown — cool restaurants, nice small shops.

    We have a bunch of cheap rental spaces here in Livingston, which is kind of fun. There are still too many art galleries and real estate offices, but you also get some oddball shops opening on the side streets.

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  11. Sherri said on March 26, 2014 at 11:08 am

    Bitter, you have to use the arrow keys to move things around. If you scroll down, there should be a sentence of instructions that say that. A similar (and similarly addictive) game is Threes, available in the Apple app store.

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  12. brian stouder said on March 26, 2014 at 11:32 am

    The young folks around here started in on the flappy-birds.

    I will sometimes play hearts, and sometimes free-cell…and every so often chess.

    But I have the computer set to level 3 difficulty on the chess, where I can sometimes win. Set it to level 10 difficulty, and that thing will remorselessly hunt you down, then dispatch you with alacrity

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  13. Jeff Borden said on March 26, 2014 at 12:13 pm

    Property values have soared in our neighborhood to the point where it would be impossible for us to buy our current home at today’s prices. Rising rents are pushing out some of my favorite people. Our tax rate is soaring because so many McMansions have been erected within a few blocks of our humble abode. I’m grateful to live in a nice area, but damn, I don’t want to be surrounded by nothing but DINKs and I honestly believe things are more vibrant when folks from varying socio-economic scales are around.

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  14. coozledad said on March 26, 2014 at 12:43 pm

    Another appalling instance of the cargo cultism that passes for Republican humor. This is Dinesh D’Souza’s The Clown That Cried moment.

    But then again, it’s always Dinesh’s Clown That Cried moment.

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  15. Deborah said on March 26, 2014 at 12:55 pm

    Part of me wants to watch that Dsouza parody to see how bad it is but I don’t want to give them the satisfaction of a click.

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  16. Deborah said on March 26, 2014 at 1:02 pm

    Bob NG, How does it help a city to allow lower property tax assesments on vacant commercial buildings? I don’t understand that at all. Wouldn’t lowering those taxes do just the opposite of making a city (or community) a safe, vibrant place? How do things like that get passed?

    Off topic, but yesterday I commented saying lintel soup instead of lentil soup. Embarrassing.

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  17. Deborah said on March 26, 2014 at 1:06 pm

    One more thing, in yesterday’s thread I mentioned that Errol Morris was going to have a piece about Rumsfeld in the NYT online. It’s there now

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  18. coozledad said on March 26, 2014 at 1:07 pm

    Deborah: Reading the synopsis was enough for me. I’ve never wanted to see some unself aware person try to be funny. It’s painful to watch, and painful to realize there are people of such staggering emotional ignorance regarded as thought leaders of a political party.

    It’s just another indication that when you’re on the Right, you’ve lost some significant ties to reality.

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  19. coozledad said on March 26, 2014 at 1:39 pm

    I resent the reporters’ suggestions in the Errol Morris piece that Rumsfeld was some slippery, intelligent character of great confidence, who could not be taken apart like a d-battery powered cymbal playing monkey. They just weren’t up to their jobs, and they were cowed and afraid for a want of money.

    “Unshakeable confidence” is the fucking hallmark of stupidity, for fuck’s sake. These reporters are attempting to absolve themselves of the collective criminal behavior of the Bush administration and their consent to be steamrolled.

    One of the problems with the Pentagon press corps comes shining through those interviews: You don’t get that job following up tough questions once you make the mistake of asking them. In the runup to the Iraq War, every goddamned television news outlet may as well have been Fox. They were all sucking that sweet Bush dick. Fuck them. I hope the remainder of their sadass time on earth will be spent shuddering in horror at the nightmare they visited on innocents in the name of “That’s not my job”.

    Fucking slacker cowards.

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  20. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on March 26, 2014 at 2:08 pm

    I just read the Morris interviews with the reporters myself, and I don’t see what you’re talking about. They did aggressively follow-up. If they are FSCs, is that because they didn’t hurl themselves at Rumsfeld with maces and broadswords and hack at him until he said “It’s just a flesh wound?”

    Which is all the Black Knight would ultimately say, other than “Come back and I’ll bite you!”

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  21. Deborah said on March 26, 2014 at 2:15 pm

    Morris is getting the same criticism himself for his movie, some say he lets Rumsfeld get away with murder, others say he gives Rumsfeld enough rope to hang himself, but it’s subtle. I reserve judgement until I see the whole movie, I though the trailer made Rumsfeld look like a scam artist though.

    The Morris NYT piece is only part 1 of a 4 part series, can’t wait to read the rest.

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  22. Deborah said on March 26, 2014 at 2:17 pm


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  23. coozledad said on March 26, 2014 at 2:35 pm

    Read it again for content.
    His confrontational style encouraged me to have my facts down cold before I went in there. He’d destroy you if there was a weakness in your question, and you’d end up giving him the exit ramp he was looking for to get out of a difficult question while scoring points with his sizable fan base on TV.

    I don’t think anyone could ever get him to admit regret or question his past actions. It’s not in his DNA, and I don’t think he feels regret for anything. This is a supremely self-assured person who believes he makes the best decisions possible given the information and the situation at hand, and then lets the chips fall where they may.

    Critics attacked us because they thought they could do our job better — that if they had the opportunity to interrogate Rumsfeld, by golly they’d break him and get the truth!

    Never gonna happen. He is, I believe, exactly who he presents to the world.

    This is self apologia. Rumsfeld is by no means an intelligent man. He demonstrates as much earlier in the piece by saying Robert MacNamara had nothing to apologize for. He demonstrates it every day he trots his withered old ass out for an interview now. I would go so far as to say intelligence gets you nowhere in a Republican administration, it’s how closely you are willing to hew to your stupidity when it is obvious to everyone you are jerking your own chain. That the reporters gave him the benefit of the doubt on not only “Unknown Knowns(!)” But that “we know weapons are somewhere to the east west, north or south of Baghdad” shows why Luke Russert, His boy, Cokie Roberts, her child,and the rest of that lot aren’t fit to hold that job.

    And by the way, for those keeping score, the question was always “On what basis are you taking this country into a preemptive war, and what is the evidence?” Simple question that could have been repeated and repeated because the burden of proof was on that lying son of a bitch. And the reporters consented to having the burden of proof shifted to them. That is a failure. That is precisely where they failed, and they can’t reconstruct their role in it. It must rankle continuously to have your life’s shoddy work contribute to a massive human tragedy.

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  24. coozledad said on March 26, 2014 at 2:36 pm

    Sorry for the italics pissing, but I can’t read for every dumbass who doesn’t know how.

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  25. Bob (not Greene) said on March 26, 2014 at 2:55 pm

    Deborah @16, it doesn’t help the city. The property owners don’t necessarily care about that; for them it’s a math equation. If the county (and it’s the county that controls this, not individual cities) assesses commercial property at a much lower rate if it’s vacant, then it often just makes more financial sense to a landlord than charging what would be an affordable rent but paying full-boat property taxes (commercial property tax rates are much higher than residential property). Also, there’s risk that the landlord gets stiffed by tenants (this happens with small restaurant operations) and then there’s upkeep on occupied buildings. The city or village can’t do a whole lot about any of that except to make sure the building is up to code and not a danger, unless they want to buy the property.

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  26. Jeff Borden said on March 26, 2014 at 3:23 pm

    Amen, Coozledad.

    The American press bears much of the blame for the run-up to the Iraq debacle. The fear of being branded an “appeaser” or a “supporter of Saddam Hussein” or a “liberal media lackey” clearly played some role. Some of the most egregious reportage came from newspapers conservatives love to hate –the New York Times and the Washington Post– with the damnable Judith Miller of the NYT the leading cheerleader for war. And the TV folks? Forget it. How many times was “Five Deferment” Dick Cheney booked on those Sunday shows before the invasion? And Condi Rice? And Rumseld himself? Spewing bullshit with no one stepping up to call it that?

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  27. Dexter said on March 26, 2014 at 3:31 pm

    Jeff MMO 2 #1: The knock-off handbag business in Chinatown was dealt a blow when one of the operations was busted the other day. In the statement released by NYC’s finest, it was reported that the knockoff handbags are coming from China in freight tankers, meaning that not only are the genuine manufacturers getting ripped off, not even American residents are sewing the merch together.

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  28. mark said on March 26, 2014 at 3:42 pm

    Dex- The “genuine” bags are not being manufactured here either. Most of the designer handbags and garments are manufactured in the same countries from which the fakes are coming. Several years ago the Nike factory just north of Ho Chi Minh City was within eyesight of the factory making Nike knock-offs. They competed for workers, with Nike paying more per hour while the locals offered more hours per week.

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  29. Jolene said on March 26, 2014 at 3:44 pm

    Even worse than the repeated appearances of Rumsfeld and Cheney on the Sunday shows before and during the war are their appearances since they left office. Why anyone would listen to anything either one has to say is beyond me.

    What I would like, next time Cheney starts berating Obama for not being enough of a warmonger, would be for the interviewer to say, “But you are the guy who said we would be welcomed as liberators. You said the insurgency is in its last throes, but still, still, there are bombings nearly every day in Iraq. Why should we listen to you?”

    Would be so great to see how he would respond to such a direct confrontation.

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  30. Deborah said on March 26, 2014 at 4:35 pm

    Bob NG, I realize that the property owners who would rather have empty buildings and pay less in taxes couldn’t care less about the community. But what I don’t understand is how the counties (or cities) allow for the taxes to be lower for unoccupied buildings. It’s such a losing proposition for them to pass those kind of laws, or whatever they’re called. Not only do they lose the revenue but they have less safe, less vibrant areas to have to contend with.

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  31. alex said on March 26, 2014 at 4:40 pm

    Deborah, when my dad was in the commercial real estate investment business, he used to tell of schmancy office buildings sitting completely empty and making their wealthy owners even wealthier by giving them losses they needed for tax purposes. There were a few stories involving senators; I should ask him to refresh my memory.

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  32. Bob (not Greene) said on March 26, 2014 at 5:27 pm


    It’s simply a legal question. Property owners file assessment appeals that are taken up by a county board of review, which rules on whether the assessment should stay where it is or be lowered. If a property owner can prove that a property is vacant, that will go into the board of review’s decision. The cities themselves have nothing to do with it and have no power to stop it. In fact, cities (and school districts in particular) can get blindsided by successful appeals to the tune of millions of dollars.

    There are large retailers in one town I cover (JC Penney, Sears, Carson’s) that appeal their assessments routinely and win refunds that then get taken out of the operating funds of the various taxing bodies those taxes were paid to pending the resolution of the appeal.

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  33. Carolyn said on March 26, 2014 at 5:52 pm

    Overheard in my South Florida newsroom yesterday and spoken by a reporter after a photo shoot: Billionaires are so funny.

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  34. Joe Kobiela said on March 26, 2014 at 7:12 pm

    Wonder if the fair and balanced media would conveniently fail to mention on the nbc news that the mayor of Charlotte, who after less than 200 days is in trouble for taking kick backs on a real estate sting, including a luxury apartment, and $48,000 cash was a republican instead of a Democrat?
    Pilot Joe

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  35. coozledad said on March 26, 2014 at 7:20 pm

    Joe: Wonkette’s mentioned him, as has this progressive Dem site in NC.

    You’re not going to see any wagons circling. We need better Democrats, who would rather hang shite-arse real estate agents than take their filthy money.

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  36. Deborah said on March 26, 2014 at 7:21 pm

    OK I get that cities don’t have jurisdiction but if counties do, why would counties want to lower their revenue sources because commercial buildings are empty? Seems like they would want to raise taxes when buildings are empty for the good of the community (empty buildings mean less eyes on the street, so more crime, as a result more police protection is needed etc etc.) Counties are still communities that are accountable to the citizens. No? It just doesn’t make sense to me why a governing body would pass that kind of policy when they gain nothing from it?

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  37. Sherri said on March 26, 2014 at 7:25 pm

    I didn’t know this was a thing – the March Madness vasectomy.

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  38. alex said on March 26, 2014 at 7:35 pm

    I’m guessing, Deborah, that the owners are using the buildings to claim capital losses and that they have fixers to ward off any local officials.

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  39. mark said on March 26, 2014 at 7:41 pm

    “Seems like they would want to raise taxes when buildings are empty for the good of the community..”

    Detroit would be a fine place to test this theory.

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  40. coozledad said on March 26, 2014 at 7:50 pm

    Detroit would be a fine place to test this theory.
    What typically happens (as it did in New York and Durham NC) is the folks Republicans despise bring their creative energy into the shadow of these neglected old buildings, and with little more than dirty sex and fingerpaint bring the rich old freaks out of the woodwork to try and fuck them. It’s a cycle that’s repeated until struggling artists garotte their landlords. And then make a painting of it:

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  41. Dexter said on March 26, 2014 at 8:22 pm

    My coffee house order has never been more complicated than a cappuccino.

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  42. Deborah said on March 26, 2014 at 9:26 pm

    Why would we use Detroit as an example? There are many communities that are in much less dire straights that you could use. Others may still need help but not that much. That’s over the top. That’s like using a person in a hospice as the ultimate example of how healthcare could be improved for everyone.

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  43. alex said on March 26, 2014 at 10:03 pm


    The Gwyneth Paltrow Relationship Generator.

    Hi. Call me “Vitally Cooperating.”

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  44. Deborah said on March 26, 2014 at 10:31 pm

    My husband and I are ethereally interlaced. Doesn’t that sound horrible?

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  45. dull_old_man said on March 26, 2014 at 11:05 pm

    brian @ 12: I have the Windows chess game set on level 5. It always makes a bad mistake in the middle game. It’s as if it is loaded with 15 good moves in a Queen-pawn opening, then it gives a piece away. If it played a whole game like it does the first 15 moves, I wouldn’t have a chance.

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  46. Sherri said on March 26, 2014 at 11:22 pm

    I’m “soulfully unified” with my husband.

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