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.. and including any and all interesting game language & stories ..

[ by Charles Cameron — a 75-year old poker club in DC, more ]

It seems I’m moving from collecting only sport and game metaphors for politics, via sport and game metaphors more generally to sport and game language and stories — whatever catches my fancy. The paragraphs from William Finnegan, Off Diamond Head which I quoted in Storm special, surf’s up would have fit here nicely, and were my first signal, or perhaps one of my first, that my search interests might be widening.

Lets start with A club of their own: The story of a secret poker society started by pioneering African Americans. It’s a great story of a poker club that’s been going 76 years now:

In 1942, a group of university professors, doctors, lawyers and other black professionals in Washington wanted to get together on weekends and play poker. But they had a problem. Not only did segregation in the District bar them from joining country clubs or other social organizations where men could gather, but the president of Howard University, where many of them taught, was a religious man who did not approve of card-playing.

So they started a monthly gathering in their homes and came up with a name to mask its true nature — the Brookland Literary and Hunting Club.

The founding members of the club included a College president and consultant on Brown v. Board of Education, and the first black chief judge of DC’s federal court, and one of the the oldest current members at 96 — none of the founders are still with us — was a Tuskegee Airman. Over the last seventy-five years, these men have seen, and shaped, history. Their club is named the Brookland Literary and Hunting Club as code rather than abstract camouflage — “literary” because they’ve always discussed the topics of the day, from WWII via the Civil Rights movement to the present, and “hunting” because players are always hunting for a good hand when playing cards..


There were two tables — the big table, where hundreds of dollars exchanged hands over five-card stud, and the little table, whose participants played for coins or dollar bills and peppered the games with wild cards. Men would start at the little table and sometimes move up to the big one. As they got older and went on fixed incomes, some would move back to the little table.

And the spirit of play:

We’ve had great games and there’s never anybody who ran out of money, because somebody says: ‘Here, take some more. Just take it. Give it to me when you can,’


And it looks as though I can’t evade the sports and social parallelism business either. How can I resist What Serena Williams’s defeat tells us about the criminal-justice system? And how better to get at its essential than via another of today’s WaPo pieces, Yes, get consent. But be human, too.?

After describing the two opinion camps around the kerfuffle between Serena Williams and chair umpire Carlos Ramos, the WaPo opinion writer Marc Howard, a professor of government and law at Georgetown, indicates the closeness of the parallel between tennis and social justice:

This disagreement is about more than tennis, or even sports. It connects with a much deeper American divide about policing and criminal justice, with strong undertones connecting to race and racism.

and later:

Just like the criminal-justice system, tennis and many other sports depend on the subjective discretion of neutral arbiters to apply a set of supposedly objective “rules.”

Ramos did indeed follow the code, and each of the three sanctions had some justification, thus satisfying the “rules” camp. But for two of the three violations (the racket smashing was unambiguous), he used his discretion to punish Williams for acts — coaching and heated exchanges with an umpire — that occur routinely in tennis but are seldom punished.

So one “deeper .. divide” is about “policing and criminal justice” — but another deep divide exists between “rules” and what I’ll call “fairness” camps, following this paragraph:

In all of these instances, one can always say, “Well, this person didn’t follow the rules,” and on an individual basis that may seem sufficient to justify the consequences. What gets lost, however, is that rules are rarely applied regularly, consistently or fairly..

You’ll have to read the whole article to get many of the details, but the analogy between a sport and the judicial and penal systems is clear.

How does this relate to the WaPo piece on consent in potential sexual aggression situations?

The question there is whether, in the pithy words of a feminist writer quoted by WaPo:

consent is just a hurdle you have to clear in order to Get The Sex

Consent is the rulebook, and the missing ingredient when consent is the only consideration, is the human context, in the words of the same writer, the need to see our sexual partners:

not simply as instrumental to our own pleasure but as co-equal collaborators, equally human and important, equally harmable, equally free and equally sovereign.

I’m not sure that even that doesn’t smack a bit of the “rules” camp, but it’s certainly a strong step beyond the bare=bones “consent” rule towards an understanding of human circumstances. But the parallelism between that and the Serena Williams piece wouldn’t have struck me so forcefully without this exchange:

“Yeah,” one, a junior, agreed. “The logic is sort of Cartesian.” (Oh, college!) “Do this, not that. Don’t break the rules ..

That really nails it — as Lao Tzu would say:

The rules can be codified in a rulebook aren’t the subtle rules of wisdom.

That’s my Tao Te Ching translation #207 I know, but I think it’s apt for this occasion.


2 Responses to “.. and including any and all interesting game language & stories ..”

  1. Charles Cameron Says:

    Here’s another sports and politics page worth mention — but the use here is non-metaphoricl, a straight comparison:

    Should We Keep Politics Out of Sports?

    The games we watch have become another battleground in the culture wars, and neither commentators nor fans seem willing to cede their territory.
    By Hua Hsu

  2. Charles Cameron Says:

    Fascinating, frm a history of tennis in Tracing Tennis to Its RootsFrom Victorian Britain to the Battle of the Sexes, the sport’s first hundred years, by Herbert Warren Wind:

    A tall, athletic young-middle-aged man with a handsome face framed by a full beard, he got around a good deal socially, and one of the things he noticed about the Britain he had returned to was how mad everyone was for sport. Organized cricket, soccer, Rugby, and rowing had become enormously more popular, but the rise of team sports wasn’t the particular development that caught the Major’s shrewd eye. What did was a new facet of the cult of games—the games that ladies and gentlemen played together on weekends on the wide, well-kept lawns of the fashionable country houses. Croquet, the oldest of these games, remained the leader, but it was obvious that many of its practitioners, including the females, were finding it too tepid. A good many of them had already switched to badminton, an Indian game, originally called Poona, that was imported in the early eighteen-seventies by some British Army officers and renamed after the country seat of the Duke of Beaufort, where the first important demonstration of the game had taken place. The trouble with badminton was that it required an absolutely breezeless day; otherwise there was no controlling the shuttlecock. Wingfield was certain that the national passion for sport would keep on growing, and it struck him that a small fortune, along with a substantial renown any man would be pleased to have, awaited the person who could devise a really fascinating lawn game. He began to think along those lines himself.
    Wingfield had the background for it. In his youth, he had played the various forms of handball and just about all the racket games. (According to Edward C. Potter, Jr., in his book “Kings of the Court,” there had been a court-tennis court in Wingfield Castle. Moreover, as Potter brought out, among the people who had supposedly made use of it was Charles d’Orléans, a grandson of the King of France, who had been captured at Agincourt by the English and consigned to Wingfield Castle during part of his long captivity.) In any event, in 1873, after considerable deliberation, the Major came up with a game that combined certain features of these earlier games—the net came from badminton, the ball from Eton fives (a form of handball), the method of scoring from hard rackets, and so on. (Until special rackets were manufactured, the player was free to use the racket from his favorite game.) Wingfield called his amalgam Sphairistiké, or Lawn Tennis—“Sphairistiké” because he had heard that there was an ancient Greek game of that name, and “Lawn Tennis” because it seemed a natural spinoff from “court tennis,” and thus suggested a game that was both old and aristocratic. (As Potter has pointed out, “Wingfield had little idea how Sphairistiké was played but … he could be sure that even antiquarians had forgotten its rules.”) Another advantage gained by calling his game Sphairistiké was that it emphasized its originality, and this, Wingfield felt, would greatly increase his chances of obtaining a patent for it. That was crucial—a patent. Once he had it, he would be able to manufacture and sell sets of his game and, he hoped, reap a small fortune. His concern about gaining a patent also prompted several of the new wrinkles he had introduced into his game, such as decreeing that the court not be rectangular but shaped somewhat like an hourglass—thirty feet wide across the baselines and only twenty-four feet wide at the net. In December, 1873, Wingfield tried out the game with a group of young people who were members of a houseparty at Nantclwyd Hall, the country estate, in Denbighshire, Wales, of the family of a good friend of his, Thomas Naylor-Leyland. Apparently, the game was a big success. There is no record of what the weather was like at Nantclwyd Hall during that stretch, but even if it had been freezing cold, the Major would have been undaunted, for he maintained that there was no reason Sphairistiké could not be played as pleasurably on ice as on grass.
    On February 23, 1874, Major Wingfield was awarded a preliminary patent for his game, and the patent was confirmed five months later. The moment he received word in February that the patent office had registered his application for “A New and Improved Portable Court for Playing the Ancient Game of Tennis” (in his presentation the Major had heavily emphasized that tennis in its earlier forms had always been an indoor amusement), he arranged for sets to be manufactured and for the Messrs. French & Company, of 46 Churton Street, Pimlico, to act as his exclusive sales agent. A set cost five guineas—a fairly substantial amount in those days. Encased in a wooden box thirty-six inches by twelve by six and bearing the label “Sphairistiké, or Lawn Tennis” on the cover, a set contained poles, pegs, a main net a little over four and a half feet high, two small side nets (they adjoined the main net like wings), a mallet, a brush, a bag of balls, and four tennis rackets, made by Jefferies & Mallings, which were a sort of cross between the conventional hard-rackets racket and the conventional court-tennis racket. Wingfield left it up to his clients to supply their own colored cord, tape, or paint for lining the court, but he did throw in a slim pamphlet called “The Book of the Game,” in which he set down the dimensions of the court and provided instructions for installing one in five minutes.

    Finely researched and beautufully written, as you can see — there’s much more, but that’s your extended taste for the day.

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