A Persian Cafe, Edward Lord Weeks

Saturday, 31 October 2015

An Operatic Miniature

A large part of being good at chess is pattern recognition: seeing that the position in front of you is similar to one you've seen before, and is therefore likely to reward the same principles. I had a recent example of this in a cute little game which rather neatly resembled the famous Opera House Game.

The Opera House Game was a game played in 1858 between Paul Morphy, an American would-be lawyer and likely the greatest player of his generation, and a pair of European aristocrats who compelled him to play them while he was trying to enjoy a performance of Norma.

As a brief run-though of the Opera House Game: 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 Bg4 4. dxe5 Bxf3 5. Qxf3 dxe5 6.Bc4
White has got two pieces out while Black has none, and already threats are appearing on the board.
6... Nf6 7. Qb3 Qe7
White could actually win two pawns here, via 8. Bxf7+ Kd8 (8...Qxf7? 9. Qxb7) 9. Qxb7 Qb4+, but the queens come off and Morphy opts to just continue getting his pieces out.
8. Nc3 c6 9. Bg5 b5?
White has four pieces out and his rooks will arrive very shortly; Black has two pieces developed, one of which is pinned against the other. He also faces a real struggle to get pieces active, with both the c6 and e7 square occupied.
10. Nxb5! cxb5 11. Bxb5+ Nbd7 12. 0-0-0 Rd8
Black has very little space, with his king trapped in the centre and few of his pieces doing anything much. White now crashes through with a temporary exchange sacrifice:
13. Rxd7! Rxd7 14. Rd1
When attacking in chess, sacrificing one rook then bringing the other into its place is a classic maneuvre.
14... Qe6 15. Bxd7+ Nxd7
All is now set for the final flourish:
16. Qb8+! Nxb8 17. Rd8#
And White delivers mate with his last two remaining pieces.

My game does not have quite so nice an ending - largely because my opponent resigned when he saw what was coming - but is still rather nice.

loserforsale - nachtfalter, Chess.com, 10th October 2015
10 mins/game

1. d4 e5 2. dxe5 Nc6 3. Nf3 Qe7 4. e4 Nxe5 5. Nc3 Nxf3+ 6. Qxf3 Nf6 7. Bg5
You may already recognise some of the same patterns here. My plan as white is to castle and then to pay Nd5, which brings massive power to bear on f6 to win a pawn and prevent black from ever castling.
7...d6 8. 0-0-0 Be6??
This removes the queen's coverage of e5, which makes White's attack much easier.
9. e5 dxe5 10. Bxb7 Rd8 11. Bb5+ Bd7
Based upon the Opera House Game, can you guess what's coming?
12. Rxd7 Rxd7 13. Rd1
At this point my opponent resigned, though mate would likely have followed within five moves, e.g. 13...h6 14. Rxd7 Qxd7 15. Qc8+ Ke7 16. Qxd7#

Against Libertarian Libertinism

In the wake of the recent World Health Organisation (WHO)'s announcement that eating bacon raised your risk of cancer, there has been a rash(er?) of libertarians denouncing this and defending eating bacon. From a certain standpoint, this is rather strange.

An example, taken from the European Students For Liberty Facebook page.
The fact that a food raises your risk of cancer is, unless you are fine with getting cancer, a reason against eating that food. Not at all a decisive reason - you might well think that the enjoyment you get from the bacon is well worth the minute or two by which you shorten your life. Indeed, this is precisely the kind of choice that, as libertarians, we are committed to thinking people ought to be able to make for themselves. But if we recognise people's right to make that choice, we ought to recognise their right to choose either way. We ought not to be pressuring people to choose a particular way.

("But pressuring someone to make a particular choice is hardly the same as forcing them to make it!" It's imposing negative consequences upon their making a particular choice, and is from that perspective no different to taxing them for making a particular choice. Haven't you read Mill?)

Now perhaps this is a natural reaction to being "told what not to do." I'm not sure how plausible this interpretation is. The WHO has insisted that it is not telling people not to eat bacon, but (a) this is coming after the fact, potentially as a PR move, and (b) just because the WHO doesn't intend it that way doesn't mean that national governments won't take it that way.

Out of these, (b) seems most important. Western governments do an awful lot of moralising about tobacco, sugar, and such things, and this moralising is typically accompanied by taxation, censorship of advertising, and other deeply illiberal measures.

But it's far from obvious that the best way to respond to this is with anger. What I fear here is that something will happen similar to what has happened in the global warming debate. Global warming has been used by various left-wing people as a justification for policies that we all know they would be pushing for anyway - more taxes, monetary transfers from the first world to the third world, and (most damaging of all) a deliberate end to the search for economic growth. There are two ways that those of us opposed to such policies can respond. One is to point out that tackling CO2 emissions is perfectly compatible with a free market: just impose a Pigou Tax (which I view as just a particular way of enforcing rights) and you're done. The second is to dispute that global warming is actually happening. Unfortunately, most people seemed to take this second route, despite it relying upon demonstrably false premises. (One wonders whether many deniers on some level know that climate change is indeed happening, and continue to deny it as a form of ingroup signalling).

This allowed people opposed to massive government intervention against global warming to be painted as anti-science. My worry is that the same could happen with diet: the debate could become a purely scientific debate over which foods are bad for you, rather than a debate over values: do we want to live in a society which doesn't trust its members to take care of themselves?

The biggest problem with a scientific debate from the libertarian perspective is not that we might turn out to be wrong - governments' dietary suggestions have, as with most dietary suggestions, a long history of being terrible - but that even if we're right, we still can't win. Suppose it turns out that, contrary to official claims, food X is in fact good for you. Then the ground changes. Statists will stop advocating a ban on X and will start advocating subsidies, in a way that is just as harmful to liberty.

Ultimately, the debate has to be over values. They're the important thing, and they're the battle which we can - ultimately - win.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

CEU Philosophers' Hand Jive Society show off their sweet moves

"The Teapot"
"The Stop Signal"
"The Bolt"
"The Creepy-Crawly"
"The Cosmic"

"The Torus"
Apparently not everyone's in the mood for dancing :(
(My apologies to everyone in these photos and to the photographers, but also my thanks for helping to make my first few weeks at CEU so enjoyable!)