Tafelmusik

An Illusory Intertwingling of Reason and Response

Tafelmusik is a look askance at life. It is a chronicle of the Dance of the Good Thing, a part in which I strive always to take. Here lie my musings, my thoughts, my beliefs, and my desires. Join me. Dance.

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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Teaching a Four-Year-Old to Play Chess

Some things in life are important to start early, and loves one might wish to inculcate in a child's life are best introduced as part of the Universe — or their conception of it — rather than as separate pursuits. Books, for instance. If books simply are — if they're an ambient feature of the environment — rather than needing to be sought out (furniture, to be simply used without particular goal or foresight), literacy becomes a given, not a goal.

Chess. It's one of those things that doesn't even occur as a possible "furniture-piece" in a child's life. How can chess, ever the symbol of deep thought and solemn old men, become such an early fixture?

I'm still not sure. In fact, several days ago, I'd've said it couldn't. That was before I started teaching a four-year-old to play chess, though.

It was at a lab party. I very nearly didn't go. I don't care for parties, and I care even less for parties among co-workers. Not that I dislike my boss and lab-mates . . . it's just that . . . meh.

However, go I did, and several slices of pizza, pieces of catfish, and insipid fireworks (not all of the preceding were eaten) later, affairs had settled into rather dry, boring conversation. Now, the conversation I'm likely to enjoy at a party is what most people would term dry and boring, so conversely, this talk of [rock] music, [bleeding-heart liberal] politics, and popular entertainment is the stock in trade of most parties — and bores me to absolute tears.

In the living room, far from the madding crowd, was a chessboard. D__ had played a game earlier with Misa, the four-year-old daughter of one of the attendees. Rather, he'd been playing against himself until she started soliciting advice from everyone else: then it became him against the entire lab, and he (quite predictably) was forced to resignation. I mean, how can you start playing yourself to a weak position, and then hold up to a committee of moderately-intelligent, moderately-experienced chess players? (When she checked him for the first time, I told her, "Say 'check'." "Check!" she gleefully announced.)

So later, Misa and her eight-year-old brother were still orbiting the chessboard, obviously wanting someone to play another game with them. Who was I to refuse (especially given the dearth of any other intellectual pursuits in the vicinity)?

I wasn't exactly sure how I was going to do it. I mean, Misa was the one showing the most interest in having a game, and she obviously couldn't be expected to find legal moves, much less good ones.

So I set up the board, asked her if she wanted to be white this time (she'd been black for the first game), and swiveled the board. I gave her a choice of first moves: a knight or king's or queen's pawn. I think she chose her king's knight. I answered with preparations for what's become my standard opening (set up an outpost for my king's knight and fianchetto that bishop), more out of habit than anything.

As the opening progressed, she made the choice each time (sometimes more-, sometimes less-restricted) of which piece to move and where to move it. Eventually Suse (her brother) got more into the game, finding possible moves and suggesting them. He delighted in pointing out why certain moves were bad moves: "If you go there [moving the piece] he'll [pointing to another piece] eat you."

We got well into the midgame by the time the first capture occurrecd. I'd decided not to "pull punches", and simply take a decent capture for either side when it made sense. She was suitably disappointed that I'd drawn first blood, but stated philosophically that "it's only one of the little ones". Farther in, she pulled ahead in material, and there came a point where her best move would've been a bishop-for-knight exchange.

Somehow I resisted the urge to tell her where to move, and instead presented several moves — I think a couple pawns (she called them "little ones") could advance, there was a safe pawn capture, and of course the exchange. I explained that if she took the pawn, she would be safe, but if she took the knight, she'd be trading her bishop for it, because I'd kill her bishop on the next turn.

With the philosophical aplomb already mentioned: "Trade."

Unfortunately, the time came long before the game was over to leave: in the middle of the game, at the height of the excitement — an excitement over a checkerboard battle I'd thought a four-year-old couldn't know.

I think I probably learned as much as she did. Granted, she caught on to the idea of castling (impressive in itself), and even accepted the diagonal attack of the pawn (I explained it as a swordsman marching forward slashing off to the side, and analogy that delighted her), but I discovered something I should've been able to figure out: if the child believes himself to be in control of his progress, he engages just as fully — and perhaps more so, as protective control prevents the insurmountable obstacles that often frustrate young learners of any pursuit — as if he were in an actual situation facing every decision himself.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

DC v. Heller

The Supreme Court, in the final day of its term, today announced the results of DC v. Heller. At issue was a Washington, D.C. ban on possession of handguns as a class of weapons.

From the majority opinion:

Held:
1. The Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia, and to use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home.
...
3. The handgun ban and the trigger-lock requirement (as applied to self-defense) violate the Second Amendment. The District’s total ban on handgun possession in the home amounts to a prohibition on an entire class of “arms” that Americans overwhelmingly choose for the lawful purpose of self-defense. Under any of the standards of scrutiny the Court has applied to enumerated constitutional rights, this prohibition — in the place where the importance of the lawful defense of self, family, and property is most acute — would fail constitutional muster.

Note that the first point affirms one interpretation of what has been the single most contentious point of debate among Second Amendment scholars: namely, whether the Second Amendment is — like the rest of the first ten Amendments — individual, or if it is collective in its scope: that is, whether it refers to the right of State governments to organize militias without Federal interference, or to the right of individuals to possess arms without governmental interference.

See also:

News on the Opinion

About the Case

Monday, April 14, 2008

I'm Just Really Picky

"I'm just really picky."

My standard answer to the many variations of "Why don't you have a girlfriend." I was at the lake with some church friends yesterday (written June 2007), including one woman who sees herself as an adoptive mother to me (not that that's necessarily a bad thing . . .)

When pressed to explain (and in the face of accusations that I was waiting for a Stepford Wife), I said something about wanting someone who would do the dishes and have deep intellectual conversations with me.

"You're not going to find someone who can have deep intellectual conversations that wants to do the dishes." That was "mom's" husband. She concurred.

I can't believe that. In fact, I categorically refuse.

Anyhow, the evidence is against it. Heck, if I believed that, I'd give up on the idea of marriage altogether and settle for various sushi and coffee dates (intelligent eye candy) for the rest of my life. Or suicide. Something like that.

Have feminists really won so much ground that even conservative Christians are believing the farce that housewifery1 is a lesser task for lesser minds, and women who think are above it?

No. He's wrong2. Simply because he has to be.


1. "Huswifery", by Edward Taylor. By a common synecdoche from the days when spinning and weaving were household tasks, Edward Taylor likened God's work in our lives to that of a housewife producing homespun cloth. The task of seeing the irony in this case I leave to you, gentle reader.

2. q.v. "High Standards and Perfect Sisters".

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