Posts Tagged ‘Austrians’

War is nothing like chess.

War is nothing like chess.

I am a big chess fan.

I can name every chess world champion since Morphy; I could probably name around 17 of the world’s current top 20; I can checkmate a lone king with two bishops and a king; I have a good working knowledge of just about every opening there is.

(And by working knowledge, I don’t just mean I’ve “heard” of the Sicilian defense.  I don’t just mean that I know that 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 cxd 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 e5 is the Sveshnikov.  I mean that I am fully aware of the differences between the 9. Nd5 and 9. Bxf6 Sveshnikov, and prefer the former.)

The problem is, I’m just not that good.

Oh, I can beat most casual players…the ones that begin a game by moving a rook pawn (to a4, say) and then move their rooks out vertically (to a3, say).  In USCF rating terms, my rating is around 1800, which (to my own surprise) is about the 85th percentile for tournament players.  So objectively, I am not bad at all.  But I am good enough to be aware of just how much better other players are.  I have a friend Shawn who is a master (here he is drawing a grandmaster).  I am in awe of his tactical strength, and his fine sense of dynamics.  I have beaten him dozens of times in speed chess, but for every game I win, he wins 10.

It has taken me a while to get to the point of this blog post, which is this: I like chess because of its icy logic and its mathematical purity.  For this reason, chess is a horrible metaphor for war, or for life.

Chess is used in books and movies for two basic purposes.  The first is to establish the intelligence of a character.  For example, Lisbeth Salander (in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) is an expert at chess.  This was a bad choice on the author’s part: Lisbeth is also an expert hacker and financial genius, has an eidetic memory, and is an incredible detective—why stretch credulity even further?  A lot of great chess players are certainly smart, but the correlation doesn’t go the other way: many smart people are terrible at chess.  Einstein was probably weaker than me.  Oppenheimer was even worse.  Comedian Howard Stern, a player of about my strength, would crush either one.

The other use for chess in books and movies is as metaphor.  In The Seventh Seal, Antonius Block plays a game of chess against Death.  In Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (the original title; not the dumbed-down American version) someone plays chess with someone else (like I remember?)  In both cases the chess itself is ludicrous.  For example, at one point Death captures Block’s queen; Block says that he “didn’t see that”.  (Really?  Did Block just learn the rules the day before?)  But I don’t want to evaluate the chess in such works per se; rather, I want to see how well chess works as a metaphor.

First, chess as war.  I can’t think of any examples off the top of my head, but there seems to be an assumption that skill at chess somehow equates to skill at war.  But this is ludicrous: in chess, every move is transparent; you can always see what your opponent is doing, and everyone starts on a level playing field.  In terms of game theory, chess is a perfect information game.  I’m no Colonel Dax, but I don’t think war works that way.  There is always a fog of war, and an element of chance, so war is about contingencies, and adaptability, and bluff, and extrapolation.

Second, chess as life.  I have to admit, I don’t really get this metaphor at all.  Is life therefore a game?  A perfect information game?  If chess represents life, does that mean that I struggle throughout my life against an opponent (Satan?  Howard Stern?) who is trying to thwart me at every turn?  And if I play well, but my opponent does too, then am I destined for a draw?  What is a draw, in life?  Is it retiring at 65 to play shuffleboard in Orlando?

As much as I like chess, I think backgammon is a much better metaphor for war or for life.  In backgammon, there is an element of chance, and so the “the best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men” will often go awry.  That is why a good backgammon player will weigh contingencies.  What move leaves me in the best position, based on what dice rolls are possible, and what might happen?  In backgammon, you’re not just playing against an opponent, you’re playing against the fates themselves (in the form of the dice) and this makes the game feel more “real” to me.

People who don’t play backgammon often think that luck is a major part of the game.  This is true, on the level of a single game, but backgammon is played in matches of multiple games, and luck is much less important at that level.  This is because of the doubling cube.  With the doubling cube, a master will almost always defeat a weaker player, in the same way that a Napoleon will almost always win a war against a General Mack, even if an individual battle is lost here or there.

And so, life.  The dice aren’t always going to go your way.  You should plan with that in mind.  Look at your current position, figure out the possible contingencies—the possible ways God might play dice with your universe—and set up your pieces accordingly.  Even if you get gammoned, tomorrow’s another day.

[Note: I subconsciously chose an inept Austrian general to be the foil against Napoleon’s military genius.  But I want to be balanced in my portrayal of Austrians.  So I will remind everyone that Lise Meitner was Austrian, and she was a super-smart physicist.  And strangely, her father was Philipp Meitner, a chess master and part of the immortal draw.]

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Anton Bruckner was Austrian…

So I’m new to this whole blogging thing.  When I started, back around Halloween in 2012, I had no expectations about how many hits I’d get per day, or from what parts of the world.  I don’t even think I was aware of how much of this information a blogger actually has access to.

At WorldPress.com, a blogger can look at a “stats” page and see from what country the IP addresses of hits have come from.  And now, just six weeks in, I have some interesting data to play with.

As I write this, at 2:20 pm on Thursday, Dec. 6, 2012, I have had 1366 hits to my blog.  This does not include hits from my own computer(s) as long as I’m logged in as the owner of the blog; otherwise, the number would be around 600 hits more (I edit my blogs obsessively, even days after I’ve posted them).  As I would have expected, most of the hits are from the United States (87%) but I nice 13% are from other countries.  It’s the specific countries that have hit upon my blog that have piqued my interest.


Now, at #3, I have 29 hits from Australia.  This is not surprising; I have a good friend in Australia who follows the blog.  Almost all of these hits are presumably attributable to him (thanks Rick!)

But at #2, with 86 hits, is Austria.  This is strange.  I don’t know anyone from Austria, nor honestly anyone who’s ever been to Austria.  I lived in Spain for four years, and traveled around Europe, but never made it to Austria, unfortunately.

Even stranger is the hit data from today specifically.  I have 36 hits from Austria today.  I can’t even think of a plausible explanation as to why a post about teaching quantum mechanics would suddenly be popular in Austria.

Except, I can think of explanations.  Maybe one of my blog followers is from Austria?  As of 2:34 pm today, there are 14 people who follow this blog; of those, 8 are known to me personally (and don’t live in Austria).  Of the other 6, at least one is obviously in the United States from his profile.  That leaves 5 possible Austrians.  This is the most plausible, if prosaic, explanation.

There may be another explanation.  It’s very possible to follow a blog without “following” it.  I’ve had Nate Silver’s 538 blog bookmarked for 4 years now, without ever having “signed up” to follow it.  I just go to the site and occasionally read what he’s written.  Similarly, maybe someone in Austria stumbled upon ManyWorldsTheory.com, liked it, bookmarked it, and comes back here every so often.  OK, that’s fine; but why 36 hits just today?  For that to be the work of one person, they’d have to visit the blog, then exit out, then visit it again, a total of 36 separate times.  Seems unlikely.

One (speculative) explanation is that there is an Austrian physics professor who reads this blog, liked today’s post, and then had everyone in her/his class read the post today.  But maybe you can think of a better explanation.  Maybe you live in Salzburg and are laughing at my feeble attempts at detective work.  Enlighten me, or not, as you will.  It’s fun either way.

Here’s some more blog statistics trivia, just for fun:

Average number of (unique) hits per day: 36

Record number of hits in a day: 396 (on Nov. 6, 2012, the day before the presidential election; I shared this day’s blog post on Facebook which drove up traffic)

Search engine term that sent the most number of people to my blog: missouri proposition b 2012 (39 times)

Post with most hits: Economics don’t matter (267)

Science post with most hits: Einstein’s “Imagination is more important than knowledge” (36)

Least favorite post (not including today’s and yesterday’s): Let’s ignore Grover Norquist (16)

Country #4 in terms of hits: Spain, with 7.

Country #5 in terms of hits: Canada, with 5.

Part of the fun of having a blog is reaching out to diverse people all over the world, and maybe affecting them in ways that would have been impossible even 20 years ago.  And let’s face it, playing with the demographic data is fascinating.  Keep this in mind if you’ve ever thought about blogging yourself.  Maybe you’ll get some mysterious Austrians following you, too.

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