Trembling hands

by Henry Farrell on September 8, 2004

In commenting on the game of chess, “Will Baude”: notes the following.

bq. Professor Leitzel of Vice Squad writes in to remind me of the 1913 Zermelo’s Theorem, which establishes just that: given the game’s finiteness (established above), there exists some strategy s.t. either white always wins, black always wins, or nobody does.]

Not so, as it happens, although it’s been the conventional wisdom among game theorists until recently – the inestimable James Morrow (whose “Game Theory for Political Scientists” I’m using as a coursebook this semester) states it a little more formally when he says that

bq. Zermelo showed that chess has a winning strategy: White can force a victory, Black can force a victory, or either can force a draw.

But, as discussed on my old blog last year, this “very interesting paper”: by Ulrich Schwalbe and Paul Walker, shows that Zermelo said no such thing. Zermelo proved a much narrower result, and indeed explicitly states that he _hasn’t_ proved that chess has a winning strategy.

bq. The question as to whether the starting position … is a winning position is open. Would it be answered exactly, chess would of course lose the character of a game at all.

It would be very interesting to trace back how this error (and a variety of others) crept into the literature. Zermelo was never translated into English before Schwalbe and Walker’s paper, so I imagine that nobody much bothered to try to read him (especially since his article was published in 1913 and was quite likely printed in Fraktur). One person’s error was presumably picked up by others, and then disseminated until it became accepted dogma in the wider literature. Academic research sometimes resembles a game of Chinese whispers – because we all rely on the research of others, serious blunders can be perpetuated for generations before someone bothers to go back and recheck the work of their elders.

Update: Peter Northup has convinced me in comments and email that I’ve misunderstood Zermelo a little myself, and that the formulation that Morrow uses isn’t as offbase as I thought it was. What’s clear is that game theorists are incorrect in saying that Zermelo used backward induction as such, and that he doesn’t show that there is a winning strategy _as such_. I stand corrected.

McDonald’s language quiz

by Chris Bertram on September 8, 2004

This is fun: a “quiz based on McDonald’s Happy Meal game instructions”: . Can you recognize the languages? (Via “Des von Bladet”: ).

Media reporting of terrorism

by Chris Bertram on September 8, 2004

No-one should treat Daniel Pipes as a reliable source of information, but his claims get endlessly recycled through the internet. Today he gets prominence on “Arts and Letters Daily”: for “this piece”: which claims that journalists have shied away from using the word “terrorist” in connection with the terrorist murders at Beslan. The Arts and Letters Daily intro reads:

bq. Call them assailants, bombers, captors, commandos, fighters, guerrillas, gunmen, militants, radicals, rebels, or activists. But please, not terrorists…

Pipes himself writes:

bq. The press, however, generally shies away from the word terrorist, preferring euphemisms. Take the assault that led to the deaths of some 400 people, many of them children, in Beslan, Russia, on September 3. Journalists have delved deep into their thesauruses, finding at least twenty euphemisms for terrorists.

He also refers to “this unwillingness to name terrorists”.

He then links to twenty news sources to exemplify his claims. These are the examples cherry-picked by Pipes to support his case. I’ve followed them all.

[click to continue…]

by Ted on September 8, 2004

Is there anything more boring than my periodic expressions of disgust with blogging? I’ll keep it short. (This right-leaning comedy site did a funnier job than I would, anyway.)

A pox on your house, Glenn Reynolds. You have done more than anyone to build the blogging community, and we’re in debt to you for that. But you’ve been poisoning the well for years now.

Matthew Yglesias was making a perfectly comprehensible point. You took one sentence, a sentence that was immediately negated by the next sentence, and distorted it to fit into a mirthless satire of left-wing thought. Does the man who wrote this:

Providing financial aid to terrorists who target European civilians would be uncivilized — but, then, the Europeans are supposed to be the civilized ones, no?


A pox on you, Andrew Sullivan. Andrew Sullivan, dumpster-diving for offensive comments on isn’t any more illuminating than dumpster-diving for offensive comments on Democratic Underground.

A pox on you. Markos, with your organization, your community-building, and your Democratic fund-raising, you are one of the only bloggers who matter. Thank you for that. But this kind of post makes us look like hysterical jokers.

More on the Iowa Electronic Markets

by Daniel on September 8, 2004

Here’s bit of bad news for my American Democrat friends; your candidate is dying on his arse in the Iowa Electronic Markets at the moment.

Here’s another bit of bad news; even at these prices, he’s still overvalued.

Note to readers. There is quite a lot of financial jargon in this post, because I’m dealing with quite a few issues that are only of interest to finance bods (and only marginally to them). The interesting stuff is toward the end.

[click to continue…]

Favorite first line?

by Eszter Hargittai on September 8, 2004

I know there are some big literature enthusiasts around here[1] so I thought I’d post a pointer to this site I just came across called Opening Hooks, “a collection of literary beginnings”. The creator of the site explains:

Chip Kidd once said, “A good book cover makes you want to pick it up. End of story.” More often then not, however, a gripping first sentence or paragraph prevents you from putting it back down. The opening hook. It’s a simple concept, reading is linear, time is finite. What keeps a reader reading is the opening hook.

I don’t have any particular memories of special opening hooks, but browsing through the site’s data base I came across this one: “When Gregor Samsa woke up one morning from unsettling dreams, he found himself changed in his bed into a monstrous vermin.” – Yup. I think this one qualifies as a good opening hook. Unfortunately, when I first read Kafka’s The Metamorphosis I attempted to do so in its original. Als Gregor Samsa eines Morgens aus unruhigen Träumen erwachte, fand er sich in seinem Bett zu einem ungeheueren Ungeziefer verwandelt. Perhaps understandably, words such as “Ungeziefer” – or insect – are not part of one’s basic foreign language vocabulary lesson so I’m afraid I had a hard time fully appreciating some of the nuances – huh, some of the basics! – during my first attempt at the novel. Let’s just say I probably spent more time flipping through the dictionary than the book. But reading the sentence in English on that site brought it all back and I do think it qualifies as a good opening hook. I suspect others around here who are much bigger literature buffs than I am will think of candidates for their favorite opening lines without having to go to their book shelves (or browse an online data base).

Hat tip: Matt Read.

fn1. This post is dedicated to a fellow CT blogger. You know who you are.;-)

Your Alan Keyes Moment of the Day

by Kieran Healy on September 8, 2004

Alan Keyes “said today”: that “Christ would not vote for Barack Obama,” apparently because Obama is pro-choice. But clearly the reason that Jesus would not vote for Obama is that there is just no way He would move from California to Illinois in the first place.