Friday, October 15, 2004

From the Mail: Chess and Crack

Mike Gilleland writes:

I'm not completely brain-dead. I played through your chess game in my head. White's bishop captured the bishop's pawn next to Black's king, resulting in a check. When the Black king captured the White bishop, the Black queen was left unprotected and the White queen grabbed it. Tell me if I'm wrong.

That's exactly right. It's beautiful, isn't it? Note that K x B was forced. I've been in this position many times, but I've often misplayed it by first exchanging Queens and then grabbing the King's Bishop's pawn. That too results in a won game for White, but it can be a long slog against a determined opponent. And in a blitz (5 min.) game, one can easily lose on time.

The first job I ever had was in high school, painting houses for a contractor who was in the Bangor Chess Club. He hired a lot of kids. We used to sit on the scaffold, painting and speaking chess moves to each other, playing without a board. As I recall, we said"Pawn to King 4," though, not "e4." It's good mental exercise, although I don't think I could play a long game in my head now.

Blindfold chess is easier than it looks. I once moved my old philosopher friend Quentin Smith and his belongings from Cleveland Heights, Ohio, where he had been living on my third floor to Yellow Springs where he found gainful employment at Antioch College. I drove the moving van, he rode shotgun with a chess board on his lap, sans pieces. We called out the moves to each other. He looked at the board, I looked at the road. I won. The next morning I woke up and wrote down the moves.

I had heard of crack cocaine, but knew nothing about it. The instructor in my class argued State v. Russell before the Minnesota Supreme Court (1991), which resulted in finding a Minnesota law that distinguished between powder and crack cocaine for sentencing purposes unconstitutional. He was proud of it, although I don't know if I'd be proud of my role in encouraging illegal drug use. No other state has followed Minnesota's "lead."

Sentencing possessors, or sentencing sellers? Common moral sense would suggest that selling crack cocaine is far worse than selling cocaine in powder form. Law can be a noble profession just as teaching can be. Unfortunately, too many contemporary lawyers are little more than modern-day equivalents of the ancient Sophists. Pay them enough and they will argue anything. (Before any lawyer responds irately, he should carefully re-read the last two sentences.) Luther said that reason is a whore. Nowadays, when prostitution is a respectable profession, latter-day Lutherans say: Reason is a lawyer.

I'm glad to hear that that no other state has followed Minnesota's 'lead.' There are a lot of 'progressives' in Minnesota, aren't there? How did regress get itself renamed 'progress'? Garrison Keillor lives in the St. Paul area, doesn't he? I rather like his Prarie Home Companion, but his latest blathering brought him down several notches in my esteem.