Thursday, March 17, 2011

3/17 - The Answer is Bridge

As the problems are all so easy this week, the answers shall be very short and sweet, with no morals required.

L1: I hate to break it to you, Sunshine, but Economics hardly counts as being in the top drawer of Intellectual Pursuits. Can you recite whole pages from the Oxford Book of English Verse by memory? Can you whip off without notice a 1,000-word essay on which if either of the Knightley brothers was secretly in love with Jane Fairfax in an hour and a half? Can you at least recognize Muriel Spark and Iris Murdoch from their photographs?

All right, now that we have established you are not really an intellectual, it is time to decide what to do about your marriage. Now it might be enough to refer you to Mr Bennet (if you were a real intellectual, I could take it as a given that you would instantly pick up a reference to Pride and Prejudice), although he was much more of a genuine intellectual, and indeed was possessed of powers Mr Darcy himself need not have scorned. Having that incalculable male preference for youth and beauty in the person of a female partner, and being led into the assumption of good humour which youth and beauty generally give, Mr Bennet chose one of the worst life partners on the face of the planet. However, Mr Bennet showed himself to be quite the philosopher. When his wife failed to provide him with a male heir, a comfortable home or agreeable companionship, he was able to make the best of his situation and settle for being indebted to her on those occasions when her ignorance or folly contribted to his amusement. Perhpas this is not the usual sort of happiness which a man would wish to derive from his wife, but the true philosopher derives benefit from what is on offer. Interested parties might care to read the opening paragraph of Chapter 42.

I am a little surprised that so many people seem to think that W1 deserves better than LW1. Yes, he is certainly a pill of the first water. But she did, if his evidence can be trusted that far, seek him out, and may well have lured him into marriage. I am developing a little idea that they met in Las Vegas. If she had on offer youth, beauty, and the appearance of good humour which youth and beauty generally provide, then one might allow that very likely he had on offer wealth, respect, and the appearance of bonhomie which wealth and respect generally provide. They sound at least potentially quite well matched to me.

Now, I am as great a fan of divorce as anyone, but, as divorce has been advised by the Prudecution, I must of necessity counsel against it. And happily there is an easy solution at hand. LW1, teach your wife to play bridge. It will give the two of you an interest in common. Many non-intellectual women make quite reasonable bridge players - for example, Mona Symmington in The Moving Finger. And then you can take her to a Bridge Club and play against other married couples, most of whom will be all your age and older. With her presumed people skills (of the sort that got you to marry her), the two of you might be a formidable pair, as she may well be able to tell, when faced with a two-way finesse, which opponent to play for the queen of diamonds. And it should be easy to do well against other married (opposite-sex) couples. Your wife can flirt with the husbands, which will often fluster them and irritate their wives while they make mistake after mistake and the two of you pick up top board after top board. A successful partnership will give you two something over which to bond at long last, and the Prudecutor will be snarling in the cold over your not divorcing. Win-win-win.

L2: Now, I am all in favour of tutors in general. Indeed, I'd go so far as to advise home schooling entirely if the education were provided by a properly credentialed tutor rather than by, as seems to be the case ninety-five times out of an hundred, a parent, primarily a mother. Merging educational and parental authority is far too streamlined, and deprives children of a golden opportunity, so well set out in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, to recognize that adults could differ and were not automatically all bound together by grown-up authority (as Miss Brodie's girls realize when she points out to them with some scorn and derision a portrait pinned to the wall of Miss Mackay's much-admired Stanley Baldwin with the motto Safety First).

If it makes you feel any better, LW2, your work is competing against that of all the parents of your charges' contemporaries and not against that of their contemporaries themselves. Your employers have simply figured out the best way to game the system. It works for them better to pay you to come up with superiour Science Projects and Trigonometric Soloutions than to try to do that themselves, that's all. And it's not as if modern ingenuity and technology haven't already allowed the Trumps of the future to figure out how to cheat on tests as much as they like. And in the end they have to do it because enough other people do so that everybody has to go along just to keep position.

However, LW2, you can imrpove everybody's lot by teaching your charges how to play bridge. If they are half so bright as you say, they will take to it at once. It will improve their math skills by about fourfold, and it will provide you with a powerful incentive. They will soon be able to breeze through their own homework in record time in order to be able to spend the rest of the evening playing bridge, and eventually they will be right up there among that small handful of students who won't have to cheat, at least in math and science.

There may be those who doubt the efficacy of bridge to such a purpose. I venture to point out for the benefit of skeptics the relative lack of success of computers at mastering bridge. We have seen Deep Blue outcrunch and unnerve Garry Kasparov, and of course recently there has been the example of Watson and its triumphs at Jeopardy. But the best of the bridge computer programs (Jack, a Dutch program, which has won something like four or five of the last five or six Computer World Championships) is still a long way from being able to defeat humans.

L3: Now here the Prudecution is being wildly inconsistent. Given her Upstairs, Downstairs attitude about the clerical staff of a law firm being expected to check coats at a party for clients and be thankful they are given the opportunity, it is quite shocking here that, when the relative of one's boss comes in and demands that employees provide and deliver meals to someone during a period immediately after surgery, the Prudecution does not expect everyone immediately to attempt to discover the soon-to-be-surgered-woman's favourite receipts.

Buit as always there is a practical answer to LW3's difficulty. Become your boss' favourite bridge partner. This is an excellent hedge against a wide variety of cutbacks and layoffs and requests for shared suffering. To be entirely honest, most jobs can probably be performed with reasonable proficiency by a vast quantity of the population, assuming that they don't require large quantities of technical knowledge or particular skill. Most employees are interchangeable at least to some extent, and it should remain a hirer's market for a considerable period of time to come. But a good bridge partner is priceless.

L4: I have no patience with LW4. It would have served LW4 right if everyone else in the entire party had partaken of the tainted strawberries and been taken severely ill, and LW4 been accused of poisoning them all deliberately. But the answer, as is the case pretty consistently this week, is bridge. Or, at least, it would have been bridge had it been applied in time. Had the poor old woman in question been a bridge player, her Alzheimer's would have taken a good deal longer to get hold of her in the first place, and it would not have consumed quite so much of her reason once it had. Sadly bridge cannot be guaranteed as complete prevention, but it's better than most.

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