Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Analyzing the Main Line of the Dragon

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 Nf6 4. Nc3 cxd4 5. Nxd4 g6 6. Be3 Bg7 7. f3 O-O 8. Bc4 Nc6 9. Qd2 Bd7 10. O-O-O Qa5 11. h4

11 Kb1 is probably the most often-played move, but it is not the most challenging or interesting move. With 11 h4 White announces that he is going to attack at every opportunity, and challenge Black to repel the attack with accurate play.

Rfc8 12. Bb3 Ne5 13. h5

Proceeding in standard fashion, White sacrifices his h-Pawn to open up the h-file for attack against the Black King.

Nxh5 14. g4 Nf6 15. Bh6 Bxh6

White was threatening 16 BxB KxB 17 Qh6ch followed by 18 Nd5, forcing the removal of Black's King Knight which is guarding h7. Theory recommends the immediate 16...Rxc3, eliminating the White Queen Knight which was the threat against the Black Knight on f6, but I prefer the Bishop trade first. This induces the Black Queen to go to h6, whereas after 16...Rxc3 17 bxc3 Bxh6, theory holds that White should recapture on h6 with the rook, as Black gets the better game with White's Queen on h6. Therefore, why not induce the Queen to h6 a move earlier, while White has the hope that perhaps Black will ignore the threat and fail to take on c3, giving White a winning attack due to his h-file pressure. In chess, as in life, conventional wisdom is sometimes wrong!

16 Qxh6 Rxc3 17 bxc3 Qxc3

Sometimes Black will delay this capture, but I see no point to this. Black now has a Knight and 2 Pawns for his Rook, which is plenty of compensation in this position. In fact, the endgame, if Black should get to it, greatly favors Black as White's Rook has no open files to operate on.

18 Kb1

Black was threatening the check on a1 followed by taking the Knight on d4 with check. Other White tries here have involved moving the Knight, either to e2 or f5, but these tries have turned out badly for White. His best move is clearly the Kb1 try.


Out of 10 games in the database, 18...Nc4 was played an equal number of times to this. But I see no reason to play ...Nc4 now, as White has no threat yet which requires this. At such time as the Bishop on b3 presents a credible threat to Black's Pawn on f7, certainly Black should then play ...Nc4 to block off the Bishop. By bringing the rook into play, Black opens up the option of taking with the rook on c4 when White plays BxN.

Also, by delaying ...Nc4 and playing ...Qxc3 immediately, Black opens up a threat against White's Pawn on f3, which gives White an additional worry to ponder. The Pawn on f3 is the only thing holding White's fragile King-side Pawn structure together, and when it falls, White's position is in serious danger of structural collapse.

Sometimes Black has also played 18...b5 here, which seems like a pointless waste of time to me.

After 18...Rc8, Black has placed White at a crossroads. White has entered into this position in attacking mode, but now there is no good way to continue his attack. f4 and Nf5 are the only attacking moves available, but these have proved futile. In fact, of 6 games in the database, the only move which produced a White win was Qd2, a defensive move which most White's would be loathe to play. (And that win only came as a result of a tactical trick at the end.) Attempts by White to guard the Pawn on f3 by Rhf1 or Rh3 also were not effective.

So, the conclusion is that Black has more than equalized, and the Dragon has served Black well. If it gets to an ending, Black's Knight and 2 Pawns will have a clear advantage over White's Rook which has nowhere to go. There is also the basic question of whether White is up to the challenge of losing his Pawn on f3, which Qd2 does.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Health Care and the Constitution

Libertariians are falling all over themselves with glee at the ruling by the Virginia federal judge who ruled the mandate in the health care bill unconstitutional. There were no less than four columns about this in the paper this week.

Two of the columns mentioned the question asked of Elena Kagan during her confirmation hearings, about whether it would be constitutional to require people to eat fruits and vegetables. Apparently she responded it would be a "dumb law", but she stopped short of saying it would be unconstitutional.

The whole issue is whether the federal government can mandate that you "do something" under the commerce clause. Previously the court OK'd a penalty against a farmer who grew wheat in excess of the quota, even though the wheat was for his own consumption. But the distinction all the libertarians are making is that never has the court ruled that *inaction* can constitutionally be found to be a violation of federal law under the commerce clause.

The only commentator who has commented in detail on how the Supreme Court might rule opined that it will come down to Justice Kennedy, and he pointed out that Kennedy's biography, entitled "The Tie Goes To Freedom", suggests that he will rule "on the side of liberty".

I suspect this is true, that the court will rule against the mandate. Perhaps then the federal government will do what is right and adopt real reform including a public option like the other developed countries have, at half the cost of health care in the U.S.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

On Prisons

Two related items in this week's news. The first describes the Stanford Law School's "Three Strikes Project", which has overturned 14 life prison terms handed out under
California's ridiculous 3-strikes law, which provides for life imprisonment for a third felony, even when all offenses were non-violent.

The current case they are working on is interesting because both the judge and the prosecutor have joined the Project in urging a modification of the harsh penalty imposed on a poor bastard who got life in prison for 2 burglaries committed at age 19, plus a conviction for possessing $10 worth of drugs. Details are at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/12/11/AR2010121101556_2.html

The second item describes how the number of inmates 55 and older in U.S. prisons are 71% higher than in 1999. The cost for housing older inmates is $70,000 a year. The cost for younger inmates is said to be less than half of that, although I have seen a figure that the average cost in California is $50,000 per year.

All during the recent campaign Republicans who whined about the deficit were asked what they would cut, and not one would give a straight answer. Here is how you can tell a real conservative: he or she will answer that they will close half the prisons and free the non-violent offenders, and close down all of our military bases on foreign soil. All the other mumb0-jumbo is just that.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Obama and Passion (Or Lack Thereof)

Shortly after Obama took office, a friend of mine asked if I had watched his speech the night before. I had to admit I had not, and felt like there must be something wrong with me that I wasn't that interested in listening to him.

But now I have come to understand what the problem is. Obama talks to us like he is talking to a college class, or perhaps to a grouop of fellow academics. There is no passion in his voice, nothing that is compelling enough to make us want to listen to him.

Related to this is an interview I read recently with historian Forrest McDonald, whose thesis is that there are two important functions of the President. One is the head of state, the other the CEO of the country. Were Obama only a CEO, he would perhaps be considered extremely competent. But the job entails more than that, you are also the leader of the people.

But McDonald goes further and says that the ceremonial function is often more important than the CEO part. As an example he says that "Jimmy Carter came across as a wimp, and the country was ashamed of itself. We felt weak. Ronald Reagan came in and made the country feel good about itself. We were no longer ashamed of ourselves, no longer afraid to take chances."

McDonald goes on to explain the importance of having a good ceremonial leader, saying "It's a basic, deep-seated, genetically rooted human craving to have a leader with whom one can identify and for whom one is willing to fight and die, to have a leader who symbolizes and personifies the aspirations, hopes, and values of the country."

Many inexplicable results throughout U.S. electoral history can be explained by taking this basic concept into account.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Some Good News

It is hard not to become hopelessly depressed when one follows national and international news. Hence a few positive items from today's paper give one reason for hope. All are environmental:

1) The bald eagle is rebounding from near-extinction. A Pa. sanctuary recorded 407 this year, smashing the old record of 245.

2) Two studies were released yesterday showing that the polar bear may not be facing extinction as previously feared.

3) A Japanese salmon thought to be extinct for 70 years was found alive and well in a lake near Mt. Fuji.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Letter to Mitch Albom

Dear Mr. Albom:

I usually enjoy your columns, which is why yesterday's column entitled "tax cut debate missing the point" was such a disappointment to me.

Your example of a couple making $250,000 talked about their tax burden being 40% under the Democratic proposal. This is blatantly false, and such falsehoods are hard to fathom coming from a person of your stature. Do you not have any editors?

The fact is that, under the Democratic proposal, taxes would only go up to the 40% vicinity on income *above* $250,000. The cuts would remain in place for all income under that amount. (And under an alternative proposal, the increase would only apply to income over a million. Do you oppose this too?)

I worked through the tax laws based on the 2009 rules. Your hypothetical family with 4 kids and $250,000 income would pay a total of $50,054 in income taxes. This is within the 25% which you say is reasonable. (And it assumes no itemization of deductions; i.e., the standard deduction was used.)

You are certainly entitled to your own opinions, but you are not entitled to your own facts.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Letter on Ron Santo

Dear Mr. Usher:

I appreciated your recent column on Ron Santo, and also the one a month ago on Sparky Anderson. I think it is helpful to be reminded every so often that not all athletes are prima donnas.

I do have to take issue with your statement that as a player, Santo was a "border-line Hall of Famer". I think a fair examination of his record reveals he is absolutely a Hall-of-Famer, despite the failure of the writers ot vote him in.

"Total Baseball" gives him the NL's highest player rating for the years '64, '66, and '67. Had he been voted these 3 MVP's like he should have been, his HOF induction would be a no-brainer. And considering he was 2nd in TPR in 1965, he surely had one of the best 4-year runs in MLB history.

I agree with you that a person's total contribution to the game should be considered, and were that possible Santo would surely be in the HOF, considering his broadcasting career in combination with his playing career. But unfortunately, the HOF rules require that one must be inducted in a particular category, and total contributions are therefore not considered.

The same writers who snubbed Santo by voting him 8th, 18th(!), 12th, and 4th, respectively, for the MVP in the years 1964 through 1967, continued to snub him after his retirement by denying him his rightful place in the Hall of Fame. What a shame.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

On Political Rhetoric

Thomas Sewell had a column yesterday entitled "Rhetoric rides over reason in tax debate". His purpose is to show how deceptive rhetoric is being used in the tax debate. He states that "political rhetoric is largely the art of misstating issues".

Interesting, then, to see how Mr. Sewell himself used the very type of rhetoric he so strongly denounces. He says it is wrong to talk about a tax cut, because nobody's taxes are going to be "cut". But if existing law says they will go up on January 1st, then it *is* a cut to knock them back down from what they would have been absent Congressional action.

Then he says that a second reason it is wrong to talk about "tax cuts for the rich" is that the "rich" aren't really rich. He gives the example of a family making $250,000 a year and paying $30,000 for tuition for one year. I say that anybody who can afford to pay that kind of tuition is, in fact, rich. There are billions of people on this planet who would consider themselves rich if they had a small fraction of the $250,00 a year which Sewell says is not rich. This is just American arrogance at work here.

He objects to using "giving", as in "giving the rich a tax cut", saying that the government letting people keep more of their money is not "giving" them anything. But if you accept that taxes are necessary in a society then why not use that word. It is not like the government is stealing from people, which is how Sewell paints it.

But then he goes on to say that "giving" is appropriate to use in connection with unemployment benefits. This ignores that these benefits are not welfare, but are *insurance*, i.e., employers have paid into a fund to create a safety net for the involuntarily unemployed should employees get laid off. Sewell says studies show that people stay unemployed longer when benefits are extended. Yes, there likely is some correlation there, but studies would also show that the overwhelming majority of the unemployed would rather be working.

An item Sewell does not even mention is that one of the votes would have axed the tax cut for those making over a million a year. If $250,000 is not rich, would Sewell consider a million a year rich? The Republicans voted even against this, and they should be held accountable for their pandering to the rich in this shameless manner.

Sewell again missteps when he says that it is "liberals" who want to raise taxes on the rich. I say that any true conservative would agree that cutting taxes on the rich is not adviseable when the deficit is so huge. Nobody is more conservative than David Stockman, who served in the Reagan administration. And Stockman recently spoke out and said it is totally irresponsible to talk about cutting taxes when the deficit is out of control like it is. We are, in fact, careening toward bankruptcy, and our once-great country is on the ropes.

It is interesting to go back and read the writings and speeches by the founders and the early presidents. What you find is that they used the word "posterity" over and over. These people cared about the future, and took pains to leave their children a better country than they themselves had experienced. Now anybody who cares about posterity is a voice crying in the wilderness, with nobody listening. Instant gratification right now, and to hell with the consequences. That attitude is leading us right into the toilet.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

On Deficit Reduction

The bipartisan commission is meeting and news reports today reported dissension among commission members. The two co-chairs released some preliminary ideas a few weeks ago, but the problem is that among the members themselves there are active politicians, and politicians these days lack the political courage to do anything meaningful about runaway spending. Just think back to the recent campaign; every time a journalist asked a Republican what he proposed to cut, the politician would never give a straight answer. Now that is true cowardice.

The rules are that any proposal needs 14 votes (out of 18 total) to be issued. This will never happen, but it's irrelevant anyway since Congress never will find the will to enact legislation involving tough choices.

The good news is that the ideas from the co-chairs made it clear that the "sacred cows" previously deemed untouchable are on the table for discussion. (I swear, I am going to puke if I ever again hear the words "non-defense discretionary spending" as the only things on the table. Everyone knows true savings cannot be achieved if the cuts are limited to that relatively small category of spending.) The four sacred cows are social security, Medicare, defense, and the interest deduction for mortgages. I don't know much about Medicare, but I will deal with the others.

First defense. Having our military personnel stationed in over 100 countries around the world is just ludicrous. It engenders much resentment toward the U.S., and on balance probably makes us less safe rather than more. We should close all our bases on foreign soil and bring the troops home to the U.S. If the military wants bases on U.S. soil, like Guam and American Samoa, this is acceptable, but we should not have bases on foreign soil, any more than we would allow foreign countries to have bases on our soil. (For an example of the resentment caused by our presence, look at the Japanese Prime Minister having to resign because he couldn't get rid of our base on Okinawa as he had promised.)

Certainly our navy should retain the right to operate in international waters, and by so doing the U.S. could retain a significant presence around the world, without violating other countries' sovereign space.

We should also call a halt to the runaway spending on new weapons systems, which are being bought as if there still was a cold war going on. We have plenty of weapons already.

Next social security. Obviously changes must be made to keep it viable. Politicians get asked "would you cut social security?", and are afraid to even bring up raising the retirement age because they are afraid that journalists will paint this as a "cut", even though it really is not. Ideally the retirement age shoud be pegged to life expectancy, just like the monthly checks are now pegged to the cost of living. As life expectancy goes up, obviously the retirement age should go up as well. This seems so obvious that it is inexplicable why the resistance to this is so high.

Next the interest deduction. This is bad public policy in the first place. It is based on the myth that every family should live in a single-famly house with the yard and picket fence, etc. Because of the interest deduction, people spend more for houses than they are worth, artifically propping up the housing market from where it should be based on normal economic realitites. The housing market should be allowed to function free of this artificial stimulus, and then maybe homes would become affordable for first-time buyers with young families. But also, people would be more encouraged to live in alternative settings, like apartments where utilities are lower and energy usage is conserved. Perhaps people would realize they don't need to live miles and miles away from where they work, thereby wasting hours a day in commutes, and polluting the atmosphere with their vehicles. Perhaps liveable communities would arise.

Tax cuts on the rich need to be allowed to lapse as scheduled. Much savings can be had here.

It's not that any of this is rocket science, it's just that we don't have Congressmen with guts and vision like we used to have. Initially Congress was supposed to be the main branch of goverment, and in the 1800's it contained great men like Clay, Webster, and Calhoun, who were better known and more respected than many Presidents. But now, a Congressman is little more than an errand boy for his constituents, doing them favors and doing his best to "bring home the bacon" for his district. This is one instance where the "good old days" really were the good old days.