With my parents these sort of issues were less, until they got very old, in large part because they had routine activities with family and friends that normalized interactions. One of those was playing tennis. The other was playing bridge. I wrote about this some in a post called Devotion, which was crafted after cleaning out my parent's condo in Boca Raton, aided by their caregiver, Beverly. The post was both a way to process my grief, which was considerable, and to offer up a tribute to Beverly. My mother remained alive for more than 13 years after my father died, remarkable under the circumstances. To set the stage I did talk about family life some when we were kids and then again early into their retirement, when both parents were reasonably functional. Part of that was talking about bridge.
...... My parents (more my mother than my father) were avid if only moderately skilled players. Many of the friends whom they had over on the weekends came to play bridge. Bridge was a big part of my parents' social life. So it's not surprising that my parents taught my brother and me. (My sister, I believe, didn't learn bridge since, 5 years my senior, there wasn't a fourth person around to play with when she was junior high school age. I was too young for that.)
Bridge is a fascinating game to an economist as it bears aspects of incomplete information and communicating privately held information via both the bidding and the play of the cards. When I came to the U of I some of my colleagues (who would soon become my very good friends) had a regular game at lunchtime. I joined right in. One of our number had been a ranked player nationally and he tutored us to raise our level. For a while my game improved steadily as I came to understand the requisite thinking in better play. There is a lot of counting to determine probabilities (or at least a sense of probability) in figuring out the play of each card, using the bidding and the prior play to aid in this determination.
I didn't write this in the piece, but it turns out that bridge is a useful complement for the economic theorist in considering actual decision making. Economic theory has as its aim to illuminate general principles that explain many seemingly different situations. In contrast, when playing bridge each hand offers up a unique situation to analyze. Sequencing the choice of cards to play then becomes an important aspect of the player's thinking. The aim is to do as best as possible in the given situation. My mother knew a lot of rules to apply, which eventually turned out to limit her play (and also to limit her in managing interactions with me when I was a teenager). Partly out of a sense of rebellion and maybe just because it was my intellectual disposition, I wanted to figure out the situation from first principles and the facts that were already known. Because there is considerable complexity with bridge, I wouldn't get the play right all the time. But that's what I would try for. I have a sense that this sort of thinking helped me in my career, as an administrator. Sequencing the moves was important there as well. I wonder if kids nowadays get practice at sequentially arranging choices in other activities in which they engage.
Recently, I've taken up again reading the bridge column written by Phillip Adler, which is reprinted in the local newspaper. This was a serendipitous choice, as the paper rearranged whether the Daily Jumble appeared, and I already had the habit of doing that. Adler's column appeared adjacent to the Jumble. On those days where I snapped off the Jumble - one, two, three, zing - I wanted some more time to noodle around with the paper. The bridge column was perfect for that.
It's been a few weeks since I resumed with Adler's column and I want to note some differences for the reader of the columns as compared to those who actually played the hand of bridge. First, the reader does have complete information, as the cards for each player are revealed. But the reader is then asked by Adler to consider the situation when only looking at one hand, but also taking into account the information that bidding and the prior play revealed. Second, the hand is selected precisely because there is some subtlety in finding the winning play, whether that is for the defense or, more frequently, for the declarer. This keeps the reader on his toes, to see if he can come up with that winning line of play. Third, these are typically hands played in some actual duplicate bridge tournament, so the reader gets to compare his imagined choices with what actually happened in the tournament.
There are some interesting conventions employed in the writing of the column. The first paragraph is always about some famous person or event, taking a particular lesson from that and applying it to the hand in question. It is a stylistic choice of the writer to begin the piece that way. It adds a certain charm to the column. Then the players are arrayed using the convention of directions on a map. The defense is always East and West, regardless of how the players were actually sitting during the tournament. The declarer is South. The open hand during the play, opposite the declarer, is North. The open hand is called the dummy, ergo the title of my piece.
I puzzled some why this latter convention is used and if it makes reading the column easier or not. I thought of this West Wing episode, where some cartographers argue for using the Peters projection for global maps instead of the Mercator projection. CJ became completely freaked out by this suggestion. What was taught in grade school we accept as absolute truth, a fact she emblemizes in this scene. We don't like our firm beliefs to be disrupted, even if the change is socially necessary. Armed with that memory, I wondered why the declarer couldn't match where the players actually sat in the tournament or, if not that, why in the columns the players would be identified as right and left on defense, up as the dummy and down as the declarer. Would that really change anything? Nevertheless, it's not done that done that way, perhaps another example of tyranny of the status quo.
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A different tradition with my parents, one I didn't write about in that piece on Beverly, was to engage in word play. Some of that happened spontaneously in conversation. Making puns in context was a prized activity, one I have passed along to my offspring. Then, too, instead of playing scrabble we played anagrams, where you not only made your own words with the letters you had picked up, but you also could steal a word from another player by adding some letters to a word the player had already displayed on the table and then rearranging the letters to form a new word. Now word play is deeply embedded in me. I do it compulsively, as a matter of course.
So I start to play around with the title of this post. I wonder if anyone who reads it would do likewise. As a preface, this quote might be helpful.
"The past is never dead. It's not even past."
William Faulkner, Requiem for a Nun
I'm guessing that to a lot of readers it will seem now that we are going through a reenactment of the Civil War, albeit this time around it's a cold war not a hot one, and the names have changed so that now the Republicans represent the South in this war. It seems to me we've been in this war for a very long time, at least since Reagan became president. The culture wars, with William Bennett the government official whom we most associate with the term and The Moral Majority, founded by Jerry Falwell, the non-governmental organization we most associate with the movement. Subsequently, there was the Contract with America, the TEA Party, and more recently MAGA. Each time the leadership made an appeal to potential members to join with them as if they were on a holy crusade. The South understands in their bones that they are engaged in another Civil War, though the aim now is more members of Congress and more Justices who might revoke Roe.
Taken this way, the title of the post can mean that The North is stupid. It refuses to recognize that this Civil War is going on. It repeatedly errs by framing things as if we all love America and politics is merely the expression of differences in point of view done in a civil (not capitalized) manner. Both pundits and politicians then err, by accusing Republicans in Congress of venality and hypocrisy, but avoiding talking about politics as war, thereby missing the main point. During a war all is fair.
We have a long experience of fighting a cold war with the Soviet Union. We might draw some lessons from that experience. While there was aggression exercised on both sides then, there was also restraint, which was governed by MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction). The U.S. had already demonstrated the devastation nuclear weapons were capable of in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The arms race ensued immediately after World War II ended. But the Dr. Strangelove scenario never played itself out in reality. The subsequent events that the first strike would trigger were too scary to contemplate. If we tried to apply the lessons from this experience to our domestic politics, what credible threat would The North come up with to restrain the South from its current excesses and thereby eventually retrain itself as well? Or is that even possible?
I confess that I don't have answers to these questions. A real answer would require understanding both game theory a la Thomas Schelling and to understand the means by which effective political conflict would occur nowadays. I'm ignorant on the latter, so rely on TV shows and the movies with political espionage and intrigue to fuel my imagination. Suppose, for example, it has been discovered that Senator McConnell has squirreled away hundreds of millions of dollars in some off-share tax haven, and via sophisticated electronic warfare techniques those funds can by siphoned away, so he no longer has access. With hypotheticals like this one can readily construct quite a yarn. But doing so doesn't get us any closer to imagining what real political cold warfare would be like, with the North fully engaged. It is, of course, also possible to imagine hot warfare, perhaps as a demonstration of the bad outcome that might ensue. But it is much harder to consider ways where that would be contained and not escalate, indeed only to serve subsequently as a threat against grievous violations of pax politica.
So, I'm guessing this is not an easy problem to solve, even for those who do have suitable expertise to consider realistic alternatives. But that a problem is difficult to solve shouldn't mean we shy away from considering the problem altogether, n'est-pas? Doing so might be a different way that the North is the Dummy and a not very courageous one at that.