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Having participated in a number of Ricochet conversations over the last few days on the decline of the West, the coming conflict in the Middle East–as Michael Barone wrote the other day, “I take it seriously when…non-hawks say Obama might bomb Iran”–and the general sense of economic, strategic, and world-historical gloom, I’d like to pause for a moment to note that summer in America is still pretty marvelous. Here in Northern California we’re on our thirtieth or fortieth straight day of cloudless skies and gentle breezes, and the five Robinson children, home for the summer, are busying themselves with tennis lessons (the oldest is teaching lessons, the two youngest, taking them), football, water polo, and studying for the many versions of the SAT. Two or three evenings a week, we’ve been watching a movie together–last night, “Chariots of Fire” (which, after some three decades, still holds up wonderfully). And–the big news here–I’ve just stumbled across a solution to the problem of playing chess with my three teenaged sons.
Chess with the boys used to involve two problems: It took too long. And the loser was always sore. (None of the boys likes to lose to Dad. Dad likes losing to the boys even less. We just seem to be built that way.) Speed chess, which I read about on some website or other–I have the feeling I’m the last adult in America to have heard of it–solves both problems. Get a stopwatch, then set a time limit on each move–one minute for games in the middle of the day, two for games in the evening. What happens? Each game moves a lot faster. That’s the change you’d expect. What you might not expect–what I certainly didn’t–is that each game also becomes a lot more light-hearted. Why? Because the stopwatch provides cover, enabling the loser to say, as my boys and I have all said once or twice now, “Well, okay, you win. But if this had been a real game, things would have been different.”
Mothers, this may strike you as silly. But dads–dads will understand.