Kim Philby (3) vs. A. A. Milne; Gygax advances

Yesterday’s competition featured strong arguments on both sides.

Person came in strong for the Boutros:

Ghali was born in an actual Kingdom, which already makes him more fantastical that Gygax, who was born in Chicago. So Gary was beaten at his own game before it even began. Plus, according to numerous studies that surely border on the pseudoscientific, names early in the alphabet foretell future success. So Boutros beats Ernest, Boutros beats Gary, and Ghali beats Gygax.

+1 for bringing up suspicious psychology research.

Zhou wrote:

“During the 1996 U.S. presidential campaign, Republican candidate Bob Dole made fun of Boutros-Ghali’s name, and Clinton decided to eliminate Boutros-Ghali to help in his own reelection bid.”

Gygax might have a funny name, but Boutros-Ghali managed to have a funny name that managed to spark a diplomatic incident pitting the US against the entire rest of the UN Security Council.

Does that mean that Ghali’s talk would spark diplomatic incident pitting the political science department against the entire rest of Columbia? I wouldn’t want that. I think we’d lose!

Raghu came in with this recommendation:

Shouldn’t you roll a die to decide this one?

That sounded like a great idea! I got ready to unpack my D20s and figure out if either competitor had a +1 or +2 sword kicking around, maybe some spells to cast, but then I realized . . . I was already playing on Gygax’s turf! By setting the rules, he’d already won. So it’s the man from Lake Geneva who goes on to round 2.

There was also this comment from Jrc:

Seriously we cannot have Tolkien v. Gygax in the next round. It’ll start a whole $#@! posting flame war among rival hordes of basement dwellers the likes of which internet nerd-dom has not seen since The Last Jedi. Let’s just save ourselves the pain and go with the impressive hyphenate of Global Peace Leader-Arms Dealer.

A nerd flamewar . . . that sounds kinda fun, actually!

Today’s matchup

We’ve got an alcoholic spy pitted against a genuinely creepy author of four beloved children’s books (although Milne actually is entered in the “People known by initials” category). I’m guessing that either of them could be a wonderful speaker. Philby was notoriously loose-lipped so if we just lubricate him first he could probably share some great Cold War stories with us, and, as to Milne, who knows? He might just come up with an an all-new addition to the Pooh canon.

It’s kinda too bad these guys aren’t meeting in the finals, but the bracket is what is, so these heavyweights have to face each other in the first round. (I guess you could argue that Milne should’ve been seeded higher, but the top four in the “People known by initials” category are pretty damn impressive in their own right.)

Give us your best arguments!

Again, here are the announcement and the rules.

13 thoughts on “Kim Philby (3) vs. A. A. Milne; Gygax advances

  1. I’ve had a hard time absorbing who Milne was. If I heard him speak I might no longer be able to mumble about wise Sir Thomas Tom, who knew what nine was taken from to make eleven. That would be a loss for this mathematician. Philby, on the other hand, might offer good back story for John Le Carre.

  2. I like seminars about quantitative topics, so I go with Philby. He might talk about the Cambridge 5, how to be a 3x agent, what was about with 78 rue Grenelle, the MI5, the MI6, the 3rd man (hey!, ordinals too!). I doubt Milne was so thoroughly into numbers, despite his 2x initials.

  3. We went to the library on the weekend and my five year-old chose a couple of books to sign out, seemingly at random. One of those books was “Who was A. A. Milne?” Serendipity or premonition? The other book my son chose was about King Tut, indicating the caliber of company A. A. Milne keeps. Also, just look at who else is in the series: Neil Armstrong, Albert Einstein, Jesus…Kim Philby, um, no.

  4. This one is easy – Philby worked for MI6, and Milne worked for MI7; 7>6, so Milne wins.

    Also, Milne worked for British Intelligence, but Philby never wrote children’s books (not sure if that’s a point for or against him).

  5. I looked up A. A. Milne. I loved the Winnie-the-Pooh stories many decades ago.

    His undergraduate degree was in mathematics. In one writing he stated, “And nine men out of ten really believe that, if you toss a penny five times in the air and it comes down heads each time, it is more likely to come down tails than heads next time.”

    In that same work he wrote, ” If a man who makes a false quantity, or attributes Lycidas to Keats, is generally admitted to be uncultured, I resent it very much that no stigma attaches to the gentleman who cannot do short division.” Thus, he anticipated C. P. Snow’s The Two Cultures by three decades. See

    Given(1) that he promoted better numeracy in the press and (2) the fact that this blog sometimes castigates press accounts for failing the most basic quantitive analysis, it seems that Milne would deserve a dozen bonus points.


  6. Kim Philby betrayed his country. AA Milne was much worse – he betrayed his child. Christopher Robin Milne never really got over having his childhood used as the basis for AA Milne’s books — “It seemed to me almost that my father had got to where he was by climbing upon my infant shoulders, that he had filched from me my good name and had left me with the empty fame of being his son.”

    Philby it is.

    • Milne should be invited to hold a seminar on “Benefits and disadvantages of Making Your Child A Literary Character: A decision-theoretic approach”.

      Also, we really need to see Milne vs. Gygax later on, as Milne essentially published an account of the roleplaying games he gamemastered for his son (though lacking in dungeons).

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