The terrible costs of war are almost impossible to calculate. However, let me try to give just a little perspective.
At first glance, this may appear to be a humorous column. It’s not.
I’m building a cement wall in my backyard. Yesterday, I unloaded 120 cinder blocks off a rental truck weighing 28 pounds each, plus ten bags of mortar. Then, I carried everything into the back, two bricks at a time, which took me almost three hours. In a few days, I’ll mix the cement, lift each block into place, make a huge mess, and slowly begin building my wall.
Total Cost: $220.
Time: 16 hours (estimated)
Construction is hard work. It’s brutal on the 56-year-old body, especially if you’re doing things manually (without machines and tools). The weather is cool now here in Las Vegas, but it must be excruciating to do construction work full-time in the summer when temperatures soar to 116 degrees and everything gets so hot to the touch, your hand can get scorched.
I don’t like construction work. I’d much rather be drinking wine and wasting time arguing politics on Facebook.
Construction work sucks.
You’re looking at a photograph of someplace in Syria.
I don’t know the name of the city. It doesn’t matter.
Take a closer look at all those buildings, all the walls, all the cement dust, all the destruction. Then, multiply what you see in this photograph by 100,000 or 1,000,000 or 10,000,000. I have no idea how massive the destruction is in that country. It’s probably incalculable.
Think of how many walls in Syria and other parts of the world plagued by war need to be torn down. Then, removed. Then, new bricks and cement need to be trucked in. Finally, each brick must be set into place.
Think of the cost. Think of the time needed. Think of the labor.
It’s almost unfathomable to contemplate.
But the work must be done. One brick at a time.
I’m building a wall which takes me two full days. In some ways, I have it easy. There’s nothing to tear down or remove. No bombs are falling on me from the sky while I work. No walls will collapse and kill me. It’s a simple job.
I have the luxury of taking breaks. I can grab a drink anytime. I have my music playing in the background. There’s a toilet just a few steps away. I will enjoy a nice lunch and an even better dinner. I will sleep in a comfortable bed at night.
Sure, it’s a tough job. I will have body aches afterward. But it’s a hell of a lot easier than what some people are faced with in another part of the world.
I’m not going to complain that my back aches. Some people have it a lot tougher.
As I was carrying all those bricks yesterday I thought of the people in Syria and other places in the world suffering the cruel fate of war — people I do not now and likely will never meet. It’s always the innocent who suffer most, often women and children.
Most of those people who will end up doing all the heavy lifting and trying to rebuild their walls and lives did no wrong. They committed no crimes. They had nothing to do with the brutal hostilities which led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands and the current refugee crisis resulting from millions fleeing the terror. Yet those still in Syria and other places are the ones who will be forced to lift the bricks, mix the mortar, and construct a new society hopefully with a better future than the past.
My aches and pains will be multiplied a hundred-million times over by people who likely are not as healthy or well fed or safe.
Worst of all for those willing to work and build new walls is not knowing what will happen ahead. I’m confident that my wall will stand. Nothing poses any threat to its construction. But what about those new walls built in that devastated faraway place? Will they last? If so, for how long? Will another bomb fall? Will there be a new war?
Building my wall gives me some perspective about the horrific costs of war. Those who pay the highest cost of the destruction are often those who least deserve to bear the burdens, but always end up paying for the sins of the wicked.
Occasionally, I subject myself the cruel misfortune of watching the FOX News Channel.
The disgraced propaganda machine popular “news network” once domineered by two serial sexual predators (Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly) is the longtime love nest of Republicans. It’s beloved by fundamentalist Christians. It’s the media harbor and spotlight for ideological conservatives, which comprise the vast majority of its dwindling and dying off elderly viewership. It’s a favorite media hangout for on-air screwballs willing to junk all the customary standards of journalistic decency in exchange for national fame and a quick buck.
FOX News has become the Pravda of the Trump Administration. Desperate for constant fawning adoration which hints at something far more deeply troubling, President Trump compulsively watches the network several hours each day. FOX News eagerly parrots any plausible-sounding lie and pimps every conspiracy theory that stands even a remote a chance of being swallowed up by millions of haters who faithfully line up at the trough willing to lap up the network’s crackpot dogma.
For example, FOX News frequently promotes various “Deep State” plots. On-air personalities routinely try to debunk the science of man-made climate change. The network has repeatedly been exposed for manipulating photos and videos. FOX demonizes anyone construed to question the “America First” agenda. They’re tucked deep inside the pocket of the Koch Brothers, the Blackwaters, and religious kooks. And, they continue to bang the war drums against anyone outside their diminishing circle of wackos — including former President Obama, liberals, intellectuals, Hollywood, the European Union, immigrants, Muslims, minorities, high school students, Blacks, civil rights activists, the cast of Hamilton, and their all-time favorite punching bag, Hillary Clinton, even though it’s been 15 months since she was relevant about anything.
Indeed, FOX News is a rats nest of disinformation. A self-parody of truth. A black comedy.
What follows isn’t merely an honest mistake, which does sometimes happen in journalism. This is a news story which is intentionally misleading. The story is willfully intended to conjure up fear. It instills hate. Watch this short “news” segment which aired last night on FOX News on the subject of immigration and how some neighborhoods in America are changing. The clip runs only 1 minute and 21 seconds long, so it’s a quick view:
The story is one-sided. But at first glance, it sounds plausible. A small American town is changing rapidly because of a recent influx of new immigrants. This is happening in many communities across the country. There’s no denying this.
The problem is, Tucker Carlson is lying. He fabricates fear. He wants to scare the hell of out people — mostly old White people who see new immigrants moving in next door and shit their Depends.
Don’t take my word for it. Here are the facts.
Carlson cites the Pennsylvania coal town of Hazelton. The town once had a tiny Latino population, which in recent years has become a majority in number. According to Carlson: “People in Hazelton return to a town where they can’t communicate with the people who now live there.” The claim is that most of the new immigrants don’t speak English.
That’s not true. Data from the American Census Bureau which took about 2 minutes to pull up on Google reveals that 84 percent of Hazelton residents speak English well, which isn’t much of a change from the same data source decades ago. But wait, there’s more, especially for those who know something about the history of this region of the country. The real irony is that Hazelton exists only because it was initially populated in very large numbers by Eastern- and Southern-European immigrants, a majority of which didn’t speak much English when they arrived. Those are the ancestors of most who live in Hazelton — immigrants who didn’t speak English very well. Hence, 100 years ago Carlson might have been right. Most of Hazelton’s population had difficulty communicating in the English language. So, Carlson ended up being correct — albeit a century too late.
Typical conservative….always behind the times.
There’s more misleading innuendo. All these new immigrants made Hazelton’s crime rate soar, right? Again, credible data exists which clearly refutes this. Despite an obvious demographic shift in local population (more immigrants), crime is down significantly over the past two years — by a whopping 40 percent.
To be clear, this nation must have a serious discussion as to acceptable levels of immigration in the United States. We should be debating this. That’s a topic with legitimate points of view on multiple sides worthy of contemplation. But let’s do this with facts, not falsehoods or hyperbole.
Let’s not get sidetracked by lazy talking heads like Tucker Carlson on FOX News who constantly muddy every issue they take on with their misleading agendas. Falsely asserting the residents of a community can’t communicate with each other because of new immigrants panders to the worst instincts in people. It stokes hate and fear. Implying immigrants make our cities more dangerous is junk journalism. What makes these wrongs so utterly detestable is — they are not true. There is clear evidence to the contrary.
This problem isn’t just emblematic. It’s a pandemic of most conservative media. Virtually none of the millions of regular FOX News viewers who viewed the misleading report will fact check anything. They’ll eagerly turn on the likes of Carlson, and Hannity, and the rest of the Right-wing hate parade and willfully march along.
We need to embrace an impartial and unemotional risk assessment as the ways we allow technology to manage our lives. The question we should be asking is this: Are self-driven cars more safe or less safe than human-driven vehicles?
You’ve probably heard by now about the self-driving Uber vehicle that killed someone.
This is a double tragedy. First, someone needlessly died. Second, the accident is likely to dampen public enthusiasm for a new technology that could ultimately save many lives.
Self-driving vehicles are long overdue given astounding advances in telecommunications, automation, and robotics. If we can operate sophisticated military weapons (drones) and drop deadly explosives on people on the opposite side of the world with nothing more than signals beamed from remote locations using satellites, it seems we should be able to harness a similar technology for something more humane.
Just as distressing is the widespread public misconception about safety and risk which often clouds good judgment. We don’t always think logically. In fact, we often overreact when we perceive danger (recall the infamous overreaches of the Patriot Act). In the wake of this traffic death, expect a new wave of opposition to self-driving cars and trucks. People are afraid.
What’s your first thought if you see a driverless car? Most of us are likely to gawk at the sight. We’re not accustomed yet to seeing an empty driver’s seat. It’s even a bit scary. High-tech stuff intimidates lots of people. We’re afraid — usually of things we can’t control and don’t understand.
Instead, let’s try and be reasonable. Let’s allow science to work for us. What we need is an impartial and unemotional approach to the ways we allow technology to manage our lives. The question we should be asking is this: Are self-driven cars more safe or less safe than human-driven vehicles? This is the only answer that matters.
Yes, a pedestrian killed by a self-driven car is a terrible incident. Joint public-private inquiry and oversight absolutely must be implemented that will improve if, not guarantee, safeguards. But let’s not get carried away here. How many pedestrians would have been killed by all the self-driven vehicles currently engaged in a trial phase throughout the United States had they been driven by humans, instead?
Let’s acknowledge that accidents do happen. To err is human. Every time we get into a car, we risk the chance of dying. Moreover, walking on the street even entails some risk. It’s quite possible — even likely — that human drivers would have been responsible for more accidents had no self-driving cars been on the road. Certainly, once this technology improves to an acceptable level, automated vehicles will be much safer than those with human drivers.
Why do I believe this?
Admittedly, my knowledge of self-driving vehicles and the associated technologies is almost zero. Still, I’m willing to go on record with a few suppositions — that no self-driving vehicle is ever drunk, stoned on drugs, or will fall asleep at the wheel. No self-driving vehicle will ever be distracted by a text message or a passenger. No self-driving vehicle will ever instigate a case of road rage. Furthermore, no self-driving vehicle will speed, run a red light, or break traffic laws. In short, once this emerging technology improves, we will all be much safer.
There’s a valid comparison which supports the argument. Air travel is far safer now than years ago. This is mainly due to advances in technology similar to self-driving cars. Flying is safer now, even though there are far more planes in the air today than at any time in history; yet airline disasters have become exceedingly rare. This is especially true in the United States. It’s never been safer to fly on a commercial airline.
Boeing is currently testing airplanes that fly on their own. Unlike self-driving cars, which is a relatively new concept in the public consciousness, most commercial flying is already heavily automated. We aren’t being chauffeured from take-off to a landing point by a pilot. Most of the journey from gate to gate is planned and controlled by a computerized auto-pilot.
Of course, a human pilot is always in the cockpit for at least two reasons. First, human pilots instill confidence with fliers. This is why crew members for major airlines continue wearing outdated military-style uniforms, even though such antiquated customs serve no purpose. Second, a human pilot can always intervene just in case there’s an emergency. Passengers aren’t worried their lives are tinker-toyed to a tiny microchip making all the necessary in-flight adjustments. We’re comforted by the confidence a real pilot can seize the flight controls if something goes terribly wrong.
The implications of inevitable advances in high-tech, including self-driving cars, trucks, trains, and planes is a debate worth having. Millions of jobs will be at stake. Taxi drivers, truckers, train engineers, and pilots could soon become about as relevant as blacksmiths. Automation will continue to displace workers. That’s a big concern that will require an adult conversation.
However, let’s not hide our heads in the sand and pretend technologies that change our lives will go away — because they won’t. They’re here to stay. When tragedy occurs and technologies fail, as will happen, that’s not the time to retreat. It’s the time to work harder to make things better.
All this being said, I’ll leave you with a question: If you ordered Uber and a driverless car showed up, would you get in and accept the ride?
St. Patricks Day and March Madness weekend combine to create the perfect storm for skilled low- to mid-stakes poker players. It’s become the best calendar date of the year to play poker in Las Vegas.
I was astounded by all the craziness last night. Call it March Poker Madness.
Las Vegas poker rooms were packed. Every seat was taken. Waiting lists were long. More drinking and talking went on than usual. Almost no headphones were seen. Players looked to be having fun. The pots seemed bigger. Many games were great.
I got my ass kicked.
No, not really. Let’s just say it was a good night.
This was my overall impression after playing at four different cardrooms over an 11-hour stretch on a long Saturday night-early Sunday morning, which just so happened to overlap into a perfect storm of citywide poker action. My conclusion is this:
St. Patrick’s Day and the opening weekend of March Madness appear to create the best calendar date of the year to play poker, at least here in Las Vegas.
Surprisingly, I never realized this phenomenon before. Las Vegas has been my home for 16 years. One would think I’d have discovered this already. But I don’t recall going out to play poker during this specific weekend. In the past, for more than a decade I traveled frequently with the World Series of Poker Circuit, which meant I was off working, someplace else. If I was in Las Vegas during mid-March, it’s most likely that I avoided what amounts to “amateur night” for partiers and drinkers. Don’t misunderstand. I love drinking. But I don’t like drinking with drunken amateurs. Besides, the service sucks everywhere. It’s way too crowded.
Now, I realize the objective isn’t drinking with drunken amateurs. It’s to play poker with them.
Aside from the financial upside, the games last night reminded me of the way poker used to be. Players cracking jokes and laughing. Everyone talking about the ball game on TV. Gamblers discussing the next day’s pointspreads, while ordering another Miller Lite. You know, having fun.
If this all sounds manipulative, even exploitive, well — it is. In a game with tougher players and diminishing edges, every conceivable advantage must be hunted. That’s assuming you play for money. The formula for increasing one’s chance of winning is simple: You have to go where games are good and play at the ideal time. Oh, and you must play well.
Saturday nights are almost always the best nights of the year to play poker. This is true just about anywhere, especially in Las Vegas. Friday nights can be pretty good, too. However, on Friday nights many less-skilled players realize there’s still a long weekend ahead of them. They tend to remain in control of themselves and make table decisions that aren’t catastrophic. Not yet, anyway.
By Saturday night, the emotional bolts of self-constraint have rusted away and are about to snap. At least a few dozen beers into the weekend with a pocket full of losing sports tickets, the poker table becomes the last chance to get even. Sometimes maxed out on ATM visits and down to their last hundred, players will simply give up out of frustration. I saw this happen last night when an out-of-town visitor on a bad run got fed up with playing normally. He decided to blind shove his last $120. He lost.
Those kinds of bizarre situations happen a lot on Saturday nights, especially in the “touristy” poker rooms on The Strip filled with frat boys. But that’s merely the foundation for more craziness.
Combine Saturday night with the opening weekend of March Madness, which is four exhaustive days and nights of betting and watching television and cheering, then subtract the hours of much-needed rest, and low-to mid-stakes poker games all over town become even wilder. Then, to top things off, add in the party factor — St. Patrick’s Day. This is one of the most popular days of the year for casual alcohol consumption, perhaps second only to New Year’s Eve. All the scrumptious ingredients are in place:
Las Vegas + Saturday Night + March Madness + St. Patrick’s Day = Great poker games.
Admittedly, this was just one night. Perhaps, my experience was atypical. Maybe I’m exaggerating. Let’s open this up to other opinions.
Eager to know if my personal experience and hypothesis about St. Patrick’s Day/March Madness is shared by other poker players, I posted a poll on Twitter. Although the results are unscientific, these percentages show that a majority of poker players believe this is/was the best night (and weekend) of the year to play poker in Las Vegas.
Here are the results, so far (Note: It’s now 12 hours into the 24-hour poll — so the results are incomplete). The results do appear to be conclusive:
I don’t know what I’ll be doing tomorrow night — or the next, or the next. But I sure do know what I’ll be doing next March 16, 2019. I’ll definitely be playing poker.
Every big city in America has its own peculiar set of rules for driving a car:
In Los Angeles — make sure each drive begins with a full tank of gas. You might need it. Sitting in traffic for hours with the engine idling away is a part of daily life.
In Philadephia — always keep one hand on the steering wheel, while maintaining the other hand in a locked position with the middle finger extended, fully prepared to engage any violators.
In Chicago — get bulletproof windows.
In Dallas — make sure your collision insurance is up-to-date.
In Miami-Ft. Lauderdale — prepare for a constant game of dodgeball, since half the population is over 85 and the rest are nuts.
In New York — don’t drive.
Las Vegas can be a really strange place, especially when it comes to driving.
Our auto insurance rates are among the highest in the nation. Driving on freeways here can be like racing in the Daytona 500. Everything is a competition. Cutting off someone is traffic is personal and demands revenge. Other cities with heavy traffic slow down when it’s bumper to bumper. In Las Vegas, we hit the gas. Flashing neon lights up and down the casino strip is a particularly bad influence on drivers; turn signals are used merely for ornamentation. When it rains, which is almost never, forget about it. You might as well pack up and leave town. When the roads are slick, everyone drives faster. It’s madness.
We do love to gamble. Especially behind the wheel.
For tourists who rent a car, local residents, or god forbid pedestrians and cyclists (how are you not in a coma?), what follows are some helpful hints enabling you to survive the unique Las Vegas driving experience.
A Dozen Rules for Driving in Las Vegas:
Rule #1: There are no rules.
That’s right. There are no rules for driving in Las Vegas. Well at least, no one pays attention to them. So, neither should you. Ignore traffic laws relating to speed limits, school zones, and areas under constructions (which basically applies to every expressway in the city). Do whatever you want.
Rule#2: Keep up with the flow of traffic.
If there’s a speed limit posted, add 20 mph to it. That’s the real speed limit. The 20 mph “over” rule especially applies to delivery trucks and city buses, which all drive batshit crazy. If you don’t drive at the common speed limit, you might get run off the road. So, keep up with the flow of traffic. Note: In Sun City Summerlin, which is a sprawling “over 55” community, reverse everything written above. Subtract 20 mph from the posted speed limits. Better yet, buy a golf cart.
Rule #3: It’s always rush hour.
In Las Vegas, there are no clocks in casinos. Moreover, there are no clocks on the roadways. Normal times of day don’t apply here. 9 to 5 isn’t the workday. It’s the odds on a craps table. This is a 24-hour city where anyone can order a steak, smoke a bowl, shoot up, or down half a dozen martinis — day and night. You might think it’s safe to drive the streets at 10 am. Not true. The morning drive means the graveyard shift got off work and already had three hours to party. Las Vegas’ rush hour is midnight until 11:59 at night.
Rule #4: Never brake on yellow.
Yellow traffic lights aren’t what they mean in other cities. Yellow does not mean — caution or slow down. In Las Vegas, yellow means — pound the gas pedal. Braking on yellow in this city can get you rear-ended, assaulted, or perhaps even shot.
Rule #5: A green light does not mean “go.”
Green lights at traffic intersections do not mean “go.” In Las Vegas, a green light means “proceed with extreme caution.” When stopped at a traffic light, upon seeing evidence of a green light, wait at least five full seconds before accelerating. Allow several vehicles caught in cross traffic to race through the intersection as the light changes from yellow to red. Otherwise, you’ll probably get sideswiped by an uninsured driver with expired out-of-state plates.
Rule #6: Handicapped parking spaces are for handicappers.
All the casinos have plenty of handicapped parking spaces. Most of them are empty. This is most convenient for sports gamblers caught in a time crunch. Why risk missing the tip-off when a handicapped parking space is just a few steps away from the race and sportsbook betting window, and the game starts in 3 minutes? The chances of a disabled person needing the space are small, anyway. In Las Vegas, handicapped parking applies to both “the handicapped” and “handicappers.”
Rule #7: What to do if your car breaks down.
If your vehicle breaks down for any reason, remove it from the roadway, immediately. Otherwise, a car thief will come along and remove it for you. Also — don’t even think of changing a flat tire on your own. You will be run over and end up in a coma.
Rule #8: Learn the local language.
In Las Vegas, the three most common ways to communicate are as follows —  English,  Spanish, and  Texting While Driving. If exceeding 80 mph, the ten-second rule on replying to phone text messages does not apply. Do not text while driving more than 25 mph above the speed limit. That’s what school zones are for.
Rule #9: Learn how to properly use the horn.
Sometimes, honking the car horn may be necessary when driving in Las Vegas traffic. However, one must also practice the proper discretion. So, it’s best to follow the local customs. Your car horn has a clear purpose and it is to be used — as a weapon.
Rule #10: Always be prepared for the danger of a traffic stop.
Take extra special care when being pulled over by the police during a traffic stop. Making a mistake can be very costly. Here’s some advice: A personal flask is much easier to hide under the front seat than either a beer can or a beer bottle, especially if the beverage is full. No one wants to spill good liquor just because a tail light is out and you get pulled over. So, prepare accordingly.
Rule #11: Weaponize your car stereo sound speakers.
Young people in Las Vegas enjoy blasting their shitty music. Worse, they make sure everyone else can hear it. At busy intersections with extra-long red lights, be prepared for rap lyrics loud enough to sound like you’re chained next to the speakers at a DMX concert. The optimal countermeasure to this auditory pollution is establishing a good defense, a.k.a. “amping up,” sort of like how nations stockpile nukes. When confronted with booming rap music at a traffic light, put on your favorite music, roll down the car windows, crank up the volume, and blast the fuck away.
Rule #12: Learn what the road signs really mean.
In Las Vegas, traffic signs are meant as suggestions. Sort of like your waiter reciting the nightly dinner specials. No one pays attention. Everyone will do their own thing. Here’s the real road sign menu, with descriptions:
STOP = Slow down.
YIELD = Accelerate to beat other cars into the traffic circle.
DO NOT ENTER = Be sure no one is approaching, then proceed.
NO PARKING = Free parking.
DUCK CROSSING = 1 duck – 1 point; 2 ducks – 2 points; 3 ducks – 3 points; 4 ducks – we don’t believe it….post video on YouTube.
ROAD WORK AHEAD = Speed up now to make up for lost time.
MERGING TRAFFIC = Ride the tail of the car in front so no one can cut in.
SCHOOL ZONE = Check your text messages.
Finally, thinking of renting a car? Here’s a one-word suggestion, instead: Uber.