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Posted by on Jun 27, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Personal, Politics | 4 comments

My Monthly Shit List (June 2017)

 

 

I’m rolling out a new feature certain to amuse, shock, and confuse.

Let’s call this — my monthly “Shit List.”

This list will include rankings, from 1 to 10, of the people, places, and things that most piss me off at this moment.  My list is subject to monthly revision based on (in no particular order) — wars, plagues, gambling losses, cocktail consumption, and mainstream media brainwashing.

A drum roll please….

 

MY MONTHLY SHIT LIST — JUNE 2017

 

[1]  President Donald Trump

President Trump is likely to remain atop my monthly “Shit List” for quite a long time — at least until one of two things happens:  (a) He’s impeached, or (b) Adam Sandler releases another embarrassingly unfunny movie and seizes the shameful pinnacle of the #1 spot — whichever comes first.  Trump’s daily carnival of contrived chaos might be comical were it not so consequential.  Based on just five months in office, Trump is likely to go down in history as King Kong in the demise of American democracy.

 

[2]  Songwriters Who Sing About Maritime Disasters

I’m fed up with folksy three-chord songs about sinking ships and drunken sailors reminiscing about some sad old wreck buried at the bottom of the sea.  I don’t want to hear this!  Life is already depressing enough without listening to some a whiny-ass wanna’ be pirate singing about a rusted relic running into an unexpected storm, sinking to the bottom, now polluting the bay.  Never mind torturing suspected terrorists at GTMO with blasting heavy metal music.  Put on a Gordon Lightfoot album and the terrorist will be squirming like a canary.  “Yes, I admit being a member of Al Queda — now please, don’t make me listen to ‘The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” again!  This is a phobia of mine, every bit as queasy as spiders and killer clowns.  I don’t like songs about maritime disasters.

 

[3]  Racist Cops

I’m tired of seeing young men of color gunned down without proper cause by law enforcement, followed by our courts’ failure to punish such gross injustices.  This might be the most important issue of our time, one which threatens to destabilize our society.  Racist legal practices must addressed by the establishment before mass civil unrest erupts (and mark my words — it will).  Consider the multitude of shocking well-documented cases where citizens are treated quite differently based on race (YouTube has many videos, including this ONE).  Comedian-activist Dick Gregory said it best:  “If dogs were being shot down by police in the same numbers as young Black men in this country, angry White people would be storming city hall.”

 

[4] Omaha High-Low Split Players (at the Orleans Casino — Las Vegas)

The charred souls of bitter, broken-down men largely populate Omaha High-Low Split tables infested with a chronic dreariness.  These crusty, crabby, cantankerous shards of once-productive members of society have become devoid of any pulse of humanity.  If these fossilized Omaha players weren’t wasting away the final vestiges of their miserable lives by spending 65 hours a week hunched over poker tables squeezing out a measly $1.62 an hour plus comps, they’d probably be writing depressing songs about shipwrecks instead.  Low-stakes Omaha players = miserable miserly malthropes.

 

[5]   Snooty Waiters

I’m sick of being treated like dirt at fancy restaurants.  The snooty charade usually begins with the forced up-sell on bottled water.  “Tap or sparkling, Sir?”  Then, after listening to the waiter gab on for three full minutes describing the steamed carrots I get looked down at like a piece of gum stuck to the bottom of his shoe when I dare ask for the price of the nightly special.  Listen you too-lazy-to-get-a-real-job pest — you interrupt me while I’m speaking to my dinner guests to ask if everything is okay (if things aren’t okay — wouldn’t I let you know?), and then you disappear like magician’s white rabbit when I want to order an extra serving of those carrots you talked me into.  Hey my bow-tied pal, you’re not Ivy League professor lecturing on constitutional law.  You’re a fucking waiter.  So, zip the attitude.

 

[6]  Fanboy Sycophants 

Celebrities don’t know jack shit about much of anything, except perhaps what they’re really good at — like actors (with movies) and athletes (with sports).  But ask them about anything else, and their opinions are just as worthless as yours and mine.  So then, why does everyone go dick fucking gaga when a celebrity posts something on Twitter, often on a complex topic they’ve never taken a second to study?  Please stop it, people.  Save the blind-faith ass-kissing for rare occasions when your hero actually does something truly remarkable, or says something original.  Poker fanboy sycophants are among the worst.  Any tweet with a Day One/First Break chip count with 1,600 “likes” is grounds for a long eye roll and an immediate block.

[7]  The San Francisco Giants

These miserable pricks have cost me a fortune during the last few weeks.  There’s a guy I know betting with me (no juice, so it’s legal) who’s has been riding the anti-Giants gravy trainwreck since the start of June (they’re currently 27-51, the worst record in baseball — and have lost 6 games in a row).  A few nights ago, thought I might have a shot at a win.  Shitty Giants were up 6-3 late in the game, then the Braves (the Braves!) scored a touchdown — 7 goddamned runs in the bottom of the whatever to win the game 10-6.  7 runs!  I’m bleeding money on the Giants.  More like hemorrhaging rent money.  Bastards!

 

[8]  Democratic Party Leadership / Establishment

Is there a more clueless gaggle of ineptitude than the current leadership of the Democratic Party?  Republicans have all but gift wrapped the entire ballgame to Democrats, but they still somehow can’t win a meaningful election.  Democratic positions on every major issue are more popular with the general electorate (health care, foreign policy, taxation, gun control, etc.).  Democrats also raise plenty of money.  Democrats have the perfect boogeyman to run against in the White House.  Nonetheless, they keep on losing in embarrassing fashion.  Re-electing feeble fossils to leadership posts, running lame, gutless candidates who are often ashamed to stand up for the progressive agenda, overemphasizing divisive issues, and generally behaving like the San Francisco Giants of politics — all reveal it’s way past time to clean House.  And, the Senate.  Move aside, losers.  You blew it.  Time for a new generation of voices and ideas.

 

[9]  Absentee Homeowners

Las Vegas has become a haven of hell for lazy absentee home owners, mostly rich fucks living somewhere in California, who slumlord out their second and third “investment homes” while letting the neighborhood turn to total shit.  They try charging California rental prices and then when the properties sit empty for months, squatters move in, tear the place apart, and turn the street into a ghetto.  I know this firsthand, because I’ve seen it happen.  The city should enforce much stricter codes on upkeep and seize property when laws are violated.  I think absentee homeowners (a nice word for slumlords) are scum.

 

[10]  Shitty Summer Movies

Summer movies are shit.  Wizards, superheroes, cartoons, car chases, skull-fucking mindless comedies, talking machines — I don’t care for summer movies catering to 9-year-olds who infest cinemaplexes like larvae buried in the Everglades.  Since when did adults abdicate our rightful role as guardians of the cinematic arts and allow corn-syrup slurping kids to completely take over Hollywood?  I can’t wait for September — which means the return of decent, thought-provoking French movies with subtitles no one can understand.

___________

 

DISHONORABLE MENTION:


Furniture Manufacturers

Those of you who follow me on Facebook already know this story:

Marieta saw some nice new furniture on the Internet and decided to order a sofa and love seat for the living room. The old stuff was about ten years old, so she said it had to go. It’s direct from the factory in North Carolina and they said it would take three weeks for delivery.

Fine.

So, at 8 am today some bug-ass clown bangs on the front door without any fucking notice at all and announces “YOUR SOFAS ARE HERE!” Gee, couldn’t we get a phone call first? I’m standing there like a dick in nothing but shorts and sweating like a beached whale and have no time to take a shower, and now I’ve got to fucking shove furniture all over the downstairs living room. But hey — the sofas are here, so I go ahead and roll with it.

So, off come the sofas from the panel truck and they even unwrap them for us. Instantly, I see these sofas are monsters and realize there’s a problem. The goddamned things won’t fit through the front door!

HOW THE FUCK DO YOU MANUFACTURE FURNITURE AND NOT STANDARDIZE THE DIMENSIONS, YOU PRICKS!!!! ????

Fact: 95 percent of all front doors in the United States are 40 inches wide. Yet, this cock mashing sofa clocks in at like 44 inches! Who are they making sofas for — the goddamned Pope!!! ???

Disbelief.

How can a reputable furniture company not make stuff that will fit through a front door? It’s not like we live in some cramped-ass gerbil-cage in Manhattan. We live in a 2-story house! We somehow got refrigerators, stoves, king-sized mattresses, 65-inch TVs, and a piano in the house THROUGH THE FRONT DOOR — but we can’t get in a fucking sofa!

I’m flabbergasted that a company would do this to people.

So, anyway…..

The two Hispanic guys just look at the door and shake their heads. Garage entry is even smaller, as the access door through the kitchen is 38 inches. Back yard has access, but the sliding-glass door barely opens to about 39 inches.

We’re fucked!

So, the delivery guys basically say, “you’re on your own.” Fine, screw their tip. I mumble to myself — “That saved me a twenty spot, now get lost. Scram!”

So, right now, I’m four inches on the wrong side of being too big and I’ve got a brand new gorgeous sofa and matching love seat sitting out in the fucking front yard, exposed to the blazing flames of the sun, with no place to go. I have no idea what to do, other than stick them in the garage which will make for some very expensive cat scratching posts.

Screw ordering furniture over the Internet! Buyer beware!

 

ESports Gamers

I think “esports” is total bullshit.  It’s a joke.

Bunch of punk-ass kids with no social skills living in their parents’ basements jittering on computers all day and night like overdosing dope-fiends. All that’s missing are the black spoons and Bic lighters.

Esports is crap.

 

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Posted by on Jun 25, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Politics, What's Left | 2 comments

The Foreign Invasion We’re Powerless to Stop

 

 

There are lots of bad guys out there in the world.

Many of these bad guys pose us serious danger.  They aim to invade our shores.  They try to infect our people.  They want to kill us.

These bad guys have no allegiances.  They don’t respect our borders.  They don’t discriminate as to who they target.  They go after everyone.  People of all ages, races, and genders are vulnerable.  Rich and poor are equally at risk.  No one is safe.

Constructing expensive border walls can’t stop them.  Neither can immigration bans — illegal or otherwise.  Whether we approve or not of their arrival, swarms of uninvited guests are coming to America, by the trillions and trillions.

They aren’t just headed to our cities and neighborhoods.  They’re not only living right next door to you.  They’re inside your home.  Many could even been inside your body.  Right at this instant.

*****

Let’s talk more about defending ourselves against these dangerous invaders.

President Donald Trump’s first federal budget intends to cut funding for the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) — by 17 percent.  What does this mean?  Well, that’s 17 percent less people and less time we would dedicate to studying an array of different viruses and other harmful pathogens which can potentially kill us.  Cutting the CDC’s budget means picking and choosing which diseases to fight, while ignoring others — at our peril.

Trump’s budget also aims to slash the National Institute of Health (NIH) — by 18 percent.  Let’s put this into perspective:  This is a federal agency which receives about the same amount of money each year in all of its funding as it takes to build one single aircraft carrier (about $16 billion).  Yet, odd as it seems, NIH may be one of the best returns on investment in all of government.  Various studies have shown a rate of return of up to 40 percent per year — by reducing the economic cost of illness inside the United States.  Studies have also found that 15 of the 21 drugs with the highest therapeutic impact on society were discovered, in part, via NIH and/or its research grants.  As of 2015 NIH-supported research discovered more than 160 new FDA-approved drugs and vaccines.  That’s one hell of a good return on “government spending.”

But this is pale in comparison to the draconian cuts the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is about to endure.  The federal agency in charge of keeping our food safe to eat, and prescription drugs safe to take, could become all but paralyzed as protector of the peoples’ health and welfare.  Consider this — the FDA is the policeman against snake oil salesmen.  Their job is to go after snake oil salesmen and put them in jail.  Cut its budget by a third, and well — we can expect lots more snake oil salesmen.

There is no debate among those in the know.  Cuts to the CDC, NIH, and FDA are unsafe, unwise, and economically unsound.  They could even be catastrophic.  You think funding science is costly?  Imagine what it would cost to contain the outbreak of an infectious disease in this country.  Isn’t it wise to spend relative pennies now in order to save would could be billions of dollars later, if the worst happens?   [READ MORE BELOW]

Even some conservative Republicans are disturbed by President Trump’s proposals.  Consider the voice of Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), who serves as Chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee overseeing the CDC.   Rep. Cole said, “What CDC does is probably more important to the average American than, in a sense, the Defense Department.”

By the way, defense spending will increase under Trump’s budget by a whopping $54 billion.

Cutting budgets to CDC, NIH, and the FDA isn’t just a war on science.  It’s a war on knowledge.  It’s a war on all Americans.

*****

A few years ago, everyone was terrified — not by North Korea or ISIS — as much as an invisible alien known as the Ebola virus.  We were all so scared that several elected officials proposed quarantining entire regions of the world to stop the spread of the disease.  It was like a horror movie.

Then, wise people spoke up and our government stepped in.  World health organizations answered the call and became the heroes of humanity, every bit as brave as those men and women in uniform who go off to battle and wage war for the preservation of our way of life.  Ebola might not have been eradicated.  But it certainly isn’t the threat to us now, as it was back in 2014.

Too all those who disparage the noble functions of government — be thankful.  Temper your criticism.  We’re probably still alive right now because of the good deeds of government and the many extraordinary people who have put their own lives on the line to learn more about the deadly invaders who want to attack us.

Now, facing yet another intruder — this time something called the Zika virus — President Trump aims to cut the federal agencies and international programs best suited to fight this serious threat.  We are cutting our first line of defense.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is madness.

*****

Intentional or not, humankind continues to meddle with the natural forces of the universe.  On occasion, this cannot but accelerate evolutionary pathways to our self-destruction.

For every Ebola or Zika case out there, there are millions more metastasizing, including viruses which we haven’t even identified yet.  Unfortunately, this will remain a perpetual conflict.  We simply can’t afford to take a year, or a month, or even a day off.  There’s no such thing as a vacation.  While we sleep, they evolve and grow.  While we slash government budgets designed to fight them, they continue to form new colonies which are increasingly stubborn and resistant to known remedies.

History has taught us what happens when pandemics rage out of control.  It’s not pretty.  A century ago, the last global plague known as the Spanish Flu ravaged across every continent.  The disease killed 55 million — three times the number of deaths in all of World War I, which preceded the Spanish Flu outbreak by a few years.  We may think of wars in terms of human conflicts.  But they can be between all of life’s forces.

Today, pandemics pose an even greater threat to us.  While science (when funded properly and allowed to enrich us with new discoveries) has made amazing advances in fighting many grave diseases, those which evade our control are even more dangerous.  Compared to era of the Spanish Flu outbreak, the world’s population has since tripled.  We’re now packed closer together in densely-populated cities.  We exchange food and goods with far greater frequency.  International travel has become an everyday occurrence.  Before, a virus that might have taken weeks to spread, can contaminate another continent with hours.

*****

Liberals and conservatives don’t agree on much these days.  But we do agree on one thing.  Government’s primary role should be providing for the national defense, against all enemies, both foreign and domestic.  Today, some of these enemies are on our own hands, inside the meats and the produce we consume, or carried my common mosquitoes.

Government must assume this vital role in protecting us.  It might not be a profitable (although the unintended consequences of increased research often leads to new inventions and discoveries).   The ultimate benefit to fighting something so tiny that it’s nearly invisible to the eye might not always be appreciated, nor even tangible.  Yet, this fight (I argue) is a Constitutional responsibility every bit at vital as maintaining an army and navy to protect the homeland.

President Trump’s proposed budget cuts to science, and particularly those critically important agencies which serve as our front line of defense against pandemic invasion is just the latest poorly conceived, reckless, anti-intellectual delirium by a White House gone totally haywire — by a leader so personally bereft of caring and compassion that we must wonder if brash defiance of all reason is yet another calculated Molotov Cocktail carefully tossed onto the giant bonfire of a burning nation.  Indeed, there are even some fears this could be the dirty work of key presidential adviser Steve Bannon, who has openly vowed to “deconstruct the administrative state.”  His fangs are all over this policy.  For President Trump to go along with such a deranged permutation which abandons one of the most basic functions government is treasonous.  This isn’t merely a deconstruction of bureaucracy.  It could be suicidal.

If and when the next deadly disease comes, and it will, we won’t look to the media, nor celebrities, nor corporations, nor the pretty and the wealthy, nor our elected officials, nor the military to protect us.  Instead, we will look to science.  

That’s right — science.  

We will look to those nerdy men and women wearing lab coats, the kids who were once the anti-life of the party.  We will hope and pray that when that deadly virus infects us or inflicts someone we know or love, that somehow while we were all busy with our own lives and distractions, that some scientist off somewhere working in anonymity for a paltry salary may have put in a little overtime and come up with the remedy that will save our lives.

President Trump’s proposed budget makes this less likely.

 

__________

From The Washington Post (May 26, 2017), written by Tom Frieden (CDC Director from 2009 to 2017):

 

The administration’s budget proposal for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is unsafe, unwise and fiscally irresponsible.

Unsafe.  The proposal undermines CDC’s ability to find, stop and prevent threats to Americans’ health.  I know what this looks like. When I joined the CDC in 1990, Congress had cut the tuberculosis control budget. TB came roaring back, costing billions and killing Americans. Since then we’ve responded to West Nile, H1N1, Ebola, Zika and more. This proposal cuts virtually every program needed to stop such risks.

Unwise.  A proposed block grant hides hundreds of millions of dollars of cuts to programs that protect Americans from cancer, diabetes, heart attacks and strokes. Block-granting undermines the CDC’s ability to help states implement programs proven to save lives and eliminates the opportunity to support communities and states based on need, impact or effectiveness. The proposal also eliminates research centers critical to discovering new ways to prevent diseases that threaten all Americans.

Fiscally irresponsible.  Many CDC programs save $3 or more in health-care costs, and $10 in societal costs, for every dollar spent. Anti-tobacco ads prevent tens of thousands of deaths and reduce health-care costs by hundreds of millions of dollars. Cutting the CDC budget by $1.2 billion could cost Americans more than $15 billion over the next decade.

The CDC should not be a political football.  The CDC is a best buy — money that can be counted on to prevent illness, disability and death and save money.

 

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Posted by on Jun 16, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Politics, Rants and Raves, What's Left | 1 comment

The Cuba-Saudi Arabia Paradox

 

 

Today, President Trump rescinded the normalization of United States-Cuba relations.

In a rambling politically-charged speech delivered in Miami this morning, Trump said that he intends to return to a failed foreign policy which has harmed both nations, divided families, and was so grotesquely counterproductive that in fact, it created the longest-lasting political dynasty in the history of the Western Hemisphere.

Fidel Castro, who died last year, rule Cuba from 1959 until 2006 — a span of 47 years.  Despite numerous attempts to depose him from power, he outlasted nine American presidents.

[READ MORE HERE]

Here’s a short historical timeline:

(1)  Prior to Castro Regime coming to power, the United States fully supported a brutally corrupt military dictatorship (Battista) which murdered as many Cubans within a seven-year period than the Communist government over more than five decades.

(2) The US rejected Fidel Castro’s peaceful overtures during the first year of his rule. When Cuba nationalized US oil refineries in 1960, that ignited a secret and illegal war run by the CIA using Cuban exiles and the Mafia to overthrow the government.

(3) US-backed forces, which included those Cuban exiles, financed by the Mafia, INVADED a sovereign nation, without any provocation in 1961 — in the Bay of Pigs.  The invasion was a disaster.  Predictions were embarrassingly wrong that Cubans would rise up and join the revolt.

(4) The US attempted to assassinate a foreign leader numerous times. Some of these illegal methods tied were laughable — like sending Castro poison pens and exploding cigars.

(5) Cuba’s economy floundered, largely due to a US-imposed embargo which lasted for 50+ years. Nonetheless, this policy backfired badly. Castro’s rule in Cuba LASTED LONGER than ANY leader in the history of the Western Hemisphere. The embargo only hurt the Cuban people. That’s the very definition of a failed policy.

(6) Americans were denied traveling to Cuba for years, based on concerns about human rights in Cuba. Meanwhile Americans have been free to travel to numerous other regimes run by murderers and military juntas all over the world. Furthermore, the US opened up diplomatic relations and even encouraged investment on other far more dangerous Communist regimes, including the USSR and PRC.

(7) President Obama finally became the adult in the room and recognized the embargo as a complete failure. In 2015, he opened up travel and investment in Cuba and American businesses flooded into try to pluck the economy, hoping to make a buck. Deals were in the works for hotels, resorts, banking, etc. which would certainly benefit US interests and the Cubans themselves.

(8) There’s now overwhelming support for the US opening up diplomatic relations with Cuba, except within the rabid Cuban exile community, which is largely comprised of the old remnants of Battista’s henchmen who once terrorized the country.  Many of these opponents of normalizing relations are descendants of landowners who hope to gain financially if the current regime fails.  The last thing they want is a peaceful and prosperous Cuba.

(9) Trump nixed Obama’s US-Cuba deal, returning to an outdated and failed Cold War mentality where the island nation is forcibly isolated from travel and tourism and investment. Although other island nations remain economic basket cases (Dominican Republic, Jamaica, etc.) while Cuba maintains a strong sense of pride and national identity, Trump now throws us back to a counterproductive Reagan era policy that will only harm ordinary Cubans and keep families divided.

(10) Parroting “human rights violations,” Trump rails against Cuba in a speech today in Miami, just a few weeks after praising an 11th Century regime which CRUSHES all dissent, which imprisons all protesters, which cuts off heads and limbs, which supports global terrorism more than any nation in the world, and which makes women third-class citizens with the same rights as slaves. Oh, and Trump also signs a $150 billion arms deal with these Saudi fucks, while at the same time blasting the Cubans.

Absolutely disgusting.

 

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Posted by on Jun 10, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Politics, What's Left | 1 comment

My Take on the Bill Maher Controversy

 

 

My Take on the Bill Maher Controversy:

(1) If you fear the occasional provocation, then don’t watch the show.

(2) If you don’t want to risk being offended, then don’t watch the show.

(3) If you are bothered by salty language or objectionable words, then don’t watch the show.

(4) If you demand politically correct content at all times, then don’t watch the show.

(5) If you demand that writers-comedians-performers adhere to a strict safe zone of family-friendly content, then don’t watch the show. In fact, don’t go *any* adult comedy show, because many stand-up acts are far *more* “racially insensitive.”

(6) If you accept the premise that Bill Maher has always been a risque comic who sometimes says and does inappropriate things, but are STILL offended, then don’t watch the show.

(7) If you don’t see a far bigger picture that Maher is an experienced comic who has built a successful career while offending people indiscriminately, then don’t watch the show.

(8) If you called for Maher to be fired but haven’t done jack shit to object to far more incendiary material put out and sold by Sony Records and other major record labels, then don’t watch the show.

(9) If you fail to weigh Maher’s lifetime of countless words and actions, which reveal an *indiscriminate* attack-dog persona without regard to race, then don’t watch the show.

(10) If you can’t tell the difference between the abject cruelty of a “nigger joke” which was/is a deplorable example of rampant racism versus Maher’s self-deprecating attempt at humor, told off-the-cuff in an unrehearsed setting, then don’t watch the fucking show!

 

There are thousands of television channels available to you for alternative mainstream entertainment which won’t ever risk offending you. For every Bill Maher, there are 100 preachers trying to pluck you wallet. For every Bill Maher, there are thousands of scripted shit shows which never take a risk, nor will ever make you think.  Go there. Make that choice on your own.

One not need be a fan of Bill Maher or agree with his politics to see that this is a very troubling episode. In fact, he should be supported by everyone who values free expression, and is a fan of uncanned humor.

My Conclusion: Maher should NOT have apologized. His apology was especially troubling, given Maher’s long advocacy of free expression and self-professed championing of anti-political correctness. It’s also a severe setback for ALL comedians and artists everywhere which will inhibit future exploration of touchy subjects.

Out.

 

Note:  To follow the Facebook discussion on this topic, please click HERE.

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Posted by on May 29, 2017 in Blog, Essays, General Poker, Politics, What's Left, World Series of Poker | 3 comments

Poker’s Shining Moment

 

Screenshot 2016-06-13 at 8.02.47 PM - Edited

 

A Personal Note:  The 2017 World Series of Poker begins this week.  This will be the first WSOP in 25 years which I don’t plan on writing about, or attending.  With poker becoming a faint glow in my rear view mirror, this seems like a suitable occasion to clear out some personal files and post a few (previously unpublished) articles that were written up last year, but never posted.  These next few days, I’ll post some behind-the-scenes leftovers of my final series.

 

There was a time not too long ago when Ryan Laplante might have faced ridicule, and even hostility inside a poker room.

Why?

Because he’s an openly gay man.

Years ago, before being who you are was acceptable to many, the shackles of unwavering expectation sired a strict conformity.  If being gay was widely viewed as unacceptable, then being out about it was downright scandalous within many social and business circles.

It took a while, far too long many would insist, but the poker community became an unlikely coadjutor in the broader at-large struggle for gay rights, and in some peculiarity even progressively far ahead of other arenas of society, especially male-dominated sectors, like sports.  This wasn’t at all expected, and was surprising even, given poker’s jaundiced past where one’s masculinity was once tethered to a cowboy hat, a smoky cigar, and a dirty joke.

But poker turned out to be a most welcoming scene for those considered a little different.  Just about anyone and everyone was permitted to sit down and play — male or female, black or white, gay or straight — so long as the minimum buy-in was posted and no one tried to impose themselves on the competition.  Sure, unrestrained prejudice still burgeoned systematically away from the tables outside the poker room, but was muted once the cards were dealt.  To its credit, poker has acquired a startling egalitarian quality.

This seemingly odd kinship between serious-minded poker players and disparate subcultures which have been the targets of varying degrees of discrimination, including the gay rights movement, came to pass by means of the shared common experiences of society’s outcasts.  Like gay people, poker players too, were once cultural castaways, often viewed with suspicion and mistrust.  Perhaps it’s the ability to identify with those who have historically been excluded from the traditional mainstream.  Perhaps this is what makes serious poker players of today generally more tolerant and accepting of others different from ourselves.  Poker players would be among the first to challenge the old adage that being normal is no virtue.

Indeed, we must accept our differences.  That is because so often, we play, we work, we socialize, and we engage is so many activities with others who are not like us.  Sometimes, they are even the opposite of us, and oppose the very things we believe in.  Welcoming those who are different from ourselves isn’t just good for poker — it’s the right thing to do.

_____

Getting here was a rocky road.

There was the time not long ago, July 2007 to be exact, when Rep. Barney Frank made an unlikely appearance at the World Series of Poker, held in Las Vegas.  At the time, Rep. Frank, who represented a congressional district in Massachusetts was the only openly gay member of Congress.  He was also a tireless advocate for legalizing online poker in the United States.  Although Rep. Frank didn’t play poker at all, and knew very little about the game, he viewed our cause as his own.  And so, Rep. Frank became arguably the most unlikely proponent for legalizing online poker.  He introduced pro-poker bills in Congress.  He appeared frequently in media and often went out of his way to bring up initiatives supported by the Poker Players Alliance (PPA).  His appearance at the biggest poker event of the year seemed to be an ideal setting in front of a friendly audience.

What could possibly go wrong?

I was there, that afternoon, when Rep. Frank — joined by other dignitaries at the Rio — took the microphone to say a few words to rally public support, just before giving everyone the customary tournament opening, “Shuffle Up and Deal.”  However, when Rep. Frank was introduced by name, the crowd’s reaction turned out to be an embarrassment.  About half the room containing a few thousand players, completely ignored the introduction.  Only a few clapped.  Others booed.  A few hecklers hurled shameful insults at Rep. Frank.

I was standing near one particularly boisterous section of the crowd, positioned next to Rep. Frank when I heard someone yell out — “faggot!”  Right there, I nearly lost it, and yelled something profane back into the crowd.  That didn’t help the matter, of course.  It was just my gut reaction.

I was so angry afterward that I had difficulty staying in the same room among so much indifference and hostility.  Desperate for an emotional sanctuary, I walked back to the main casino at the Rio with Rep. Frank.  Along the way, I made a feeble attempt to explain that this wasn’t truly representative of the way most of us felt about what he was doing for poker and the players.  “Don’t worry about it,” Rep. Frank replied.  “I’ve been hearing shit like that all my life.”

_____

Years later, a young poker player named Jason Somerville made his first appearance at a WSOP final table.  That’s a really big deal, especially to a player who has serious aspirations of making poker a career.

Before the finale began, it was customary to introduce each player to the crowd and the viewers watching on the live stream.  It was pretty simple, really.  We normally announced the player’s name, hometown, occupation, plus a tidbit or two provided by the finalist via something called a “Player Bio Sheet,” usually completed the night before.  Some players used this rare occasion of making a final table to call out their friends and supporters.  Others listed interesting things about themselves.  Pretty standard stuff.

Somerville decided to use this occasion to send an important message.  On his bio sheet, Somerville wrote that he was an openly gay man and was active in the fight for equal rights and protections.  He hoped that this public acknowledgement on a major stage would encourage others who were watching, particularly those who might still be comfortable about disclosing something still viewed as controversial at the time.

We customarily followed the wishes of each player, unless something written on the bio sheet was terribly inappropriate (which alone might make for another good column, someday).  After all, this was Somerville’s time to shine under the public spotlight.  If he wanted to acknowledge something personal about himself, then who were we to censor his wishes?

Unfortunately, the announcer didn’t honor Somerville’s request on the bio sheet.  It was simply ignored and the occasion was mostly forgotten.  Somerville never made an issue of it.  But the incident did stick with me, long afterward.  I thought we made the wrong judgement call that day by not following the player’s request.  Then again, at least we avoided a possible repeat of the Barney Frank episode from four years earlier.

One can never predict quite how a crowd will react — especially a poker crowd.

_____

[Reminder:  This previously unpublished article was written June 14, 2016]

Ryan Laplante won the largest non-Hold’em tournament of all time at the 2016 WSOP, defeating a field of 2,483 players in the $565 buy-in Pot-Limit Omaha event, good for a hefty payday of more than $180,000 — plus his very first gold bracelet.

Then, he woke up Sunday morning to the news of a terrible tragedy.

The worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil since 9/11 took 49 lives when a madman stormed into a popular Orlando nightclub and gunned down more than four dozen people, mostly young gay men.  Since the attack occurred very late on a Saturday night, most of us didn’t hear the news until the following day.

The scimitars for poker and the real world do not often cross.  It’s as if what goes on outside the highly-competitive, almost circus-like arena of the WSOP stands as some kind of island or desert mirage apart from the rigors and ritual of reality.  I recall that a major tournament was even played on the very afternoon of the morning right after the events of 9/11, a disgraceful decision by tournament organizers made considerably worse by the callousness shown by the dregs of humanity — those morally-bankrupt poker players who bothered to show up to play, all while the towers of our national identity were still smoldering in ashes.

The Orlando shooting was certainly shocking, as all terrorist acts are, but to most of us — it didn’t touch us personally.  The deranged gunman who targeted people just for being gay wasn’t personal for me (or others) in the same way it was so very personal to Laplante, and presumably many others.

On what should have been a day of celebration instead had become something far more surreal.  Laplante had been scheduled to receive his gold bracelet on that Sunday, barely 12 hours after the Orlando murders.  Moreover, as was the custom on occasion, I was to be the fill-in emcee privileged to award Laplante his poker amulet.  As horrific images of the Orlando nightclub shooting aftermath were being shown on televisions throughout the poker arena, we were about to award an openly gay man with poker’s supreme honor.

One of the perks of working in an executive position at the WSOP is the occasion to take something to a whole new level.  Indeed, this was a time for elevation and we owed it to ourselves to aim especially high.

That morning, during my drive from home to the Rio, I pondered the unprecedented quandary of just how to handle the upcoming daily gold bracelet ceremony.  This wasn’t just any day.  This wasn’t just any winner.  This wasn’t just a typical five-minute ceremony, with no lingering afterthought.  This was a celebration blunted by a terrible tragedy, fronted by a remarkable young man of courage and conviction fully prepared to use this occasion to educate us, heal us, and make us all better.  It was about making the event bigger than just himself, bigger than all of us.

When I met with Laplante just moments before he was to take the stage and receive his gold bracelet, it became instantly obvious he’d been thinking the same thing.  Gleefully standing upon a stage and going through the usual routine in light of terrible events just didn’t seem appropriate.  What did seem fitting however, was to have Laplante’s fiance, Chris Katona standing on the stage with him to present the bracelet in front of the poker world.  Typically, this honor is reserved only for poker legends and sometimes the relatives of players, mostly wives and parents.  Having two men in a committed relationship onstage together in celebration would be a poker first.  Stung by the tragedy, but also empowered by the occasion to do a pubic good, Laplante agreed with the alternative plan.

At about 2 pm during a tournament break, I took the microphone.  I introduced Laplante as the latest poker champion.  Then, the stage was all his.  No one knew what he would say, nor what to expect.  No one knew how the huge audience — comprised almost exclusively of poker players and tournament staff — might react.

 

Screenshot 2016-06-13 at 8.11.32 PM - Edited

 

Once Laplante took possession of his gold bracelet, next he stepped up to the podium.  Few players opt to speak at these events.  I think I understand why.  Public speaking can surely be scary.  Many players don’t really have much to say.  Besides, no one comes to the WSOP to hear a speech.  Everyone wants to play poker.

This time, the room fell silent.

 

Screenshot 2016-06-13 at 8.05.40 PM - Edited

 

Rather than post my recollections of the speech given my Laplante, instead I’ll let this short video clip (provided by Card Player) speak for itself:

 

 

After the speech ended, everyone in the audience rose to its feet and applauded simultaneously for what seemed to be the longest duration in anyone’s recent memory.  The memorable occasion didn’t make up for past sins, the ill treatment of Rep. Frank or the refusal to acknowledge people for who they are.  The cheers weren’t some false notion that everything now is okay.  But it was a big step in the right direction.

June 13th, 2016 was was very good day for poker.  It was a day to be proud, not because we are, or we aren’t gay.  It was a day to be proud because we’re human.

 

Screenshot 2016-06-13 at 8.07.27 PM - Edited

 

Note:  Special thanks to photographer Antonio Abrego for the photographs.

 

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