A few days ago, an outspoken media personality who also happens to be an attention-starved right-wing extremist was invited to speak at Cal-Berkeley, one of the most liberal institutions of higher learning in the United States.
Milo Yiannopoulos, an admitted protagonist-agitator, who’s best known for spiking the witch’s brew of noxious deceit oozing out of the sewer pipe called Breitbart.com, was to appear at the university on Wednesday. Given his toxic background as a provocateur personified by divisive opinions on gays, race, gender, and religion, protests were expected.
However, no one foresaw that a two-day riot would erupt, forcing university officials to capitulate to the angry mob which was comprised almost entirely of students and faculty. Accordingly, the invitation sent to Yiannopoulos was withdrawn, citing “safety concerns.” A swarm of media attention ensued to cover the controversy. Hence, someone who had previously been unknown to most Americans catapulted overnight to near the top of every social media platform. Largely anonymous aside from a few basement-dwelling gamers and conspiracy kooks, Yiannopoulos couldn’t have asked for more grandiose introduction to national prominence, unless his name popped up in lights on the marquis of “A Star is Born.”
Call this abomination what is was — not a victory for the left, but a counterproductive embarrassment and humiliating defeat for all progressives.
This is the latest sad chapter of a much longer and more troubling trend happening on many college campuses, which is the threat to free speech. Since the 1960’s, an era of innumerable Vietnam War protests, American colleges and universities have become increasingly liberalized — particularly in the social sciences. There are valid reasons for various departments to lean left. While conservatives tend to gravitate to business school, or study law, or medicine, liberals are drawn naturally to the arts and sciences (with exceptions, of course). I’d even go so far to argue that inquiry is, by design, an inherently liberal pursuit because it invariably calls the status quo and many of our conventional belief systems into question. And so, leftist activism has fertile traditions deeply rooted in academia. By extension, it’s easy to understand why youthful idealism would ignite on campuses like Berkeley with a combustible passion for many progressive causes.
Yet somewhere along the way, a long time after liberals won the right to protest and even spout off radical ideas, some of us devolved into what we’d once feared the most. Now, intimidation doesn’t come from authority figures, such as campus police or university administrators nor the surrounding communities. Bullying comes from within our own ranks. Fact is, free speech has been hijacked in recent years and the problem appears to be getting worse. Liberals in many areas, once arm-to-arm on the front lines of the free-speech and free-thought movement, now demand that dissenting voices be silenced, which is precisely what we’ve witnessed at Berkeley. By doing this, we are undermining the very foundation on which liberal free thought is based.
Let’s be clear. Colleges and universities should not be cradles. Instead, academic institutions should be mental minefields ready to blow up bad ideas in a moment’s notice. Bad ideas are best exposed by scrutinizing them and exposing them as such, not by heavy-handed censorship. Indeed, knowledge, skills, and perseverance must be put to the test. “College in an earlier time was supposed to be an uncomfortable, experience because growth is always a challenge,” Dr. Tom Nichols, professor at the U.S. Naval War College wrote recently. “Now, attending college involves “the pampering of students like customers.”
Education demands that we constantly push ourselves to new heights. It’s vital that we place odd people with seemingly strange ideas in front of the classroom and under the microscope so that we can bear witness and potentially learn. This is especially true for those with whom we disagree. It’s even more vital to subject ourselves to thoughts we might at first consider to be absurd, objectionable, and even obscene. All great ideas start out as blasphemy. Assuming we believe that facts will come out and truth prevails, the very worst thing that can happen to a bad idea or a flawed argument is intense scrutiny. Hence, assuming we’re convinced Yiannopoulos is something of a crackpot, his ideas should have been given the chance to be voiced If those ideas don’t stand up to the heat lamp of truth, they melt down.
This is even more profoundly important at a state university, in other words, a school that’s publicly funded. One might argue that private schools (and particularly religious-based institutions) have every right to limit free speech, if they so wish. They might even limit speakers and guests to those who conform strictly to the university’s codes and ideals. Public schools like Cal-Berkeley, however, are obligated to expose students to the widest possible spectrum of people and ideas. Sure, protesting such an event is fine. Silencing a speaker is not.
Years ago, my outlook on life changed when I attended a university lecture by writer Raymond Bonner, the famed New York Times foreign correspondent who broke many of the news stories which exposed the dark and dirty things happening in Latin America at the time, largely engineered by the Reagan Administration (illegally, we’d later discover). I went into that lecture thinking one way about the issues, and came out afterward as a changed person with very different attitudes about the world. Such is the power of inviting guest speakers and openly exchanging ideas. This is the purpose of higher education.
Some will argue, at times there are justifiable reasons to limit free speech, even on college campuses. The hate speech” victim card gets wrongly played. But these objections ring hollow and make the protesters seem petty. British author David Irving has written prolifically on World War II, yet is also infamously known as the world’s leading Holocaust denier. To many, he’d certainly qualify as a proponent of hate speech. Years ago, Irving toured the United States and spoke to students on several college campuses. It took some time, but eventually, his “research” was exposed as fallacious and he was openly discredited in a very public trial that took place in London. Had Irving not been given a university platform, he might have remained hidden on the outer fringes and made quite a nice living at the expense of those who suffered unspeakable horrors. Hence, subjecting Irving’s words and ideas to scrutiny became truth’s most powerful weapon.
From what I’ve seen of Milo Yiannopoulos, he can easily be dismissed as just another punk. There’s nothing remotely credible about any of his ideas, particularly on politics and society. He’s engaged in crude look-at-me tactics. He written and said outrageous things, purely to gain notoriety. Yet for all his pernicious pestilence, Yiannopoulos should have just as much right to speak and be heard at a public university as anyone else. Free speech means exactly what it says — the right to speak freely. That means without interruption nor intimidation.
Unless we all have it and defend its practice, none of us enjoys free speech. That’s the reminder we progressives must take away from the Cal-Berkeley embarrassment.
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Last night, Rep. Nancy Pelosi held a nationally-televised “Town Hall Meeting.”
Overnight television ratings were’t available at the time of this writing. However, one presumes the hour-long Q & A session with the House Minority Leader taking center stage probably drew a few million voters. It’s also a valid guess that just about everyone tuning in to watch Pelosi were Democratic loyalists, and/or voters repelled by President Trump. It’s highly doubtful that many independents or Republicans watched the telecast. I’d even go so far as to say the number of opinions swayed by Pelosi’s remarks during the town hall meeting could probably fit into a telephone booth, assuming there were still any phone booths around, which precisely makes my point.
This begs the question all Democrats should be asking, namely — what in the hell was Nancy Pelosi doing on that stage?
Incredibly, the Democrats never seem to learn the lessons of history, even when it’s a hard reality to face and a bitter pill to swallow. Despite Republicans offering a dreadfully-flawed candidate at the top of their party ticket stained by the highest negatives in American political history, Democrats still got whipped in the election — at every level. Republicans won the presidency, the House, the Senate, plus an overwhelming number of gubernatorial slots and state legislatures. Democrats, who spent just as much money nationally as the Republicans (arguably more, depending on metrics), were humiliated.
Democrat defeats weren’t due to spouting the wrong message. Not at all. On virtually every issue, Democrats enjoy the majority support. Do Americans favor raising the minimum wage? Check. Do Americans favor responsible gun legislation? Check. Do Americans believe in climate change? Check. Do Americans want to improve our national infrastructure? Check. Do Americans want to protect a woman’s right to chose? Check. On nearly every issue, the Democrat message wins the hearts and minds of most people. Accordingly, since the message wins the popularity contest (and by an overwhelming majority on some issues), the explanation for disproportionate losses must lie elsewhere (yes, gerrymandering has a lot to do with it).
Here’s a novel thought: Perhaps it’s the messenger.
Given the mass rebuke of Democratic candidates across the board, in all regions of the country, one might have expected plenty of heads to roll after the disaster. Certainly, it seemed reasonable to expect Democratic Party leadership to gracefully step aside and allow a younger, more energetic crowd with new ideas — not only about how to govern but how to campaign — to step forward and carry the progressive torch. But instead, Democrats gave virtually all its leaders a contract extension.
Using a sporting comparison, there’s a reason why the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars fired the entire coaching staff after the team finished 3-11 last season. Even though they’re all probably good and decent people, each talented and knowledgeable in his own right, the ax fell because coaches failed to accomplish their objectives. Not only did they fail to win, they also lost badly. Yet, Democrats continue to slumber blindly onward with the same impotent leadership, oblivious to how much of the country sees them.
One of the very first acts by Democrats who assembled in the new congress in early 2017 was to re-elect Nancy Pelosi to what amounts to the de facto face of the party, along with Chuck Schumer, her counterpart in the U.S. Senate. One might argue there’s justification for choosing Pelosi (and Schumer) and allowing them to continue in their leadership posts. After all, congressional staffs are immensely critical in the legislative process and it would be hard to argue there are better staffs than Pelosi’s and Schumer’s. There’s also long traditions in congress, which reward seniority. Political insurrections might happen in some elections, but they aren’t common on Capital Hill.
Yet, television and town halls require a completely different skill set than the wonkish acts of governance. If President Trump’s election victory teaches us anything — it’s that we’ve now rocketed into a completely new age of political marketing and showmanship. Voters aren’t interested much in policy details and studies, nor even facts. I know, that’s a frightening conclusion. But no once can refute it. Facts don’t matter. Instead, they want a circus. So, Democrats need to give it to them — wild tigers, elephants, trapeze artists, and even clowns. That’s how to create the Big Tent and win election victories.
Fortunately, Democrats have a number of outstanding ringmasters ready and eager to spread the progressive message. Instead of Nancy Pelosi, Democrats would have been advised to offer the town hall spot to Sen. Al Franken, or Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, or Sen. Amy Klobuchar, or even Sen. Cory Booker (despite his inexplicable vote against allowing pharmaceuticals into the United States from Canada, which angered many on the Left). Want to pick a better national spokesperson for the party then Pelosi? Here’s how to do that: Pick up the congressional phone book, open it up to any page, and point to any name. It’s that bad. It’s that dire.
To be fair, Pelosi is right on most issues that matter. She was way ahead of the rest of the country on civil rights. She’s also done admirable work in the past and can continue to be a political force. Yet, when picking a champion for change, it’s baffling why someone was selected who has such high negatives. Pelosi is the anti-populist. You know it’s “game over,” when Sen. Mitch McConnell is out-polling the Democratic Minority Leader in national polls. Why even bother holding a town hall if it’s going to be fronted by someone considered by a majority of voters to be a pariah? It’s self-defeating.
Still, the Democrats not only refuse to clean house. They won’t even look at themselves in the mirror. Even with what would seem to be overwhelming advantages coming up in the next election (2018) given the chaos we’ve witnessed in recent weeks, Democrats could very well blow it again unless some key lessons are learned from recent history.
Nancy Pelosi’s mystifying showing at a town hall meeting might not seem like a very big deal in the grander scheme of bigger issues. Yet the truth is, it’s yet another painful indication that Democrats remain completely oblivious to how they’re perceived and what’s going on across America.
I woke up this morning to the majesty of contrasts that is the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, better known simply as “Red Rock Canyon.” Everything within sight, from the desert cactus to mountain pines, was covered in white snow.
Most Las Vegas visitors, and even many locals, may not know about the natural splendor nestled in the mountains due west of The Strip just a half-hour drive away. Red Rock is an oasis for the mind and a vacation for the soul. It seems light years apart from the fabricated latticework of 1.5 million people, continuing to crawl with an alarming expansion beyond the sustainable resources necessary to ensure a healthy balance between what we build and the natural world around it which cradles our city like a protective glove.
Red Rock is a vast “pause button,” ready to be hit any time, a temporary escape to a quiet place still mostly unspoiled by sprawling urbanization, except for a few roads and the occasional traffic sign. In a city blanketed with casinos, cookie-cutter tract homes, and look-a-like strip malls, Red Rock has become our common escape, even if just for a few fleeting seconds with an affectionate gaze in the westward direction of the snow-capped mountains. Like a seductive temptress, we long for our next encounter with beauty.
Note: Here’s a short article I wrote last year about my hike in the canyon, along with several photos. [CLICK HERE]
Sadly, each time I’ve driven into Red Rock in recent years, commercial development looks to be creeping closer and closer to the park. Now, when driving up Charleston Blvd., which eventually leads directly into the heart of Red Rock Canyon, it’s shocking and sad to see the extent to which homes and shopping centers have stretched to the valley’s outer boundaries and very nearly into the canyon area itself, which is now seriously threatened. Towards the north, specifically the Lone Mountain area, commercial and industrial development has been even more aggressive. Lone Mountain was once on the outer fringes of the west side of Las Vegas. Now, it’s been engulfed by a freeway, thousands of new homes, and a monochrome of dust and blowing debris which seems to swirl around constantly.
South of the Red Rock area, there’s a controversial proposal by developer Jim Rhodes to convert prime land currently occupied by a gypsum mine to construct more than 5,000 additional homes, which is likely to bring in another 10,000 cars and unforeseen disturbances to the area, such as noise and pollution. A city where air quality is marginal at best and often covered in a thick haze on bad days chokes on its own exhaust fumes.
A few nights ago, a meeting was held here in Las Vegas where many critical issues important to our region were discussed. I was stirred into action by the presentation of Justin Jones, who’s a board member of the organization known as Save Red Rock. I learned that this non-profit is fighting to protect one of Las Vega’s last natural resources, not just for us, but for future generations. Jones stated if we don’t take action now, it might be too late in the future. He also noted that big-money developers have filed a lawsuit against Save Red Rock, purely in an effort to silence opposition, thus squashing citizen advocacy and democracy. Fortunately, many people with the local community, Democrats and Republicans alike, are now speaking out and making their voices heard. But that might not be enough given the power of developers who look towards Red Rock as a potential piggy bank.
We aren’t opposed to responsible development. Indeed, there are plenty of attractive neighborhoods in our city where new homes can be built and new businesses can be created. That’s something every community needs to remain vibrant In fact, many established parts of Las Vegas are desperate for investment of this kind, and even offer generous tax incentives. So, why allow unbridled expansion into one of the most gorgeous areas of Southern Nevada, when so many other opportunities exist for local development and revitalization?
If you’re interested in learning more, please visit the website SAVEREDROCK.ORG. There’s also a petition you can sign for an upcoming public hearing with country commissioners (in February), which will show your support for protecting the natural majesty of this critically important and precious public recreation area. Consider signing the PETITION HERE.
Once Red Rock is gone, it’s lost forever. We must act now. Please help and also tell your friends and neighbors. We need your voice, your signature, your support, and most of all your action. Please do it now.
READ THE FACEBOOK PAGE, with comments, HERE.
Last week’s presidential inauguration lasted a relatively brisk 90 minutes. About half of the official swearing-in ceremony was comprised of speeches. The other half was filled with lively music and assorted patriotic fanfare.
Lost in the controversial aftermath of political protests and petty partisan bickering over attendance figures on the mall that day, was the disturbing amount of time given to religion. The nation’s biggest platform was frequently turned over to religious authorities. Prayers dominated the order of the day. In fact, prayers accounted for nearly as much stage time as President Trump’s much-anticipated inaugural address. There was the actual swearing in process also, buttressed by not just one, but two versions of The Holy Bible. A copy of Trump’s own The Art of the Deal was reportedly ready on stand by.
For we secularists, calls for public prayer are typically but a minor annoyance. Most of us do respect the rights of others to pray and/or show other outward signs of their faith. We stand quietly while others choose to worship, even though we believe such rituals make about as much sense as praying to the Easter Bunny. Everyone, everywhere should be afforded the right to demonstrate their beliefs (including we), both in private and public. However, our patience does get tested. Our tolerance is abused. While we’re perfectly willing to pretend-pray and play along, we don’t like getting smashed over the head by the imposition of a pious religious order. That’s precisely what happened in Washington last Friday.
President Trump’s 17-minute inauguration address was framed by six — count ’em SIX — prayers. Three prayers were held at the beginning of the ceremony [Pastor Paula White, who is Trump’s “spiritual adviser,” followed immediately by Cardinal Timothy Dolan, and then Rev. Franklin Graham]. That was followed by three more prayers near the end [Rabbi Marvin Hier, Bishop Wayne T. Jackson, and Rev. Sam Rodriguez]. All that was missing was the Little Drummer Boy and a partridge in a pear tree affixed to a giant cross that screams “Jesus Saves.”
Usually, non-denominational religious rituals include a benediction from each of the so-called “Big Three” — which is Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. But this year, Christians covered the point spread and smashed the over easier than the New England Patriots in the championship game. At Trump’s inaugural, there were five Christians and one Jew upon the Deus. What ever happened to the Muslim? Islam was shut out. Perhaps the imam’s car got caught in traffic at the “largest crowd ever to witness an inauguration,” according to White House propagandist, Sean Spicer. We’ll have to check on that.
Were five Christian prayers necessary in order to bestow the imaginary blessing of the world’s phantom superpower upon the incoming Trump Administration? Might just one, or two, or even three prayers have been sufficient? Gee, even three seems like overkill. One realizes that not only are all the religions divided among themselves, denominations too are subdivided into different belief systems, each requiring plenty of grandstanding and gerrymandering. And so, a sort of Christian ice cream cone was stacked with all the most popular flavors of Baskin-Robbins at the inauguration. The only thing missing was hot fudge and a cherry.
Once the swearing in ceremony officially ended — for those horrified at the sight of this historic moment, the swearing at began. The billionaire ruling class accompanied by their congressional puppets and new cabinet appointees and excused themselves over to Union Station, just a 10-minute walk from the Capital. That where the inaugural luncheon was officially held and began with….(take a wild guess)….yet another prayer. Some verses were quoted out of a holy book written 2,000 years ago laden with contradictions which mysteriously even condones slavery. I don’t remember what was said exactly. I doubt anyone was listening, or paying much attention since everyone’s hickory smoked brisket was getting cold on the plate while the mullah rambled on about the ancient Corinthians. There were a lot of thou’s and ye’s slung around, though.
In the spirit of bipartisanship, President Obama’s inauguration ceremonies had plenty of religious fanfare, also. And, I was just as annoyed about it then as I am now with this new Administration. In fact, religious gets used as a political prod by many politicians in both parties. But this was akin to smoking the frankincense. Curiously, most in attendance at these types of public events don’t appear take prayers very seriously, as evidenced by the bitterly deep political divide fueled by institutionalized greed and avarice for money and power that’s come to inflict the ruling class. It’s as though once the praying ends, it’s open season and the political pickpocketing begins. Let’s steal and kill for Jesus.
Next came Day Two. Any notion that the first full day of the new Administration would take on a more serious tone was shattered when, on the following morning, less than 24-hours after seven prayers were offered, President Trump’s first order of business was to attend something called a “National Prayer Service,” held at Washington’s National Cathedral. Somehow, instead of just Christians and Jews peppering the pews and slinging the sermons, a Muslim and Hindu miraculously passed through security. Once again, we’ll have to look into that.
Prayers and preaching has no place in or at any official government function, assuming one shares a literal interpretation of the Constitutional separation of church and state. Millions of American secularists share this view. Fortunately, the previous Administration even acknowledged what’s become the fastest-growing of all factions on religiosity (which is the “nones” — meaning those having no religious belief). We aren’t growing smaller. We’re increasing in size. But you wouldn’t know any of this given the holy liturgy of events over the past three days and all the lapdog attention afforded to Christian evangelicals.
Surely, there’s at least one thing on which we can probably all agree. believers and secularists alike. There’s plenty of praying going on right now, right this very instant. Even many of those who strongly oppose President Trump and his policies are out there praying. They’re praying with as much conviction as anyone else. I sometimes wonder how any spiritual being, real or imagined, could handle the disparate prayers of so many contradictory hopes and wishes. All this praying is enough to make any god ignore the incessant chatter and flip the off switch.
I’ve been asked once or twice or perhaps a hundred times if I’m a compulsive gambler.
That’s a fair question. Yes, I do fit the classic description. I’ve spent most of my life gambling. Check. I’ve lost vast sums of money at various times, sometimes even seriously harming my financial standing. Check. I’ve spent absurd amounts of time inside casinos. Check. I blow many hours on sports handicapping and watching ball games on which I’ve bet money. Check. I’ve driven across town to get down on the best number, and I’ve driven hundreds of miles to play in poker games. Check. My personal reputation is heavily tinged by gambling. Check. All this and more, it seems, makes me fit the description of a “compulsive gambler.”
However, what I’m about to reveal might be shocking. After nearly four decades spent gambling, and having experienced just about all the highs and lows that one could possibly imagine (keep in mind there are some stories I’ll never tell) — ideally, I’d love to be in the position where I didn’t have to gamble at all. I’d much rather read a good book or go on a hike than watch a basketball game. If I had enough money to live comfortably for the rest of my life, I don’t think I’d bet on sports again. What would be the purpose? Sure, I might still play poker purely for fun occasionally since the game is just as much a social engagement and a gambling exercise, but that would be the extent of it. I’d have no interest in playing table games or other forms of gambling. In short, gambling doesn’t excite me. I could take it or leave it. And, to be perfectly honest, I wouldn’t mind leaving it.
That might seem like a bizarre thing to say by someone who’s made various types of gambling his life’s mission. I stumbled into this career quite by accident and given all that I now know and who I know, I’d be foolish to throw all that knowledge away and start anew into something else. But if I had my way, and had a real choice in life, I’d probably spend most of my time doing something else, something completely different, rather than gambling.
So, the answer is no — I’m not a compulsive gambler.
Coping often requires that we deceive ourselves into thinking we have choices in life when usually we don’t. And the older you get and longer you live, the fewer choices you’ll have. Age is an alarm clock and we never know when the bell will ring and our time is up. Late in life, choices become extinct and you’re stuck with a fate over which you have no control.
This isn’t a discussion of free will, and more precisely, whether or not we have it. Put more plainly, we’re all chained by common habits. We become dependent on jobs. We’re wielded to family members and responsibilities. We’re rooted in our communities. We’re expected to act and behave a certain way, especially by all those around us. Break the mold and do something different, and then eyebrows raise and whispers begin. Too often, we’re discouraged from breaking molds. Indeed, most of us are trapped in what writer Henry David Thoreau famously called “lives of quiet desperation.” Misplaced values cause us to attempt to fill this void of quiet desperation with money, material possessions, and accolades. But as studies have shown, those superfluous things don’t necessarily make us happy. There’s absolutely no correlation between society’s common definition of success (mostly measured in wealth and fame) and personal happiness.
To have any long-term chance of winning at gambling decisions must matter. Making decision (or choices) is the difference between games of skill and games of chance, although many forms of gambling include both.
So, in lives with so few choices left, gambling does become a convenient de facto substitute. When many gamblers say they feel alive again, what they’re often really expressing is the freedom of making their choices and then seeing the outcome within minutes or even seconds. That choice and the prospect of a win can be exhilarating.
Games which provide a long-term possible positive outcome include poker, blackjack, sports gambling, and horse racing. Some could argue there are advantage players in video poker, also. In each of these forms of gambling, the player must make choices. Those decisions determine the outcome of the wager, at least in part. Hence, the gambler — to some extent — controls his own destiny.
The 2016 World Series of Poker ends, which means now I have the entirety of all my days and nights totally free, and that’s not necessarily a good thing. The next eight weeks get spent mostly lounging out in the back yard, drinking white wine by day and red wine after sundown, and betting baseball from noon until midnight. Baseball is the only thing going in the doldrums of summer, aside from the occasional Euro or South American soccer bet that captures my gaze. The refresh button on the portable laptop pops a spring and breaks off from being punched too many times. With thousands of dollars riding in action daily, baseball updates on ESPN.com and MLB.com become what the stock ticker represents to a Wall Street investor.
Averaging 10 to 15 wagers a day, seven days a week, which is nearly every waking hour, that means there’s a pitch being thrown somewhere in the country at any minute which has some bearing on my financial standing. After awhile, it all becomes a blur, a mental fog. One becomes numb to the inevitable bad beat of a three-run homer in the bottom of the ninth in a game where you held a comfortable 2-0 lead and the bases were empty and you’d already circled the game with a bold “W.” One also becomes desensitized to the wins just as much, that occasional +230 flash in the pan underdog which cashes and reinforces the dangerously false self-deception that you’ve finally got this baseball thing figured out and can coast to an easy living the rest of your life.
Given my volume of wagers, there’s also the inevitable mistake. Since I began betting on sports full time, on more than a few occasions I’ve mistakenly clicked the wrong box on one of five online betting apps I use. That means, I thought I bet on one team when I actually bet on the other. That’s happened more times than I care to admit, and don’t tell me it evens out because it doesn’t. Years ago, I once bet $3,000 on a Seattle Seahawks halftime line which seemed like a lock. I almost never lay points in the second half, but this time I accidentally clicked my offshore account for $3,000 on the ‘Hawks laying -2.5. The other team covered easily, and that sloppy mistake ended up costing me a swing of $5,700. That’s the worst brain fart I can remember.
I’ve also double clicked bets, which means when I thought I was laying $400 on a ball game, I was actually risking $800 because my fat fingers turned the keyboard into what amounted to a bingo sheet. Earlier this year in college football, I took Rutgers for (what I thought was ) one unit, which was very much competitive up until kickoff and ended up losing 79-0. A double click made the defeat all the more costly.
But the worst betting mistake I can recall making was the “no bet” on a ghastly baseball game that lasted an ungodly 19 innings. Given my distaste for the game, the only thing worse that following a baseball game is sweating a ball game that goes into extra innings. I’d bet the under in the Cleveland-Toronto game played in July and despite a marathon match which extended even beyond a double header, more than 6 mind-numbing hours in all, the teams combined for 2-1 pitchers’ duel where my under was never in any serious danger. Dull but easy money, or so I thought.
Upon checking my account balance the next day, the ledger came up exactly $400 short. What the fuck happened? Apparently, I’d put in the bet but then failed to hit “confirm.” So, I sweated a 19-inning baseball game for absolutely nothing. That was like getting sucker punched. I don’t know why, but breaking even on the game was worse than losing.
All these capping and clicks ends up being profitable. But that the end of each month, I’m still short of what’s needed to pay the bills. Hence, my betting bankroll continues to evaporate and instead of being able to wager more money on games and eventually step into the class of 55 percent winners and a steady income because I”m now betting $1,000 a game, I’m now having to downshift back to $300 per game because a cold streak could wipe me out.
What I need is a big win. I need to find the right opportunity.
During the NFL offseason, the insufferable St. Louis Rams move west back to their old home in Los Angeles and become the first professional football team to play in the nation’s second-biggest city in the last 20 years.
Many bettors chose to skip preseason football. Even so-called sharps ignore it. I’m glad. That leaves more opportunity for those of us who take these “meaningless” football games quite seriously and invest lots of time studying lineups and motivation. I could explain more as to why preseason football is actually easier to handicap than the regular season or playoff games (which means they are sometimes more predictable), and will do so another time. But for now, just go along with me that I’m really smart and know what I’m doing.
The Rams are scheduled to open up their 2016 schedule with an exhibition match versus the perpetually over-hyped Dallas Cowboys. They’ll play in the ancient but refurbished L.A. Coliseum, which according to media reports gets sold out instantly, despite this being a preseason game. Most NFL stadiums are half full with bored fans during the preseason. However, 92,000 excited local supporters of the new team are expected to turn out and welcome the Rams back to Los Angeles.
There’s more compelling reasons to love the Rams in this opener. Head Coach Jeff Fisher has just been inexplicably resigned to a contract extension. He’ll be fired three months later. But entering the 2016 season, there’s reason for optimism. Fisher appears to be popular with his players and has the support of management. The Rams are coming off a lackluster 7-9 season. But this appears to be a great spot for them since they’re facing the downtrodden Cowboys, who went 4-12, their worst record in 26 years when Jerry Jones first bought the team.
I figure the Rams will make a definitive statement in this game. They’ll play hard. No way that Rams ownership wants the team to come out on a perfect August Saturday afternoon and lay an exploding lump of dog shit in the first game back in Los Angeles — in front of 92,000 paying customers eager to gobble up plenty of new merchandise. If ever there was a “phone call” from upper management down to the coaching staff and players saying, “win this game, or else….” this was it. This was the game I’d been waiting for. This was the right opportunity.
The opening line comes out at Rams -3 over the Cowboys. The number quickly gets bet up to -5, then drops back down to -3.5
I get nervous laying points in preseason football games. So, the more viable alternative seems to play the Rams on the moneyline. What that means is — I just have to win the game. No points are involved. So long as the Rams beat the Cowboys, I win money. And so, given this rare opportunity where one side seems to have so much the best of it and all the motivation to win, I decide to fucking fire.
Laying the round number of $7,000 to win back close to $3,800 (in profit) means that I’ve got a swing of $10,800 on a single preseason football game. That’s quite a step up from betting $100 a game on baseball back in April, or the ultimate in degeneracy depending on one’s perspective. The spread even dips down to -3 for a short time, and I contemplate firing more on the game. However, one can never be too cautious in gambling.
It’s announced that Dallas won’t even suit up several of their starters. Star quarterback Tony Romo won’t play. Dallas, which suffered a rash of killer injuries last season, announces though head coach Jason Garrett, they just want to “say healthy.” Lots of scrubs, which is the term used for bust outs who will get a couple of weeks in training camp before ultimately being cut back to civilian life and a life of anonymity, will see plenty of action. Then, right before the game, the Cowboys suffer another setback when the second-string backup quarterback gets hurt and won’t play. Dallas’ first round draft choice, running back Ezekial Elliott also suffers an ankle injury and will be out. Meanwhile, the Rams appear healthy and hungry. This is looking like the lock of the century.
Come the time for kickoff, the Cowboys field a goulash of starters which includes an unknown starting quarterback drafted in the fourth round who has never taken an NFL snap. His name is Dak Prescott.
Coming Next: Part 4 of “Gambling for a Living.”
Many years ago, I parked my car at New York’s JFK Airport and flew to Europe. A planned one-week trip rolled into 16 days and by the time I returned to the lot, my parking fee had mushroomed into more than $300 (Note: I’d arrived late for the flight due to traffic and was forced to park in the closer, more expensive zone).
I wondered to myself back then — what would have happened if I insisted the parking ticket had been lost? There’s a special line for cars and drivers with lost tickets, but I’ve never challenged the system nor forsaken my obligation to pay what was owed. Still, I’m naturally curious as to the protocols of how airports know how long you’ve been parked, and what to charge you for a lost parking ticket.
To be more clear for those who are unfamiliar with the issue, most big airports have multiple parking lots. The closest lots, near the terminal, are always the most expensive. Parking at Las Vegas McCarran comes to about $4 an hour. There are even zones with parking meters. However, Las Vegas also offers satellite lots, which charge up to $9 per day. However, the satellite parking requires you to take a shuttle bus back and forth. This adds another 20 minutes or so (each way) to the trip, plus a tip for the driver if you’re carrying bags.
I always park in the discounted parking lot when I travel (unless I’m running late, which happened in New York). Over the past ten years, I’ve flown perhaps 60-70 times and many of those trips were for weeks at a time. I’ve paid thousands of dollars parking fees. However, many times upon exiting, I’ve wondered what would happen if I declared a “lost ticket.”
The math seems to make this a +EV move. If I’m parked for 10 days, at $9 per day, that’s $90. But what would happen is I feign confusion, declare my parking stub to be lost, and try and get a cheaper bill? With thousands of cars parked for varying amounts of time, how would the airport know how long your car has been present? Would it be possible to insist on a 4-day trip rather than 9 days, thus saving $54?
I’m not advocating that anyone try this. Furthermore, it’s dishonest. To me, $9 seems like quite a reasonable fee to pay to park for a day. However, my experience in New York 20 years ago still bugs me. Plus, I could really use that $300 that was forked over to the Airport Authority.
Has anyone ever challenged their parking time? Has anyone ever successfully shaved a few days off the fee by declaring a “lost ticket?” I’m specifically referring to airports where there is no maximum. I realize a lost ticket at some lots requires the driver to pay the max. What about long-stay parking lots?
I’d like to hear stories, which can be posted here or on Facebook.
READ DISCUSSION HERE.
The first course I ever took at the University of Texas was logic.
It wasn’t by design that I signed up for “Logic 101.” It was by accident, really. Logic sounded like an interesting subject and besides, the classtime fit perfectly into my schedule. Thankfully, that unintended course taught me more about how to think than any other endeavor. Being exposed to the rigorous practice, that’s to say the trial and error of how to properly test and discuss an idea set the tone for the remainder of my college years, and for my personal and professional life.
Taking Logic 101 also provided me with a clearer understanding of how and why science isn’t merely one subject of many, to be segregated into a separate classroom on its own aside math or literature. Science was actually was the nitty-gritty all-inclusive machinery, of both means and methods, the gateway to every question in the entire universe — including what we (think we) know and what we’ve yet to discover. Science is the handy toolbox allowing us to unlock all human curiosities.
All students everywhere should be required to take logic as a prerequisite for graduation. If someone isn’t able to think critically, what’s the point of getting an education? Without logic, whatever else follows is like constructing a skyscraper on top of quicksand. The foundation collapses. No amount of subject knowledge later on can compensate for a lack of understanding of how logic works, in other words — thinking logically.
When one speaks of logic, what this really means is thinking critically. One must always be open to new ideas, even ideas which might initially seem strange or be objectionable, even repulsive. Otherwise, there’s no opportunity to learn and evolve. I’m terribly troubled where I hear someone say their mind can’t be changed on any given subject. That’s not just close-minded. It’s inherently self-destructive to the betterment of the body, mind, and soul. Virtually all of us, anyone who is human, has changed an opinion on one subject or other — based either on personal experiences or when confronted with a preponderance of evidence. That’s critical thinking. That’s logic in practice, or at least the ideal reaction to logic.
Sadly, logic has become decreasingly relevant in modern society, particularly on social media, and even more so in today’s toxic political environment. Logic is almost to the point of extinction. Compelling evidence suggests that logic no longer matters, at all. Hence, to be thoroughly logical (and trustworthy) with my readers, what I wrote in the previous paragraph isn’t quite true. Yes, the sad fact is — you can build a house on quicksand. Indeed, someone can be both successful, very successful, and illogical. The new President of the United States is the perfect example.
President Trump and many of his most outspoken supporters often engage in illogical tactics. A certain level of rhetoric is to be expected, of course. But this is something quite different, something historically unprecedented. The Trump Campaign, which has now morphed into the Trump Administration clearly intends to continue the same tactics used over the past two years, which is to deflect, to confuse, to frustrate, and ultimately to wipe out far more logical counterarguments. This is entirely willful and premeditated. The Trump camp knows precisely what they’re doing. Unfortunately, it works. Dark is the new light.
On what is the first full day of the new Trump Administration, today’s poisonous basket of outrageous, demonstrably false statements — made repeatedly by both President Trump (at CIA Headquarters) and a scumbag named Sean Spicer (at the White House Press Briefing) — prove beyond a shadow of any doubt that the new Administration intends to invent its own data, squash any conflicting facts, and then go on the attack all those who’s job it is to actually seek information and tell the truth in the public interest. This isn’t just annoying, it’s absolutely terrifying. Even Trump supporters should be alarmed when on the second day of the job, both the President and the Press Secretary tell bold face lies to cameras, particularly on an issue with most would consider to be trivial.
A minor issue which should have been yesterday’s news and largely forgotten was reignited by President Trump himself (not the media), who on the solemn occasion of supposedly honoring the hard-working professionals within the intelligence community, instead launched into a petty Dr. Strangelove-like tirade on one of the most irrelevant topics of any Day One presidency in the history of the United States. Upright in front of the wall of honor, a marble memorial which pays tribute to the men and women of the CIA who gave the ultimate sacrifice (their lives), President Trump mocked the occasion and flipped into another campaign speech and then, much to the astonishment of the former CIA Director who was watching, used the awkward occasion to behave like a bratty thin-skinned kindergartner, bickering with his fellow schoolboys over who gets to play with the ball. Several minutes were wasted arguing over the most trivial subject (the number of attendees at Trump’s inauguration), which had been settled already with proven facts by just about every media outlet in the world, with ample photographic and statistical evidence.
Yet, this behavior wasn’t anything unusual for a man and the movement which scares the hell out of many sane people who are more used to a Commander in Chief with which we have a common baseline for decision-making, despite past partisan differences. Even those who hated LBJ or Ford or Carter or Bush knew there would be basic agreement on a set of easily verifiable facts. If The Trump Administration can’t even accept basic factual evidence on something as meaningless as mall attendance at his inauguration, what happens at 2 am in the Oval Office when some kind of real executive decision needs to be made about North Korea firing a nuke or ISIS launching another terrorist attack? What will the new President do in the not so distant future when bad inevitably things happen and we need strong and steady leadership which takes facts and evidence into account?
Well, it appears that the zebra never changes its stripes. Self-delusion has been the modus operandi of Donald Trump his supporters, not just from the moment Dear Leader first announced his reality television show-brand driven candidacy, but from the very foundation of the ultra-reactionary Tea Party movement, which took fertile root in the rich dung of division and hate, then sterioded by a frantic obsession to destroy absolutely everything associated with the Black guy living in the White House with the Muslim-sounding name. Logic be damned, even when the Obama Administration unquestionably saved the nation from plunging into a Great Depression, cut unemployment by 40 percent, saved the auto industry from total collapse, withdrew troops from two unwinnable foreign wars, or even tripled the grotesque profits of greedy Wall Street, which is something conservatives should have been rejoicing. Had Republican posted President Obama’s identical record, conservatives would be lobbying for another face carved into Mount Rushmore. The trouble was — the Republican hardliners couldn’t take any credit for all the good stuff this time. So, when the facts weren’t political convenient, they made up their own. And that’s exactly what President Trump and his supporters have done, and continue to do. Nothing, it seems, will change.
Writer/pollster Nate Silver coined the term “the Spread,” which best describes the popular tactic used by Trump and his supporters, particularly on social media. I’m told this term stems from his days as a high school debater. The dubious tactic goes like this: When losing an argument, respond aggressively by slinging lots of outrageous charges and counter-arguments, really fast. Being bombarded with an abundance of nonsense often succeeds because it buries the more logical argument with confusion. The solid fact-based argument eventually gets forgotten. The more thoughtful fact-based debater is snowed under by an avalanche of misinformation.
From pivoting to different topics, to ad hominem attacks, to constructing false straw men, the Trump Administration has mastered one thing, at least, and it’s both dubious and destructive. Telling a bold lie over and over and over again until it’s finally believed is an old tactic that was once used so effectively that it eventually led to one of the worst periods of human history. Indeed, that’s all it took. A few lies were repeated often enough and were by a charismatic leader that enough people believed them, and then they shut off their brains and abandoned logic.
If history repeats itself as some have suggested, we are living in dangerous times.
Here’s some advice: Pay your taxes. Preferably, every year. On time.
Take it from the fool who’s danced upon the blade of the sharpest of spears and endured endless migraines instigated by the dreaded evil known as the Internal Revenue Service which lasted for years. It’s all a nightmare, only you can’t wake up from the bad dream and when you do finally awaken, your awash in written threats and creeping deadlines. You don’t want the IRS crawling up your back. That’s an unromantic form of first base on the path towards getting fucked in the ass eventually.
Hey, I don’t blame the IRS for my seemingly endless, and ultimately very costly predicament. I blame myself. I accept full responsibility. I freely admit to owing back taxes and very much wanting to pay my government, the devoted Socialist that I am. We just couldn’t agree precisely on what I owed exactly, and I owed lots of back taxes on what I considered to be reasonable deductions taken years ago when money didn’t seem to be as big a deal that somehow snowballed into a giant shitload of interest and capital penalties and lawyers and paperwork. Running a gypsy tab with the IRS is sorta’ like hailing that taxi from Manhattan over to New Jersey. Only after you’ve crossed completely over the George Washington Bridge and approaching the exit ramp leading into Ft. Lee does the scruffy driver inform you abruptly the cab fare is going to be double because he’s driving way over to Jersey and has to get back into the city, all on your dime. Oh, and you’re responsible for paying all the tolls, too. That’s what it’s like to owe the IRS money. Canines dig deep and they won’t let go.
One pitfall of self-employment over so many years — and I’ve been self-employed, a sorta’ free agent officially speaking off and on for precisely 17 out of the last 23 years — is the maddening maze known as the federal tax code, which some self-claimed faux-billionaires somehow remarkably manage to exploit and not pay any income taxes at all, while working stiffs like the rest of us end up forking over parts of our anatomy to satisfy the 1040 bottom line. Hell, the new President-Elect of the United States of America paid NO! FUCKING! TAXES! WHATSOEVER! WAKE! THE! FUCK! UP! AND! LET! THAT! SINK! IN! FOR! A! GOD! DAMNED! MINUTE! during the exact same years when the IRS was skip tracing and hunting me down like runaway fugitive, demanding their cut like a rag doll on shakedown. Meanwhile, the incoming President-Elect brags that he paid NO! INCOME! TAXES! WHATSOEVER! WAKE! THE! FUCK! UP! AND! LET! THAT! SINK! IN! FOR! A! GOD! DAMNED! MINUTE! because — he’s smart. I suppose that makes me and millions of others leashed to the IRS the dumbest motherfuckers on the planet.
After plowing through about $25,000 in liquid cash that I could barely afford, well couldn’t afford really given that I need fluff my bankroll like a peacock some more for the upcoming football season, and that’s just the legal fees and pencil-pushing accountants who didn’t know my name when I called them on the phone until papers had been shuffled off in the background and my file was located to they could refresh themselves that the client’s name is Nolan and I owed the IRS serious money, as in six figures, plus going to federal court and testifying once to fight the bloodsucking scoundrels who somehow were under the mistaken impression I was rich and hiding liquid assets under the mattress (check out my blog — all the money’s gone! thank a few bad teaser wheels), I finally spotted my escape from the shackles of a perpetual audit in the form of one final massive lump sum payment to Dirty Uncle Sam, thus ending my decade-long ordeal of worry and misery and uncertainty and dusty unopened IRS envelopes piled high upon the desk laying aside losing sports wagering tickets.
The good news: My IRS troubles were about to mercifully end. The bad news: Just about every dime I made in salary during the 2016 WSOP would go towards paying back taxes, plus the penalties and interest. I’d be essentially working for nothing.
I reveal such an annoying tale of woe to you because my well-compensated temp position at the World Series of Poker, once again to be held at the glorious Rio All Suites Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas in late May through mid-July, would do absolutely nothing to pay the obligation of my monthly expenses. Like masked moth men with butterfly nets, the government was about to seize it all, and I was all too happy to pay this genuine obligation just to make them go away and leave me the fuck alone. Such are the twisted joys of working for what amounted to absolutely nothing for seven long weeks. [Now, many of you know why I didn’t order that second bottle of wine at dinner each night. One has to control the temptation, except for one night which I’ll write about shortly.]
Between the IRS lurking like vampires in the wings, the 15-hour days and nights spent on the floor at the WSOP, I’d still have to produce something from sports gambling in order to pay my bills.
Oh, and on top of all that, out of the blue, someone claimed I was a pervert.
Under these three ring circus-like conditions, I was to chart the St. Louis Cardinals starting rotation along with 31 other major league teams most days and check the wind direction blowing at the Oakland Coliseum and 16 other parks and stadiums, shop for the best line and total, get down on games, manage my four online betting accounts, and then find some time actually handicap a sport I thoroughly detested.
This was going to be a hot long-ass summer.
Edgar Allan Poe, the dead writer, is probably best known for his poem, “The Raven.”
“Quoth the Raven, nevermore.” It goes something like that. Hell if I remember exactly. I think the bird was supposed to be spooky and even creep us out a little.
What most probably don’t know is — the author Poe was a sick gambler and a very bad one at that. Accordingly to biographers, while he was a freshman at the University of Virginia the maven of melancholy racked up massive gambling debts, on what I don’t know. I’d be curious to read Poe’s bad beat stories, of they were available, but then again of a black bird could scare the bejesus out of us, imagine how frightening a nightmare roulette session might read . Once this apparent gambling addiction was discovered, his father became so enraged and got so pissed off at young Edgar that he instantly severed the patriarchal purse strings and refused to give his son any more money for school. And so, the aspiring writer who was then no more than a lost teen got dealt the worst possible beat imaginable….
….he had to move to Baltimore.
Baltimore’s filled with scum, and the reason for this fact is, the great-great-great grandparents of the present-day scum living in Baltimore weren’t just scummy, but scummier even. Look at Baltimore now. What do you see? Maybe more telling, what do you smell? Cold acid rain, dank humidity, pockmarked litter-filled streets. Now, imagine what it was like way back in 1840 before Capital Grille and air conditioning. Who in the fuck would want to move there or live there?
Well, Edgar Allan Poe ended up in what amounted to the urban colonoscopy of Baltimore City, in part because an editor from a startup magazine nestled in one of those brick row houses of that dreadful place saw raw talent in the aspiring young author and agreed to publish his work for the princely sum of $50 a month, about what I’m pulling in now from my own writing endeavors, so I can empathize. Hey, Poe — I got your back. Yet, poor Poe ended up spending the rest of his miserable life in Baltimore, before he mercifully died at age 40. His lifeless body was reportedly found laying face down in a gutter, which should be a dire red flag to all writers and wanna’ be writers. If that’s the fate of one of our more talented and successful peers, what sad fate awaits the rest of us? While living there, he reportedly drank a lot, engaged in the services of prostitutes (on $50 a month!), and did some other pretty lurid stuff which is pretty god damned amazing when you think about having all those vices and living on scraps. One doesn’t know whether to detest or envy this condition, but at least Poe squeezed some mighty good times out of a meager salary. However, when one thinks back to the punishment of living in Baltimore, such perversions must be forgiven. After all, what else is there to do in Baltimore?
I pen this short interlude because there’s a lesson to be told here which should be plainly obvious to my writer brethren who also happen to be pro football fanatics, and students of history of the game. Think of this: Had Edgar Allan Poe not been a gambler, the NFL team now calling Baltimore home would instead be known something else, instead of the Ravens.
Baltimoreites and Baltimoreans, all — thank Edgar Allan Poe for being a shitty gambler.
Two essential qualities to gambling success are money and confidence — not in that order necessarily. The requirement for the need for money is obvious. Without cash, there’s nothing to gain, no risk, no upside. Cash is oil to the flow of the gambling engine.
Accordingly, confidence is its drive shaft. A gambler must have confidence, not to be confused with arrogance, in his or her decisions. Poker players, who know this all too well, must trust their reads. You inherently know when your opponent is bluffing, so you make the tough call. It’s almost an instinct. Advantage players must maintain faith in the card count, the proven long-term percentages which produce something known as “EV” for short, which translates into Expected Value. In other words, played out a million times hypothetically, what’s the net expectation on such and such wager? A sports bettor must trust in his information and the knowledge the he’s got the best of it when a ticket it written and bet is confirmed. Then, once the game starts, a rookie punt returner fumbles the ball and demolishes all that pregame research. One has to prepare for such crisis, and be willing to accept those events which we cannot foresee, nor control.
The first couple of months of baseball betting gave me enough confidence to continue the exercise. By end of May, a full ten weeks into wagering daily full-time, I’d stepped up my bets to $200, then later $300 a game. The training wheels were coming off. By margins of previous results, betting $300 a game instead of just $100 a game should have netted three times the profit. Since I made $1,500 profit in April, that meant by summer I should be pulling in $4,500 a month. When I eventually get to betting $500 a game, that figure becomes $6,000 a month, which is $72,000 a year — in other words, a living.
Sounds too easy.
Tilt and temptation are the death ditches of gamblers.
Going “on tilt” means just what it sounds like. It’s a old poker term, denigrating emotionally unstable players who can’t control themselves after suffering inevitable losses and bad streaks. So beset they are with inner angst, they then fire outrageous amounts of money at the next betting opportunity chasing losses and hoping to get back to even, something I’ve done once or twice in my betting career.
Temptation can be just as dangerous, which means the inducement to fire far more on a game than one can afford, because the stars and planets and zodiac and talk show prognosticators all line up on the game way too perfectly. It’s the “can’t lose” game. The “lock.”
During the second month of betting Major League Baseball, I uncover a previously undiscovered angle that works and so I bet blindly it at every opportunity and this sunken treasure chest puts me about $3,000 to the good in May followed by $3,500 in the black in June. Three consecutive winning months is certainly sweet, joyous even. But it’s still a couple of grand short of my monthly nut, and more like $4,000 to $5,000 in added expenses short of what I need for the dinner-laden drink-infused dates on my social calendar for the WSOP which incorporates entertaining media dignitaries and old friends. Last year, I plowed through $5,500 just on dinners at the WSOP (about 50 of them) with friends and colleagues. Fortunately, Mark “Pegasus” Smith and Bob Slezak picked up four of the tabs, or I would have been on the hook for nearly another dime.
The bottom line was, even though I was making money, I wasn’t earning enough. I was still falling way short of what was needed to exist, let alone prosper. Under the conditions, while the gambling experiment was undoubtedly a success, my financial needs weren’t being met. My bankroll might as well have been a popsicle, melting away slowing in the desert heat.
There was only one alternative, which was to start betting even higher. And so, on some spot plays I made two considerably larger wagers, and won both. Prompted by temptation and fueled by desperation, I wagered about $3,000 (twice) on two perfectly ideal betting situations that appear to already be in the bag. In the first situation, some pitcher for the Toronto Blue Jays is on the mound against a worthless scrub for the other team, is laying about -190, and so I blast away hoping to cream off an easy $1,600 without even so much as breaking a sweat and acting like the game is already final. While I’m obsessing over this on the night shift at the Rio, a couple of guys are playing for a coveted WSOP gold bracelet and I’m 30 feet away sweating the Blue Jays-Angles game on a laptop and hitting the refresh button on my smartphone every 30 seconds. My bet wins. A few days later, I find an similar spot where San Francisco Giants ace Madison Bumgarner (I remembered his name) is starting against some unknown mook who might as well have a broken arm wrapped in a cast. San Francisco breezes effortlessly to an easy 4-0 victory on a masterful two-hitter, and I’m wondering why the fuck I’m wearing a suit and tie when it’s 109 degrees outside and working a job when my gravy train pitchers are making my financial life so damn easy and paying my bills, that is, except for the IRS which is still there with me like a garlic necklace.
Five or six days later, maybe it was a week, the Washington Nationals ace Strasburg takes the hill against some slug of a team, and while I usually hate betting heavy, heavy favorites, there’s some Twitter tweet that comes out that says the Brewers got caught in a rain delay at the Milwaukee airport the night before and sat on the tarmac for three hours before taking off to Washington National and finally arriving red-eyed at 3 am, only to be scheduled for an early day game the following afternoon. Another $3,000 or so of my betting capital goes in the prohibitively-favored Nationals who then promptly go out and morph into the ’62 Mets. My anchor Strasburg suffers arm trouble and gets yanked in the top of the first, and suddenly here I am holding the sitting duck of a 3K ticket riding on the arm of some Triple AAA bust out plucked from the bullpen in an unforeseen emergency. The mediocre Brewers massacre the first-place Nationals and smoke my ticket like pickle ash and so the previous $2,500 roughly that was earned so effortlessly from the Jays and Giants games suddenly get seared like a fuck fillet.
Oh, and someone just won a gold bracelet, which requires me to suck it all up and put on a smiling face, as though I haven’t a care in the world. This demands segregating thoughts, suppressing emotions, and taking decisive action. In one room of the cerebral dollhouse of my mind is the lingering outrage of losing a sizable bet because Ryan Zimmerman grounded into a double play with the bases loaded in the bottom of the sixth. Off in another corner of my mind — the written logs of poker narrative. Time to go congratulate the winner on collecting $700,000 and his glorious first WSOP victory.
Naturally-gifted writers are often trapped within the purgatory of what they want to write and what they have to and are paid write, either to pay the monthly bills or not tick off the rest of the world and lose readers. It’s a perpetual compromise that must be made and a perilous tightrope and no one I know walks it better than Brad Willis, known to many as the longtime blogger for PokerStars.com.
Brad and I go back more than a decade in what I think he’d even reluctantly agree is a sort of isolated chamber of a mutual admiration society. Yet for all our common ground, both working for PokerStars, writing about the game, sharing frustrations, and working so many tournaments and covering so many stories over the years, it’s astounding that @bradwillis and I have never once sat down face-to-face at dinner.
That would change one rare off night when Brad and I found the time to dine together at the well-reviewed SLS steakhouse, Bazaar Meat by Jose Andres. Brad generously agrees to front the entire expense, even without the knowledge I’d dropped $3,000 the night before on the Washington Nationals and was in serious danger of suffering my first losing month. Despite this predicament, I couldn’t hang Brad out to dry for the full amount like that, since this dining experience was destined to be two things — epic and really fucking expensive.
And so, I cut a crafty and in my mind generous deal that I still think is really, really good for me and would still be expensive for Brad. He’d pick up the dinner tab, and I’d pay for all the drinks.
I didn’t know it then, but another sorta’bad beat was about to come.
I don’t remember the amount of the dinner tab, exactly. I think the set-course meal was somewhere in the neighborhood of $450, plus the tip, which Brad willingly paid without so much a grumble nor complaint. I took care of the wine, a rare Gewurztraminer from the Alsace region of France that I’d never tried before which drank marvelously but was rudely contrarian to the customary dining standards of drinking red wine with red meat. Brad and I didn’t give a fuck. We ordered what we wanted and plowed through the evening like two sailors enjoying our last meal.
Following this two-hour dinner punctuated with laughs and memories and mutual frustrations and plenty of gossip about some of you now reading this, we agree to have “one more drink” at the SLS bar, which was out in the center of the casino. Walking that direction, I think we both knew very well this wouldn’t be a “one drink” chat not a one-story encore, more like treking off to a Grateful Dead Concert as an afterthought. Toss two writers into a blender, pack with ice, hit the whip button, pour into a shot glass, and leave a credit card open for the next round after round and the stories lead from one to another and by the time you’ve looked down at your wristwatch, as I did, it’s 2 am and the bar tab has somehow skyrocketed to more than $400.
Despite the expense, this ends up as my favorite night of the entire 2016 WSOP. Worth every penny, my only regret is I didn’t take notes because there could have been a scandalous book written that night just from the scribbling. And so, with that, Brad and I exited the SLS and both have to be back at work at noon the next day. And I’ve got another fresh slate of baseball games to handicap in the morning.
Next: Gambling for a Living — Part 3 (The Lunacy of Betting $7,000 on a Los Angeles Rams Pre-Season Game)
Since March 2016, most of my attention has focused on sports gambling, more precisely beating the books. This is a detailed retrospective of that emotional and financial (mis)adventure over the past ten months.
The decision to gamble for a living wasn’t borne as much out of naivete that I could conquer the odds and beat the Las Vegas sports books at their own game, but rather drifted from a sobering and starkly frightening realization that, for me, at this stage of life, few other alternatives existed. In the period once crooned by Sinatra as “the September of my years,” I had few cards left to play.
For many years, I’d worked the “house” side of gambling and was quietly content to remain as a well-paid shill. In plainer words, I crossed the River Rubicon of Risk over to fishing for the sure thing in a barrel a very long time ago. Playing poker and sports betting became merely peripheral part-time pursuits, jolly distractions even, secondary to the time-clock punching guarantee of a steady paycheck signed by whichever master I was serving — be it now defunct Binion’s Horseshoe, the World Series of Poker, PokerStars, Poker Night in America, or any of several other gambling giants and entities which for whatever reason thought my rare talents were worthy of generously steady compensation. Winning and losing a football bet over the weekend might have indeed determined if I’d be tilting Gevrey Chambertin or Gnarly Head toward my lips the following week, but I’d still drink my wine, bad beats be damned. With rare exceptions, like when I blasted off the princely sum of $39,000 on the disastrous 2008 Super Bowl game, gambling outcomes and even the grind of being in action almost every single day rarely impacted my financial bottom line or altered my lifestyle. The mortgage got paid — sometimes even on time. Gambling outcomes rarely affected my psyche, except when I lost.
All that was about to change — in a big way.
Hunter S. Thompson, the dead writer, was a sports fanatic and passionate gambler. He once wrote he hated the Dallas Cowboys so much that he unfailingly bet against them every single week for a whole couple of seasons. That wasn’t a very smart thing to do in the 1970’s, which were glory years for Tom Landry and Roger Staubach. So, famished and eventually flummoxed, Hunter flip-flopped over the dark side of the silver star, started betting with his head over his heart, and ended up loving the devil Cowboys — but only when they covered.
I’m not sure why, but most writers seem to think we have all the answers to everything and can figure out anything, from solving the world’s problems, to how to profitably handicap a professional football game. Between snorting fat lines of coke, guzzling fifths of Chivas Regal, and popping enough quaaludes to fell an wild elephant, beastly Hunter even quasi-authored a rather shitty book on the subject if I do say so myself, a rambling collection of sometimes incomprehensible essays, really, a maniacal bitch fest about the crookedness of the NFL, the hypocritical league, the ghastly owners, and effervescent frustration with his inability to pick steady football winners, despite being smarter and more ballsy than just about anyone else on the planet.
I feel Hunter’s pain. Pass the Chivas.
I can’t explain why I picked baseball, really. When it comes to gambling on ball games, “biesball has not been bery, bery good to me.” Frankly, I don’t even like the fucking game. I don’t watch it. I won’t watch it. I refuse to watch it. I don’t enjoy it, even on the startling occasion when I manage to pick a winner. I spent Game 7, yes that game 7 with the Cubs beating some underdog team from the American League, of last years riveting World Series of Baseball championship dining in my favorite restaurant, where I received impeccable service since the joint was empty. I hold no rooting interests, other than cheering for whichever team happens to be playing versus the evil Yankees, Mets, Red Sox, or Dodgers. When the Yankees play the Red Sox I root for rain, or a stadium collapse. That’s the extent of my interest in major league baseball. Give me a rain out in Boston, a stadium collapse in New York, and a winning day betting baseball elsewhere, and I’m bouncing off the wall in ecstasy.
But for the next four months, at least, that late spring to midsummer lull when all the sports that really matter are on break, baseball was going to be my total focus and (help to) pay my bills. And falling short of that lofty ambition, if I lost money betting on baseball, why then I’d hate it even more so than before. So, this was a sort of sadistic win-win for me. Baseball was like the homely girl everyone avoided in high school. I wasn’t just asking her out to the prom. I was proposing to go steady. But I wanted no piece of her.
Two prior periods of my long life shoved me into the wolf’s den of full-time gambling and both were spin-offs of unemployment and laziness, in roughly equal parts, with a slight lean in percentage toward being lazy.
Thirty years ago, fresh out of university with a worthless college degree that fortunately didn’t leave me bankrupt because I attended a state school (thanks, Socialism), playing underground poker six days and nights a week became not so much a passion as a reaction to the blunt realities of the times and the accidental trips and falls of aimlessness. It wasn’t that I was a good poker player. No, not at all. But unlike those around me, burned out lives stoked with dangling cigarettes from their mouths,who had never even heard the name David Sklansky nor had read Mike Caro’s groundbreaking Hold’em Report which first came out around that time, I read their ideas and studied and digested every word. Lucky for me, my opponents in those bottom-feeder low-stakes games were so horrifically awful that just about anyone who was patient and knew hand rankings could grind out just enough to stay ahead of the bill collectors, even without an answering machine screening the calls. Despite steady losses, still they could always afford cigarettes and another buy in. I never did figure out where they got their money.
I never beat those games big. But, I beat them for enough. Just enough to get by. And that’s really saying something.
Still, none of this skip down memory lane mattered now, not now in March 2016 with a much bigger monthly financial nut to crack and a different kind of poker game that might as well be speed chess to checkers in a nursing home. Beating poker a couple years back in the ancient ’80’s and trying to compete today were disparate pursuits. One simply had nothing to do with the other. Even a few years later, starting in 1993, when poker was legalized at casinos in New Jersey, I played Atlantic City’s juice fest on weekends for nearly a decade during the fasten-your-seat belt 90’s, a winning pedigree back then is meaningless now. The games and its players are just way too different, certainly much better, today than back then. Besides, who wants to spend 60 hours a week trapped inside a poker room hunched over a table in backbreaking convention-style metal chairs? Even if I could beat the game, and that’s a big if, I don’t even think I’d want to try. Life’s too short to return to the assembly line.
That pretty much left me with just one option to make a living — sports betting. Yes, there was a time, 17 years ago, when I lost my job and then spent two whole years without a steady paycheck. That’s when I first moved out to Las Vegas to bet sports. And the rest, as they say, is history. Things didn’t exactly go according to plan, of course, but I have no complaints.
None of this matters now. I bring up past gambling experience not to establish street cred, which I may or may not have, but as veritable evidence that I was acutely aware of the weight of my challenge ahead. Winning consistently at something that was difficult to beat two decades ago doesn’t translate into the modern era. Moreover, now that I need to make even more money than way back then, the task was even more perilous. It’s one thing to win at gambling when you’re single living in a $600-a-month apartment back in the 1980’s and walking around with more money in your pocket than your car’s worth. It’s quite different with a family and a mortgage and a health insurance premium due each month, and nothing to fall back on when the inevitable cold streak rears its ugly head and breaths dragon fire.
The image of the professional gambler is just about total bullshit.
Gambling for a living isn’t glamorous. It’s not even fun, not most of the time. Hell, it’s hardly the least bit interesting after you’ve done it for a while. The routine becomes a grind. A bore. Wins, when they happen, bring no genuine joy because every gambler, even very successful gamblers who do this over many years, know the gremlin of a cold streak is just around the next corner, ready to pounce and mind fuck your head and strip you of your bankroll like a thief lurking in a back alley.
But the biggest misnomer of all about successful gambling are the betting amounts attached to what defines being a winner. Non-gamblers often mistakenly believe gambling requires big bets and vast sums of money. To the contrary, the majority of people I know who gamble for a living, especially over very long periods of time, earn what would be considered very average incomes. Earning $60,000 a year at the poker table or even half that betting on sports is nothing to sneeze out. Even modest returns place the rare winner into an elite top few percent. While the tales of nosebleed poker games happening in big casinos might capture the public’s attention, the far more steady performers are those remarkably talented and disciplined individuals who quietly grind out a living day in and day out for years, and decades. That’s professional gambling. That’s the majority of successful gamblers.
Golfer great Lee Trevino said it best. About gambling, he said, “pressure isn’t measured in dollar amounts, it’s betting $10 on a match when you only have $5 in your pocket — now, that’s pressure.” Accordingly, I never quite got the fascination with high-stakes poker games or tournaments filled with billionaire businessmen or sponsored poker pros. So, one mega-rich guy beats another mega-rich out of a million dollar pot? Who cares? I want to watch the game where the loser can’t afford to eat the next week and has to go live under a bridge. Now, that’s exciting.
While I doubt I’ll end up under any expressway if I lose, indeed, if I do lose — the bills don’t get paid. Bill collectors call. When you lose, especially when you lose a lot, the world pretty much sucks. Everything about the world just flat out stinks. While it might have been more fun, relaxing even, firing $39,000 on a Super Bowl game when I had $50,000 in stray chips parked inside a drawer somewhere in the house and bet $1,000 on halftimes for shits and giggles, the thought of betting ball games with my case money is far more riveting, and excruciating.
Early season Major League Baseball starts out well.
I make absolutely no claims to having any expertise on this subject. But I do understand contrarianism and the very crucial concept of mean regression. I’ll avoid a lengthy tutorial on early season baseball betting because you just want to enjoy my aches and pains, although I’ve penned plenty of research in the topic. However, let’s just say there’s some value in fading last year’s win-loss results, betting against the so-called “hot” pitchers, and wagering against popular public teams expected to perform well in the regular season. I’ll leave it at that, unless someone wants to stake me in the upcoming baseball season. They, you get all my secrets for free. E-mail me offline for details.
Betting no more than $100 a game, that’s right, a hundred measly bucks, but often betting 8-10 games a day, I manage to run my account up $1,500 to the good during the first month of my new full-time career as a professional sports bettor. No worries that I’ve fallen about $4,000 short of what I need to cut it each month, which is somewhere in the neighborhood of 5 to 6 K. But, I can honestly report that sports gambling moved me closer to my goal than I would have been otherwise had I just sat around and typed blog posts and bitched about Donald Trump’s alarming rise on the polls. Besides, beating sports comes as a nice diversion from the looming reality that the end of Western Civilization may be near.
It remains to be seen if this gambling thing will continue to work out. But my modest ambition was a success, so far. That said, I’ll have to step up the size of my bets at some point if I really intend to make a living at this. in the meantime, just avoid the gremlin.
Coming Next: Gambling for a Living — Part 2 (Not Just Another WSOP)
Today marks the end of the 2016 NFL regular season. I’ll be cheering for 16 boring, low-scoring football games.
Give me a shitload of sacks. Give me a bunch of fumbles and interceptions. Give me a slew of incomplete passes. Give me plenty holding penalties. Give me missed field goals. Give me down after down of one-yard-gains and a pile of dust. Give me a heaping pile of gridiron garbage that falls UNDER the betting total. Give me games where the stars are the punters. I don’t want scoring. I want grotesque ugliness on a grand scale. For UNDER bettors, boredom is beautiful, baby.
This final NFL weekend, I’m betting every game to go UNDER the total.