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Overcharged !!!

Posted by on May 23, 2015 in Blog, Rants and Raves, Travel | 9 comments

 

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You deceptive lying-ass shits!

I just opened up my Visa bill this month and caught you motherfuckers red-handed again.  Cold blooded thieves!  That’s what you are!  And for this, you are going to pay.  Dearly!  Just wait til you hear what I have in mind next time I pay you a visit.  Already, I’ve got my revenge planned.

You, the villainous Hilton Corporation, with thousands of money-sucking hotels worldwide, enabler of the planet’s most obnoxious golden-haired waif, jerked me off on this month’s bill for an extra $500.  That’s right — fiiiiiive huuuuundred dooooooollars.  You thought I wouldn’t notice, didn’t you?  Well, I did notice!  Indeed, I might not have caught your “honest mistake,” except that $500 is basically a sports bet for me, and no one is going to break my balls and bash me in the ass for five bills unless it’s some shortstop in Cleveland I’ve never heard of making a throwing error to first base.  Then, I can live with losing the $500 after spewing off a load of F-bombs.

Which brings up to today’s hot topic:  If it’s really an “honest mistake,” why do we always seem to get charged TOO MUCH?  Why never TOO LITTLE?  Shouldn’t the mistakes balance out?

I’m loaded with evil conspiracy theories, and my latest is that Hilton consciously does this all the time.  My reasoning:  I’ve gotten hotel bill gang-banged three times over the last 18 months for extra charges I didn’t make when staying at Hilton properties.  Just a coincidence, you ask?  Am I the most unlucky customer in the world?  How come Hilton never forgets to charge me for the extra $9 can of Pringles out of the room fridge?  Huh?  Answer me that.

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Brains vs. Artificial Intelligence Poker Match Featured on PBS NewsHour

Posted by on May 22, 2015 in Blog, General Poker | 0 comments

 

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The widely-discussed, hotly-debated, and much-anticipated heads-up poker match between human brains and artificial intelligence was featured recently on PBS NewsHour, one of the more prestigious mainstream media outlets doing in-depth journalism.

The 8-minute news report focused not only on the two-week-long series of No-Limit Hold’em matches played via computers which took place at the Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh in early May, it also includes interviews with the principles, and touches upon larger implications of what’s ahead for artificial intelligence, not just as it pertains to poker, but far more ponderous ramifications in the job market, high finance, medicine, transportation systems, predictive modeling, and other fields where computers and machines could very well outperform, and therefore ultimately replace, real people.

Much of the footage used in the PBS broadcast was shot by camera crews from “Poker Night in America,” which will soon be putting together its own special feature on the events that unfolded in Pittsburgh.  When that project becomes complete, I’ll be posting more as I know more.

In the meantime, here’s the feature on PBS NewsHour, which is well worth watching:

Note:  Special thanks to Tony Mangnall and his crew. 

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How Will David Letterman Be Remembered?

Posted by on May 21, 2015 in Blog | 0 comments

 

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There was an earlier time when late night talk show hosts were the most trustworthy people in America.

Five nights a week, we invited them into the cozy confines of our homes.  We allowed them into our most intimate private quarters — our bedrooms — where millions laughed, while others made love, and far more dozed off and snored through opening monologues.  Picking a favorite nocturnal chaperon was deeply personal, like pledging loyalty to a sports team or buying the same brand of soap over and over again.  East Coasters tended to prefer the New York-based David Letterman Show, who could be edgy and even confrontational at times, even with his guests.  Meanwhile, West Coasters leaned towards the far more easygoing Tonight Show with Jay Leno, the show set in Los Angeles.

Letterman put us all to bed one final time last night, which was the end of the line for more than 6,000 shows broadcast over 33 years.  He serenaded us to sleep more times than anyone else in history, eclipsing even the silver-haired ironman, Johnny Carson, by two full years, bronzing him into what likely will be remembered as the Lou Gehrig of late night entertainment.  The boyish gap-toothed former stand-up comedian originally from Indiana clearly matured over the years.  Then again, he never changed much either.  He never really seemed to take himself, or his role as our onscreen television nanny, too seriously.

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Facing the Firing Squad: Todd Anderson

Posted by on May 20, 2015 in Blog, Facing the Firing Squad | 0 comments

 

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MEET TODD ANDERSON

The first time I ever met Todd Anderson was ten years ago inside the Golden Nugget coffee shop, in Las Vegas.

My first impression of Anderson was that of an imposing figure, standing at well over 6-feet-tall, with all the physical features one would expect of a bouncer working the night shift at a biker bar.  But as I came to better know Anderson, I realized he was more of a gentle giant, than a battering brawler.  The biggest thing about Anderson wasn’t his stature — it was the breadth of his ideas and the splendor of his vision.

On that memorable spring afternoon in 2005, Anderson first rolled out his dream of creating a new nationwide poker tour.  I’d heard this kind of crazy talk before from stargazers.  Someone magically appears on the poker scene out of nowhere, and hallucinates mad delusions of how they alone will re-invent to poker wheel, unaware of all the complexities and pitfalls involved, nor the amount of work that’s required in order to succeed.  In poker, dreamers do come and go — both at the tables and behind the scenes.  Fueling my apprehension, Anderson was from a place called “Fargo” — as in North Dakota — that quirky caricature of Coen Brothers fame, hardly the incubator of innovative ideas, nor an epicenter of poker action.  As I said, my initial reaction was skepticism.

But the more I listened to Anderson’s sales pitch magnified by genuine enthusiasm, the more I became convinced that not only was this newcomer to the poker scene onto something that was potentially really, really big, but he was also the right man to pull it off.  Anderson popped open his laptop and shared the rough cut of a trailer from the new show.  That was the first time I’d ever heard of something called “The Heartland Poker Tour.”

As they say, the rest is history.  While the World Series of Poker and the World Poker Tour coddled the poker elites with big-buy-in attractions and grand spectacles, Anderson’s vision of a more casual tournament series for everyone else was a master stroke in understanding the mass market and providing a platform for far greater numbers of poker players who also shared dreams of competing in high-profile events and being featured on television.  Initially based in the American Midwest, true to its name the Heartland Poker Tour became a weekly show and gradually expanded to every region of the country.  By its seventh season, HPT was filming so many events around the country, their calendar year was full.  Anderson not only conquered the odds and overcame mass skepticism from the poker establishment, myself included, he realized there were even bigger things ahead.  Anderson later sold off his company for a healthy sum, deciding it was time to move on and do something else.

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Nun of the Above

Posted by on May 19, 2015 in Blog, Essays, What's Left | 0 comments

 

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Hooray!  Let’s hear it for the nuns!  Oops, make that the “nones” — as in those of us with “no religious conviction.”

Earlier this month, one of America’s most respected polling organizations, the impartial and non-partisan Pew Research Center, announced their findings in a nationwide survey on faith and religious practices.  This was the first comprehensive survey conducted on the subject since 2007, and included 35,000 respondents from all across the country.  The poll results revealed startling decline in adherence to mainline Christianity, losses suffered equally by Protestant and Catholic denominations.  In fact, according to the poll, there are now more “nones” in America right now — defined as persons with no religion faith nor affiliation — than Catholics.  That’s a first in our history.  Nearly one-quarter of the entire U.S. population (projected at 80 million people) self-identifies themselves as agnostic, atheist, or answers “nothing” when asked about their religious faith.

SEE PEW RESEARCH FINDINGS ON RELIGION HERE

As encouraging as this news is to those of us who champion secularism, nonetheless, I’m still convinced the Pew Research Center data grossly underestimates the actual number of Americans who have no religion conviction.  Allegedly, it’s now 23 percent of the population according to the 2015 survey.  I suspect the actual number of non-believers is significantly higher, and I’m about to explain why.

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When B.B. Was King

Posted by on May 18, 2015 in Blog, Essays, Music and Concert Reviews, Personal | 2 comments

 

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B.B. King died last week here in Las Vegas.  He was 89.

I saw B.B. King perform three times.  I always loved his music, even when listening to the blues wasn’t particularly fashionable.

Indeed, the blues is not now, nor has it ever been, mainstream music.  It’s the wailing howl of the economically disenfranchised, the voice of the social outcasts, the sorrow of broken hearts, and the lament of persistent loss.  And yet, quite often, it’s both amusing and uplifting.  One figures that life really isn’t really so bad after all, especially when contrasted alongside the song’s hero who somehow loses his job on the same day he catches his lady in bed with another man.  While B.B. King put out relatively few best-selling records, for millions of listeners his blues was a deeply biographical soundtrack.  If nothing else, it certainly provided incendiary kindling for rock n’ roll, soul, and R&B.

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My 1,000th Essay

Posted by on May 17, 2015 in Blog, Essays, Personal | 7 comments

 

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What have I learned after writing 1,000 posts?  A thing or two.

 

To date, I’ve written and posted 999 original essays at this website.  So, this is number 1,000.

My first essay appeared almost three years ago, in July 2012.  This means I’ve posted an average of one essay per day since this desultory exercise in self-revelation initially began.

But congratulatory fireworks are not in our near future.  Sometimes I do ask myself — why?  Am I any bettor off now, or any more fulfilled personally or professionally, or have I accomplished anything significant in the wake of so many blistering keystrokes and empty wine bottles?  Have any impressionable minds out there been altered in any way, or elevated hopefully, by such erratic prose?

Any serious writer will immediately see the fallacy of wallowing in such questions in self-pity.  Who the fuck cares?  If this website were all about popularity or attracting heavier volumes of traffic, would I be writing book reviews about Lyndon B. Johnson, or continuously bashing what I see as Christian hypocrisy, or listing the multitude of merits of political philosopher Karl Marx?  Those topics are likely to scare off far more readers than attract new ones.  But at least I try to be fair.  I offend indiscriminately.

I have noticed one trend which is both revealing and a bit of a surprise — and to me, a bit disappointing also.  Two things seem to really turn off new readers — excessive profanity (unless it’s a funny rant, and then readers love it) and bashing religion.  Website readership and Twitter followers continue to increase slowly, but steadily.  Then, when I do occasionally write something mean about Jesus, my following takes a dive.  It’s amazing, really.  I guess people just aren’t comfortable yet with errant ramblings about the Great Sky Dictator.

Here’s my theory.  People hear about the site, or they find it on their own accidentally through a Google search on some topic.  Then, over the next several days they enjoy the musings and get a few laughs, and then suddenly one day something they do not like hits the page and — wham!  When I tear into the delusional Jesus, or spew too many F-bombs, or offend someone as all piercing inquisition should, the newbies scurry away like roaches when flipping on the kitchen light at 2 am.  I think my record for losing Twitter followers within a single day is 27.  I’m not sure to be either thrilled or terrified about that.  As I said, when I use a lot of “fucks” in the column, the result is pretty much the same, except when I’m getting crushed on making football picks while losing my ass, or having a miserable restaurant experience — and then my traffic skyrockets.

Perhaps the most shocking revelation I’ve noticed in my three years of writing daily is the “most read” essay being something that took me perhaps 20-25 minutes to write.  It’s attracted tens of thousands of hits since, and still gets read at least a dozen times daily, even though it’s now old news that no one should care anymore.

Remember Richard Sherman?  He plays for the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks.  In his defense some 16 months ago, I used the word “nigger” in the article to make a point, and for some reason the eyeballs hit that landing page like moths zooming to light.  I don’t regret using that word, nor any word, to make what I think was a valid point.  Nothing is taboo in vocabulary and if you’re easily offended, this site isn’t for you.  What I do regret is that I spent so little time on the piece, and that just so happens to be the all-time hits leader.  Forget all the riveting political essays, the best and worst lists that took hours to ponder, the rare Stu Ungar stories, the precious memories of working at Binion’s Horseshoe.  Just use a verboten word in an article, and I become an instant curiosity and the world becomes a voyeur.

The other article that gets a shitload of hits to this day is an intentionally sourpuss article I wrote about two years ago, titled “If Your’e Under 25, Your Music is Fucking Garbage.”  Not exactly subtle, I know.  I don’t remember the context of writing it, other than wanting to be a pompous ass prick that would offend just about everyone for the sake of making a point about music and creativity.  Well, apparently the part about being considered a prick worked.  A few hundred comments have been posted, calling me just about every name imaginable, and the hate is still flowing like blood in the crocodile-infested waters of what we call the Internet.  If I ever appear at EDC festival, I expect to get assaulted.

Writing 1,000 essays has taught me these things, but then something that’s far more meaningful, too.  I’m convinced the capacity for change, the opportunity for intellectual evolution, must remain well lubricated.  Anyone who insists they aren’t at least willing to consider possibilities other than those they believe is a dead soul, a close-minded subterfuge.  Not just reading and merely pondering, but thinking more deeply and then writing about things makes one reflect upon them even more closely, and in the process does also test one’s own convictions.  Sometimes, contrary evidence dictates changing one’s mind and re-evaluating a philosophy.  That’s a good thing.  Growing is good.  An open mind isn’t a indicative or indecision.  It’s proof of innate curiosity.

I hope to remain just as curious over the next 1,000 essays.

Thank you for reading, for giving me your time, and being a part of the discussion.

 

PS.  This post is actually number 1,008.  I wrote it up a week ago, and then forgot to post it in time.

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How the Fuck Did this Woman Get into the United States?

Posted by on May 15, 2015 in Blog, Essays, Politics, Rants and Raves | 2 comments

 

 

How the fuck did the bat shit crazy bitch who birthed two monster terrorists get legally admitted into the United States as a — gulp! — permanent resident?

Although her name won’t be used during any point whatsoever in this column (nor will I identify her two monster sons by name either, the goons who conspired to and carried out the bloody murder 3 innocent people and injury to 264 more), one might initially have sympathy for this disadvantaged immigrant family which was allegedly torn apart by hardships in Chechnya (formally Kyrgyzstan), which then took an extreme turn towards political and religious radicalism and eventually acts of terror once they began living inside the United States.  No mother — indeed, not any blood relative — is guilty for the sins of their offspring, no matter how despicable the crimes.  In fact, based on many family case studies of some of history’s most notorious killers, the majority of society’s worst monsters had loving and supporting parents who then were forced to carry the shame of their children’s actions forever.  In a sense, the parents of monsters are often victims, too.

However, I’m not so sure about this woman.  She’s a real piece of work.

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How the Big Business of Writing Traffic Tickets is Destroying Many Communities (and Creating Riots)

Posted by on May 14, 2015 in Blog, Essays, Politics, What's Left | 3 comments

 

 

Writer’s Note:  This is the second in a two-part series.

 

Yesterday, I wrote a first-hand account about the seemingly benign personal experience of being ticketed for multiple traffic violations in various parts of the country, while released with just a warning in the state of Nevada, where I currently reside.  The point seemed abundantly clear — cops have discretionary power and do make certain judgments about those they detain and prospectively cite for violations.  Most of you who have gotten out of traffic tickets at one time or another will likely agree.

In today’s article, I’ll dig deeper and expose the big business of issuing traffic tickets, and explain how many localities seem to have pretty much abandoned that once valiant motto of civic responsibility, “to protect and to serve.”  Now, the purpose of many police departments apparently is, “to harass and to shake down.”  Indeed, cops have become the strong arm of sanctioning local municipalities guilty of what amounts to legalized extortion.  This harsh reality is especially devastating for many poor people.  The consequences of gross institutionalized injustice and inconsistency in the way punishments are given — not merely evidenced by widespread police misdeeds and legal verdicts in courts of law, but the far more endemic everyday bias of relatively minor infractions such as traffic stops — leads to greater mistrust of law enforcement and eventually even the breakdown society, as we have recently watched with alarm in troubled places like Ferguson and Baltimore.

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How to Get Out of a Traffic Ticket

Posted by on May 13, 2015 in Blog, Personal, Politics | 3 comments

 

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Writer’s Note:  This is the first article in a two-part series.

 

Within the past ten years, I’ve been pulled over a dozen times for various traffic violations.

On exactly half of those occasions, a citation was written out and I ended up paying a fine.  The other half, I was let go with just a verbal warning and told to be more careful.

Question:  What do you think was the single biggest determining factor between being ticketed by the police versus given a warning?  Take your time.  You’ll probably never guess.

Before answering, here are a few facts.  First, I was guilty of the alleged infraction in all 12 traffic stops.  I probably should have been ticketed each time.  So, my guilt or innocence had nothing to do with the outcome.  Second, in all cases I was either driving an average-looking late model car or a rental car (when traveling out of state).  Third, my personal appearance has changed somewhat over the years, but there was no correlation between having long hair or a beard versus being clean shaven and the officer’s decision.  Finally, my attitude was consistently polite at all times.

So, what made the difference between being written a ticket (6 times) and getting a lucky break (6 times)?

From the following list, you might be able to see a pattern developing.  Here are the traffic stops, as I recall them:

 

Nevada (Highway Patrol/Primm) — stopped for speeding, released with warning

Tennessee (Memphis) — stopped for speeding and not wearing a safety belt, written two citations

Nevada (Las Vegas) — stopped for making an illegal turn, released with warning

Nevada (Beatty) — stopped for running red light and license plate light out of order, released with warning

Colorado (Pueblo) — stopped for speeding, written citation

Nevada (Las Vegas) — stopped for speeding, released with warning

Florida (West Palm Beach) — stopped for driving recklessly, written citation

Texas (West Texas) — stopped for speeding and not wearing a safety belt, written two citations

Nevada (Reno) — stopped for running stop sign, released with warning

North Carolina (Ashville) — stopped for running a red light, written citation

Nevada (North Las Vegas) — stopped for failing to signal while crossing three lanes of traffic, released with warning

California (Los Angles) — stopped for running red light, written citation

New York (New York) — stopped for not wearing safety belt, written citation

 

Notice that all six times that I was stopped somewhere within Nevada (my home state), I was only given a warning.  However, all six times I was stopped someplace out of state, I received a traffic ticket.

What’s up with that?

Well, here’s my theory.  Police here in Nevada don’t want to piss off the locals.  After all, we’re able to influence (at least indirectly) how police departments are funded and how much we give to various police charities.  Police work largely depends on strong community involvement and broad public support.  Writing out too many traffic tickets to the locals undermines that support.  This is especially true with middle-class citizens and family people who look like they vote in elections and are active in the community (i.e., someone who looks like me).  Hence, I’m convinced being a reasonably well-dressed and polite local driving a late-model car makes me less likely to receive a traffic citation when I break the law here in Nevada.  I can’t prove this and lack the data to say the same thing is true of other states, but I do suspect locals do get breaks most of the time with the police, provided they are the “right kind of” locals.  We’ll get more into that later in this series.

I’m just as strongly convinced that when I travel out-of-state and get pulled over for something I did wrong, I am judged more harshly, especially when the traffic cop or highway patrolman sees a Nevada state license, which might as well be looked upon in some parts of this country as a membership card in La Costa Nostra.  Inevitably, I always get asked about my line of work and why I’m traveling to where ever, something I don’t get ever asked in Nevada.  A few times, the officers asked to search the car.  I sense people, even cops, are curious by nature.  When they find out I work in the casino business, that makes me less sympathetic than say, being a school teacher.  I get slapped with a ticket every time.

Beyond the curious dichotomy of being ticketed versus warned based on my state of residence and location, what’s really troubling here is the gross inconsistency of applied justice and consequences.  Traffic fines might not seem like such a big deal to someone like me (or you) who can afford to pay a $120 ticket.  But for millions of others, these kinds of decisions made by cops an innumerable number of times daily on nearly every street in America has further-reaching consequences which extend way beyond losing a few dollars or get whacked with higher insurance rates.

So, what really matters?  What if I was Latino or Black instead of White?  What if I had a couple of small children in the car with me instead of driving alone?  What if my car had mag wheels on it instead of regular tires?  What if I were driving a Ferrari or a Porsche instead of a Cadillac or a Volvo?  What if I were 75 years old, or 19 years old?  Do these factors matter?  You bet they do.

So, you wanna’ get out of your next traffic ticket with just a warning?  Being a local certainly helps.

 

Next time, I’ll discuss how the pervasive misapplication of speed traps and traffic stops are ruining the lives of many poor people and perhaps even triggering collective acts of protest and violence. 

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