(These ideas are explicated in this sloppy manifesto)
Saturday, May 03, 2003
A gambler with a system must be insane...
John Kennedy at No Treason remarks on the Bill Bennett gambling non-scandal. John links back to me, and, no surprise, I have some thoughts on the subject.
To wit: To Bennett's credit, he at least loses his money in competitive casinos. In Las Vegas casinos, slot machines will pay from 93% to 99% of coin-in. At Indian casinos or at supermarkets and gas stations in Nevada, very few machines will pay as well as 93%. Of course, you have no way of knowing how a slot machine pays, and empirical estimation would require sampling thousands of spins.
That said, there are things that can be done to swing the odds in your favor. Progressive machines like Megabucks can be profitable if played assiduously in those magic times when the progressive payoff is high enough. Certain 'bonus' machines can net a profit if the majority of the bonus triggers are already met before you sit down. Needless to say, you have to know these machines--the particular units--fairly well to do yourself any good at all. And there are experiments with partially-skill-based slot machines, which increase bonus payoffs based on your intellectual capital. I would short-sell this trend, frankly, since slot-players cannot possibly be very bright. The machines are apt to be profitable when played, but they're not apt to be played by people who lack knowledge even before the liquor kicks in.
And that said, if you must play slot machines, always play "max coins"--which is (ahem!) $2.25 per spin on a nine-line nickel video slot. And build some sense into your procedure. Bill Bennett playing $500 a spin slots is simply an object lesson for UNLV Gaming students in how to cram a whale of a sucker into 36 square inches of prime real estate. To get that kind of juice out of Chinese sucker-whales, you have to set aside a roomy baccarat salon.
An intelligent strategy is to play nickel or quarter machines and play by stop-loss and stop-win rules. If you stop your loss at 50% of your coin-in, you can lose your money ever so slowly, since students of math--necessarily not slot players--know that an infinite series converges. If you stop your win at 200%, when fortune briefly smiles, you can have a little something to brag about, when you tell all your friends all your gambling lies.
Why? Here is what Bennett is telling you when he says this:
You can roll up and down a lot in one day[.]When you play a video slot, you only touch your money when you put it in and when you take it out--if you have anything left. A payoff of, say, 97%, includes all of your bankroll swings--your sudden, delightful wins, and your steady, slow-leak losses. If you have sense enough to stop your win at 200% of your coin-in, you have the chance, every once in a while, of walking away a winner. Most of the time you'll lose, but those are the gambling stories you conceal from your friends, aren't they.
If you must mesmerize yourself before a machine, learn to play full-pay video poker. If you play perfectly--and don't imbibe those comped pseudo-alcoholic confections--you can average a net win of up to $20 an hour, plus all the bad comped buffets your heart can stand.
But: If you can't do the math that tells every sane person that a 99% "win" is a loss, do not ever wander over to the table games. As stupid as Bill Bennett might seem, pissing away millions at slot machines, he could have done much worse.
But, yet again: If you insist that you must know better than the math-gods of probability, do please come on back to the poker room. Really good poker players love to be instructed in mathematical mysteries by gamblers who know better. I particularly crave instruction at the Mirage and and the Bellagio poker rooms, both smoke-free.
But, still further: Consider this: Kirk Kerkorian's company, MGM/Mirage, owns 15 casino/hotel/resort properties, plus half of the Monte Carlo. If you're lucky, you own your house. If you're very lucky, you will still own your house after bucking the odds on the slot machines. Whatever you leave behind, when you leave Las Vegas--or any casino--will become more bait to lure more money out of your pocket when you return. The only place Kirk Kerkorian plays slot machines is in your dreams.
And having said all of that, consider this insight from English writer and journalist George Augustus Sala:
A gambler with a system must be, to a greater or lesser extent, insane.My own peculiar insanity is the belief that, when I get old, you will come to the Mirage poker room every day to fund my retirement. Wanna bet I'm wrong...?
Friday, May 02, 2003
Pretty close to even...
Jonathan Alter, in a sleazy Newsweek exposé, attempts to portray morality maven William Bennett as an hypocrite because he gambles. No shot is too cheap for either Alterman or the people who pay him, but Bennett's true vice is revealed here:
Reached by NEWSWEEK, Bennett acknowledged he gambles but not that he has ended up behind. "Over ten years, I'd say I've come out pretty close to even," Bennett says, though he wouldn't discuss any specific figures. "You can roll up and down a lot in one day, as we have on many occasions," Bennett explains. "You may cycle several hundred thousand dollars in an evening and net out only a few thousand."Gambling is not a vice. It's a predilection, like fishing or watching soap operas. But telling lies about winning games that cannot be won--that's how you garner a comped suite in hell.
Here's a question: Taking account that poker is the only game laid in casinos that can be won, long-term (yes, there's video poker on certain machines, but you'd do better working in a factory), how many poker players do we have on President Bush's national security team?
Thursday, May 01, 2003
Cain's world: Terrorist acts at 30-year low
From the Voice of America:
The State Department, in its annual report on global terrorism, says the number of terror attacks declined sharply last year due to increased international cooperation and resolve. Seven countries - Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Syria, and Sudan - were again listed as state sponsors of terrorism, though Iraq may soon come off the list.
SplendorQuest: Art and human nature
Referring back to this discussion of the fraud of modern art, a very dear friend writes:
There's just remarkable insight about this in Steven Pinker's extraordinary new book The Blank Slate (chapter 20 -- especially pp 409-411). I have enjoyed Pinker's previous writings, but this new one is something well apart.I had never heard of Pinker, so I've been correcting my mental deficit. The Blank Slate is the intersection of psychology and neuroscience with sociobiology. Pinker's contention is that, contra tabula rasa, human beings have a definite and consistent biological nature that transcends superficial cultural and linguistic differences. In the chapter my friend cites, he notes the consistent similarities of art works and art forms across cultures and across the millennia. This is the matter cited from pp 409-411:
So what happened in 1910 that supposedly changed human nature? The event that stood out in Virginia Woolf's recollection was a London exhibition of the paintings of the post-Impressionists, including Cezanne, Gauguin, Picasso, and van Gogh. It was an unveiling of the movement called modernism, and when Woolf wrote her declaration in the 1920s, the movement was taking over the arts.My friend continues:
It's interesting too now to look back at a Frank Lloyd Wright's work and life as opposition and egoism in the face of the Bauhaus and modernism, whether conscious or unconscious.Indeed. This text also put me in mind of Ayn Rand's remarks on modern art in The Fountainhead, especially Ellsworth Toohy's collection of 'individualist' artists ("Do you really think so?") and the house Peter Keating designed for Lois Cook.
As an Enlightenment philosophy, libertarianism is diagonally if not squarely in the blank slate camp. Sociobiology has turned that eighteenth century confidence upside down, with interesting results. I wrote about sociobiology and sex in chapter 7 of The Unfallen, and The Blank Slate carries the case to a wide array of human experience. Steven Pinker's work is definitely worth pursuing.
Tuesday, April 29, 2003
Cain's world: Suddenly the Saudis are interested in reform
From World Tribune.com:
Britain plans to organize a conference on reform in Saudi Arabia in apparent response to a new interest in the topic following the toppling of the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq.
Monday, April 28, 2003
Cain's world: Anti-war arguments are by now as shredded as an Iraqi dissident...
I had email from the past! No joke. It came today, but it must have been forwarded across a wrinkle in time from two months ago. In response to my essay A Just and Libertarian war, my correspondent, stuck somewhere in a land that time forgot, wrote:
"That is to say: This is a Just and Libertarian war."Now this would be remarkably ignorant to say now, which is why I conclude the email must have come from the past. I was getting a great many similarly ignorant missives back then. As it turns out, my reasons were not idiotic; my predictions have been borne out pretty consistently. And, of course, not only did no millions die, those who did die were probably fewer in number than the quantity who would have died in the same span of time had we done nothing. This is not to minimize anyone's death, but it remains that today in Iraq no one is being murdered for committing the crime of having a mind and using it. Finally, my correspondent seems to imply that there cannot be any just war ever, and surely The Cain Doctrine has utterly put the lie to that claim.
The fact is, in retrospect, the arguments against the war seem pretty stupid. I went back to look at the Libertarian Party's 10 reasons why the USA should not attack Iraq, which for some reason is no longer being promoted on the Party's web site. From this side of the war, it seems to me to be about as shredded as an Iraqi dissident. Take a look:
1) Even if he does have nuclear weapons (or other weapons of mass destruction) Saddam Hussein would not risk using them on the United States.
This seems dubious to me, even discounting possible Iraqi involvement in 9/11 and Oklahoma City.
2) There is no evidence that Saddam Hussein helped the September 11 terrorists.
From the beginning Iraqi exiles and others have speculated that the 9/11 terrorists trained at an air base in Iraq.
3) Hussein is extremely unlikely to give WMD to al Qaeda for future attacks on the United States.
We now know that Iraq and al Qaeda had agreements in place, so this claim, too, seems dubious. What is surely true now that was not true before the war is that no state will ever again sponsor terrorism.
4) The one thing that might convince Hussein to use WMD against United States is a U.S. invasion of Iraq.
Didn't. It convinced him to try to destroy the evidence.
5) Invading Iraq will make Muslims hate us more -- increasing the risk of future terrorist attacks on the United States.
Again, the opposite has happened.
6) Iraq is a greatly diminished military power, and poses little threat even to its neighbors.
I'm sure Kuwait didn't see it this way, but the Israelis bought all those gas masks for nothing, so we'll call it a wash.
7) A war against Iraq is unconstitutional.
That horse has been out of the barn for half a century, alas.
8) A war against Iraq will be enormously expensive.
I rate it a good deal cheaper, in money and in lives, than a war with China.
9) A pre-emptive strike is un-American.
This is the Monarch's Complaint, as I discussed with Steve Dasbach:
In the same way, the claim that states must not attack each other 'pre-emptively' is a monarch's argument: Me and mine, thee and thine. This has nothing at all to do with a society of individuals each one of whom is sovereign.10) A war against Iraq is utterly arbitrary.
Utterly false. Making war on Iraq was the fast and cheap way to get China to get North Korea to relent, to get Pakistan to practically volunteer to give up its nuclear weapons, to get Syria to behave itself, to give Iran the jitters, et cetera, all around the globe. The United States will have air bases in Iraq, to help Syria and Iran discover virtue, and to rob Saudi Arabia of its one hole-card with America. A Mesopotamian capitalist state, if such can be achieved, will be the lever that will lift the Islamic World into the 21st century. And if we are very, very lucky, China will have learned the lesson of the Cold War without putting us through another one. Far from being arbitrary, staging this war in Iraq was a stroke of pure genius.
It would be a sweet thing, I think, if the people who opposed this war were to reflect upon their arguments and predictions, and to address and retract their errors. But I won't wait up for that to happen.
Fortunately for them, for us, for the Iraqis, for the world, the right people chose to do the right thing despite the ceaseless, baseless complaints of the war's suddenly silent opponents.
Mike Hawash charged as a member of the Portland Six
From KATU TV News in Portland, OR:
A Hillsboro man is the latest from our area to be charged with terrorism related crimes.Alas, Hawash's defenders turn out to have been wrong, along with all their claims of moral equivalence. That's luck for Mr. Hawash: When he is convicted he will not be fed feet-first into a plastic shredder.
Sunday, April 27, 2003
Cain's world: No nukes is good news...
From the South Asia Tribune:
Indian military experts are worried that the US will not allow India to continue with its nuclear program if Washington decided that Pakistani nukes should be taken out or neutralized. This view is gaining ground among Indian strategists with profound seriousness.
SplendorQuest: American Dreams
It's an NBC TV show on Sunday nights, very much family hour, and it's sentimental enough that I can imagine people sneering at it. It's occurred to me, too, that you have to be Catholic to really get it; it's a very Catholic show. It resonates with me because it features good and thoughtful people who resolve in the end to do the right thing.
And then there's the music... American Dreams is built around American Bandstand. The show uses archival Bandstand footage to thread together the multiple converging story lines. Contemporary performers are costumed to mimic sixties acts, which enables them to produce music better than anything they've done on their own.
And now American Dreams come with its own soundtrack. Fifteen of the dozens of tunes featured in the first season are collected, some pop classics, some covers by modern acts. This music is so simple and clean and pure and perfect, and the writers of the drama use it to maximum effect.
To see how all this hangs together, it must be seen. Almost it's a soap opera, except that the themes the show tackles--the Civil Rights movement, Vietnam, feminism--are so vast and so deftly handled that the result is truly superior television.