My Photo

« The Importance of Being Earnest | Main | ???!!! »

November 22, 2005

Comments

look over there! Ted Kennedy! Bill Clinton!

Tribes who take a gamble on gambling and then get taken by crooks don't get any sympathy from me. Casinos are, by their very nature, immoral business. I would be first in line to say "I want all their MONEY" if I thought they would be stupid enough to give it to me.

It is the bribery of elected officials that is the problem here, not the suckering of ignorant indians.

Hilzoy, this is just the "criminalization of politics."

Or, when more and more criminals are thrown into office, criminalization of politics results.

ken: I don't think that sympathy for the tribes is required for outrage on that story (any more than actually liking a mugging victim is required for outrage about the mugging.) They were running a protection scam on the tribes; there's no reason I can see why they would only run it on unpalatable businesses.

Plus, there's all the rest.

hilzoy, perhaps as a bioethicist (I got that right?) this is the BIG ONE, but somehow, this reads like business as usual to me.

Not good business (unless you were Scanlon, Reed or Abramhoff), but definitely usual business. So, tell me, WHY "This is really, really important?"

I'd love for the those on the take to be taken, but somehow I think there will be lots of noise and very little action. The institution will protect it's own. Sanctions will be levied but the disgraced will be allowed to retire - at the end of their terms - with all their perquisites intact.

So, again, why is this really, really important?

Jake

I think that criminals would object to the "criminalization of politics" label.

They see this rather as a disgusting example of the "politicization of crime," and wish that the politicians would quit dragging the criminals' good name in the mud.

Jake is right.

Jake bnto- The sheer scale of it. You could check out hilzoy's links or do some research yourself, but I think this joke is relevant:

"The federal government began investigating allegations of fraud against the Coalition Provisional Authority, a U.S. contractor accused in a bid-rigging operation involving millions of dollars. Asked to comment, a spokesperson for Halliburton said, 'Millions? With an M? That is adorable.'"
---Amy Poehler on Saturday Night Live

These people are stealing money from the public on a scale never before seen.

Well: because Scanlon is in a position to take down some really important people, who have been abusing their power corruptly; and because the more such people get caught and sent away for long periods of time, the better. It would be nice if civic-mindedness alone were enough to keep legislators honest, but I think that the example of people going to jail is extremely useful in this regard. Especially very prominent people. And Scanlon is positioned to take some of them down.

(Even if we don't keep legislators honest, getting them to restrain their dishonesty is a good thing. Just as it's a good thing when you keep people from thinking that they can openly and brazenly ignore any law: it cuts down a lot on abuses, even when it doesn't eliminate them; and also makes breaking the law more inconvenient and difficult.)

ken: Tribes who take a gamble on gambling and then get taken by crooks don't get any sympathy from me. Casinos are, by their very nature, immoral business.

So is selling alcohol. And tobacco. People can get harmless enjoyment from moderate drinking or moderate gambling: and while smoking tobacco tends to be lethal, it can be lethal in the very long term.

Shall we therefore withold sympathy when someone robs a liquor store? Or declare that if someone embezzles money from a tobacco firm, the embezzler shouldn't be punished because the tobacco firm is in an immoral business?

So, tell me, WHY "This is really, really important?"

I would imagine (just a guess) because if Abramoff and Scanlon are going down and testifying, there are a large number of quite senior Republicans who are likely going down with them: who are going to be revealed in court as having done favors for money. Tom Delay is just one. How many more?

Being jailed for taking bribes for political favors is something that never looks well on a politician's curriculum vitae.

The Bush administration is presently under investigation for the Plame Affair. Now simultaneously, many senior Congressmen who are firm supporters of the Bush administration are, it seems likely, going to be revealed as being heavily involved in a scandal of corruption and bribery. At the same time, the war that George W. Bush claimed as his own is drifting unstoppably and obviously towards utter failure.

Someone (several someones, I think) suggested just over a year ago that if Bush did win a second term, he'd come to wish he hadn't.

I think y'all missed my point. I DO get your points, btw.

My point is not that they don't deserve jail time (if the guilty are actually fingered), it's that what are the odds anything will come of all this? Ney, the only person mentioned, is "cooperating" and maintains he was duped. How many of Ney's fellows are going to swallow that bs hook, line and sinker because they don't want their own funding looked at too closely? As Reddhedd says at firedoglake, it all depends upon getting past the "speech and debate" firewall. I bet it's going to take more than Scanlon to breech THAT Maginot line.

Or to go around it.

I certainly hope for the best, but call me a cynic, I just don't think it's gonna happen.

Jake

"Tribes who take a gamble on gambling and then get taken by crooks don't get any sympathy from me. Casinos are, by their very nature, immoral business."

More so than church bingo, poker on tv, state lotteries, running a hedge fund, being a stock broker, or promoting junk bonds? How so?

"It is the bribery of elected officials that is the problem here, not the suckering of ignorant indians."

If you were invited to consider rephrasing that more elegantly, might you suggest how you would, perhaps?

Ken Saying that casinos, by their very nature, are immoral, is a subjective comment, and obviously an opinion you hold. There is nothing wrong with this. The question in this case is, to get all their money, would you be willing to lie to them and do an equally immoral act?

To me, perhaps the biggest underlying issue here is the way that the evangelical right is being used. Being set up to get their representatives to vote against an anti-gambling bill by telling them it was actually a pro-gambling bill is not going to make a lot of them very happy.

This is a base that is critical to the current makeup of the Republican party, and any trials are going to point out the ways in which this base has been used.

It is also big in, as Hilzoy points out, the sheer number of senior politicians who may be dragged into this. I wouldn't be surprised if, among the many Republicans,there are a few Democrats as well, and if there are, I will not be defending them.

There is a difference between accepting contributions to look favorably on specific acts of legislation, and taking that money, making promises, then reneging on them. Or breaking the law by accepting payments in forms that are clearly against the law.

This whole mess falls into two categories, the unethical and the illegal.

There may be some legitimate discussion of the former as to what falls into that category.

The latter is usually pretty clear cut.

I could be wrong, but this

The institution will protect it's own. Sanctions will be levied but the disgraced will be allowed to retire - at the end of their terms - with all their perquisites intact.

and this
Ney, the only person mentioned, is "cooperating" and maintains he was duped. How many of Ney's fellows are going to swallow that bs hook, line and sinker because they don't want their own funding looked at too closely?

lead me to think Jake thinks this is a congressional hearing, not a criminal investigation.

... immoral businesses.

I thought of a (not strictly accurate analogy), "stealing from the mob."

I'm not going to go on at length about the rights and wrongs of history re. Native Americans. I just want to point out that Scanlon and Abramoff (and their beneficiaries) have made a big mistake. Those guys have a lot of money (even after this theft) and I think they will probably not take kindly to the way they have been scammed. Did someone say "pass the popcorn?"

JamesD, I know that it is a criminal case. My point is that unless some boys (and girls) in the protected zone come clean, I think it will be hard to get past the firewall. So when I say the institution will protect it's own, I mean that no one will come clean, that in the end it will be another "ethics" issue, not a criminal issue, and that will be that. The only reason for this institution to take a different approach would be if there was political hay to be made, as seeing as it's the party in power that has the most to lose, just how much hay do you think is going to be made?

Let's put it this way - if the Democrats try to roll in THIS hay, they'll get nought but bruises and splinters from the hay loft floor.

Jake

"Those guys have a lot of money (even after this theft) and I think they will probably not take kindly to the way they have been scammed. Did someone say "pass the popcorn?"

The only thing odd here is the use of "will" and future tense, when the Indians and everyone else have been reacting and following the events since early 2004. (As I've said on my blog, I don't blog on Abramoff because the news has been coming on a daily basis for so very long.)

Native American tribes have certainly followed the case closely, and reactions vary.

Jake bnto- I think you need to read hilzoy's links.

The thing about the K street project is that to the extent that it has been successful, which is considerable, Democrats have been cut off from the gravy train. So even the Dems who would prefer to be dirty are dolorously clean at the moment.

So if you are counting on the Dems to save the Reps from their mess here you may be disapointed.

Gary- I wonder if you are being a little to subtle here. If you are trying to point out that the people Scanlon calls "wackos" (evangelicals) won't ever figure out they are being scammed because they only listen to people like Pat Robertson or Dobson, who are in on the scam, then I think it is possible not everyone will get what you meant.

This guy seems to be an even bigger scumbag than Abramoff, and a mercenary with no principles (not even Zionism) to boot. If he's flipped, he'll either dish the dirt on literally everyone involved, or he'll be of no help at all.

Jake, Scanlon has already come clean, and Ney is expected to cooperate with prosecutors. Still not getting your "politics as usual" take. When you say, "The only reason for this institution to take a different approach would be if there was political hay to be made," I take your "institution" to mean Congress, but Congress isn't taking any approah at all; this is a federal criminal investigation, not a political debate. I'm not sure how you expect Republicans to control it one way or another.

Very good, hilzoy. John Cole has been on top of this as well, but as far as I'm concerned: cut. Cut until you get it all out. Then, maybe radiation for a while. I'm utterly unconcerned with any political fallout; anyone who's gotten wrapped up with Abramoff is fair game.

As far as the gambling/morality issue goes, I think we've screwed the Indians over enough that I have no problem at all with the idea of them operating their own casinos and raking in the cash. More power to them. Maybe, just maybe, they'll be able to make something good out of it.

So, as far as I can tell, this scandal affects literally dozens of Republicans, and literally zero Democrats. One of the snags that the Abramoff-Scanlon scams ran into was that they pretended that some of their measures had bipartisan support (from Chris Dodd, I think), but when their clients told them to put up or shut up there were nobody but Republicans who were willing to use their power to increase Abramoff's power.

Unfortunately, this sort of thing happens when you're trying to set up a permanent Republican majority, and making sure that nobody even close to the Democrats is part of your power axis. If it works, it works perfectly, but if it turns out that you've been insanely greedy and committing lots of crimes, there aren't any Democrats who will go down with you.

Frank, I am not counting on anyone to save anyone else. I am NOT on the Republicans side in this issue, or any other issue, at least at the moment. What I am is cynical. Which is a fairly rare occurrence, actually. But when it comes to Republican self interest, I refuse to give in to hope.

I am aware that the Democrats have been cut off the gravy train. I am also aware that they are not in a position to get anything done. Not unless some Republicans go along for the ride. And I just don't think that's gonna happen.

I don't know how to say this any more plainly - when I see the bastards wearing stripes, I'll believe that that the firewall has been breached.

Jake

No Gary I do not care to rephrase my comment about ignorant indians who, deciding to enrich themselves by scamming the public with casinos, but end up getting scammed themselves by crooks, deserve any sympathy from me.

That said, the actual crooks, and bribed elected officials should pay a very high price for all of this.

I suppose some indians, those who learned a lesson from this about the charactor of people willing to sell influence, may not properly be called 'ignorant indians' hereafter but I don't doubt it will happen again to others.

I have had some experience dealing with Indian tribe investments and was constantly amazed by how often they were completely scammed by people of low moral charactor. Indian tribes are an easy touch for anyone wanting to earn a quick buck and does not care how they do it. Now that tribes have the option to open casinos this problem has only been magnified as the amount of money available to scam is many times greater than before.

Just another quick point: I even wonder if the tribes Scanlon was dealing with were even authentic tribes. Or were just convienently created to take advantage of the casino business? With the amounts of money involved obtaining tribal status itself has become, to my mind at least, a questionable activity with many 'tribes' composed of 'indians' who are no more indian than I am.

Anyway this is all off topic to the main point that crooks and elected officials who sell influence should be punished.

The Tiqua tribe near El Paso predates casino gambling by a few hundred years - or more.

Jake

"The institution" involved is the judiciary, not the Congress. People inside the firewall have already started talking. And, as firedoglake also says, getting someone (e.g., Scanlon) to testify that bribery occurred gets around the speech and debate clause.

Bribery is hard to prove. I donated to Wes Clark, and lo! he adopted many positions that I wanted him to adopt. Bribery? No: enlightened political donation. You need someone to testify that there was an agreement and a quid pro quo. Scanlon is one such somebody, and he's cooperating. Ney is another.

I'm with Slarti: to me, this is not partisan at all. People who abuse the public trust should be punished. Period. No matter which party.

"More so than church bingo"

I don't spend a lot of time in operational churches, but I doubt many people gamble away their child's college fund that way.

I oppose state lotteries.

Think I'm with ken here.

I don't think the issue is partisan - I think the response will be partisan. And while it is the judiciary that Scanlon and Abramhoff face, the Congress doesn't have to play ball, and the constitution gave them a get-out-of-jail-free card that is very difficult to trump.

Show me the stripes, hilzoy et al. Show me the stripes.

Jake

PS - I know that it will take MONTHS, at least, to see any stripes. Even so, I have'ta tell ya, I hope YOU ARE RIGHT!

"John Cole has been on top of this as well,"

Wearing his clever plastic disguise as "Tim F."

"I don't spend a lot of time in operational churches, but I doubt many people gamble away their child's college fund that way."

You've picked up on one phrase, rilkefan, but are you saying that people don't gamble away their children's college funds via stocks, via real estate investments, via all sorts of gambling and investment?

"Think I'm with ken here."

I don't know where Ken's "here" is. Are you proposing that all commercial enterprises that cater to sin should be left open to criminal looting? Or that all business that operate with a degree of immorality should be boycotted? Or... what's the general principle being put forth here? I ask because I have no idea.

What I am is cynical.

And your cynicism may be justified. Maybe the corrupt won't be punished. But that doesn't make any of this unimportant, to return to your original assertion. In fact, it's even more important if the corrupt are so firmly lodged in power that we can only shake our heads. Dismissing the investigations as unimportant isn't cynical, just apathetic.

It is the bribery of elected officials that is the problem here, not the suckering of ignorant indians.

E pluribus unam. Indeed.

Whether this is really, really important or not, it certainly has the potential to be really, really entertaining!

"You've picked up on one phrase"

Two, actually.

"but are you saying that people don't gamble away their children's college funds via stocks, via real estate investments, via all sorts of gambling and investment?"

Stocks, bonds, etc are not rigged to fleece rubes and addicts. And they are regulated closely.

If you like, I can probably point you to some nice sites on the web explaining the difference between a mutual fund and a slot machine.

My position on gambling is that it should be regulated to the extent consistent with the constitution, with special attention paid to predatory practices and helping the addicted, and that the state should keep the hell out of promoting it.

Wearing his clever plastic disguise as "Tim F."

So much for brevity, I guess. Next time, it's "John Cole's co-blogger, Tim F.", ok?

I'm with Slarti: to me, this is not partisan at all. People who abuse the public trust should be punished. Period. No matter which party.

I think it's possible that the fallout will partisan, but if so only because Abramoff couldn't figure out how to play both sides against each other. Given his history, though, I'm not making bets either way.

How exactly are the casinos "scamming" their customers? Casinos certainly take advantage of a common ignorance of statistics and probability, but that's not necessarily immoral, at least not to my way of thinking. As long as the games are straight and not rigged, the gambler has the potential to know what his odds of winning are, and if he chooses to play a game in which the odds are stacked against him, he obviously doesn't care enough about winning. I'm not wild about state lotteries, but that's because I think it's unseemly for the government to take advantage of its citizens in a way that isn't so for a private company, and because lotteries are often targeted at the poor. I don't think lotteries are immoral, though, they're just a short-sighted means of generating revenue. Does gambling often have negative consequences? Sure, but so does drinking, and I don't think many of you would claim that alcohol is immoral.

Paul, those are leaps of rhetoric (or fancy) that I just can't follow. I didn't say it was unimportant, I just asked why it was really, really important. I tend to think of corruption as bad, as I am sure you do. Nonetheless, I think of things that are important as capable of changing things as they are (say, reducing corruption, or throwing some stripes on the guilty). I don't know that Scanlon's troubles with the judiciary will translate into anything "important" changing. I hope it does - but hope, apathetic or not, just doesn't count for much.

I bet GWB could witness to that little fact.

Jake

My position on gambling is that it should be regulated to the extent consistent with the constitution, with special attention paid to predatory practices and helping the addicted, and that the state should keep the hell out of promoting it.

I wouold add, though, a pet peeve of mine: no casino should be allowed to exclude any customer for winning. If you can count cards well enough to beat the house at blackjack, or otherwise master other games well enough to beat the house, they should have to just let you play and win.

My position on gambling is that it should be regulated to the extent consistent with the constitution, with special attention paid to predatory practices and helping the addicted, and that the state should keep the hell out of promoting it.

I have yet to see a casino that I would not accuse of predatory practices. For all practical purposes, none of them provide clocks or windows so that you can sense time passing -- because tired people do dumb things. At many, if you start placing substantial bets, an attractive member of the opposite sex will show up with free alcohol -- because drunk people do dumb things. At least some put ATMs on the casino floor, because it makes it easier for people to do dumb things.

I have yet to see a casino. From the inside, at least.

Firedoglake has this interesting post about why it is so difficult to prosecute politicians for these kinds of acts and how flipping Scanlon is going to get around that.

"For all practical purposes, none of them provide clocks or windows so that you can sense time passing -- because tired people do dumb things."

And the brutal way they strip watches from people is just vicious.

It's also immoral to sell people liquor: look at the frequent results!

I also think it's immoral to mark up goods over 100%: it's predatory. According to what objective standard? Oh, I don't have one; all I need to do is declare it to make it so. How do I rule on which business are predatory and which are not? Well, maybe it matters more what objective standard someone would put forth.

"Or... what's the general principle being put forth here? I ask because I have no idea."

And no one answers.

Newsflash: capitalism involves trying to exploit people. Film at 11.

I have yet to see a casino. From the inside, at least

imagine a giant hotel conference room filled with noisy video games, elderly women perched on stools and tourists wandering around trying to figure out how they want to give away the $20 in tokens they just bought.

ken writes: "Tribes who take a gamble on gambling and then get taken by crooks don't get any sympathy from me. Casinos are, by their very nature, immoral business."

Turnabout is fair play, is it not?

We bought their land for beads and trinkets, and now they're buying it back for lemons and cherries.

"I have yet to see a casino that I would not accuse of predatory practices."

And hotels charge you $5 for a $.75 bag of Famous Amos cookies.

Not casino hotels, just regular hotels.

PBS American Experience had a quite nice two-parter, for a total of 3 hours, on the history of Las Vegas just last week, by the way. It will be repeated.

One can see the fantasy Las Vegas weekly on network tv.

Better might be Scorsese's Casino.

Of course, I've never actually been inside one, either. I visited Atlantic City a few times as a kid, but those were pre-casino days.

I've been in a casino or two because they happened to be close to where we were overnighting during a week-long bike tour. I think I got about ten bucks in quarters, started plugging them in (with the occasional win), and eventually had to peel my face off of the front of the machine and send myself to bed, circa 9:30pm, with change still in my pocket. The eighty mile bike ride preceding that wasn't conducive to me staying up late, and the couple of drinks I had while chatting and half-heartedly playing slots went first to my legs and then to my sleep centers.

So, my casino experience is limited, too. But I knew pretty much what I was in for.

My folks got dragged out to Las Vegas about 10 years ago and they loved it, and now it is their jaunt of choice. So it seems to me that we had best try to understand why casinos are becoming so popular at this point in time (yes, it is only one data point, but it's my parents, so to me, it's a huge hulking big data point)

Going to Las Vegas, you are surrounded by all you can eat 24 hour buffets, waitresses bringing drinks that for free right to where you sit. When you go to buffets, the general decor is a sort of nostalgia look, often with labels of 1930's foodstuffs around. My parents have never been ones to complain how hard they had it, but I know that this is Dionysian plenty to them, and it is those strings that they are tugging on (this is not to deny the absence of clocks, darkened halls, ATMs on the floor, the ability to track patrons for special treatment, such as free rooms, but the refusal to intervene when it seems like they are losing)

Casinos seem to be arising because the psychic landscape needs them. You go to your local grocery store and the idea that the groceries would be bagged and carried out to your car is laughable. Thinking about how much of daily living is now only for those fit enough to carry it out, and you begin to understand why this is happening.

To me, state lotteries seem a lot more predatory, but the fact that a certain amount is promised to worthy causes, and that it is much more smaller cut is why they pass under our radar while casinos do not.

"You go to your local grocery store and the idea that the groceries would be bagged and carried out to your car is laughable."

One's locale may be relevant.

In Boulder, I find it annoying that at any of the six huge supermarkets I'm particularly familiar with, I'm always asked if I need help with my bags out to my car, since I don't have a car. I've never, in the almost four years I've been here, not been asked "paper or plastic?," and my groceries have always been loaded into my preference (which might be my own bag) without my asking (sometimes more competently, sometimes less), whether by a separate bagger, or by the person at the register.

So my experience would give me cause to read your words above and go: huh? But I wouldn't generalize about such practices from Boulder any more than I would from NYC or Seattle or Boston or any of the other places I've lived.

"To me, state lotteries seem a lot more predatory, but the fact that a certain amount is promised to worthy causes, and that it is much more smaller cut is why they pass under our radar while casinos do not."

I think the genuinely predatory part is the sale of scratch-offs. That instant reward factor must, I think, have an addictive potential close to that of a slot machine, compared to the daily or weekly drawings.

It's hard to get hooked on the twice-weekly lotto drawings, though there is still the potential for people to spend too much when the prize gets high.

Gary,
would agree that the general trend is for more businesses to become 'self-service'? Or would this be an overly wide generalization?

The other possibility that suggests itself is that you are being asked specifically because you project some aspect of infirmity and appear to need some help getting things out to your car (which you don't have). I find it hard to understand how they seem know your preference for bag material, but cannot remember the fact that you have a car. Or am I examining your comment to closely?

"The other possibility that suggests itself is that you are being asked specifically because you project some aspect of infirmity and appear to need some help getting things out to your car (which you don't have)."

No, they ask everyone this. Every time. (Sometimes the lines are somewhat long, to be sure.)

I said: "I've never, in the almost four years I've been here, not been asked 'paper or plastic?,'"

LJ said: "I find it hard to understand how they seem know your preference for bag material...."

My double negative seems to have been unclear. They've never not asked me: they've always asked me, each time, whether I desire plastic or paper. And then at the end if I'd like help out to the car. It's the trained spiel every supermarket cashier in town gives every customer, 9 out of 10 times.

I'd be delighted to have a coffee, a drink, a meal, with you if you come by Boulder, and if you like, we can go by Safeway and King Soopers and Albertsons and Wild Oats and 30th St. Market and Whole Foods, and have a choice of a couple of the above, and you can check for yourself. (Or we could try to find something fun. :-))

"would agree that the general trend is for more businesses to become 'self-service'?"

I suppose one could observe that in other than upscale businesses, that's been the general trend in the U.S. for the past forty years or so.

I met Famous Amos on a snorkeling boat off the coast of Bora Bora. Nice guy. His wife was laden down with what looked like 40 pounds of turquoise jewelry (she wasn't going in the water). If the boat had tipped, she'd have gone right to the bottom, cookies and all.

Last summer, I visited an Indian casino in Wisconsin run by I forget which tribe. The tribal staff all wore braids, men and women, and they were all exactly the same height. I felt like I was Frodo having an Elfin moment.

The building was purely functional. Four walls, a roof, cheap carpet. A bar, from whence I barely strayed. Rows and rows of slots. I hated every moment of it. Except when the fruit would line up. Then I loved it. Then the machine would go dry for awhile and I would begin an inner moralistic tirade about the evils of gambling and 11 or so quarters would clang out of the thing and I was back to loving it. And so on. Until there no quarters left -- in me.

Kind of like everything Abramoff touches.

The magical part of this scandal is how it brings the corrupt one-third of the Republican Party, the religious one third of the Republican Party, and the libertarian one-third of the Republican Party (personified by Abramoff, Reed, and Norquist) all under one big tent.

It is a metaphor for the mind of George W. Bush in all its motivations.

It is aesthetically pleasing in much the same way as the formation of the solar system must have been pleasing to God (or Darwin, whichever came first). It all fits; all of the hypocrisies working together and held together by the physical laws of the universe. Orbiting, spinning, day and night like clockwork.

Sin, religion, money, murder, the looting of the Federal Government via GSA. Is it corruption? Is it Incompetence? Is it Evil?

No need to discuss which is the motivating factor. It is all of them; it's everything and everyone.

It's like that tiny piece of masking tape on the door at the Watergate a long time ago.

But better, and far stickier.

For all practical purposes, none of them provide clocks or windows so that you can sense time passing -- because tired people do dumb things. At many, if you start placing substantial bets, an attractive member of the opposite sex will show up with free alcohol -- because drunk people do dumb things. At least some put ATMs on the casino floor, because it makes it easier for people to do dumb things.

The worst part is that they have large, heavily-muscled men stand on the street and forcibly drag people inside who do not already desire to go in and gamble.

I hope that this is not taken the wrong way but
I suppose one could observe that in other than upscale businesses, that's been the general trend in the U.S. for the past forty years or so.

was precisely the point I was making in my comment. That the hired help have developed a spiel to alleviate that shift (unless you are shopping at upscale supermarkets) shouldn't really be a surprise. Have you ever thought of saying, 'well, I don't have a car, but could you carry it to my place? That would be a big help'

As for the invitation to tour the grocery stores of Boulder, thank you, but Kyushu is a bit more than a hop skip and a jump from Colorado. Perhaps if you come to Japan, I can offer the same hospitality, though I only hope I can offer the same piercing insight into the local grocery scene that you would in Boulder.

"Have you ever thought of saying, 'well, I don't have a car, but could you carry it to my place? That would be a big help'"

Y'know, I have to say I never have.

Although it does bug me that supermarkets don't deliver, as they do in NYC. Practically every store in NYC delivers. (I exaggerate, but only slightly.)

But that's the nature of local culture, for obvious and good reason. I realized when I first moved to East Lansing, MI, 29 years ago, and then again to Seattle, 30 years ago, that Other Places Weren't Much Like NYC. People there, and here, have cars. In NYC, not nearly so much, and using them for popping around to the supermarket: a lot more trouble and expense.

I did have the odd experience in the Safeway last week where as I paid for my groceries I muttered something to myself about just having enough in the debit card account to cover it (I tend to be crappy at estimating this in the cart, and I always breath a sigh of relief when I don't accidentally go over what I have), and the cashier asked me what was that, and I said oh nothing, and she then started explaining her financial philosophy to me, about how much money I should spend on my car, on how much I must always keep liquid in my account, because that was very important, and so on, including scolding me for not keeping more funds in my account. To which I had nothing much to say back, save to agree that keeping liquid funds available is good. I restrained myself from observing that it's even better to have them.

"'well, I don't have a car, but could you carry it to my place? That would be a big help'"

Just try not to wink while saying this.

"I have yet to see a casino. From the inside, at least."

Nor I. Played about three hands of dollar stake hold-em and bought one lottery ticket in the 35 odd years of adulthood. Gambling is about the only vice I have not indulged.

I have. Roulette is, as it happens, the one really expensive amusement I could easily become addicted to. One solution is for me to make up my mind before I walk in how much money I can afford to lose - and "afford" on the level of "would spend that on latte in a local cafe" - and to walk out again as soon as I've lost that much.

Another solution, and an even less expensive one, is just not to go in at all. :-)

I think of myself as borderline Gamblers Anonymous: I've never lost more than I could afford, but on the other hand, I've had to be unamusingly self-controlled in order not to lose more than I could afford. And a couple of times if I could have brought myself to walk out when I was winning, I'd have made a profit. But I couldn't.

The odd thing is, I know perfectly well the odds on roulette are stacked in favor of the house. I can do the math. I have done the math. I still get a thrill out of playing roulette. Go figure.

(Have you ever added up what a happy coffee drinker spends on lattes/cappuchinos/espressos in a good cafe over a week's leisure? I have.)

To me, state lotteries seem a lot more predatory, but the fact that a certain amount is promised to worthy causes, and that it is much more smaller cut is why they pass under our radar while casinos do not.

I do not think this is accurate. Just looking at Massachusetts I see that 69% of sales are going into the prize fund, so the state's cut is 31%. Casino games generally take a much smaller percentage - about 5% at roulette, less that that at craps and blackjack (assuming you are willing to spend 30 minutes learning very basic strategies), and a wide range at slots.

Even if this weren't so I would still feel that state lotteries are worse than casinos, because I think the state should not encourage unwise behavior by its citizens for its own profit.

Jes: I think there's just some sort of inexplicable taste thing going on. I have no problems qualifying as a risk-taker -- I have forbidden myself ever, ever again to ride on a motorcycle, for instance, because I love the speed so much and I cannot bring myself to wear a helmet -- but for some reason the idea of taking these risks leaves me completely cold.

I mean: I used to live in S. California, within driving distance of Vegas, and knew people who drove there, and I once asked someone, in all seriousness, why he wouldn't just keep giving me little bits of money, on the understanding that every so often, unpredictably, I'd give some back, but generally not enough to make it worth his while.

I was given to understand that this is Not At All The Same, but why not is a mystery to me.

Hilzoy, it sounds like you can be a risk-taker when you feel you have some control of the risk.

With gambling, there is a sense, in some people, that they can control the risk, that they can beat the odds. And, of course, we always hear the stories of the big winners, whether it be Vegas or state lotteries.

Some people do the occasional gambling, much like some people do the occasional drinking. But gambling can also be extremely addictive. Your acquaintance knew he/she would not get all the money back. But there is a part of him/her that believes they can come back from Vegas with more than they went with. So it is not the same thing.

For some who may dabble in gambling, like Jes, there is a thrill. For some there is a desparation.

John: yes, I have known people who seemed to me to be way too much into gambling. It's not pretty.

With me, I think the thing is that I have to take risks into account on purpose and deliberately. I am not naturally averse to them (not per se; particular risks, sometimes.) I suspect this may be the result of having originally been way shy and having forced myself past it: the result seems to be that fear per se doesn't automatically figure in my choices at all.

So, for instance, I was in Israel in 1982, during the war in Lebanon, and a friend of mine was the Israeli army's liaison to the Lebanese Shi'a. He asked me once whether I'd like to come along on a trip he was taking into southern Lebanon, in an unmarked Israeli staff car. I knew perfectly well that this would be quite dangerous; I also knew that it would be absolutely fascinating, and that I would have no other chance to do anything like that. The thing was, though, that I felt the draw, but the risk was purely intellectual, and I had no idea how to make up my mind.

Then someone blew up the US embassy in Beirut, and I decided to take it as an omen.

A Google of "low probability high impact" yields interesting results.

I think in general people evaluate these kinds of things (both good -- winning the lottery, and bad -- terrorist attack) with an emotional response rather than by calculating odds and expectation. Sometimes the evaluation is difficult to compute but one often finds that people respond with (to me) an inappropriate reaction even when a reasonable estimate can be made.

I don't think this is innumeracy. There's just something in our makeup that distorts the weight of high impact events. One might even argue that it's for good reason, from a personal point of view, though it can make for bad public policy.

I realized when I first moved to East Lansing, MI, 29 years ago, and then again to Seattle, 30 years ago...

Something there doesn't seem to add up...

"...ut the risk was purely intellectual, and I had no idea how to make up my mind."

I wouldn't have hesitated to say "no, thanks" for an instant. The odds favor you, but the upside is very low, and the downside maximally high. What's to think about?

But, then, I've never gambled a penny on anything in my life. (That I recall; it's possible I'm forgetting a nickel or two here or there.)

I'm an extremely brave risk-taker in computer games, though. At times. Not much downside.

Gary: like I said, I have no problems qualifying as a risk-taker. I try to pick and choose my risks, but 'seeing what southern Lebanon is like, even if it's in the middle of a shooting war' counts as a great big entry in the 'now that would be cool' column.

I think we do make up our minds on the basis of some sort of emotional response to these things, plus general maxims about how to approach decisions. Since my general maxim is 'fear? hah!', and I had no emotional anything about this one, and yet I knew that this was on some level insane, I had no idea how to proceed. Hence the usefulness of omens, like having the US embassy get blown up.

"Something there doesn't seem to add up..."

I forgot to mention my time machine.

Also that I can't count. No one said there would be math!

Uh, moved to E. Lansing briefly in 1977; moved to Seattle circa Dec-77/Jan-78, or thereabouts.

"...but 'seeing what southern Lebanon is like, even if it's in the middle of a shooting war' counts as a great big entry in the 'now that would be cool' column."

Fair point, and I didn't sufficiently acknowledge that aspect when I previously commented. It certainly would have been interesting.

It's just that I do have access to my Inner Fear. :-)

"Since my general maxim is 'fear? hah!'...."

Hilzoy: standing by to succeed Matt Murdock as Daredevil.

The comments to this entry are closed.