Lose Your Soul at Graton Casino

Graton Casino

Over in my area, they recently opened up a big Casino, Graton. I was enticed to go and check it out tonight. It was not much of an enticement. Being a great lover of statistics, I find most forms of gambling mystifying. I assume the electronic games have winning percentages that are mandated by the state. The blackjack tables are shuffled continuously so card counting is impossible except at the high stakes tables—or so I’m told. Craps, while a sucker’s game at least has a fun group thing going on, is not available. There is no poker, which one could win at if one were a good player. And there is no sports betting, which again, one could win at if one were a capable handicapper. Thus, to me, it is just a really loud, ugly place where cigarette smokers go to play expensive computer games.

Willy Wonka SlotAnd everybody’s in on it. As you can see in the picture on the right, there are Willy Wonka slot machines. Roald Dahl is lucky he is dead not to have to see that. I also saw Dolly Parton slot machines. There were lots of other things, but I’m not up on pop culture. It does make me wonder though. Parton is estimated to be worth a half billion dollars. Is there nothing she won’t do for money? If I had a couple of billion dollars, would she let me take a dump on her? Because what she’s doing on those slot machines is even more disgusting. I walked into that casino with a so-so opinion of her. Now I despise her. She is nothing but a whore who will do anything for money, even though she has more than she could ever spend.

But welcome to America, right? Isn’t that the new American Dream? Gain a bit of fame so you can cash out? The problem with that “dream” of course is there is no end to cashing out. Apparently, people are not cashing out so they can lay on a beach the rest of their lives. Now you just cash out for the pleasure of cashing out. And everyone is involved. Those who have no fame to cash out, can sit at the slots and put their cash in. I’m sure for every dollar some Dolly Parton fan wastes on one of her machines, the grande dame receives a few pennies. Soon she’ll be up to a cool billion. That’s why she went into country music, right?!

Dolly Parton Slot MachineI don’t mean to put down all the gamblers. Hey, entertainment is entertainment. It ain’t my thing, but whatever. What bothers me is that I thought I saw a lot of Bill Whites there: lost people looking for just a little bit of meaning in their sad American lives where real meaning is scoffed at and ridiculed. It was a Sunday. They could have it all. In the morning, they could go to church and have a meaningless spiritual experience and in the evening, they could go to the casino and have a meaningless entertainment experience. Really, any person who feeds pigeons in the park has a far more engaged life than any such person.

Of course, as anyone who has spent any time in a casino can tell you, most of the people seem very sad. And that was fully on display tonight. It’s a binary experience after all: you either win or you lose. And that’s the problem with our whole culture and the economy that overwhelms it. That’s our meaning: winning a penny is good and losing a penny is bad. There might as well be switches on our fucking foreheads. But it wouldn’t matter. Because it doesn’t matter how many pennies you win. It is never enough. You’ll still sell off whatever is left of your soul to “Win!” again. Just ask the now fully soul-free Dolly Parton.

Conservatives on Inequality: But, But, But

Majestic Equality

But, but, but! That’s what the conservatives will say because that is what the conservatives have always said. Here in the United States, in the “land of opportunity,” we have less opportunity than pretty much every other advanced economy. If you want to grow up to be rich in the United States, the most important thing you need is a rich father. But if you want to grow up to be rich in Denmark, it really isn’t that important to have a rich father. So the United States is like the bad old times in Feudal England. It ought to be an outrage and indeed among some, it is. But among conservatives: nothing.

All we get from conservatives is, “But, but, but!” But what, we might ask. They have lots of reasons for this. My favorite is the most common reason—the racist reason: well those other countries are all homogeneous. They won’t say this, but the subtext is clear enough, “How can we be as equal was Denmark when we have all these black and brown people who are dragging us down?” Or there is Avik Roy’s definition of equality as simply the lack of explicit laws saying someone can’t do something. So as long as a law doesn’t say African Americans can’t be rich, there is equality. Neat trick, huh? But more and more, the conservative answer to inequality is that it doesn’t matter. As Josh Barro puts it:

One conservative message on inequality is to say that it doesn’t matter, and we should accept rises in both pre-tax and post-tax inequality. This is the implication of studies periodically put out by the Heritage Foundation, arguing that poor people aren’t really poor if they have microwave ovens.

This is why the work by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett is so important. Yesterday, I posted a TED Talk by Wilkinson that provides a summary. But below is a full hour and a half lecture by both of them that I encourage everyone to watch. The basic picture is that once a society gets to a certain level of wealth, it doesn’t help them out on average. It’s very much like studies that have shown that above a certain income, people don’t get happier. But the more inequality there is inside a country, the worse off it is. And it doesn’t just affect the poor. The rich in a country with more equality live longer than the rich in a country with less equality.

But, but, but! I can just hear the conservatives come up with their reasons for why this is not a problem. Americans, even rich ones, are fat! Americans are just more violent! And then finally: death is good!

Wilkinson and Pickett look at a lot more than that, though. On just about every measure you can think of, inequality makes a society worse. And they’ve controlled for just about everything you can think of. It is really amazing work. They also looked at the 50 United States. They found that the more unequal the states are, the more people they have in jail. Now one has to ask, “Is that not because there is more crime in high inequality states?” Well, that is 30% of the effect. But 70% of it is just the fact that states with more inequality that put more people in jail for longer periods of time.

Their hypothesis, which goes along with work in other fields, is that it has to do with how people are valued in society. In Wilkinson’s TED Talk, he provided this very nice graphic:

Valued or Devalued?

In societies that are more equal, people feel they are more valued. They don’t feel the need to look good or clever or, not to put to fine a point on it, worthy. I’ve often heard conservatives rant about the status symbols of poor kids: tennis shoes, iPads, whatever. I look at that and I think it’s sad—a social pathology indicating that society has not provided these kids with a feeling of self-worth that goes beyond them being consumers. But the conservatives look at it and think it just means they can’t manage their money and no wonder they’re poor. But, but, but!

Income inequality is killing us. We are the most unequal of the “advanced” countries and we have by far the most social pathologies. I have solutions—things like guaranteed minimum incomes, equality of education, and far more and higher tax brackets. I will be talking about them in the future. But you can bet that the conservatives won’t. They’ll have “solutions” of course—the same “solutions” they have to every “problem.” They’ll want to gut the social safety net because it has become a hammock, keeping poor people down. And they’ll want to cut the top tax rates because poor people look at them and think, “Why should I work hard when I’m going to be taxed so much!” Look forward to conversations like this:

“At this festive season of the year, Mr Scrooge, … it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the Poor and destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time. Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir.”

“Are there no prisons?”

“Plenty of prisons…”

“And the Union workhouses.” demanded Scrooge. “Are they still in operation?”

“Both very busy, sir…”

“Those who are badly off must go there.”

“Many can’t go there; and many would rather die.”

“If they would rather die,” said Scrooge, “they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.”

And most of all: but, but, but!

Mrs. Ah-huh-wiggins’ Boss

Tim ConwayThis just in: Peter O’Toole is dead. He was 81. Not exactly one of my favorite actors, but he was wonderful in some of my favorite films: The Lion in Winter, My Favorite Year, and Dean Spanley. Actually, a lot more than that. But if you haven’t seen any of those films, you’d better get on it! I am truly sad to see the old man gone. Although if you watch him in Dean Spanley, he does seem awfully frail. And that was five years ago.

On this day in 37, Emperor Nero was born. He was dead not long after—at the age of 30. I think he has a bad rap. As for all that stuff about burning of Christians for light at night, well, I suspect that is all a myth. Imagine what people would say of Obama 2,000 years from now if they were basing history on the writings of Pamela Geller.

The great architect and civil engineer Gustave Eiffel was born in 1832. He did extensive work with the French rail system—both buildings and especially bridges. But we all know him because of that tower he built. What’s the name. Gustave Tower? Oh, that’s right: the Eiffel Tower. It was built for the 1889 Universal Exposition and took a year and a half to construct. Of course, he didn’t design it. A couple of his people did. You know how it goes.

A truly vile man, J Paul Getty was born in 1892. But I have to admit, the Getty Center is a wonderful thing. Rich people are generally much more useful to society after they die. I don’t say that to be mean. It is just that Getty really was an awful human being. Had he been born an alligator, I guess he would have been about average. When his grandson was kidnapped, Getty loaned his son the money to get the grandson back. You know what they say: profits first, family second, or third, or forty-fifth, I don’t really remember.

Buddy Cole was born in 1916. I don’t think much of him, but it gives me the opportunity to play this fine version of Rosemary Clooney singing “Blue Moon”:

Physicist Freeman Dyson is 90 years old today. Good for him! I’m not a fan. As for his work on QED, I don’t really understand it so I don’t have much to say about it. Anyway, he is mostly know for being a crank. I don’t mean “crank” in a bad way; I’m a crank in many ways myself. Most people know him for his “work” on metaphysics. He claims that just as all of our neurons go into making up our consciousness, maybe all of we living creatures make up a greater consciousness that we might call “God.” So he’s basically a pantheist, and so am I. But I find his thinking on the matter kind of muddled. And I don’t like the idea of a universal “consciousness.” A bee colony may work the same way that our brain does, but that doesn’t mean that the bee colony has a consciousness. Also he’s been constantly wrong about global warming in his attacks on the IPCC, which has been, if anything, way too conservative. Like I said: he’s a crank. But it’s important that cranks don’t get too much attention. Why? Because they’re cranks! Their function is to push the Overton Window open. But they are almost always wrong.

Other birthdays: playwright Maxwell Anderson (1888); gun designer Uziel Gal (1923); jazz pianist Barry Harris (84); musician Dave Clark (71); musician Paul Simonon (58); and actor Michelle Dockery (32).

The day, however, belongs to comedian Tim Conway who is 80 today. Other than a couple of movies, I mostly know him from McHale’s Navy the The Carol Burnett Show. Here he is as Mr. Tudball with Carol Burnett as Mrs. Wiggins:

Happy birthday Tim Conway!

Same-Sex Marriage Marches On

Same-Sex Marriage MilitaryMy father’s favorite lines is, “What’s wrong with these people?” This is usually applied to how people drive. But it’s a good general question, because as I go on my way each day I wonder the same thing, “What’s wrong with these people?”

As you may remember, that great defender of liberalism, Bill Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) into law in 1996.[1] There are two important parts to the act. Section 2 says that if any states allow gay marriage, the other states can ignore them. Second 3 says that marriage is defined as the union of one man and one woman. Second 3 was found unconstitutional, but of course, four of the justices thought it was just fine. So DOMA is pretty much a thing of the past.

Side note: the whole one man and one woman thing is truly bizarre. The reason marriage is currently defined that way is because that is the way it is currently defined. Historically, powerful men had many wives and weak men had none. This is certainly the case through most of the Bible, which is where most conservatives get their ideas about what marriage is. Look at Lot: after his wife was turned into a pillar of salt, he effectively got two wives: his two daughters. (The Bible is very creepy.) So there’s no historical or religious precedent for this whole one man and one woman definition. What it all comes down to is what people are used to, and therefore, what they are comfortable with.

Same-Sex Marriage in the Military

So DOMA is off the table. And another of Clinton’s great liberal policies is gone too: Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT). So Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel declared that same-sex married couples could apply for benefits at state National Guard bases. And it all went fine, because after all, what’s the big fucking deal? It is just paper work. There are no physical examples—no one had to watch the couple copulate. But, of course, for some people it was a big deal. Six states balked:

  1. West Virginia
  2. Oklahoma
  3. Texas
  4. Louisiana
  5. Mississippi
  6. Georgia

First, I want to state for the record: it wasn’t the people actually doing the processing of paper work. I’m not saying that some or even a lot of them weren’t against same-sex marriage. But they were just doing what they were told, just like at any job. No, it was the political demagogues who were trying to make a point. That point is a little vague, I think it has something to do with standing up for stupidity, injustice, and the bigoted way.

Real Patriotism

Regardless, this is the United States armed forces. It amazes me. Let me say that again with feeling: it amazes me. The conservative idea of patriotism is that you support your country, except when you don’t want to. These people don’t love America; they love some idea of America that they made up in their own little pea brains. I’m not saying “America right or wrong.” But I am saying that breaking the law needs to be based on a hell of a lot more than the fact that you find gay sex icky.

Right now, we have a young lady named Chelsea Manning serving 30 years in prison. She saw that the United States military was misbehaving and lying about it. So she went to her supervisors and they were in on it too. They told her to just ignore it. But she did what a good solider is supposed do. She disobeyed those unethical orders. But in the case of processing same-sex marriage benefit claims, these states were not protesting the military doing something it claimed it was not. They just didn’t like the policy. It is as if Manning had released those files because she just didn’t think we should be at war in Afghanistan. Nonetheless, Chelsea Manning got 30 years, and these bigots get nothing.

But they did lose their battle. After all the tizzy fits and pompous proclamations, they all caved. Now same-sex married couples can file for benefits at state National Guard posts. But I still have the same question, “What is wrong with these people?”

Afterword

Want to write to a patriot? Here is Chelsea Manning’s address, but you still have to use the name “Bradley” on the envelope:

Bradley E Manning
89289
1300 N Warehouse Rd
Ft Leavenworth KS 66027-2304
USA

Her wish is to be referred to as a Chelsea and Ms inside the letter. We have a great deal to be thankful to her for.


[1] Some might defend him by noting that Congress would have easily over-ruled him if he had vetoed the bill. But it was quite simply an act of political cowardice, right before his re-election in 1996. Later, Clinton called for its repeal. I’m sure if he had been allowed, he would have signed up to fight in Vietnam in 1976 too.