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The $8 Million and Volokh


Eugene Volokh gets ” target=”_blank”> illiteracy (shouldn’t that be innumeracy?). First of all, even Green admits that it wasn’t $8 million out of Bennett’s pocket. Rather, Bennett kept gambling his winnings which means the same dollars get counted several times. The relevant admission by Green from MSNBC Tuesday night:

SCARBOROUGH: OK, did he lose $8 million, though? He reported $8 million in losses, but is it minus $8 million?

GREEN: No, no, let’s be real clear about that. No, no, let’s be clear about that. That is net loss more than $1 million. These gambling records that we’ve got, they show losses, they show wins. He hit plenty of jackpots, $10,000, $15,000, $40,000, up to $80,000 jackpots. The problem is, is, he’d turn around and he would play them right back.

Keep in mind that slot machines “give back” 97% of the money that’s put into them. Over ten years if Bennett parlayed his winnings time and again, it’s hardly inconceivable that a “small” amount of money would look like a lot if you took snapshots of it being re-wagered a second, third or fiftieth time.

Here’s a useful email from one of several casino execs and gambling experts I’ve been talking to:

Jonah, a few things worth mentioning that we haven’t yet seen mentioned:

Casinos typically track what players put “at risk.” The info that was leaked was not what Bennett lost, just what he put at risk. A VIP player, or a “whale” in the industry, is not someone who necessarily loses a lot of money, it’s a person that puts a lot of money at risk. (I bet there’s a HUGE manhunt going on to find whoever leaked that info.)

Bennett’s game, slots, overall pays back in the range of 97% of what’s put in. Granted, one big winner can kill the odds for lots of other players by eating up a chunk of that 97%, but it’s the high-stakes players that have the best odds of winning and get the highest payback because they are risking more. Bennett is a high-limit slots player, so it’s just as conceivable that, over the course of 10 years, he has come out close to even or even made money as it is that he’s lost money. It’s the low-stakes nickel, dime, quarter players that are the bread and butter in the industry. There’s not a lot of money to be made with high-rollers. In fact, when our company stopped courting high-rollers and focused on the mom-and-pop recreational players, we’ve had record revenues every quarter since, including during this recession that has killed other tourist-dependent industries.

So, my point is, risking $8 million over 10 years does not make him an ultra-huge player and definitely not a compulsive gambler. There are whales that play, and win, that much in one night. Yes, it puts him WAY beyond the mom-and-pops, and definitely in the VIP category with all its perks, but he’s far from being the biggest whale out there, or even among the biggest. And what determines how much is “too much”? He appears to have been playing within his means. Again, he likely didn’t lose anywhere near $8 million.

Also worth mentioning, some of the strongest gaming markets in the U.S. — Biloxi, Tunica, Shreveport, Vicksburg — are thriving in the Bible Belt and were approved by voters.



check out Norman Mailer’s reasoned refutation of Dennis Miller on the same page of the Wall Street Journal. Assuming that it’s not some enemy of Mailer who pulled one over on the Journal’s letters editors.


Profiles in Cluelessness


I really should be working on my article for the next issue of NR, but I can’t resist commenting on Al Hunt’s latest column. It’s about Dan Ponder, the latest recipient of a “Profiles in Courage” award, which is generally given to public figures who put the desires of liberal opinionmakers ahead of the wishes of the people who elected them. Or, as Hunt puts it, “put principle ahead of political expediency.” Ponder, a Republican, is being rewarded for giving a speech to the Georgia House that helped persuade it to pass a hate-crimes bill. Most of Hunt’s column consists of excerpts from the speech–in none of which Ponder identifies any “principle” that requires the passage of hate-crimes laws. Instead we hear a lot about Ponder’s upbringing, his past racial insensitivity, and his intention to raise his children “to be tolerant.” (“In our home, someone’s difference would never be a reason for injustice.” What is a good reason for injustice in the Ponder home?) The closest Ponder comes to giving a rationale for the law is to say that it would “send a message to people that are filled with hate in this world, that Georgia has no room for hatred within its borders.” I think Hunt expects us to react to his column by wishing that our legislatures contained more people like this Ponder. I’m happy he’s a former legislator.

Web Briefing: December 22, 2014

More Balko


Something else bothers me. He writes:

As a libertarian, I really don’t buy into the “No Guardrails” way of thinking. I don’t believe in collective rights (affirmative action, for example), or in collective morality. I think that left to their own devices, people will generally make decisions that are in their own best interests. Let each pursue his own happiness, so long as he doesn’t hurt anyone else.

That’s fair enough as far as it goes. But for the record, it’s simply nonsense to assert that there’s something contradictory about being a “moralist” and a “libertarian.” A huge chunk of Bennett’s “sermonizing” never called for the State to do anything. Rather he believed in shaming people who did shameful things. There’s absolutely nothing inconsistent with libertarianism and this position. Hayek was a strong supporter of the influences of culture on individual behavior and I know plenty of libertarians who would argue that the smaller the State gets the more assertive the culture would have to be in policing and shaming errant behavior. Indeed, the glory days of early America are a perfect case in point. The government was strong but local moral codes were very strong. Many early — and I would guess current — National Review conservatives argued that the expansion of the State crowded out the ability of other institutions (Burke’s “Little Platoons”) to police, nudge or otherwise influence individual behavior. If Balko believes libertarianism is about radical individual autonomy, he’s hardly alone but he’s adhering to a form of libertarianism which will never catch on in this country and never existed in this country — thank goodness.

CORRECTION: Woops! That should have read “The government was weak but local moral codes were very strong. Many early — and I would guess current — National Review conservatives argued that the expansion of the State crowded out the ability of other institutions (Burke’s “Little Platoons”) to police, nudge or otherwise influence individual behavior.”


Who Knew?


From a reader:

I never knew you were a New Testament scholar. :-) I’m surprised your Corner Compatriots didn’t pick up on this first. Your position on the topic and Bennett’s swearing off gambling are 100% consistent with the thesis of Chapter 14 of Paul’s letter to the Romans, essentially: For some people, certain things are considered sinful, for others not (e.g., eating meat, worshipping on certain days, etc). The bottom line is that you shouldn’t put a stumbling block in front of your brother if he considers your activities sinful. I shouldn’t be surprised that since the secular press considers Bennett to a be a religious extremist, they couldn’t point out the scriptural consistency in his actions. To be fair, I haven’t heard the religious press make this point either.

Here’s the “chapter & verse” Romans 14, Verses 13 & 14: Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way. I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean.


Aristotle & Consistency


From a reader (and political science prof):

“Mr. Goldberg,

Since Aristotle has entered the argument over consistency, you might want to recall the following from his Nichomachean Ethics, Book I, chapter 3 (Ostwald trans.):

’Our disucssion will be adequate if it achieves clarity within the limits of the subject matter. For precision cannot be expected in the treatment of all subjects alike, any more than it can be expected in all manufactured articles. Problems of what is noble and just, which politics examines, present so much variety and irregularity that some people believe that they exist only by convention and not by nature.’

Consistency is all well and good in ontology, but rigorous consistency cannot be applied to matters of justice, according to Aristotle, because the subject matter won’t allow it. This is why prudence is a virtue and bloodymindedness is not. I believe this also confirms Mr. Ponnuru’s comments.”



Nicely put.

More Consistency


A few readers object:

I don’t have any personal problem with your position on consistency, but you have to realize that it makes you a moral relativist and a practitioner of situational ethics, both of which, I thought, were typical liberal vices?”

And another reader:

Aristotle’s law of non-contradiction is roughly “it is not the case that
something can be and cannot be at the same time”. All of us observe this principle tacitly every day in all our interactions. Why, then, is inconsistency “ok” with respect to the principles that undergird social, moral, and political judgments? The position you defend begins to sound like relativism, or deconstructionism.

My response: It’s true, it seems to me, as a matter of ontology that something cannot “be and not be” at the same time. But as a matter of human experience it also seems to me that this is entirely possible that something can appear to be and not be at the same time. I agree that if we have perfect knowledge of the universe and all its workings, it would be unforgivable to be inconsistent. But if we had such knowledge we would be God. Indeed, God is probably perfectly consistent but because we do not have the knowledge he has his ways often seem “mysterious,” as the saying goes. To say that different courses need different horses doesn’t mean one is a deconstructionist or moral relativist or a nihilist. It merely means that one is a realist.

The postmodern crowd seems to argue that since we can’t know every thing we can’t know anything — and that’s idiotic. We make judgements, we apply principles and go where the facts lead us. One reason we may seem inconsistent on one principle is simply that another principle takes precedence. For example, I think as a matter of principle one shouldn’t lie. But if a friend on his deathbed asks me in abject despair, “Is there any hope?” I might lie to him because the principle of honesty takes a back seat to the principle of decency. Also, a lot of alleged inconsistencies are inconsistencies at the micro-level and fine at the macro-level. Killing someone in order to stop mass killing strikes many liberals as inconsistent. The short answer to that charge is, “So what?” I’m sure you already know the long answer.

Saudi Justice, Ctd


Bill Bennett - The Final Word


With One Bound, Derb Is Free


Fun event at Berkeley last night at Cody’s bookstore, where NR is available
in the “Alternative” section of the magazine displays. Many thanks to all,
especially the surprising number of NR/NRO readers who took the trouble to
come out & show support. The crack house was too much, though, so I have
fled to Sacramento to stay with some friends for the day. I hate to say it
about a government town, but I really like Sacramento. No events here, I
have a day off. Last event tomorrow, the Stanford bookstore at noon. Jonah:
It was not for reasons of ideological nicety that I avoided the word
“cosmopolitan,” but out of consideration for Cosmo… whom, strictly
speaking, of course, you really should have christened “Metro.”

An Issue of Human Decency


An clear thinker on these issues writes to me about the Unborn Victims of Violence Act:

The overwhelming public opinion on this subject suggests that what is at stake is not a competition of arguments, but a matter of basic human decency. Sadly, it’s these moments of deepest tragedy that reveal most starkly how vapid and absurd some of the “arguments” are on the other side. If more of us had a better grasp of the fact that this is a constant and ongoing tragedy, they might not be able to pull them off so much of the time.

Got Parents?


Wow. “Mom and Dad”…”parents”…I was just listening to the CNN discussion between Daryn Kagan and their medical reporter Elizabeth Cohen on the report that there are many more embryoes frozen in the U.S. than previously thought. NOW and co. is a little slow on the talking points though, today, because the CNN talk was of the embryos parents. It was fair treatment. I really can’t help but to think because this is an issue that, frankly, has not gotten that much public discussion; Cohen and Kagan were talking the way people think about these things. And, regardless of exactly what stage you think life beings, most people see at least the potential life and they realize the desires and thinking of the people who are freezing their embryos. Though clearly, months down the life chain—I think this is why 84 percent of people polled think that if Scott Peterson killed Laci Peterson, he also killed Conner Peterson.



is getting a bad rap here, I think. I suspect that what Jonah has in mind when saying that inconsistency is okay as long as it’s defended is, in fact, the better specification of a principle that’s being consistently applied. In the case of Iraq and North Korea, which he discusses, that principle might be: protect the national interest. Or: eliminate nuclear threats when it’s possible to do so at a reasonable cost. Seeming inconsistencies that flow from deeper consistencies do not call the virtue of intellectual consistency into question.

I Thought


that Norah Vincent was a libertarian, Jonah, not a liberal, and a pro-lifer too. Her labeling of nonbelievers in the existence of a “generalized right to privacy” in the Constitution as “hellfire conservatives” is a reminder of how supposedly “religious” habits of thought–and especially the casting of infidels into outer darkness–can often be found in seemingly secular arguments.

Two Victims


The New York Times doesn’t get it. This is from Sheryl Gay Stolberg’s piece on Connor’s bill:

In the battle over legislation, there is no weapon as powerful as a victim. With the killing of Laci Peterson, the proponents of the Unborn Victims of Violence Act have one.

No, proponents of the Unborn Victims of Violence Act have two. That’s the point. (Here’s my little piece today on it.)

Burke On Consistency


Jonah, here’s a quote from Burke that speaks to this issue of consistency of principle versus the complicated balancing of competing moral goods: “The pretended rights of these theorists are all extremes; and in proportion as they are metaphysically true, they are morally and politically false. The rights of men are in a sort of middle, [emphasis original] incapable of definition, but not impossible to be discerned. The rights of men in governments are their advantages; and these are often in balance between differences of good, in compromises sometimes between good and evil, and sometimes between evil and evil.” I hope to have an NRO piece up in the coming days that’s all about this sort of middle ground.

More Consistency


Seems I’ve hit a nerve out there. I can’t spend all day on this, but let me explain. I said consistency is important. But it’s not everything. For example, the Left tried to make conservatives apply their standards for toppling Iraq to North Korea. Consistency says we should use military force to topple both dictatorships. But reality gets in the way. North Korea is a different place, with different capabilities and toppling it would have different consequences. The Left was perfectly within its rights to say hawks were inconsistent. And hawks were perfectly within our rights to say, “yes, but for good reason.” That’s all I meant. See the piece I linked to for more if you like.

Norah Vincent


Norah Vincent of the LA Times (Reg Req’d) is another liberal who asserts that gambling is a sin and then imposes that conclusion into Bill Bennett’s consciousness in order to call him a hypocrite — despite the fact that his own Church doesn’t consider it a sin. But I don’t how many more times I can address the disingenuousness of this point. Rather I would like to address on assertion she makes:

The problem is that Bennett and Goldberg are not libertarians. They’re hellfire conservatives, and hellfire conservatives tend not to believe that a generalized right to privacy exists in the Constitution, much less that harmless acts are protected by it. For far-right conservatives to defend Bennett’s gambling in libertarian terms as a “harmless act” — one that doesn’t starve the wife and kids — is disingenuous to say the least because it sidesteps the most important criterion by which such a conservative defines harm. That is, of course, sin.

If any of you folks have heard me talk about sin at any great length let alone raise the specter of firey damnation in the pits of Hell, please let me know. If, on the other hand, you do not consider me to be a “Hellfire conservative” please let her know.

Discuss Among Yourselves


“Liberal cosmopolitanism is like the dirty ring in the bathtub left over from international socialism.”


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