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My Nobel Vote


K Lo: My Nobel Peace Prize vote goes to Oswaldo Paya Sardinas, the man behind the Varela Project in Cuba. There’s already a campaign on his behalf, supported by Czech president Vaclav Havel.

Lotteries, Again


Tom from Florida “takes umbrage” at being called innumerate for playing the lottery:

He says he knows that “the odds are about 1 in 23 million…but that it’s still fun to bet $5 or so on a long shot,” a point echoed by a number of other readers.

Meanwhile, on the subject of governments pushing ‘vice’, how about state-run liquor stores? Judging by the remarks from a correspondent in Pennsylvania, the ones there sound peculiarly depressing: “high prices, less selection and employees in the Cliff Claven mold.”




He promises not to expose the round-the-clock games of caribbean stud poker and pai gow taking place in my basement.

Web Briefing: December 26, 2014

For The Record


Josh Green of The Washington Monthly got in touch with me and says the transcript I posted below is either wrong or that he misspoke. Green stands by his $8 million dollar net loss assertion as reported in his article.


Consistency and Paradox


From a reader:

Hey Jonah,

Don’t you dare back down on the tyranny of consistency, the twin of the tyranny of hypocrisy!

This is something that’s bugged me for a long time, one of the main causes behind e.g. “Something so ridiculous only an academic could believe it.”

One thing that doesn’t seem to get mentioned often is the difference between a contradiction and a paradox. A paradox is only a seeming contradiction, based on incomplete knowledge. Take Zeno’s paradox, for example, (where the hare can never catch up to the tortoise, because the tortoise will always have moved forward by the time the hare catches up to where he was; related to not being able to cross a room because you are always halving the distance, etc.). The paradox was thought up to prove Xeno’s idea that motion and change are mere illusions. We have a contradiction, therefore the premise must be false.

The point, of course, is that apparent contradictions or inconsistencies may only prove a lack of knowledge or understanding (in Zeno’s case, of differential calculus).

In philosophy, the idea is to sit in a dark room and understand the universe using reason alone. In science, the idea is to ask “OK, what actually happens” i.e. do an experiment and see what reality says about your ideas. I’ll take reality over intellectual consistency any day (although, of course, most scientists are perhaps a bit distant from reality).

More On The Prom


A reader who went to the public high school
(class of 1993) in the next town over from mine says that his school’s prom
was effectively segregated, but it wasn’t really a race thing as much as a
cultural one, because some black kids came to the private prom too:

When I graduated from one of your rival high schools, we still had the
school-sponsored prom open to all and attended by only black students, and
the private white prom, attended by the white kids and the black students
who generally tended to hang out more with the white kids than black kids.
The reason had less to do with race (though admittedly for some that was the
reason), in my opinion, than in music, culture, etc. The white kids
listened to country and rap and were more sedate and the school prom
featured rap with some R&B, boisterous activity, and always, always gunshots
at some point.





Cosmo, that was a joke. The Onion is a parody site.

A National Disgrace


From the Onion:

Nation’s Dogs Dangerously Underpetted, Say Dogs
NEW YORK—At a press conference Monday, representatives of the Association of American Dogs announced that the nation’s canines are dangerously underpetted. “Every night, thousands of U.S. dogs go to bed without so much as a scritch behind the ears,” AAD president Banjo said. “If this sort of neglect from our masters continues, it could lead to widespread jumping on the furniture.” Upon his owner’s arrival in the press-conference room, Banjo abruptly ended his speech, frantically barking, leaping, and rolling over on his back in an effort to communicate his need for a vigorous belly rub.

What John Derbyshire Is Really Doing These Days


“Zero Chance”


Bush and Blair have been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize (SHOCKING), and good old Chris Matthews, just now on MSNBC, is outraged: “you shouldn’t get peace prizes for well fought wars” (he’s, of course, not worried the Nobel Committee would seriously consider them). I’m wondering who exactly should get them then. Now, Kofi Annan has nothing to do with keeping or bringing peace. Or YASSER ARAFAT. Or Jimmy Carter. Should I go on?

Man in Clinton Mask Robs Bank


Green Scissors - Still Dull


Friends of the Earth, Taxpayers for Common Sense, and U.S. PIRG rolled out their annual “Green Scissors” report today. Last year I had this to say about the report, and after looking it over, the 2003 edition is not much different.

Violent Householder Watch


The case of Tony Martin, the British farmer jailed for shooting (and killing) a burglar, is more complex than is sometimes suggested on this side of the Atlantic, but he certainly ought to have been granted parole by now. However, as this report revealed:

“Parole Board lawyers are opposing Mr Martin’s early release arguing that burglars are members of the public who need protecting from violent householders.”

In the event, Martin lost his bid for freedom.

Race and The South


It is depressing that white students in rural Georgia have decided to go back to having a segregated prom. Where I come from in rural
Louisiana, we had separate, private proms for blacks and whites too. This
was almost 20 years ago, so I don’t know if they still do, but as I recall,
it wasn’t something the students necessarily wanted; it was mandated by the
parents (at least the white ones). This kind of ugliness is not the province
of whites alone, though. The head of the black caucus in the Louisiana
legislature recently complained that too many white people are going to the
historically black Southern University Law School. I’m sure if the black
students in that rural Georgia town decided to hold a blacks-only prom, and
said they were doing it to preserve their cultural heritage, or gave some
other p.c. excuse, nobody in the media would bat an eye.

Lotteries, Ctd.


I’ve just been going through my e-mails on this topic (too many to reply to individually, alas). Disappointingly, most seem to agree with Ramesh on state lotteries (they are opposed), although a number of the more moderate Ponuru-ites (Ponurians?) would favor competing privatized lotteries (with better odds than the government now offers – worse than the Mob’s apparently). The state would then tax the companies that run the lotteries.

Here’s an interesting comment from a reader in LA:

“It is often said that lotteries are a tax on stupid people, but more accurate is to say that it is a tax on the poorly educated. I view state-sponsored lotteries as a way the government capitalizes on its own failure to educate people properly. Statistics and probability are some of the worst taught subjects in school–if they are even taught at all. For the state governments to fail at teaching this basic subject and then to rake in money because of [this] failure is, in my view, immoral.”

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.

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.”


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