Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Double Standard Continues

Last night as Governor Bobby Jindal was walking to the microphone to deliver the Republican response to the president's speech, Chris Mathews of MSNBC was heard to sigh, "Oh, God." After the speech, Matthews said of the Republican party's choice in Jindal, whose parents emigrated from India, to deliver the speech, "they had to outsource their response tonight. They had to outsource it to someone who had nothing to do with congress."

Let us imagine the uproar if any talking head on Fox News had said, Oh god!, before a Democrat delivered a speech. Then imagine the even greater reaction there would have been had some Democrat made a similar racist comment. Yes, racist.

Matthews twice used the word "outsource" to discuss the Republicans use of Jindal as their spokesman. Was Matthews deliberately trying to alienate the public against Jindal by using the term that refers to the hiring of workers in India, primarily, to do the jobs formerly done by Americans? Isn't that how this would have been seen had the positions been reversed and it was a conservative commenting on a Democrat?

I won't get into Jindal's poor performance, the blogophere is saturated with discussions of his disturbing discomfort behind a teleprompter, his Mr. Rogers delivery and his repetition of the rah-rah "we can do anything" mantra. I will say that the end of his speech was better than the beginning and that it's hard to look good in front of the camera after Obama. Still, the Republican better come up with more to offer than government is bad.

But what I'd like to see today is an apology from Chris Matthews and an acknowledgement of the lack of respect he showed to the governor who, from all accounts, has done a good job for his state.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Outcast, Pariah, Republican

“You’re not a Republican, are you?”

That question has been asked of me quite a bit lately, and always with a mixture of shock, horror, and pity. I can’t possibly be a Republican! I’m walking upright, knuckles well above dragging-on-the-sidewalk length. I speak in complete sentences and otherwise appear to be in possession of my faculties. I’m well-educated, irreligious, and I live in Los Angeles. So how can I possibly be a Republican?

It's insulting, narrow-minded and condescending to believe that no intelligent, rational person can be a Republican in 2009. Yes, I'm a Republican, and even after eight years of George Bush, I'm still proud of my party.

It's so easy for people to forget the roots of the Republican Party. The Republicans were once the holders of the moral high ground, the carriers of the torch of freedom and equality.

It was the Republican Party, the party of Lincoln, which, as former slave and the first African-American to serve in Congress from South Carolina, Robert Smalls, said, "unshackled the necks of four million human beings."

It was the Republican party that worked to pass the 13th Amendment, outlawing slavery, the 14th Amendment, guaranteeing equal protection under the laws, and the 15th Amendment, secure voting rights for African-Americans.

It was the Republican party that took the lead in working for women's suffrage. The first woman elected to Congress was a Republican, Jeanette Rankin from Montana in 1917. The Republican Party was first to put equal rights for women in their party's platform.

It was the Republican party that elected Teddy Roosevelt, a progressive, conservationist who called for protection of our natural resources. He fought against corrupt corporations and for a "square deal" for both the average citizen and business. He was the first American to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

That is a proud tradition.

Then came the Depression and FDR and suddenly the Republican party was the party of the mean, out-of-touch, anti-poor, fat cats who would kick widows and orphans out onto the street.

Why does no one mention George Wallace -- the pro-segregationist governor of Alabama -- was a Democrat?

Or the fact that Robert Byrd -- a former KKK member who filibustered to try and stop passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and opposed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 -- is a Democrat?

The Republicans are the pro-war party, or so they say. Oh, really? Who was it who embroiled us in the Vietnam war, escalating our troops, and causing untold casualties of bodies and minds? Lyndon Johnson -- a Democrat. Who ended the war? That's right, a Republican. Who went to China and the former Soviet Union to build better relations and promote peace? Hint: not the Democrats.

What are the core Republican values? Smaller government, lower taxes, fiscal accountability, strong national defense, freedom and equality. When did these become anathema?

What has caused the Republican Party to suffer, I believe, is their movement away from these value. George Bush greatly expanded the size and involvement of the federal government, and did not promote fiscal responsibility. The Party's obsession with interfering with women's reproductive rights is unfortunate and antithetical to what the party stands for which is, or should be, freedom of choice and freedom from excessive governmental intrusion into our lives.

The Republican core values are ones I am proud to hold and hope can once again come to national power and prominence. I hope for a resurgence of the Reagan Revolution, when government wasn't the enemy but neither was it the wet nurse to keep the poor needy and the middle class from becoming too successful.

The Republican Party doesn't hate the poor, but it does not believe that the answer to poverty is handouts. Sorry for the digression, but I was watching a show where they were talking with teen mothers and this girl mentioned that with welfare and whatever other money she was getting, "they" (meaning the government) were making it too easy for her. She said because of that, there was no motivation for her to get a job. Bingo! Isn't that what the Republicans have been saying since FDR, that the welfare state is a prison, a form of slavery. My cynical side thinks the Democrats perpetuate the welfare state to keep their voting base.

The Democratic Party needs to be needed. It needs poor, desperate people that it can promise the moon to and ask for nothing in return. That is their core group of voters, the voting bloc who keeps them in office. Add to that those who think of themselves a caring and compassionate and vote not in their own best interest but to feel good about themselves, you have the current Democrat majority.

So, put away your shock, horror, and pity -- yes, I'm a Republican. And perhaps if you thought about it rationally, you might be one too.

The Oscars -- Oh, the Hugh and Cry

Reading some of the reviews of last night's Oscar telecast, I had to wonder if I was watching the same show as the naysayers. I thought Hugh Jackman had a nice, breezy style, not too casual, not too stuffy. His best picture nominees' medley was inspired and raised the value of Anne Hathaway back up to pre-Bride Wars levels. While the musical medley did not give us old timers enough classic tunes to swoon over, it was a nice mix of clips and live performance. And it was Jonas Brothers-free, always a plus.

I loved the new presentation of the acting awards, with former winners each spotlighting a nominee. This was a sweet, sentimental moment that had me tearing up a couple times. Still, I had to wonder of the inequity of having some people introduced by living legends such as Shirley McLaine and Eva Saint Marie and others lauded by the likes of Marion Cotillard. Really?

The new organization of the categories, the flow from the beginning of the process through the end, was inspired. Normally, the middle of the show drags -- sorry to all the hard working set designers and documentary short film makers, but this is usually bathroom break time. But I found that this telecast moved through the doldrums-phase at a pretty good pace.

There was little soap box lecturing, which was refreshing and, frankly, surprising. I would have stayed cold sober had I played an Obama drinking game (a shot for any reference to hope or change let alone any invocation of the new Prez's name) and even the mentions of Prop. 8 were relatively few. In fact, the one person you can usually count on to politicize the moment -- Sean Penn -- took the relatively high road by saying, "I want it to be very clear that I do know how hard I make it to appreciate me often."

It was nice to see a movie with heart win the best picture. Slumdog may be an unrealistic, romantic fantasy, but what's wrong with that? The idea of love conquering all and -- dare I say -- hope and determination helping to bring you out of the most dire circumstances, are these so corny and passe? I guess not, since the often cynical "Hollywood" embraced this movie's sweetness with both arms.

One quibble. I do question the inclusion of "Milk" in the category of original screenplay, since it is based on a real person and his true life story. How is that less adapted than taking a short story or play and turning it into a movie? The other four original screenplays all originated out of the minds of the writers, building something from where there was nothing before. Maybe I'm just bitter, because I thought the wit and depth and unexpected turns of "In Bruges" would have garnered an award for its brilliant writer.

Quick observations:
Freida Pinto is stunning
Ben Stiller does a mean Joaquin Phoenix
Jochen Alexander Freydank is a good sport (he was the producer of "Spielzeugland (Toyland)" who had to deal with the presenters chuckling over the name of his movie and having seats somewhere near Pomona)
Steve Martin is a comic genius -- and it all started with an arrow through the head
Kate Winslet's father is an expert whistler
Disney takes care of its own (how many sightings of the High School Musical kids??)
The late Paul Newman deserved more than just an extra couple of clips

Thursday, February 19, 2009

South Carolina Poker Case -- You Win Some, You Lose Some, Part Two

The "is poker a game of skill or chance?" debate scored another victory today, albeit of the somewhat Pyrrhic type. A judge in South Carolina ruled unequivocally that poker is a game of skill. Unfortunately for the five men who were before him on charges of illegal gambling, that determination was not enough to acquit them of the charges.

Citing testimony from poker pro Mike Sexton and University of Denver Professor of Statistics Robert Hannum, Judge Lawrence Duffy found the evidence overwhelming that poker was a game of skill. However, that was not dispositive in this case.

Referencing the public policy of the state of South Carolina to suppress gambling "in all forms" the judge noted that the statute under which they were charged prohibits the playing of "any game with cards or dice." There was nothing in the statute to counter the clear, all-encompassing language.

In other states, a "Dominant Factor" test is used under which the determination of whether an activity is considered illegal gambling is based on whether the dominant factor in the outcome is luck or skill. The judge in this case ruled that South Carolina does not use the "Dominant Factor" test and that he could not consider the skill factor of poker in his decision.

Accordingly, the judge found the five defendants guilty of violating South Carolina statue 16-19-40 and ordered them to pay the required fine.

According to a press release by the Poker Players Alliance, the defendants will appeal the case, hoping to get a ruling from a higher court that the "Dominant Factor" test (also referred to as the predominance test) should be used.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Poker entering the mainstream

Little by little, the poker world is infiltrating the "real" world and the names and faces that are well known to those of us who follow poker are getting their 15 minutes outside the poker world.

There was Phil Hellmuth on the finale of Season One of Top Chef, Jean-Robert Bellande on Survivor-China, Daniel Negreanu on Rob and Amber-Against the Odds (okay, so only I saw that), Johnny Chan in "Rounders," and the poker pros hiding behind aliases in the recent movie "Lucky You."

Now, three more poker pros are stretching their notoriety beyond the felt -- but only two can be happy about it.

First up is the ever lovely Vanessa Rousso, she of the long blond locks and zip lining commercial for PokerStars. Now, Ms. Rousso is not just another pretty face. She was her high school valedictorian, graduated early from Duke and went on to law school. She's had seven money finishes in the WSOP and just missed a WPT final table.

But this month she is will be seen by millions in the pages of the 2009 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition. That should dispel the myth that only middle aged, cigar chomping men and pimply faced computer nerds play poker.

Then there is Annie Duke. She, too, is no academic slouch, having graduated from Columbia undergrad and then going on to grad school at Penn. She is also a WSOP bracelet winner for Omaha 8/b (one of the most frustratingly confounding games out there) as well as the winner of the first WSOP Tournament of Champions.

Duke has had two prior small appearance on civilian -- i.e., non-poker -- TV game shows, once as a member of the "mob" on 1 v. 100 and the other time as a supporter on Deal or No Deal.

But she'll be getting a lot more face time in her next television venture. Duke is scheduled to be on this season's Celebrity Apprentice, fighting it out with the usual bizarre array of people from faux celebrities (Kim Kardashian's sister) to those with real accomplishments (Olympic skater Scott Hamilton). With her smarts and savvy, and her experience in a predominantly male environment, Duke is expected to do very well and gather some new fans along the way.

But the last poker pro to cross over to the mainstream would just as well remain anonymous. Lyle Berman, the 3-time bracelet winner, inductee in the Poker Hall of Fame, and former owner of the Vegas Stratosphere found himself on a list none of us would want to be on. The Bernie Madoff client list. He's in good company, sharing a spot with Sandy Koufax and Jeffrey Katzenberg.

According to reports, Berman invested in two Madoff-controlled funds, but the amount of his losses has not been reported. Berman was interviewed after his name was made public and told reporters for the StarTribune, "I heard about Madoff 25 years ago from some friends in California and decided to give him a try." Reflecting on the nature of the "investment," Berman added. "It worked out fine for quite a while."

Sadly, that is exactly how schemes such as Madoff's work out. Fine, until the fraud is discovered. And then it all comes crashing down. For someone who makes his living reading people, being caught up in such a large scale scam must have been a shock to Berman. But he certainly wasn't alone.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

On a lighter note

The World Series of Poker announced its lineup for 2009 and there is something for everyone. This year there are 57 events, starting with the lowest buy-in event, the $500 casino employees Hold'em tourney starting on May 27th, and continuing until the Main Event which will start on July 3rd.

Commemorating 2009 being the 40th year of the WSOP, the first event open to the public will be a $40,000 buy-in event, starting on May 28th. They have added two more "World Championship" $10,000 events, for a total of ten in all, and there is the third annual $50,000 H.O.R.S.E. event. If you're feeling flush (call me), that would be $190,000 to buy in to those twelve events.

For the rest of us -- those of us affected by the economy and who do not have sponsor's patches on our shirts -- there is a $1,000 buy-in "stimulus" Hold'em event on May 30th. There are also two other $1,000 events, one for Seniors and one for the Ladies (or any guy who wants to follow in Alan Jaffray's highheeled footsteps), eighteen $1,500 events, and a whole host of satellites with buy-ins starting at $330.

The biggest news out of this year's announcement may be the end of the rebuy tournaments. There have been mixed feelings in the poker community about rebuy events, some decrying the ability of those with deep pockets and no shame to basically buy themselves a bracelet (I'm talking to you Layne Flack), and others who are not necessarily opposed to them, noting that Michael Chu won a rebuy event in 2007 without ever making a rebuy or add on.

But even Daniel Negreanu, a notorious re-buyer, has indicated that he is happy with the decision to do away with the rebuy events. In an interview with, Negreanu is quoted as saying, "When you are giving away a World Series of Poker bracelet I think everyone should have an equal chance to win it, not just a chance based on how fat their wallets are."

Like last year, the Main Event will be a seven day event (with multiple Day ones and twos) that will halt after the final table of nine is set and then recommenced in November for a four day, final table extravaganza. The November Nine experiment last year was a mixed bag -- while the nine did not receive the media attention the WSOP had hoped, ratings for the final table were way up. According to Jeffrey Pollack, there will be more of a push this year to get the enthusiasm revved up and you should expect to see the November Nine on more than just poker magazine covers next year.

Let's hope the powers that be decide to bring back the live, pay-per-view of the final table. No matter how good a job the folks at ESPN do in editing and presenting the final table, it is by its nature misleading to have a twelve, fifteen, maybe twenty hour final table compressed neatly into two 45 minute segments. Let the true poker fanatics follow the action -- all of it -- in real time. They'll still tune in two nights later to see the hole cards and find out if their reads were right and what was really going on.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Conflicting Rulings on Poker as a Skill: You win some, you lose some

Not more than two weeks after a Pennsylvania judge dismissed gambling charges against the organizer and dealer of a Texas Hold'em home game, finding that poker was not gambling under Pennsylvania law as it was a game of skill, a different Pennsylvania judge has reached a different conclusion.

Westmoreland County Judge Richard McCormick Jr., refused to dismiss charges against three men who ran a Texas Hold'em poker tournament at a local volunteer fire departments.

The defendants' attorney, David Millstein, had argued that the case against his clients should be dismissed on two grounds, that the state law prohibiting illegal gambling is vague and that poker is not gambling because it involves skill, not mere chance.

Judge McCormick, however, ruled against the defendants on both grounds.

Earlier last month, Columbia County Judge Thomas A. James saw things quite differently, writing a lengthy opinion discussing the nature of the game of poker and all the research and books which establish it as a game of skill.

Should the defendants in the Westmoreland County case appeal Judge McCormick's decision, this could pave the way for a final showdown on the issue in the state's highest court -- a chance to get a state supreme court to weigh in on this important topic. So far, the argument that poker should not be considered "gambling" as it is a skill-based game has not had a major platform. And a number of different decisions have recently come out with different results.

It is just this type of inconsistent rulings and lack of uniformity which makes it the right time to get poker once and for all ruled to be exempt from anti-gambling restrictions.