Friday, September 01, 2006


Okay, so perhaps I'm a tad picky today, probably because I was late getting ready this morning and that always annoys me. But I have to take issue with a couple of editorials in the Press-Citizen this morning. Just 'cause.


First, there's this article: Casinos are for losers. Reading it made me realize that it's been a long, long time since I've done a nice, snarky fisking. So here ya go:
Regular readers of the Wall Street Journal often are amazed by a marked disjunction between the paper's news reporting and its editorial opinions. Recently, this near schizophrenia has been most pronounced in reports and opinions concerning the Iraq war, global warming and trickle-down economics.

Press-Citizen readers were treated to a somewhat similar display Monday when the paper included an eight-page "news" supplement on the opening of the Riverside Casino & Golf Resort while "opining" that the project was "still a gamble for [the] local economy."

The Riverside Casino as analagous to the war in Iraq? Ooookaaay. 'Cause they're both in a desert? Both involve death, terrorism, and golf? Please, enlighten us.

I understand this is an attempt to demonstrate hypocrisy in journalism, contrasting the PC's conservative articles about the potential effects of the casino with it's apparent endorsement of gambling in another section. Regardless, this has to fall under some kind of a corrollary to the common axiom that any given debate has reached the lowest form of exchange and should be terminated forthwith once the spectre of Hitler or the Nazi party is invoked in a purely hyperbolic manner.

So, new rule: If anyone invokes the "it's just like the Iraq war" analogy to demonize a political issue having nothing to do with the situation in the middle east, George Bush (either of them), or war in general, the conversation has degenerated to the point it's no longer worth pursuing. That said, I'll continue the fisk.
"Shuffle Up and Play," encouraged the P-C's supplement -- with detailed instructions on playing poker, craps, roulette, blackjack and the slots. The few cautions mentioned in this free casino advertising section are minimized as no real threat to students, problem gamblers or the community. Everything is under control. After chronicling the P-C's opposition to the expansion of casino gambling and the Riverside enterprise itself, the Monday editorial goes on to encourage local leaders to "make the most of this opportunity" (an ironic hat tip to its own supplement?), but reminds them that "they can't confuse the money changing hands at a casino with real, long-term investment in the community."

NOTE: the article mentioned is apparently not available on the PC site in electronic form, and since I've no access to the PC this week, I'll have to refrain from analyzing whether he's accurate that the article minimizes the dangers of gambling, and take that as a given. That said, there's more:
Reality check. They already have.

Horse racing, the lotteries and then the "riverboats." Once the state opened the door to gambling (and became dependent on that revenue stream), its continuing expansion was inevitable. The only setback gambling has taken was the repeal of TouchPlay -- not much of a setback at all because that Stanek-devised obscenity threatened the casinos themselves. Riverside will be "on the water" over its vinyl bladders, and its owners will close roads and get water as they please. They will get whatever they want.

Let's examine the logic here. Premise: Once the state opened the door to gambing, expansion was inevitable. Proof: Gambling has expanded since it's inception. Does the term "circular logic" ring a bell with anybody?

Gambling has expanded since the days of a state lottery. Some disapprove of that expansion. Others don't. Regardless, it was not "inevitable, but a process that was debated and argued every step of the way. Unfortunately for gambling opponents, the majority of Iowans appear to want access to gambling and gambling establishments. Otherwise, even if the casinos on the borders of the state were filled with customers from Illinois, Missouri, etc., the interior establishments would be comparatively barren. Last I looked, they aren't. They're fairly full with Iowa citizens who have apparently decided gambling isn't so bad. Casinos are being built because people want to go to them, and vote accordingly. Disagreement with the outcome is not indicative of a flaw in the process.
But here's the reality folks. Your regular visit to the Riverside Casino will cost you about $57 -- the average loss for Iowa casino visitors last year (not including visits to the three American Indian casinos). That's not counting your drinks, tips or the cost of getting down to Riverside. Chances are the average loss in this casino will be higher than $57 because somebody is going to have to pay for all those "amenities" -- like the golf course, events center, etc.

Most of this money won't be recirculating in the community. It won't be supporting honest local businesses. Can we afford this? . . . .

Here's where the fundamental disconnect between gambling proponents and opponents occurs: define "loss?"

If I go to a movie theater and blow $10 for a ticket and $7 in snacks in exchange for an hour and a half's entertainment, have I technically "lost" $17? If I head to New York or Chicago for to a theater show and blow $80 on a ticket, $70 on dinner and $150 on a hotel room, is this a $300 "loss" - which doesn't even begin to cover the cost of travel and other such "amenities"? How about when I ante up an average of $5 to $10 for my weekly poker games with the guys? If I don't end up in the money, is that a "loss?" Or are all these examples of my exercising a rational (okay, mostly rational) decision on how to spend a finite amount of money I've earmarked for entertainment purposes?

The average visitor to this casino will spend $57 for an evening's entertainment, not including dinner. If memory serves, that money would buy me an average of three to four hours at a blackjack table. So, who decides whether this is a valid entertainment expense for me, or nothing more than a "loss?" I personally don't feel $10 to $20 per hour for entertainment is outrageous. I happen to enjoy playing blackjack and poker. So, for me, that's not a "loss." Granted, I gain no material benefit from the exchange of money for my time (unless I win, which has been known to happen). But that's no different from seeing a movie or a show, going skiing, or even making a road trip to Great America or the zoo. With all these occupations, I've generally learned nothing, acquired no material possessions, and spent a sizeable amount of money, yet I don't consider them a "loss." I really don't see the difference.

As to the second issue, confusing money spent at the casino with support for my local community, I'm afraid I must make a frank confession at the risk of losing my official "Iowa" status. When deciding what to do on a Saturday night, I rarely ask myself the burning question: "Will my entertainment dollars stay in my local community?" Shocking, I know.

I mean, I do frequent local bars, but I have no idea how the ownership structure of these establishments function. For all I know, they could all be a front for some obscure Columbian drug ring. I also attend movie theaters, many of which belong to large national conglomorates whose offshore accounts are beyond my comprehension. I do support local theater, but who knows where Menard's got that lumber we used to build the set? And where does that royalty money go, anyway? I think it's in New York somewhere, but there is the distinct possiblity that foreign travel enters into the equation.
Can we afford the costs of increased policing, crime, embezzlements, divorces, child neglect, bankruptcies and suicides? The truth is, no one is going to be keeping track of any of this.

Divorce, bankruptcy, child neglect, suicide, all over $57. Wow.

Yes, I realize that for some people gambling is a serious problem. For others, alcohol is their drug of choice. If these people do not seek help and excercise control over their respective addictions, it is quite possible that any of the tragedies listed in the article could happen. In the case of alcoholism, there's also death by alcohol poisoning to worry about. Some would argue that makes it incumbent on us to eliminate these temptations - re-enact prohibition, ban gambling. Live life by the weakest common denominator. I don't personally ascribe to that philosophy. Given the popularity of gaming establishments and bars, it appears the majority of Iowans agree with me.
Can you personally afford to gamble? Got enough in the bank to put your kids through college and retire? Paid off that mortgage? Got enough socked away for this winter's heating bills? Ready for the threatened dismemberment of Social Security, Medicare and your pension plan?

Ever notice how people tend to view entertainment money as incredibly wasteful, if it's not being spent on their chosen form of entertainment? I've known people who would spend several thousand dollars on fishing gear or sports paraphrenalia, yet cringe at the thought of buying a $100 pair of heels. I've seen people who sneer at the amount of cash spent on video games and gaming gear, while spending thousands on books or stereo equipment. Be honest: would any of you who gasped at my outlining a $300 expenditure for an evening of theater in Chicago blink at spending the same amount to go to a choice away game for the Hawkeyes? Note: remember to equate my dinner tab to your bar tab, and factor in for memorabilia. I'm just saying.

As anyone who's been in a serious relationship knows, entertainment dollars are precious and often hard choices must be made as to where and when they are spent. It's generally incumbent on each partner to be cognizant of the priorities of the other, and to give equal weight when deciding how to spend entertainment money, since it's all technically "wasteful" in the sense it's not required for the essentials of life. Similarly, I try to view everyone's choices on entertainment through a tolerant lens. I may think it's insane to spend money to buy a sweaty t-shirt worn by some sports figure, but they think I'm nuts for saving up to get the Gianni Bini boots I want this winter (I'm also praying for a sale).

To claim that money should never be wasted on gambling until and unless the mortgage is paid off and the college fund fully stocked can be equated to claiming that there's no money to go to a movie, see a show, or take that trip to Adventureland because you're not yet completely prepared for retirement. You could live life this way, and if that's your idea of fun, good for you. I'll send you a postcard from my next vacation, something to help tide you over until that magical age of 65.
If you're really hard up for casino-style entertainment, here's an idea. Put up some flashing lights in your bathroom. Put on the music of your choice. Get some really nice hors d'oeuvres and mix your own drinks. Now start flushing $20 bills down the toilet. When you've finally had enough "entertainment," at least you can remind yourself that you saved on gas and didn't pollute the environment.

Casinos are for losers.

Personally, while I can see the attempt to equate gambling machines with flushing down the toilet, I'm not so sure the analogy holds. There's no opportunity to hit or "double down," at least not without clogging the machinery. Maybe if you roll a ping-pong ball around the rim of the bowl, you might be able to approximate some sort of roulette-like experience . . . and that's not even touching the whole "floor show" issue.

In other words, while rational arguments against gambling exist, this article does nothing more than rehash unsupported hype and inflammatory rhetoric. Attempting to pull in the Iraq war was a nice touch, but ultimately served less to enhance the article than to further refine the rules against hyperbole in debate.


Second, there's this article, basically an ad for the Christian Science religion dressed up as a memorial to Nile Kinnick:
Nile Kinnick is a hero worth celebrating. It is about time we Hawkeye fans get to know more about this fascinating individual as is happening through events around the stadium renovation and the new play, "Kinnick." His well-rounded nature exhibits not only exceptional athletic and student abilities, but also a deep spirituality as a student of Christian Science that motivated him to be the best he could be.

As a student of Christian Science, Kinnick studied the textbook, "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures" by Mary Baker Eddy, which fully explains the Christian Science and its method of metaphysical healing. As the term science implies, Christian Science not only involves the search for understanding God or the supreme being, but also opens the door for demonstration of divine principles or laws which, when applied, result in healing of sickness as well as overcoming sin in fulfillment of understanding.

There is a record of Kinnick's spiritual healing of an ankle injury by turning directly to God in prayer alone with the help of a Christian Science practitioner. A practitioner is an individual who prays for healing for those who call upon them for help.

I find the piece annoying, primarily because I prefer my prostheletizing straight up, thanks. Talk tenets and principles, leave the whitewash aside.

It also raised an extraneous question I've always had about that religion: a major tenet of the faith, as confirmed by the official Christian Science sites, death isn't real and if you practice their religion correctly, you shouldn't be subject to its effects. From the February 21, 2005 issue of the Christian Science Sentinel:
The Founder of Christian Science, Mary Baker Eddy, made this penetrating comment: “The Scriptures say, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God,’ showing that Truth is the actual life of man; but mankind objects to making this teaching practical.” She was using man in the term’s generic sense—representing all men and women.

Truth is the actual life of man—that’s an idea vaster than a galaxy, and it begs for exploration. And explore it is exactly what Mary Baker Eddy did in her life-long effort to discover and practice Jesus’ spiritual method of healing.

In doing so, she became one of the world’s greatest advocates for the right to know oneself as the creation of Spirit, exempt from sin, disease and death. This knowledge, she believed, was the divine Science of healing that everyone had the ability to learn and prove.

Mrs. Eddy learned that Jesus wasn’t just speaking figuratively when he described eternal life as the knowledge of God and of himself. He demonstrated that knowing oneself to be God’s spiritual and immortal likeness acts as the mental power that restores and maintains health now—and eventually overcomes death itself.

From the May 2006 issue of The Christian Science Journal:
Matter-based concepts such as birth and death are generally seen in a far too superficial way. We can be birthed a little bit into mortality every time we decide to enter a darkened doorway. On the other hand, we are avoiding a measure of death as we choose a more divinely lit vestibule, spiritual-mindedness, instead of material-mindedness. Matter isn’t really the substance we suppose it is.

Mrs. Eddy grasped the very heart of matter by describing it as “a false form of mind.” Christ Jesus called on us to repent, to change our thought. Have you ever considered repenting of matter? That could be a call to change from a false, or materialistic, way of thinking to a spiritual, or God inspired, way of seeing life and existence.

As we close off those corridors of thought that lead right into matter, we’ll find ourselves increasingly conscious of a matterless, but far more concrete and permanent, reality. We’re discovering that materiality wasn’t reality after all.

A mistake about reality? An illusion of reality? From an entirely Spirit-based reality, matter isn’t any of these. It isn’t any kind of reality. In other words, from a fully awakened, infinite, perfect, and spiritual consciousness, there never is a limited, discordant, matter-based reality.

Given all this, I question how one could consider Kinnick, my now-deceased relative, or even Eddy herself a successful practicioner of the faith - after all, not to put too fine a point on it, they're all dead now. Or "not material". Whatever. Doesn't that rather bespeak a fundamental flaw in the belief system itself, when not one of the members - including the founder - achieves the level of spiritual enlightenment promised by the sect? Just asking.


So, hey, it's now past noon and the snark has all worn off. It's sunny and I'm not at work, and I'm going to enjoy the rest of my day.

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