November 30, 2010

Comments On Comments,
With a Follow Up on Following

I greatly appreciate readers who take time to comment on a post, whether to give feedback or to offer a different perspective on an issue.  In fact, I would welcome even more comments than are the norm for crAAKKer; let me hear from you!  However, a couple of recent posts have received higher than normal comments, with a couple of minor issues arising which I think merit some brief meta-comment from me.

  1. Comments on crAAKKer always have been unmoderated, meaning comments post immediately without my prior review and approval.  The downsides to that approach are that occasional spam comments get posted, and I do not get to filter out other inappropriate comments prior to posting.  For now, I think the unmoderated system is working fine, given the volume of comments posted.
  2. I do not have a specific comment moderation policy, as I am a firm believer in free speech and the value of a robust debate.  Thankfully, to date I have only deleted a handful of comments, all because they were spam for various businesses of dubious nature.  I hope this continues to be the case, and I am confident crAAKKer readers will continue to comment in a civil manner.
  3. I would ask that readers leaving comments review their comments prior to posting to ensure that they are not an unfair personal attack on another commenter, and that their comment does not use unnecessarily inflammatory language.  Civility is the key concept; vigorous debate can be rough and tumble, but should always be civil.  A comment need not reach the level of defamation to violate the civility ideal.  Also, with a nod to Justice Potter Stewart, I may not be able to define incivility, but I know it when I see it.  I definitely reserve the right to delete comments which are defamatory, rude, inflammatory, or otherwise inappropriate.  Unfortunately, I am unable to edit posted comments, so my only option with a comment that crosses into incivility will be to delete the post.
  4. I am actually A-OK with commenters who wish to link to other blogs or websites, if doing so advances their comment, or provides additional information about their comment or the comment author.  I only consider a comment to be "spam" if the primary purpose of the comment is to link to another site.  So please, feel free to link to your blog or website as part of your comment.
  5. If you have trouble posting a comment to crAAKKer, or if you have a concern about a comment, please feel free to email me directly, using this blog title at that server.
On a semi-related issue, I have been gaining a number of new Twitter followers recently, which is also greatly appreciated.  Hopefully you find my tweets entertaining!  Because I get occasional questions about how I decide to follow folks on Twitter, here are some general guidelines:
  1. I do not vouch for anyone who follows me on Twitter.  I periodically review my followers and try to block those which are clearly spam, but there are businesses which appear legitimate which follow me. Use your own judgment as to whether to follow my followers.
  2. I follow people I know personally.
  3. I follow people who I find entertaining, informative, or interesting.
  4. I do not follow people whose posts are essentially hand by hand recitations of poker sessions. Highlight hands are great, but I don't want to sort through three dozen tweets about routine hands.
  5. I do not automatically follow someone merely because they follow me.
  6. I do not follow businesses unless they are a business I personally use and like, and they refrain from spamming via Twitter.
  7. I rarely follow people who protect their Tweets.  This is generally because, for people I don't know, I like to scan their Tweets to see if they are someone I'd like to follow.
  8. Similarly, please note that I do not do "link exchanges" with other blogs or websites.  If I like a website, and feel crAAKKer readers might enjoy the blog/website, then I will link to it, regardless of whether they link back to crAAKKer.  If I don't link to your site, it doesn't mean I don't like your site, it merely means I just don't think linking to your site is appropriate for my readers.
These are obviously general guidelines, but I've found that I need some basis for limiting the number of Tweets I receive each day.  Currently, I can expect to find 50-100 new Tweets to scan through every couple of hours during the day, and more on weekends.  I find y'all incredibly fascinating, but there are practical limits to how many Tweets any person can process in a given day.

'Nuff Said (v. 1.0)—Tapping the Lead Crystal

Plenty of poker bloggers (e.g., F-Train, Poker Grump, me) have addressed the "Don't Tap the Glass" maxim, which essentially states that it is stupid (i.e., unprofitable) to complain when people play poorly against you and win, because it merely educates them into playing better.  And don't we have enough smart players out there already?

Today, Jordan at High On Poker stated this principle better than I've ever heard it before:

If a guy calls you with a 20/80 underdog and then hits, you can berate him and get him to fold all future 20/80 underdogs … and why would you ever want to do that?  You already experienced the 20 side of it, so encourage the bad play and collect your damn 80!

'Nuff said.  Now if only I could figure out why I get the 80 side less than 20% of the time ....

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ 

This is the first in an irregular series of posts where I will highlight thoughts by other bloggers which I find to be particularly well-written, succinct points which are worth passing along, but where I also find I have no real additional commentary to add.  Think of it as a blogger-centric homage to (or rip-off of) Poker Grump's running "Poker Gems" series of quotes derived from a variety of poker media. 

November 26, 2010

Idiot Sports Announcers Watch (v. 1.3)—
Don't Call It a Comeback!

Don't call it a comeback
I been here for years
Rockin' my peers and puttin' suckas in fear ...
Shotgun blasts are heard
When I rip and kill, at will
The man of the hour, tower of power, I'll devour ...
Listen to the way I slay, your crew
Damage! [uhh!] Damage! [uhh!] Damage! [uhh!] Damage!
Destruction, terror, and mayhem
Pass me a sissy so suckas I'll slay him ....

—LL Cool J, "Mama Said Knock You Out"

This morning, I took Berkeley on our "long" walking route, about four miles total.  Along the way, we popped into the vet clinic for something like six vaccine booster shots—who knew dogs could get bird flu?  Of course, I also love the whole "bring in some poop" process—$22 to look at it, $4 to throw it away—not glamorous work, but it pays better than what some might argue is similar work at McDonalds.  About $160 later, Berk is officially the Superman of puppies.

On our walks, I listen to a variety of podcasts on my iPhone via Stitcher radio.  Most of the podcasts are for poker or sports topics, and this morning, I happened to load up the Dan Patrick sports talk radio highlights for this past Wednesday.  What I heard made my blood boil.

Patrick was interviewing Rich Eisen, a major figure and lead commentator for the NFL Network and, official media arms for the league.  Patrick asked Eisen if he had to buy an NFL jersey for his young son, would he pick Michael Vick (Philadelphia Eagles star QB embroiled in a dog fighting scandal), Brett Favre (Minnesota Vikings star QB involved in a sexual harassment scandal), or Ben Roethlisberger (Pittsburgh Steelers star QB enmeshed in two sexual assault scandals)?  Eisen stated that, because his wife was a dog lover who worked with the ASPCA, he definitely wouldn't buy a Vick jersey.

Then Eisen and Patrick went where they shouldn't have gone.  Patrick suggested that Vick, who is having a statistically remarkable season on the football field, should be a contender for the NFL's "Comeback Player of the Year", awarded each season to a player who has demonstrated perseverance in overcoming adversity (typically an injury).  Eisen emphatically stated that Vick already has Comeback Player of the Year "locked up".  If true, then the NFL has truly abandoned any pretense of caring about character over cash.

It's not just Eisen and Patrick drinking the Vick-comeback Kool-Aid.  This week's Sports Illustrated cover story also refers to Vick's "comeback" and "rebirth".  In fact, it seems many (if not most) major sports writers and broadcasters are firmly in the "bygones" camp in covering Vick, choosing to applaud Vick's athletic exploits with barely more than an apologetic "he deserves a second chance" nod to his criminal past.

ESPN columnist Rick Reilly suggests that, "in a backward way, Vick has been the best thing to happen to pit bulls" because he raised public awareness of pit bull fighting.  Well yes, by all means, let's give Vick a citizen of the year award for his efforts.  And while we're at it, let's give O.J. Simpson an award for raising public awareness of spousal abuse.  Reilly also suggests that we forgive Vick because he's "remade" himself into the "the most exciting athlete in American sports" by paying more attention to his diet, training more diligently, and working harder in practice.  Ya know, there are plenty of exciting athletes out there to applaud who seem to have learned those lessons without needing 18 months in federal prison for motivation.  Perhaps we could find two or three of them to hold up as paragons of virtue?

Another ESPN columnist, Bill Simmons, actually went further into absurdity in justifying his Vick worship.  Simmons actually repeated Reilly's "Vick did a favor for animal rights" nonsense, only he explicitly drew the comparison to O.J. Simpson and spousal abuse!  While we're at it, let's take a moment to recognize Tiger Woods for his strong work in support of traditional family values.

Simmons also suggested we are all "hypocrites" about animal cruelty because most of us enjoy eating meat.  I'll go Simmons one better.  Growing up on a farm, I've actually been a part of the meat industry on the production side.  I've castrated pigs, branded cattle, and been on a slaughterhouse "kill floor".  The difference between those in the meat industry and people like Vick is that the meat industry does not engage in animal cruelty for sport and gambling.  The purpose of the meat industry is to provide food, while the purpose of dog fighting is let a bunch of guys get their jollies watching two dogs tear each other to shreds in what are generally lengthy, bloody battles.  The meat industry minimizes the pain inflicted on animals (or at least does not cause gratuitous suffering to animals), while dog fighting thrives on maximizing brutality.  Michael Vick doesn't get off the moral hook for electrocuting dogs merely because many of us enjoy a good steak or pork chop.

Simmons also makes the absurd suggestion that Vick—animal torturer and felon—is a better person than LeBron James—basketball superstar who has never been so much as arrested—because "LeBron steadfastly refuses to admit his 'Decision' [to leave his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers for the Miami Heat] was ruinously handled from start to finish." Seriously?  You want to stake the credibility of your support for Vick on that argument?

Now, there is one point where Reilly, Simmons, Patrick, Eisen, and their ilk are absolutely correct—Vick has served his prison time, and if the NFL and the Eagles want Vick representing them, that's their business.  Even though many felons after prison find themselves shut out of lucrative employment opportunities, Vick is under no obligation to turn down millions of dollars if some team is willing to pay him for his services.  If Eagles fans and fantasy football enthusiasts want to root for or gush over Vick, that's their right. Heck, I even understand the sentiment for Vick's fans—"Vick may be a felon, but he's our felon".*

Here's the thing.  Just because Vick has served his time, and is saying and doing all the "right" things, doesn't change the fact of what he did.  Vick financed an illegal dog-fighting business, looking to profit off of the torture of animals as a form of entertainment and gambling.  Vick also wasn't merely a passive investor, he got his hands dirty—and literally bloody—by participating in the killing of several dogs.  Vick wasn't someone committing a youthful indiscretion, nor was he caught in an addiction beyond his control. So please, can we all stop the nonsense talk about how Vick has overcome "adversity"? Adversity is something that happens to someone beyond their control; adversity is not the consequence of a personal moral choice. Adversity is an injury, an illness, a family tragedy. Vick's serving time in federal prison was a well-deserved punishment, not adversity.

For those fans who can stomach Vick's past off-field conduct, Vick's current on-field performance is certainly exciting.  For sports journalists, Vick's resurrected career is an attention-grabbing topic for punditry.  For the NFL and the Eagles, Vick's athletic prowess is certainly lucrative.  Frankly, if the league is sufficiently bereft of dignity and talented, non-felonious stars, Vick's cornucopia of highlight reel plays might well make him worthy of being named league MVP.

But, please, don't call it a comeback.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

As you make your year-end charitable contributions, please keep these worthy organizations in your thoughts, or look up your local chapters of these groups and donate your time, cash, or needed supplies, or even help an animal find a new, loving home.

American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA)
The Humane Society of the United States
The Animal Rescue League (ARL) (Iowa chapter)

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Just a reminder, when someone is dismissive of criticisms of Vick because "all he did was kill some pit bulls", here are some examples of the breeds of dog Vick consigned to torture and death.

(Image source).

(Image source).

(Image source).

(Image source).

*  There are plenty of sports teams at all levels of play fielding players of questionable moral character.  Coaches, fans, owners, and/or administrators alike all have to reach some decision on where to draw the moral line regarding whether they employ, coach, or root for a particular player.  Even my beloved Huskers are not immune.  In my mind, Tom Osborne's legacy will always be tainted by his decision in 1995 to reinstate Lawrence Phillips to the team after suspending him for physically assaulting his then-girlfriend.  Although Osborne likely had Phillips' best interests at heart, and the Huskers did not need Phillips (they had a pretty serviceable backup RB in Ahman Green), nonetheless the fact remains that the Huskers chose to keep a pretty unsavory character on the team on the way to a second consecutive national title.  And Husker fans cheered.

November 24, 2010

Ode On a Grumpy Urn

  When old age shall this generation waste,
     Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
   Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say'st,
'Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
    Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.'

John Keats, "Ode On a Grecian Urn"

During my recent trip to Vegas, I had the pleasure of playing a session of poker with the Poker Grump.  Now, the Grump has already chronicled the events at the Venetian, so there's no reason for me to rehash matters further.  Well, other than to point out, yet again, that I managed to stack the Black Widow of Poker with Yaks on back to back hands. Hilarity ensued!

No, the point I wanted to make is that, although the Grump pretends to be misanthropic, in reality he is a merely a very reserved individual, one who likes to take in the scene more than be a starring actor in the play. But when he decides to open up, he is wicked smart, witty, and a big-ol' teddy bear.  Well, a teddy bear who will still steal your pic-a-nic basket of chips, but it's hard to blame him for that.

Although I may have played poker with the Grump a dozen or so times over the past three years, the session a few weeks back was among the most enjoyable.  Once he got a table change and secured the seat on my left (muttering something about "position", whatever that is), and got himself logged into the comp system (dragging out a set of what looked to be maybe three dozen players club cards), we started chatting like old friends.  Or maybe father-son; one dealer once stated we looked like father-son (I'm not entirely certain which of us should feel more insulted).

We chit-chatted about the upcoming election, poker news from Washington and South Carolina, and a dozen other random, tangential topics.  When I got a text message from the folks puppy-sitting the Berkster, along with a picture of the disaster he and his buddy Fritz had wreaked after escaping their kennels during the work day, the Grump proceeded to throw out a series of horrific puns and witticisms to sum up their exploits.  Afrer enduring a couple dozen "hound" and "dog" based suggestions, I finally accepted the Grump's suggested label of "The Houndinis".  Yes, yes, he'll be at the Venetian all week.  Please tip your server.

Later, our chat turned to the card-capper I was using—a 20 drachma Greek coin given to me by George of Mr. Filet fame.  The Grump inquired who was on the coin, and I told him I couldn't remember, but knew it was a famous figure in Greek history (once again, my brilliance shows).  I suggested it was perhaps Philip II of Macedon, father of Alexander the Great.  The Grump wasn't so sure, but suggested, "Wouldn't it be great if there were some electronic database of information one could access, maybe by phone, to look up information?"  I agreed that would be a great invention.

A 20 drachma coin like mine.  (Image source).

Of course, after my trip, the Grump emailed me to inform me that, somehow, he had been able to identify the figure on the coin as Pericles.  Of course, with my background as a philosophy and religion major (and a fraternity member), I suppose I could have attempted to translate the Greek lettering, "ΠΕΡΙΚΛΗΣ" ("Perikles" in English), but I was on vacation, and was in a no thinking zone.  I have to admit, though, that I lost seconds of sleep worrying about the identity of the dead Greek dude on my card-capper.  Thank gawd for the Grump!

Another topic that came up were the ads I had observed on Las Vegas buses for "half-price lawyers".  Coming from Iowa, one of the most restrictive states for lawyer advertising, the blatant consumerist approach of the ads was rather shocking.  But, as the Grump and I discussed, the ads were also curious since there are a number of situations where one doesn't necessarily want the half-price professional—lawyers, doctors, food inspectors, pilots, exotic dancers ...  In any event, the Grump later sent me a link to the Half-Price Lawyers website, complete with catchy jingle.  So, if any of y'all find yourselves in a Vegas jail (not that I would expect that of my high-class readers), now you know where to find a lawyer.  You're welcome.

As for the poker itself, I rarely found myself in a hand with the Grump, not because I was avoiding him, but because his style usually meant he had a hand when he did play.  In a way, I think the Grump thrives off players like me.  I make my money in Vegas by being the loose, loud, splashy, dare I say flamboyant player, who gets paid off when usually tight, cautious folks finally decide to make a stand against one of my monster hands.  The Grump, however, uses players like me to pry money loose from the tight-fisted players, and maybe to tilt them in the process.  The Grump then exacts a tax on my style of play by forcing me off my more marginal hands.  It's not a bad poker ecosystem, so long as there are plenty of drunk tourists to provide the chip-plankton to feed us both.

In any event, the Grump's recent write-up of our Venetian poker session included a thought from his dear friend, Cardgrrl:  "If you showed most people what you show me ~ your humor, your kindness, your generosity, your interest, your curiosity about the world, your playfulness and creativity, and your perceptiveness ~ they would absolutely like you."  Well, I can second that the Grump has all of those qualities in spades (or in crubs, if you prefer). Except for the generosity part.  If I ever win a monsterpotten off the Grump, then we can reexamine his generous spirit.

Maybe I'll get the chance in a couple of weeks.  If not, then our team, "The Knights Who Say 'Nit'" damn well better win the WPBT last longer challenge!  Either way, I'm definitely looking forward to my next fix of the Grump.

November 23, 2010

Playing Iron Cross with Poker Litigation

A couple of decades ago, I was a college student just learning to play poker in the dorms (with ringleader Santa Claus).  Although it was a nickel-dime-quarter sort of setup, some of the games turned into relatively high stakes affairs, at least as judged by poor college kid standards.  One of the regular games with routine monsterpotten was Iron Cross, particularly when the middle card (and others like it) played as wild.  There's nothing more exhilarating than seeing the middle card give you quads or a straight flush, and nothing more tragic than seeing your only out hit the board—sitting on the wrong arm of the cross.

Several news stories recently reminded me metaphorically of Iron Cross, as poker was in the news for reasons other than litigation, yet the news still directly intersected with ongoing poker litigation battles. For starters, in South Carolina, a low stakes poker game was recently raided by a police vice squad using a SWAT team.  Unfortunately, the raid went poorly, with the game operator shooting through the door and hitting a police officer (apparently out of fear his game was being robbed), resulting in the operator himself being shot in the return fire by the police.  From the comments to the Pokerati article, it seems very hazy as to whether a SWAT team was appropriate for the circumstances; KenP offers some thoughts as well.

I honestly don't know enough about the pertinent background facts to comment on the propriety of the police officers' actions.  Certainly, serving warrants is dangerous business, and police often do not know the risk connected with any particular raid, so it's entirely understandable if they err on the side of too much force.  On the other hand, there are plenty of reports of overzealous law enforcement vice squad raids where families (in particular young children and pets) are placed in harm's way, only for the police to find out they are at the wrong location, or they discover only trivial amounts of drugs.  All I can tell you is to read the news reports and draw your own conclusions.

What I do find interesting is the timing of this particular raid, less than a month after the South Carolina supreme court heard oral argument in the Chimento poker-legalization appeal.  If local law enforcement officials are anti-poker, arranging the well-publicized raids of a few poker games makes for a pretty effective campaign strategy.  Regardless of the motivation for the raid, it's undeniable that the optics of this raid could hardly be worse for the pro-poker side—"illegal" home poker game raided, SWAT forces used, police officer shot in a gun "battle", all in time for the late night news.  I'm not sure the pro-poker side had much of a chance of winning in Chimento as it is, but this raid likely was the last nail in the coffin.  There's really no way I can see the court handing down an opinion now which essentially would say, "That cop who got shot last November?  Never mind, those folks weren't committing a crime." 

Turning our attention across the continent to that great bastion of moral purity, Washington state, where gambling is strictly forbidden—except for lotteries, horse racing, tribal casinos, and state-licensed card rooms.  OK then, Washington state, where online gambling is strictly forbidden (a policy preference roughly akin to legalizing swingers clubs and escort services, while outlawing sexting and online porn sites).  In the first intersection of news and poker litigation, the Washington supreme court's Rousso decision, upholding the state's ban on internet gambling (including internet poker), was back in the news as Full Tilt Poker followed the lead of PokerStars and banned players from within the state of Washington from playing real-money games.  Frankly, my prior comments on the PokerStars withdrawal from the Washington market apply equally to Full Tilt:

For PokerStars to tie its decision to pull out of the Washington state online poker market to the Washington supreme court's Rousso decision is beyond disingenuous.  PokerStars has been violating Washington state gaming laws since at least the enactment of the online gambling ban, and most likely as long as it has been in business....  There was nothing magical about the Washington supreme court ruling that suddenly made online poker illegal in the state.  The PokerStars withdrawal is all about creating the appearance of caring about state gaming laws, while generating a smokescreen to hide its past blatant disregard for those laws.

Of more interest to me was news that the author of the Rousso decision, Justice Richard B. Sanders, lost his re-election campaign, apparently in large part because of his rather interesting personal life.  To poker players, seeing the outspoken and rather libertarian Sanders not only voting against legalized online gambling, but also writing the opinion, had to have been a cruel disappointment.  However, in an election where Iowa voters ousted three qualified judges merely because they had the temerity to do what they felt justice required, it sort of balances the scales a bit to see Sanders—who voted against gay marriage and joined a stridently anti-gay concurring opinion in doing so—also looking for work.

The most interesting intersection of news and poker litigation, however, arises from the recent announcement that federal authorities in Washington seized over $550,000 in cash from a Canadian payment processor, and is seeking to seize the company (or its assets) for what the federal authorities are alleging to be illegal money laundering activities.  Essentially, the legal mess arises from UltimateBet's use of the company to process cashout checks for its players, with the company disguising the payments as "payroll" payments.

It's intriguing to me that the investigation began back in July 2009, nearly a year before the Washington supreme court heard arguments in the Rousso appeal.  It makes me wonder if maybe the federal authorities had intended for the investigation to move more quickly, perhaps to be concluded before an adverse decision by the court, or perhaps to influence the court's consideration of the case.  In any event, the seizures have to put something of a cloud over the Full Tilt and PokerStars decisions to withdraw from the state.  If the federal authorities decide to seize, or even merely to track, the massive number of cashout checks for Washington online poker players, one wonders what kind of legal fallout might result.  Don't be shocked to hear of more federal raids of payment processors connected to Washington poker players over the next year.

Finally, in the realm of the purely theoretical at this juncture, the federal Travel Act makes it a federal crime to use "the mail or any facility in interstate or foreign commerce, with intent to:  (1) distribute the proceeds of any unlawful activity ...", and defines "unlawful activity" to include "any business enterprise involving gambling ... in violation of the laws of the State in which they are committed."  I'm not saying PokerStars and Full Tilt have committed or are committing any crimes, but I bet the federal authorities could make the Washington state cashout process really interesting for those companies if they wanted.

High stakes, indeed.

November 22, 2010

Idiot Sports Announcer Watch (v. 1.2)—
Dana Jacobson Defies Oprah

This morning, I had a meeting out near my house, so I worked at home for a bit.  I had on ESPN2 in the background, to catch a bit of the sports talk shows Mike & Mike In the Morning and First Take.  On First Take, the ever-exuberant (sometimes overly exuberant) Dana Jacobson was hosting, and was engaged in a phone interview of Jets' receiver Santonio Holmes about his role in the Jets win over the Texans, when suddenly (around the 2:05 mark):

Holmes lets out an exclamation.  Jacobson quickly realizes Holmes is driving while doing the interview.  Holmes indicates another driver cut in front of him while moving into his lane.  Jacobson tosses out the witty comeback, "Does he not realize you're Santonio Holmes?!?  What's he doing?"  [Umm, just guessing, he has no clue Holmes is driving anywhere near him.].  Jacobson then chides Holmes, noting that "Oprah would be mad at us for having this conversation while driving."  [If there had been an actual collision, Oprah is a ways down the list of people concerned.].  Finally, Jacobson settles on an awkward segue, advising Holmes to "Save those hands!  They're game-winning hands!"  [Yup, get in a wreck, go ahead and lose your legs or suffer brain trauma, just so long as your hands are safe!].  All in all a couple of shining minutes of peppy coverage trivializing a near-tragedy.  Bravo, Dana Jacobson! 

Out of curiosity, I wonder how the ESPN suits felt about Jacobson continuing the interview for another few minutes post-mishap.  At that point, ESPN knows Holmes is on the phone, and has narrowly avoided a collision.  Even if Holmes was not at all at fault, ESPN is still knowingly engaging him in an interview while he drives.  It just doesn't look good.  God forbid any sports star actually gets in a collision during a phone interview.  In any event, it's really not a laughing matter.

Much like this:

Jacobson has some liquid inspiration before insulting
Notre Dame, Touchdown Jesus, and, well, plain-ol' Jesus.

November 21, 2010

Bo, Beebe, and Bullsh*t

Last night, the Huskers took a brutal loss on the road at Texas A&M.  Now, although the Aggies had been playing better over the past month since replacing their starting quarterback, the Huskers were still a favorite to win the game.  Thanks to a tough Aggies defense, however, the Huskers fell, 9-6.

During and after the game, Huskers fans erupted on Twitter and fan forums to complain about the officiating (I even posted a few referee-related Tweets during the game).  The officiating controversy wasn't merely imagined by paranoid fans:

Let’s not try to pretend that the 16 penalties called against Nebraska, compared to just two for A&M, didn’t carry a disproportionate degree of impact in an even-steven and hard-fought defensive battle. Let’s not try to deny that the reality of Nebraska leaving the Big 12 didn’t loom over the proceedings at Kyle Field in College Station, Texas. Does this mean there was a conspiracy? No. Let’s nip that in the bud. However, the words “appearance (or suggestion) of impropriety” will trip from a lot of lips Sunday and Monday morning. That’s not good for Dan Beebe’s image as the commissioner of a league that might not be long for this world.

Most importantly, let’s not ignore the woeful, this-cannot-possibly-be-true nature of the roughing-the-passer penalty called on Nebraska’s Courtney Osborne (what an ironic last name, eh?) late in the fourth quarter. The hit – which was not late, and which did not hit any part of A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s helmet – failed to meet any standard for a personal-foul penalty. It was as standard-issue a hit as anything seen on any gridiron in week 12. Yet, it drew a piece of yellow laundry, and it directly led to the Aggies’ game-winning field goal. It’s impossible to look at this game and not conclude that one call – a judgment call poorly arrived at and then unrevoked – decided the outcome. It’s not as though the Aggies made a good play or did anything.

—Matt Zemek, on Scout.Com

Look, the numbers don't lie.  In Big XII play, the Huskers are the most-penalized team, and the Huskers' opponents have far, far fewer penalties than the opponents of any other team in the league, leading to monstrously unbalanced penalty yardage differentials.  Throw in the lingering bitterness over the Huskers' decision to leave the Big XII (even if it was precipitated by Missouri throwing itself at the Big 10, and Texas refusing to commit to the conference on a long-term basis), and Husker fans are starting to wonder if Big XII Commissioner Dan Beebe is pulling the strings on a conspiracy of Texas schools, referees, and the Illuminati to deprive the Huskers of a Big XII title.

Such conspiracy theories are bullshit.  Beebe has never bothered to disguise that he is the personal lackey of Texas.  But what conspiracy theorists overlook is that Beebe's only concern is making as much money for the Big XII as possible, to maximize the income of his Longhorn masters.  With Texas in the tank this season, Beebe wants—no, needs—a Nebraska-Oklahoma Big XII championship game, and hopefully some way to get both teams into lucrative BCS bowl games.  With the Huskers and Sooners each taking second losses, the double-BCS scenario is most likely shot, but the teams are still on track to meet in the conference title game, which will still maximize ratings far more than would a Missouri-Oklahoma St. game.

Also, what conspiracy nuts forget is that any conspiracy would require far too many people to keep it a secret.  Further, even though I think several of the referees in the game last night (conveniently the same crew as for the Texas game earlier this season) are either too incompetent or too easily swayed to officiate at the college level, I completely refuse to accept that any referee who worked hard to get to the major college level would ever jeopardize their position by agreeing to throw games for any reason, let alone for something as petty as a conference's fit of spite over a team leaving for greener pastures.

Finally, Husker fans would do well to keep in mind a few additional points, which to my mind completely eliminate the entire conspiracy theory nonsense:

  • In both the Texas and Texas A&M games, despite the questionable calls/non-calls, the Huskers still had plenty of chances to win.  Against Texas, there were at least three TD passes dropped by Husker receivers, and several Texas drives involved third-and-long plays converted because of Husker defensive breakdowns.  Against Texas A&M, the Aggies only put up nine points. If your offense can't generate 10 points in a game, stop whining about the officials; your team's problems go way deeper.
  • If the conference really were out to spike the Huskers, then how do you explain the Huskers' rather dominating wins against division powers Kansas St. and Missouri?  Did someone forget to tell those reffing crews the fix was in?
  • Husker fans love fiery coach Bo Pelini.  But when a coach is constantly screaming at officials, is it all that surprising that those officials start to get a little defensive, maybe look a little harder for calls to make against that coach's team, even anticipating calls?  Let's be honest, Husker fans, Pelini acted like a spoiled brat yesterday, and it wasn't the first time.  Maybe Big XII officials are fed up with his act, and since the Huskers are leaving the conference, they feel little need to worry about keeping Pelini and the Huskers happy by taking his abuse.  Pelini should spend the off-season working on his sideline demeanor, and get off on the right foot with the Big 10 referees.
  • Husker fans should also recognize that, maybe, just maybe, the Huskers have caught their fair share of officiating breaks over the years.  I suspect if you talk to fans from the traditional "also-rans" of the former Big 8 and Big XII, there would be plenty of examples of games where conference powers like the Huskers, Longhorns, or Sooners got the benefit of some sketchy officiating, which coincidentally seemed to keep those teams in the rankings and the national title picture.  Sometimes, karma can boomerang.
In any event, the Huskers still control their own destiny.  If they beat Colorado on Friday, they go to the conference title game against the winner of the Oklahoma-Oklahoma St. game.  Win that game, and a BCS bowl is a lock.  So, Husker fans, it's time to let go of the conspiracy theories and give up the "woe is us" whining about officiating.  It's time to focus on enjoying the fun of college football again!

November 17, 2010

D-Bag O' the Day (v.1.16)—The FDA Goes "Loko"

Over the past couple of weeks, several states have overreacted to a spike in alcohol-related deaths among college students by rushing to ban a popular alcoholic energy drink—Four Loko.   Like many popular energy drinks, Four Loko contains caffeine, taurine, and guarana, with a 23 ounce can providing roughly the equivalent caffeine content as a tall Starbucks coffee.  Four Loko also contains alcohol equivalent to many malt liquor beverages, ranging from 6% to 12% ABV (12-24 proof).  By comparison, most wine is roughly 12%-15% ABV, while hard alcohol generally clocks in at 35%-45% ABV (70-90 proof).

Anyway, I didn't think much of the Four Loko loco-ness initially; after all, it's hardly news when a state or municipal government does something silly to "protect" its residents from the health crisis du jour.  But the Four Loko crisis achieved D-Bag O' the Day status when the federal government decided to get involved:

Last November the Food and Drug Administration warned 27 companies that they probably were breaking the law by selling beverages that contain alcohol and caffeine, since this combination has never been officially approved.  Today, after a year of review, the FDA is expected to announce that it was right; caffeinated alcoholic beverages are illegal.  Rather than seize all existing stocks of Four Loko, Joose, etc., the FDA probably will send more letters, warning the manufacturers that they are producing "adulterated" beverages.

—Jacob Sullum, "Four Loko Banned ... by Its Manufacturer (One Step Ahead of the FDA)", Reason Hit & Run Online (Nov. 17, 2010).

Let me get this straight—putting caffeine in an alcoholic beverage creates an "adulterated" beverage?!?  Excuse me, but we aren't talking strychnine, or cocaine, or opium here.  We're talking about caffeine, quite possibly the world's most commonly used "drug".  In a typical day at the office, I probably drink 3-5 cups of coffee, and down an additional 3-5 cans of diet cola.  At the poker table, I routinely drink a diet cola, cup of coffee, or cup of green tea every half hour, for stretches of up to 15 hours at a time.  I suspect there are tens of millions of American adults who consume substantial amounts of caffeine on a regular basis.

So is it the combination of alcohol and caffeine that poses a health risk?  Some of the people interviewed for stories about Four Loko seem to think that combining the intoxicating effect of alcohol with the stimulant effect of caffeine somehow creates a dangerous situation by making drunk folks more alert.  Has the FDA ever heard of, oh, maybe ... Rum and coke?  Whiskey and coke?  Irish coffee?  Or how about the premier cocktail of the young and trendy for nearly a decade—Vodka Red Bull?  Hmm, that seems an awful lot like an alcoholic energy drink.  Frankly, the alcoholic content of some Vodka Red Bulls likely exceeds the alcoholic level of Four Loko; it can be hard to know the alcoholic content if one doesn't see the drink being mixed. 

College kids have been mainlining Vodka Red Bulls at clubs, at parties, in bars, and at the poker tables for years now; on my Vegas poker trips the past few years, I would have to say that Vodka Red Bull is the most common mixed drink ordered at the poker tables (followed closely by classic caffeinated booze cocktails like Jack & Coke and Captain & Coke).  Although I personally hate the taste of Red Bull, many of my friends drink Vodka Red Bulls, including several of the Ironmen while at the poker tables.  I can't see any health hazard from their choice of beverage, though it certainly doesn't help their meager poker skills.  It's no coincidence that Vodka Red Bull has earned the nickname "The Devil" (or "The Debil" several drinks in to a session) among the Ironmen.

Alcohol-related deaths are always tragic, because they are preventable.  Alcohol-related deaths among college-age (or younger) folks are especially tragic, given that they usually arise from binge-drinking (often with some sort of peer pressure involved).  But these deaths are not the result of an energy drink problem nor a caffeinated alcohol problem; they are the result of an alcohol abuse problem.  Kids can easily mix up an alcohol-energy drink cocktail if they want.  Banning premixed versions of such beverages won't solve a binge-drinking problem, and may in fact make the problem worse if kids wind up mixing their own super-strong versions of Vodka Red Bull (or their personal alcohol-energy drink cocktail of choice).  Back in my college days, beer kegs were banned from campus parties.  So, we turned to hard liquor, and got hammered on kamikazes, lemon drop shots, cheap tequila, bad vodka, Captain & Coke, Jack & Coke, and of course, Jägermeister.  I have no doubt the keg beer was actually safer for students.  I suspect a similar phenomenon will occur with today's kids.  The FDA's ban on caffeinated alcoholic beverages won't stop kids from binge-drinking and occasionally dying.  All the ban will do is change the kind of alcohol they consume while binge-drinking.

To be blunt, this FDA ban of alcoholic energy drinks is worse than pointless.  The ban is a superficial bandage that makes the public think their government has acted decisively to fix an alcohol-related death problem, when in fact the real issue—our country's culture of youth binge-drinking—continues to fester untreated.  It's shameful that the FDA, with its expertise in drug safety, is pandering to the public hysteria over these alcoholic energy drinks without any scientific evidence that the drinks are any more dangerous than caffeinated or alcoholic beverages in general, or pose any health risk not found with cocktails which use a caffeinated mixer.  The FDA's pious posturing on this issue is nothing more than a public relations charade.  It's enough to drive one to drink.

Vodka Red Bull, anyone?

November 16, 2010

How to Train Your Yaks

"There are three ways to play jacks, and they're all wrong."

Mark Seif on the Professional Poker Tour (not necessarily original with him).

Hiccup: [reading in the Dragon Manual]  "Eats its victims. Burns its victims. Buries its victims, chokes its victims, turns its victims inside-out."

How to Train Your Dragon

Every poker player dreads finding Yaks (pocket Jacks).  We all know the siren song of the Yaks:  "Look at us!  So pretty!  So powerful!  We're nearly invincible!"  Then, you preflop raise, get the inevitable two or three callers, and the flop comes down with at least an Ace and usually a King or Queen to boot.  The Yaks whisper seductively, "They don't have an Ace.  We're still ahead.  Fire away!"  Then comes the raise.  There's always a raise when you have Yaks.  The Yaks lean in to murmur with their clover breath, "It's a bluff.  He's representing the Ace.  All he has is a flush draw."  Well ... hmmm ... yes, that makes sense.  The Yaks run a hoof up your thigh, "Aren't we pretty?  How can you turn us down? Soooo pretty!"  You push.  Your opponent snap-calls with Ace-King or a set of Queens.  You throw up a little in your mouth as the Yaks tapdance on your poker soul.  You make the poker player resolution—"Next time I'll fold those Yaks.  Seriously, watch me."

Well, I happen to think Yaks are magnificent, beautiful cards that are just misunderstood.  They are so much classier than those trampy suited Broadway cards—don't even get me started on that harlot, King-Queen sooooted.  If you can train them properly, your Yaks will bring you a lifetime of joy and profit at the poker tables.  Mistreat them, however, and they will make your life so miserable, you will wish you had taken up extreme ironing instead of poker as your stupid hobby of choice (extreme ironing—"the latest danger sport that combines the thrills of an extreme outdoor activity with the satisfaction of a well pressed shirt").

As many of you may have noticed, I recently managed to sneak away for a quick trip to Vegas with the sig other and two of his gal pals.  We enjoyed a great suite at the Palazzo, thanks to the awesome poker room rate deal.  I was "forced" to play a lot of poker, while the gals roamed the Strip, shopping and "boozing our faces off".  A perfect arrangement, if I may say so myself.  Best of all, I was able to work in some stellar Yak-training.

Our trip out was a breeze, leaving Des Moines at 8:30 a.m., and checking into the Palazzo by 11:30 a.m. Vegas time.  An oddity we encountered was a flock of birds inside the Denver "B" terminal; seriously, eight or so birds were just hopping and flitting around the empty seats.  Thankfully, there was a flu vaccine kiosk conveniently located in the same terminal, so I was able to ward off the bird flu.  Indoor birds—an inspired, yet devious marketing concept.  Well played, FLU*Ease!

We met up with the gals who took an early flight, and had been boozing on the Strip since 9:30 a.m.  Being on Iowa time, we hit Margaritaville for a quick lunch.  The food is decent for the price, and it never hurts to start the Vegas experience with a frosty tequila-based beverage.  After lunch, the gals headed off for some fun, while I headed back to the Venetian to grind some hours.

The Venetian poker room was packed, thanks to one of its Deep Stack Extravaganza tournaments being in full swing.  I remember my second trip to Vegas, just after the Venetian opened, when the poker room was large, fancy, and nearly empty.  You have to tip your cap to the Venetian poker room's management for having transformed itself into the most popular room on the Strip for both cash games and tournaments.  There's a good reason the Ironman of Poker festivities have been based out of the Venetian four of the past six years.

I got into a $1/$2 NLHE cash game after only a few minutes wait, even though every cash game table—all forty-some of them—appeared full, with the tourney area on the casino floor also jam-packed.  Nothing too exciting happened for a while.  Then, the Poker Grump and the Black Widow of Poker moved to my table.*  Now, with the Grump rocking the deuce-four, and the Black Widow wielding her crub whistle, I assumed that bad things would happen.  Ahhh, but I forgot that I now possess the power of the Yaks!

Oh yes, Yaks, beautiful Yaks!  The Grump, the Black Widow, and I have played a number of interesting sessions, but so far as I recall, we've only had pedestrian monsterpotten, with silly hands like flush-over-flush-over-set, but no deuce-four-vs.-crubs-vs.-Yaks showdowns.  Yet.  But this night was different.  The Grump allegedly bluffed me off a nice pot with a ridiculous 64 sooooted; like that nit would play that junky hand!  On the other hand, my iPhone notes indicate I bluffed the Grump off a flopped set of Yaks with pure rags when the river put a four flush and a four card straight on board.  Kuh-niggut!

[NOTE:  Per the Grump's comments below, it appears I bluffed another player entirely.  I should've known I could never get the better of the Grump!]

The real fireworks, unfortunately, focused on the Black Widow.  In back to back hands in my blinds, I found Yaks.  On the first hand, I took down a nice pot when the flop came all low cards (I don't recall the details, but I think the Black Widow folded in disgust on the turn).  Of course, being a gentleman (and a scholar), I showed the Yaks.  Next hand, my Yaks flopped pretty well, as far as Yaks are concerned—T-9-8, giving me an open-ended straight draw to go with my overpair.  The Black Widow and I got all our chips in the pot on the flop, and I rivered a 7 for the straight (two straights, for my cribbage-playing readers), though I wonder if my Yaks were already ahead.  Although I greatly respect and even, ahem, like, the Grump and the Black Widow, I'll still stack their chips any day.  In fact, as my long-time friend and fellow Ironman Santa Claus can attest, chips won from friends are especially sweet (this was the first anniversary of Santa taunting me in Lincoln after his CyClowns beat the Huskers—I had obtained 50-yard line, front seats to that debacle—then felted me at the Horseshoe on the way home with flopped set over set.  Bastard.).

I eventually cashed out and joined the gals for a disastrous dinner.  I then returned to the Venetian poker room for a few more hours of incredibly unmemorable poker.  I was a winner at both sessions, but honestly don't remember much at all about the swirl of interchangeable short-stacked semi-skilled poker players who donated their chips to me and the house.

The next day, I decided to head to the TI poker room for some poker while watching the Huskers play the CyClowns.  TI's poker room is a personal favorite; even the sig other has told me I should play there more often, since it usually results in his being able to get some extra shopping cash.  Meghan and Michelle were running the show, and they even put me on the cash game list when I phoned in, despite my not leaving my name; talk about customer service!  They also called down to the sports book to get the Huskers game put on one of the poker room TVs. 

I then proceeded to put on a Yak-training clinic.  In the course of about four hours, I was dealt Yaks a total of six times.  Many lesser players would have been driven insane by such a Cthulhu-ian nightmare.  Instead, I yoked those Yaks and played them brilliantly by flopping sets on five of the hands.  On one of the hands, I even turned quads, netting me a bonus wheel spin for $50 in jackpot cash.  As for the hand where I didn't flop a set, the flop instead was A-K-Q.  Mere mortals would have flinched, but no, I knew better.  I simply continuation bet the flop, then turned the Ten for Broadway and a good ol' fashioned stacking.  Nothing better than a four-rack cashout!

Later that night, back at the Venetian, I had my Kings snapped by a flopped set of Yaks, though I got a small measure of revenge when I later parlayed 53 sooooted into a wheel against his Aces-Up.  The next evening, after United Airlines overbooked my flight and then replaced the big overbooked plane with a smaller (and surprisingly still overbooked) plane, I enjoyed two bonus sessions of poker at Harrah's (thanks to the Total Rewards card which hooked me up with a $27 room during the cab ride from the airport back to the Strip).  My first session was Yak-free, though I did lose a big hand with 77 on a flop of Q-8-7 rainbow; we got it all-in and I was up against 88 and ... Q7?!?  Nothing better than drawing dead with two cards to come.

After dinner at KGB in Harrah's, I decided to play a total LAG-maniac donk session.  There were a couple of amusing hands, like where I showed deuce-four of crubs as a bluff.  Another player who follows the Grump (AVPer "acrtp") was sitting next to me, and complained he needed lessons in playing the deuce-four.  Well, the very next hand, I found the deuce-four and used it to stack a guy when I rivered ... something.  It doesn't really matter, as the deuce-four always finds a way to win.  Later, a good player flopped two pair with QJ, and snapped a flopped straight by rivering a full house.  On the next hand, I took down a pot on the flop with QJ, showed it, and declared, "I was on a full house draw!"  The other player smiled once he realized I was joking, and not poking fun at him.  Which reminds me—this trip I saw three near throwdowns, each of which resulted in a player ejection.  Intriguingly, I was not the instigator in any of the fights.

After running up my stack to maybe $800 total, the wheels came off beginning with a hand where I held Ace-Deuce sooooted, and flopped dos pairs with A-J-2.  After a weird min-3-bet of my near-min check-raise, I coulda-shoulda-woulda gotten away from my hand.  But no, I was stupid and doubled up the relative short stack with his infernal Yaks.  Dammit!  Freakin' luckbox to catch a set like that!  Live by the Yaks, die by the Yaks.  I took two more hits with my KK running into AA in a three-way all-in preflop, and when I pushed the flop with top pair against a flush draw that found the river.  Sigh.  If it weren't for bad luck, I'd win at least half of my races.

Sensing that I was getting too tired to swim in what had changed from a koi pond to a shark tank, I cashed out and was heading to my room for a quick nap, when I heard the siren song of the pits.  Hmmm, well, I was in Vegas, why not have some fun with my poker profits?  I sat down and played blackjack for about an hour, deciding to leave once I got up $500.  But, on the way to the cashier, I saw a craps table in operation.  Fancy seeing one of those in Vegas!  I couldn't resist the call of the dice, so I stepped up to the opposite end from the other player.  He went on a good run, then I went on a good run, and suddenly we had a busy table of folks laughing and raking in chips.  At one point, I had my buy-in plus $1,000 in profit in my hand, with another ~$500 on the table.  An ill-timed seven threw some cold water on the fun, and I decided to cash out.  On my way to the cage, the blackjack pit boss said hello, and since she was a nice lady, I sat down to chat a bit while playing a few more hands of blackjack with my favorite dealer, Phil (his nametag said "TC", but he looked like a Phil, and since I tipped well, he agreed to the name change).  After a half hour, I was up another $300, and had to leave to catch my flight.  So, altogether not a bad result for getting bumped from my flight!  (Interestingly, my little degenerate moment nearly tripled my Harrah's Total Rewards tier points, leaving me within a stone's throw of moving up from a gold card to a platinum card.  It's good to have goals!).

In any event, now y'all know how to train your Yaks.

Original image and more about Yaks at the Lance Fox blog.

* In addition to Poker Grump and the Black Widow, I ran into a number of readers on my trip—AVPers AlaskaGal, Mrs. Lederer, zippyboy, Rich/acrtp, and ekirwin; Vegas Poker Now bigshots Yappy Dave, Clem, and MissingFlops; poker bloggers Tarpie and "S" (a/k/a  "Mr. DiceGRRL"); WPBT last-longer challenge teammate CaityCaity (the illustrious "Knights Who Say 'Nit!'", unless we become the "Nits Who Say 'Ni!'"); and at least three other readers whose names escape my increasingly age-addled mind (my apologies!).

November 14, 2010

Fine—And Not So Fine—Dining at Palazzo

Last weekend, the sig other and I were in Vegas with two of his gal pals (and coworkers) for a quick getaway.  Thanks to the Venetian's excellent poker room rate, I was able to secure an awesome 30th floor suite at the Palazzo overlooking their pools and the Strip.  Plus, the poker room rate gives me a built-in excuse for avoiding the gals' festivities:  "I'd love to go shopping and boozing with you, but I have to make sure I get my hours in for the room rate."  [Cue fake wistful smile with sad puppy dog eyes.]

Although I turned the gals loose on the Strip most of the day, I did make sure to meet up with them for one nice meal every evening.  With all the great restaurants available in Vegas, it'd be a shame not to try a few of them out.  Friday evening, I met the gals at the Laguna Champagne Bar for a pre-dinner cocktail.  Laguna is pretty much dead center on the Palazzo casino floor. right along the main corridor from the lobby and Lagasse's Stadium to the room elevators.  Although it is a full service bar, its gimmick is champagne-based cocktails.  The gals had stopped by in the afternoon and found a couple of favorites.  So when we sat down, the gals demanded a round of "Bubbilicious" drinks, insisting they were "amaaaazing!"  When the drinks arrived, the gals realized they had ordered the wrong drink; the Bubbilicious was made with Campari (a variety of bitters), and was neither bubbly nor delicious (Campari is an acquired taste I have yet to acquire).  After conferring with (er, interrogating) the bartender, the gals determined that the cocktail they had tried earlier was the Flower Eclipse, made with champagne and elderflower liqueur, and garnished with a couple of fresh raspberries floating in the pale yellow drink.  A round of uber-tasty Flower Eclipses proved just the ticket for a hilarious recapping of the day's hijinks.  The Flower Eclipse was, in fact, amaaaazing!

Then, it was off to Table 10, an Emeril Lagasse restaurant in the Palazzo, located at the second floor Palazzo Shops level, easily accessible by the escalators in the casino or the atrium just off the casino floor.  The sig other and I had enjoyed a nice, casual lunch in the Table 10 bar on a prior trip, so we were anxious to see what the dinner experience would bring.

It certainly didn't bring iced tea.  Despite several reminders, I'm still waiting for my beverage.

For appetizers, we ordered the crab cake and the cheesy popovers.  The popovers were OK, but not memorable; the hot dinner rolls were significantly tastier.  The crab cake, however, was moist and delicious, sided with a sauce that had a little kick.  Not a bad start to the meal.  The plates were cleared, more wine was poured for the gals, and we sat back to wait for our entrées.

And wait we did.  The gals became impatient after 15 minutes, and soon, the phrase "Where's our freakin' food?" began to be a common refrain randomly thrown into other conversation, humorously at first, then less so.  I'm a little more patient, and was a lot less lubricated, so I kept the gals under control.  But around the 30 minute mark, even I had to concede that things were dragging on a bit.  I asked our server to check on our food, and he agreed.  Ten more minutes passed, and we had neither food nor a report on the food's status.  I again inquired about our food with a different server working our section (our server was nowhere to be seen).  She said she'd have the manager check into it. 

One of our inquiries must have jolted things loose in the kitchen, and nearly an hour after our appetizers had been eaten and probably digested, our entrées arrived.   The sig other's chicken looked and smelled tasty, but when he went to cut into it, it turned out to be as rubbery and dry as wedding reception buffet chicken.  One of the gals had ordered a steak, which came presliced for her.  She had ordered it medium, but the meat was dark red with juices pooling in the center of the slices.  I tried a bite, and found it cooked rare; I love my beef medium-rare to rare, and this steak was on the far end of what even I would find acceptable.  So, I turned to my duck.  I love duck because of its unique mildly gamey flavor, plus it marries well with a variety of sauces (my favorite is a classic sour cherry sauce).  But the best reason to order duck is that, because of its high fat content, it is always rich and succulent.  Duck is essentially impossible to overcook.

Table 10's chefs achieved the impossible.

Our server had earlier provided us with steak knives, which I figured would be unnecessary for a duck dish.  As always, trust your server.  I tried to cut into my duck, expecting it to essentially fall off the bone with little effort.  Instead, my knife slid off the meat.  With a little effort and some sawing, I was able to free most of the meat from the bone, but left behind quite a bit more than I would have expected.  The meat itself was dry and chewy, and the flavor—well, as the old saying goes, "Tastes like chicken."  Of course, had I wanted chicken, I would have ordered chicken.

We ate our meals, and I paid the check, which included the iced tea (I fully expect they will have a fresh glass waiting for me next month when I return to Vegas).  In hindsight, I'm certain what happened is that our poultry dishes were fired first, and the beef dish was overlooked.  So, when we started asking about our food, our poultry dishes were being kept warm (and drying out) while someone scrambled to put out a steak that was undercooked and hadn't been allowed to rest properly.  Now, I know some diners would have sent their entrées back to the kitchen, but by that point, none of us were willing to risk the additional delay.  Plus, I'm just not a guy who sends things back.  I figure if the chef gave his stamp of approval to a dish and sent it out to me, he's telling me he thinks the dish meets his standards.  If I don't like how he cooks, I'm not going to tell him I think he's wrong, I'm just not going to come back again.

In any event, Table 10 was a major disappointment.  In fairness, I have greatly enjoyed two of Emeril's other restaurants in Vegas—his New Orleans Fish House in the MGM Grand, and his Delmonico Steakhouse in the Venetian (site of several Ironman jacket dinners).  Also, even fine establishments have bad nights, and the Table 10 crew may have just been overwhelmed by an unexpectedly large weekend crowd.  But with all of the great places to eat in Vegas, there's really no reason for me to ever return to Table 10.

Saturday morning rolled around, and our crew was off to another Emeril establishment—his Lagasse's Stadium sports bar in the Palazzo.  This is unquestionably a great spot to watch football, with comfy seating, plenty of TVs, and good beer and drink specials so you don't go broke rooting on your team (well, unless you make a silly sports wager).  Based on two visits (the first was last fall shortly after it opened), the Stadium is great for watching sports and having a drink, but skip the food.  The appetizers range from "meh" to "ugh" (the spinach-artichoke dip is more like a slimy soup).  Entrées appear decent, but for the price, there are plenty of better dining options a short walk away.  The Iowa Hawkeyes pulled out a miracle victory, so we parted ways in a happy—and for the gals, an intoxicated—mood.

Saturday evening found the gals hungry and looking for something a little unusual.  So, I suggested SushiSamba, a Palazzo restaurant based on a fusion of Brazilian, Peruvian, and Japanese influences (such a "been there, done that" mix, eh?).  The sig other and I had previously enjoyed dinner at SushiSamba, which is unusual given the sig other's aversion to sushi.  Even with the place hopping and no reservations, we were still seated for dinner before our cocktails were ready at the bar.  The specialty mixed drinks were ~$12 each, and worth it.  I had a caipirhana and a mojito-esque creation; both were exceptional, as were the other random cocktails ordered by the gals.  For dinner, one of the gals and I ordered four sushi rolls; all were good, but our favorite was the creative "Pacific roll" which combined king crab, asian pear, avocado, and a wasabi crema.  The sig other and our other gal each had a steak robata, which came thin-sliced with a variety of dipping sauces; the best was one red pepper-based with a great spicy kick.  For dessert, we shared a plate of fresh deep-fried donut balls, with a hazelnut-chocolate dipping sauce; it was a great way to top off a top-notch meal.

SushiSamba is a bit on the pricey side, but it is a great dining experience if you don't mind spending $60-$70 per person (that's with two cocktails each; deduct $25 from those prices if you aren't drinking).  Also, our server offered to let us name our price per person, and our taste preferences, which she would then give to the chef to create a tasting menu tailored to our group.  Certainly a good option to keep in mind for future visits.

November 11, 2010

A Teddy KGB Dinner

"Just like a young man, coming in for a quickie.  I feel so unsatisfied."

—Teddy KGB (John Malkovich) in "Rounders"

My recent Vegas weekend getaway was helpfully extended by the scheduling geniuses at United Airlines, so the sig other and I unexpectedly found ourselves at Harrah's Sunday evening.  Looking for a casual dinner, we wandered into the relatively new KGB, the upscale burger joint run by "celebrity" chef Kerry Simon.  Being a Food Network junkie, I had a vague familiarity with Chef Simon, but I hardly consider him as famous or as talented as he views himself.  Oh well, huzzah for narcissism!

We waited a few minutes at the vacant hostess stand until a rather provocatively clad young Asian woman approached us.  Now, the theme of the joint is supposed to be some kind of Russian industrial warehouse (just guessing; the decor is rather disjointed), so an Asian woman dressed in black fishnet leggings and a skimpy Victoria's Secret-esque outfit kind of seems out of place.  I suspect my traditional male readers would overlook the cognitive dissonance, while my traditional female readers would shoot withering glares at their male companions.  Seriously, I know it's Vegas and all, but do we really need a tramp one step removed from a porn slapper card seating folks at a burger joint?

The servers were males in jeans and white polos, who took casual attitudes over the edge into excessively familiar indifference.  Apparently management refuses to make sex objects out of their (male) employees.  Good for them, not so good for those of us non-traditional males and traditional females wanting a little equal time.  Still, it was a friendly vibe, so not a bad place for a relaxing dinner.  Also, the ostentatious single block of ice running the length of the bar, chilling numerous bottles of vodka, added a little Vegas pizzazz.

The burgers themselves come either in a handful of specialty burgers, or in a build-your-own approach.  I suspect most folks won't have much interest in the chef's creations, and the sig other and I were in that crowd.  So we commenced building.

Hmmm, $1 for lettuce?  Another buck for tomato?  And mustard or mayo?  And pickles?  And cheese?  And for bacon, mushrooms, or any other relatively standard topping?  Look, there were a few interesting toppings, and one could probably build a hundred different burgers with all the ingredient combinations.  But there were no "wow!" ingredients or interesting side dishes like one might find at The Burger Bar, Le Burger Brasserie, or BLT Burger.  I tried the vodka-cured peppers and was underwhelmed.  My burger itself had gorgonzola, wild mushrooms, and red pepper aioli.  The toppings were fine, but the burger was overwhelmed by the oversized jalapeno-cheddar bun, not to mention overcooked to the point of Saharan dryness (though I requested it medium).  I love sweet potato fries, but the sweet potato tater tots were bland as rice puffs.  The specialty cocktails (we sampled the premium margarita, blackberry mojito, passion fruit Moscow mule, and blackberry Collins) were quite tasty, but they should have been at $10 a pop.

All things considered, it wasn't a horrible meal, but for the price, I could've had a great dinner at any number of better burger joints.  I feel so ... unsatisfied.

November 04, 2010

Halloween Horrors & Happiness

In the wake of the depressing news that Iowa voters ousted three highly qualified judges (including the chief justice, a conservative Republican appointed by former-and-soon-to-be-Governor Terry Branstad), solely because of their vote on the gay marriage ruling, there are some welcome pro-gay links to share.

First, here's an interesting blog post from a mother whose 5-year old son decided to dress up for Halloween as Daphne from Scooby-Doo.  While his mother and his friends were fully supportive, let's just say the other kids' mothers ... disapproved.  Let's let his mother take it from here.
But here’s the point, it is none of your damn business.

If you think that me allowing my son to be a female character for Halloween is somehow going to ‘make’ him gay then you are an idiot. Firstly, what a ridiculous concept. Secondly, if my son is gay, OK. I will love him no less. Thirdly, I am not worried that your son will grow up to be an actual ninja, so back off.

Dang it, now I want to be a gay ninja when I grow up!

In other gay friendly news, a major NFL star, the NY Jets Antonio Cromartie, has signed on to the "NOH8" pro-gay marriage celebrity campaign.  It's incredibly heartwarming to know that a major pro athlete, from one of the more "macho" and presumably chilly-to-gays sports, has the courage to stand up for gay rights.  I may not be a Jets fan, but here's a high-five to Cromartie for his public support.

I must confess, my friends, the road ahead will not always be smooth.  There will be still rocky places of frustration and meandering points of bewilderment.  There will be inevitable setbacks here and there.  There will be those moments when the buoyancy of hope will be transformed into the fatigue of despair.  Our dreams will sometimes be shattered and our ethereal hopes blasted.  We may again with tear-drenched eyes have to stand before the bier of some courageous civil rights worker whose life will be snuffed out by the dastardly acts of bloodthirsty mobs.  Difficult and painful as it is, we must walk on in the days ahead with an audacious faith in the future. ... When our days become dreary with low-hovering clouds of despair, and when our nights become darker than a thousand midnights, let us remember that there is a creative force in this universe, working to pull down the gigantic mountains of evil, a power that is able to make a way out of no way and transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows.  Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

* * * * *

As a note to my readers, I apologize for the slow posting recently.  I've been sidetracked by several work projects, unexpectedly coaching a junior mock trial team (now state-bound!), and a quick Vegas getaway this weekend.  Also, some posts recently required extra time to research, while a dozen or so posts are in various stages of drafting.  In any event, I hope to get back to a more regular posting schedule in a week or two.  Thanks for your patience!

November 01, 2010

The Emperor's New Sunglasses

"I am quite ready," announced the Emperor, and he looked at himself again in the mirror, turning from side to side as if carefully examining his handsome attire.

The courtiers who were to carry the train felt about on the ground pretending to lift it:  they walked on solemnly pretending to be carrying it.  Nothing would have persuaded them to admit they could not see the clothes, for fear they would be thought stupid or unfit for their posts.

And so the Emperor set off under the high canopy, at the head of the great procession.  It was a great success.  All the people standing by and at the windows cheered and cried, "Oh, how splendid are the Emperor's new clothes.  What a magnificent train!  How well the clothes fit!"  No one dared to admit that he couldn't see anything, for who would want it to be known that he was either stupid or unfit for his post?

None of the Emperor's clothes had ever met with such success.

But among the crowds a little child suddenly gasped out, "But he hasn't got anything on."  And the people began to whisper to one another what the child had said.  "He hasn't got anything on." "There's a little child saying he hasn't got anything on." ’Til everyone was saying, "But he hasn't got anything on."  The Emperor himself had the uncomfortable feeling that what they were whispering was only too true.  "But I will have to go through with the procession," he said to himself.

So he drew himself up and walked boldly on holding his head higher than before, and the courtiers held on to the train that wasn't there at all.

— “The Emperor’s New Clothes” by Hans Christian Andersen (1805-75), as adapted by Stephen Corrin in “Stories for Seven-Year-Olds” (London 1964).

The Emperor's New Clothes is a classic children's tale we all know.  The usual lesson drawn from the story is about how the fear of looking stupid often leads us to do or say things that actually are stupid.  Also, there is a certain "speaking truth to power" element that resonates for kids, since the child is the only person in a huge crowd brave enough to state the obvious.

For me, however, I've often been struck by the end of the tale.  The child's cry is eventually taken up by the whole crowd.  The Emperor not only knows he has no clothes on, but he knows that the crowd knows.  Yet, he continues on his way acting as if he is wearing his beautiful robes.  Even more astonishing, the courtiers and other officials also continue to act as if the Emperor is wearing his fabulous new clothes, even though they are fully aware of the truth, and know that the crowd knows the truth.  This, to me, is the real lesson to be drawn from the tale—sometimes people become so invested in an incorrect belief that they will cling to that belief despite any contrary evidence, and regardless of how silly or stupid it makes them look to others.

I thought of the Emperor's New Clothes while researching some case law for my recent discussion of the Pokerhaus lawsuit.  In my discussion, I mentioned an Illinois court of appeals decision, People v. Mitchell, which affirmed a conviction for illegal gambling of the players in a Texas hold 'em tournament.  The interesting thing was that this decision was issued in 1983, and arose out of a home poker tournament* occurring in 1980.  That's right, a court had to confront the "skill vs. chance" issue more than three decades ago, well before the poker "boom" era brought Texas hold 'em and poker tournaments into the social mainstream.

More remarkable than the age of the case, however, is the dissenting opinion filed by Justice Heiple, who expresses rather modern views on poker, gambling, and the futility of prosecuting poker players for illegal gambling:

The position of the State of Illinois on gambling is ambivalent, inconsistent, contradictory and self-serving.  We have state regulated race track betting.  We have bingo.  We have the Illinois State Lottery.  People gamble in their homes.  They gamble on the golf course.  They bet on baseball, basketball, football, and prize fights.  They shop at certain stores so they can be in the store’s weekly lottery drawing.  They buy and sell future’s contracts through their stockbrokers.  They gamble in taverns, private clubs and fraternal organizations.

Gambling is more than endemic in Illinois.  It is epidemic.  Officially, however, it is illegal in most situations.  How is this illegality recognized?  It is tolerated, accepted, smiled at, and, in rare instances, prosecuted.  If all of the illegal gambling in Illinois were totted up for the purpose of computing the percentage of gambling that is prosecuted, prosecutions would equal an infinitesimal fraction of 1%.  No one could doubt that.  Yet gambling prosecutions continue in selected cases.  A good argument could be made that any gambling prosecution is unconstitutional as involving an unequal application of the laws.


The State argues that poker is not a game of skill but is a game of pure chance or luck.  This allegation is a canard.  Anyone familiar with even the barest rudiments of the game knows better.  Pure luck?  Send a neophyte player to a Saturday night poker game with seasoned players and he will leave his clothes behind and walk home in a barrel.  Pure luck?  This is true of bingo or lottery.  But it cannot be said of poker.  The court should take judicial notice that poker is a game of skill.  It cannot be gainsaid, of course, that there is an element of luck in poker.  Of course there is.  There is an element of luck in everything in life.  Even the prosecution of a lawsuit contains an element of luck.  But everything that contains an element of luck is not gambling.

People v. Mitchell, 111 Ill. App. 3d 1026, 1030-31, 444 N.E.2d 1153, 1156-57 (Ill. App. Ct. 1983) (Heiple, J., dissenting).

Regrettably, in the years that have passed since Justice Heiple penned that refreshingly honest and accurate dissent, despite the rise of poker both as a multi-billion dollar international industry and a staple of mainstream media, no appellate court has ever taken Justice Heiple's lead and simply declared that poker is what most folks already know it is—a game of skill with an element of chance.  For a variety of socio-legal reasons, I doubt any appellate court will ever be so bold as to flat out declare poker to be exempt from a state's gambling laws.  The courts, like the Emperor, are often reluctant to admit error and change course once a legal issue is decided.**

Still, it's nice to know there are a few judges out there with the courage to declare that poker is a game of skill, even as the appellate courts continue onward with their "poker is gambling" parade.

* There were nine total players who played in two tournaments.  The first game had a $500 buy-in, while the second game had a $250 buy-in.  The payouts for the big game were divided between the top two finishers on a $3,500 / $1,000 basis.  Pretty high stakes for a sit-n-go tourney back in 1980!

** In fairness to the appellate courts forced to confront the issue of whether poker is illegal gambling under a particular state statute, poker is often explicitly considered gambling by statute or regulation, which ties the courts' hands.  For those courts interpreting a statute which is ambiguous and refers only to "games of chance", if the courts abandon precedent or traditional understandings of gambling and declare poker to be exempt from state gambling statutes, there would be a significant regulatory vacuum for poker, permitting widespread and unregulated poker rooms and tournaments (at least until the state legislatures acted, and who knows what draconian measures they might enact?).  Abandoning longstanding precedents or traditional understandings of statutes can have very real and significant social impact, and courts have to be cognizant of those potential consequences.  Thus, it is often the best course for courts to defer those kinds of major changes in the law to the state legislatures (see my prior discussion about the principle of stare decisis in the poker law context).