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Sleepless in Fulham: Rambling and gambling by David Young
Friday, 7 July 2006
"So basically I met one nice French person."
Topic: Politics

Interesting story from France:

From the article: 

"A new body will try to boost financial literacy and communicate the benefits of wealth creation more effectively. ..

[Ministers] are worried about what they see as an over-reliance on the state and a lack of entrepreneurial dynamism.

The Council for the Diffusion of Economic Culture will operate under the auspices of the finance ministry when it launches later this year."

So the French are to get a government body to explain to them how to understand free market economics and thus reduce their reliance on ... government bodies! I love it.

Separately, Tripod, the blogging service I use, has made some upgrades to its software. I think it's having some teething problems though. Comments don't seem to appear until I write new posts. I'll have to dig around and see whether my settings have been altered or just hope that things clear up.

Thursday, 6 July 2006
Tales from the Vic.
Topic: Poker
About six months ago a regular recreational player at the Vic told me that he was trying to get the management to change the structure of the £100 game from two blinds of £2 to two blinds of £3. He insisted this was necessary to make the games better and that it would get rid of the 'rocks'. I tried to explain that it would merely make him lose money 50 per cent faster. He wouldn't listen.

Soon after that converasation, the Vic did just what he wanted. Yesterday I met him again. Noting that there was no omaha game running at 8pm and that the omaha action had been pretty weak for some time, he asked me 'David, where are the omaha players? What's happened to the game?'

This isn't the only costly change that the club has made. Back in February, the decision was made to move the cash games to the upstairs floor. It was done on the same day that the card room manager went on holiday. At the time I had minor reservations about whether it would affect the liveliness of the action, as the games would be less accessible. But what really annoyed me was that players were subjected to the piped music from the overhead speakers and that we were also made to hear the music from the restaurant.

After six days in which I lost four times, I decided that I could no longer accept the chance that these irritations were affecting my game. So I told Jeff that I wouldn't be back for a while and settled down to playing online. That was in February. It went OK, but with the arrival of summer I don't want to be sat indoors, as my flat gets very hot and I crave air-conditioning. So I went back to playing at the Vic a couple of weeks ago and found that it was much quieter than it had been in January. The festival week was very poorly attended, apart from the Monday and the cash action on other days was far below the level of a normal festival.

It seems that the Vic has finally noticed the problem and from Monday next week, cash games are moving downstairs. Rejoice! Rejoice! I'm not saying that the downstairs room is a paradise. The air-conditioning is erratic and the room is small for its needs, but it will be a joy not to have to listen to the karaoke waiter who sings in the restaurant every night and the dreary ballad music from the overhead feed.

Sunday, 2 July 2006
We have to change the way we think about property and education.
Topic: Politics

Here's an irony - I've been buying the Daily Express this week! No, I haven't changed my mind about Diana conspiracy theories. I still think it's a rubbish paper, but when I found out it was giving away copies of the Michel Thomas teach yourself Spanish course over eight days, I couldn't resist. I love collecting that stuff.

Most days I've barely glanced at the paper itself. Today's copy is still unread. But on Friday I read the cover story about property prices and was stunned to read this piece of logic from Peter Bolton King of the National Association of Estate Agents, following the release of figures from the Bank of England showing that the UK's total mortgage debt has topped £1 trillion and that prices were still rising:

"Many owners are relying on property as a source of income for the future, whether it be as a general investment or a nest egg for retirement, so with property forming the foundation of many people's future financial security this latest news is very heartening. Also it's worth pointing out that a positive housing market relates directly to the high street economy so it's essential the current improved picture continues, and that means continued low interest rates."

If this is typical of how middle England actually thinks then this country is in deep trouble. High house prices are good for only one thing - encouraging the development of new housing. And thanks to the anti-development bias in the planning permission system, they don't even achieve that. To see why Bolton King's argument is so ridiculous, try reading it out loud, but substituting 'Microsoft shares' instead of 'property' and 'monopoly of the market for operating systems' instead of 'low interest rates'.

We have to change the way we think about property in this country if we are to be as economically dynamic as the US. From the same newspaper, here's Fionnuala Earley, group economist of Nationwide:

"Someone on average earnings would now need to spend 42 per cent of their take-home pay on mortgage repayments, compared with just 32 per cent three years ago".

It's hard to see how a society can flourish when people are spending two pounds out of every five they earn on the roof above their heads. Something has to give and that something is Britain's future. The UK's low fertility and birth rate isn't solely a function of high property prices, but it's one of the first places I'd look if I wanted to solve the problem. This article from the Telegraph states the facts:

Price boom, baby bust.

"In the late 1980s, the average age of a first-time buyer was 23: it is now 33. People are now living with parents for longer, or are sharing rented accommodation. Often they must pay off student debt before they can even start to save for a deposit on a house."

How to destroy a society in two easy moves - saddle the brightest and most talented with debt during their period of greatest fertility and then move them to cities where house prices are so high that they can't afford a home large enough to have a family. With any luck they'll die childless and never pass on their genes or life experience to anyone else.

What else could be done to cripple your society? Come on, you can't expect the housing market and student loans to do everything! What about sending your cleverest children to single-sex schools, so that they delay encountering the opposite sex until much later in life? That's bound to cut the number of children with high IQs in the next generation. No doubt you've been told the line that it's all worth it, because single-sex schools achieve better results for girls. Well it turns about that this is bogus.

Single-sex schools 'no benefit for girls'

'The reason people think single-sex schools are better is because they do well in league tables,' said Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research. 'But they are generally independent, grammar or former grammar schools and they do well because of the ability and social background of the pupils.' Their success should not be used to argue it is better to separate girls and boys in other settings, he added.

So for decades now, the bright ambitious middle class people have delayed the emotional development and sexual experience of their offspring ... and it's all been for nothing.

All of these things anger me. The Middle Classes matter and it should concern us when they are unwilling or unable to raise the next generation. I'm not just saying this because I'm generally considered 'middle class' myself. I sincerely believe that societies with extremes of rich and poor with little in between are dysfunctional. Of course the key challenge is to facilitate the upward mobility of the people at the bottom, but bolstering the numbers in the middle helps too.

The Telegraph spells out the problem:

The middle classes are letting us down: they must breed more.

Fat chance of that happening when we put every possible obstacle in their path.

_ DY at 3:02 AM BST
Updated: Sunday, 2 July 2006 3:03 AM BST
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Friday, 30 June 2006
Essential Reading - Islam can vote, if we let it.
Topic: Politics
Here's another piece for the essential reading section. It's shorter than the others.

Islam Can Vote, if We Let It

_ DY at 7:28 PM BST
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Thursday, 29 June 2006
What puts Americans off football?
Topic: Misc.
Why doesn't football interest Americans? Many reasons have been suggested, chiefly that it's low scoring, has a lot of draws and doesn't allow for commerical TV interruptions. But could there be something more? The Weekly Standard, a conservative US publication, has an article suggesting that it's the sight of players pretending to be injured in order to manipulate the referee that will ensure that the game never takes off in the the US:

"Turn on a World Cup game, and within 15 minutes you'll see a grown man fall to the ground, clutch his leg and writhe in agony after being tapped on the shoulder by an opposing player. Soccer players do this routinely in an attempt to get the referees to call foul. If the ref doesn't immediately bite, the player gets up and moves along. Making a show of your physical vulnerability runs counter to every impulse in American sports. And pretending to be hurt simply compounds the outrage."


I wasn't convinced by this thesis when I read it several days ago and I'm still not totally sold on it today. But the sight of Thierry Henry clutching his face as he dropped to the ground, despite not being touched anywhere near it, did sicken me and made me wonder whether the writer has a point. I can imagine US viewers shaking their head in disbelief that this goes on in a professional game's World Championship.

Is there not a mechanism by which players who've clearly dived and faked injury can be penalised after the game when the video evidence clearly indicates what they've done?

_ DY at 6:01 PM BST
Updated: Thursday, 29 June 2006 6:58 PM BST
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Tuesday, 27 June 2006
Contradictions in liberal causes.
Topic: Misc.
I found an interesting science story on the BBC news site today.

Womb environment 'makes men gay'

A professor at Brock University in Ontario is claiming that being gay may be genetically predetermined. I can't comment on the accuracy of the findings. What interests me is the consequence of this. Suppose for a moment that a simple test could be devised to determine whether a male foetus is 'gay'? Should it be allowed? Would parents have a right to know? And if yes, then should they be allowed to demand an abortion if they don't want a gay son?

I don't know the answer to these questions. But I'm sure that some parents would abort a son on those grounds. The dilemma is interesting because abortion is often considered a 'liberal' cause, along with gay rights. But if such a test were to exist, then this natural alliance would cease to make sense, because abortion could then be used to make 'gayness' a thing of the past.

This isn't the only contradiction among liberal causes. While I quite admire Peter Tatchell for his attacks on Robert Mugabe's homophobia, I was rather surprised by his naivety in complaining about homophobic remarks made by Sir Iqbal Sacranie, head of the Muslim Council of Britain. Tatchell said that it was "tragic for one minority to attack another minority ... both the Muslim and gay communities suffer prejudice and discrimination" and "we should stand together to fight Islamophobia and homophobia."

That's not going to happen ever. Perhaps this is the high point of 'gay culture'?

_ DY at 5:12 PM BST
Updated: Tuesday, 27 June 2006 5:22 PM BST
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Sunday, 25 June 2006
Groups and nerds.
Topic: Misc.
Peter Birks wrote an interesting piece last weekend about Reinforcement. Writing from the point of view of someone who used to be an alcoholic, he explains:

"When drinking you avoid social circles including non-drinking people. Indeed, to you, the drinker, it is these people who seem weird. Instead you either seek out other drinkers or, more seriously, you avoid everyone. If you are outside in a major conurbation one sunny afternoon and you see half a dozen "dossers" sitting on a couple of park benches, drinking Diamond White, just consider the fact that they might see us as the weird ones. They reinforce their own view of the world."

and goes on to explain the phenomenon in more general terms:

"Which would you prefer, a feeling of "being normal" amongst others of a similar ilk, or a feeling of horrific alienation? The former, obviously. However, the downside of this comes when you see a group of, say, computer geek male adolescent student types in a pub (or any other group of which you aren't a member) and you look at them.

Women on 'intelligent' radio shows, for reasons which somehow escape me, often mock these little self-contained groups of the socially asymetric, without (or so it appears to me) asking themselves the rather simple question of why things get that way."

It dawned on me a few days later that Peter and others who find this topic interesting should check out this excellent essay by Paul Graham:

Why Nerds are Unpopular.

It's long but very rewarding. I wish I'd read it 20 years ago.

Friday, 23 June 2006
Glasgow club raid.
Topic: Poker
I saw David Colclough at the Victoria last night and asked him about the stories that the Cincinatti Club had been raided by police. He informed me that:

The police had entered the club and taken cards and chips as evidence. No money was taken.

The police said that they think the operation is illegal.

The police did NOT press charges, nor did they tell the club to cease operations.

Business is continuing.

Thursday, 22 June 2006
Why does anyone buy the Daily Express?
Topic: Misc.
I can understand why people buy the broadsheet papers. I can understand why people buy the Sun and the Mirror. The former contain news and analysis. The latter contain humour and gossip. But I've always struggled to understand why people buy the Mail and the Express. Their news content is poor and they don't titillate. What's the point?

In particular, I'm really struggling to understand why anyone still takes the Express after it's spent months and months trying to expose some great cover-up about the death of Diana in 1997. Do the readers actually believe that the paper has found anything? Does it not strike them as odd that none of the other papers have commented on it at all?


Here is a small sample of Daily Express front covers concerning Diana's death. There are several pages of them!

_ DY at 2:46 PM BST
Updated: Thursday, 22 June 2006 6:50 PM BST
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Tuesday, 20 June 2006
My world is now theirs.
Topic: Poker
When I first started playing poker in the mid 90s, I couldn't understand why the game wasn't more popular than it was. I explained my new found love to friends and family and was amazed to see their eyes glaze over in boredom.

I can't say my family has changed its opinion much, but the wider British public certainly has. What's more amusing is the influx of celebrities. Last night I went to the Sportsman for its £250 freezeout and found myself playing Teddy Sheringham on the final table.

After picking up some money for finishing third, I headed over to the Vic to see who was in town for the festival week and found Vicky Coren playing an Irish boy-band singer. There are few clearer signs of how much things have changed than seeing someone who's been in the gossip columns and supermarket celeb magazines for years wailing 'How can he call me with eight-five'?

Welcome to my world!

_ DY at 10:41 AM BST
Updated: Tuesday, 20 June 2006 10:45 AM BST
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Saturday, 17 June 2006
Extraordinary scenes from poker and chess.
Topic: Poker
There's been a lot of rubbish written about online poker on the Gutshot forum recently. I don't know who these people are who think that you get more freak outdraws online than live. I've never seen any evidence for it myself. I can sit and play online for hours and hours and never see much that's out of the ordinary.

Just for the sake of it, here's a hand I saw live in an omaha game at the Western yesterday night. On a flop of:

Jc 9d 8c

two players got all their money in.

A had Qs Ac Qd Td

B had Ad 5d Qc Tc

so they both had the nut straight, while B was freerolling on the clubs. In the event though, the next two cards came Jd, 8d to give A the backdoor straight-flush! What was particularly annoying for B was that he had the nut diamond draw, so he couldn't lose to a backdoor diamond flush. Ouch!

Changing the subject for no reason ...

I look at every day for their daily puzzles. The problems start off easy on a Monday and get progressively more difficult until Sunday when there is no point in trying to work it out, you just go straight to the answer and find out what 14 move combination Spassky inflicted on so-and-so at the Leningrad interzonal in 1963 etc.

I used to spend ages studying chess. Eventually it annoyed me that I didn't seem to get any better at it. I've wasted a lot of time looking at games played by people much better than me. Much of it goes over my head. But it's worth it every now and then when you find a gem like this one:

Petrosian v Pachman, 1961

Petrosian's final combination is a thing of beauty. Just once in my life I would like to find a killer move like 21.Bg7

_ DY at 12:35 PM BST
Updated: Saturday, 17 June 2006 2:15 PM BST
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Friday, 16 June 2006
It's the demography, stupid!
Topic: Politics
Another piece to add to my essential reading collection.

Much of what we loosely call the Western world will not survive this century, and much of it will effectively disappear within our lifetimes, including many if not most Western European countries.

Read the whole thing.

Wednesday, 14 June 2006
About online poker.
Topic: Poker
I get a lot of requests for my view on the alleged fixing of hands in online poker. Here is what I had to say about it two years ago:

I haven't changed my mind since.

But there is another point I want to make while I'm here. And that's that No Limit cash poker is different when played online rather than live, though not for the reasons that most people give. I'm not referring to the fact that people might be less embarrassed to make bad calls when they can't be seen or that there are no tells.

It's the stack sizes.

If I play at the Vic, I will typically start with about £400. Given that the big blind is £3, that's approx 133 big blinds. Others are sitting down with a grand or more. That's 333 big blinds.

Contrast this with the situation on Victor Chandler for instance where you can only sit down with 75 big blinds, or most other sites where the limit is 100 and many people sit down with a lot less. It's a totally different game. The shallowness of the money means that it's 'best-in, best-out' poker. The implied odds aren't there if you want to play unusual cards in raised pots. They do exist however at the Vic.

I have a friend who wins at online SNG. He wins at live cash. But he loses at online NL cash games. And that's because the stack sizes don't suit his style. In live play, he sits with about 500 big bets and plays some wacky cards. In SNG, he plays tight when the blinds are small, but aggresively later on when they are worth winning. But in online NL cash action he's stuck. The money isn't deep enough to reward taking risks with non-premium hands, but the blinds are not worth stealing like they are in an SNG. Add in the fact that winners tend to 'hit and run' in online play because they were only planning to play for short periods anyway and you have a recipe for disaster for those who can't play tight.

He's not alone. There are bound to be plenty of others like him. And many of them bombard forums with the 'I can win live but not online, it must be rigged' blather.

_ DY at 9:47 PM BST
Updated: Tuesday, 20 June 2006 10:47 AM BST
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Tuesday, 13 June 2006
Topic: Misc.
A cousin in Canada has sent me a link to the trailer for a new film called 'Shining'. Seems like some sort of uplifting family/romantic comedy.

Check it out:

_ DY at 4:12 PM BST
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Monday, 12 June 2006
Loose thoughts about the World Cup.
Topic: Misc.
1) Is there a special place in hell for people who fly England flags from French cars? Should there be?

2) The term 'Mexican Wave' has long annoyed me. Many people think that the practice started at the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, but you can clearly see a high school basketball crowd doing it in the 1985 Michael J. Fox film 'Teen Wolf'. Wikipedia has earlier citations.

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