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Sleepless in Fulham: Rambling and gambling by David Young
Thursday, 12 October 2006
Minimise casualties or minimise regret?
Topic: Politics

If you know anything about the 'basic strategy' of blackjack, you'll find it painful to watch people play the game in a UK casino. Unlike the US, most people here know nothing whatsoever about the correct tactics and therefore lose at a much faster rate than they should. Watch any table where the same people have been in action for a long time and you'll notice a semi-circle of miserable faces. They're barely even gambling. Most are just giving their money away.

There's a common mistake that most of them make. It comes in situations where they are forced to choose between the lesser of two evils, or in this case, between two plays, both of which are negative equity. An illustration would be the common situation where you have a 15 facing a dealer's upcard 10. It's essential that you hit here. Although the probability is that you'll bust, you'll win more often than you will if you stand and hope that the dealer busts. So why do so many people stand? I think it's because their main concern is to minimise regret. In their reasoning, if they take the card and bust they have brought the loss on themselves, while if they stand and the dealer beats them, it was just an unlucky turn of the cards. Standing pat, while failing to minimise the loss, does succeed in minimising regret.

I didn't think I suffered from any variant of this flaw until I recently read about a couple of moral dilemmas, both of which involve making decisions about whether to kill one person in order to save the lives of others. In situation one, you're standing next to a railway track and you see a runaway train about to collide with five people on the track. If you do nothing they will all die. Near you is a lever that will divert the train to another track. The five will live, but there is a man on the other track who will be killed. Do you pull the lever? My answer is yes. The second situation involves the same out of control train, except that this time you are standing on a footbridge next to a very fat man. You realise that you could push him onto the track in front of the train and it would save the five on the track, but kill him. Do you push him over? Strangely, my answer is different. Even though I can see logically that it's the same question posed twice, my emotions override the logic. Pushing the man over feels like murder, yet pulling the lever doesn't.

http://www.boston.com/news/globe/ideas/articles/2006/08/06/blood_on_the_tracks/?page=full

I'm interested to know how this affects people's attitude's to war - in particular why the war against Iraq has provoked massive outcry around the world, yet the failure to intervene in the 1994 Rwandan genocide (when 800,000 people were killed) got nothing like the condemnation, even though it killed more people. Or why far more people hate George Bush for the Iraq War than hate Madelaine Albright, who claimed that the death of 500,000 Iraqis due to sanctions was a 'price worth paying'.

This week all eyes are on North Korea. What will our leaders do, faced with a choice of minimising casualties or minimising regret?


_ DY at 3:48 AM BST
Updated: Thursday, 12 October 2006 3:54 AM BST
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Monday, 9 October 2006
Mark Steyn replies.
Topic: Politics

Mark Steyn is doing a live question and answer session to promote his new book, America Alone. Despite being a Steyn junkie I've not read it yet, but I know that demographics play a key part and asked a question about family formation. He responded within half an hourL

The whole Q and A is here:

http://www.steynonline.com/index2.cfm?edit_id=64 

But in case that link is broken before you read it, I'll quote our correspondence:

QUESTION: Do you think the birth rate of indigenous Britons would increase if there were more new property being built in England? I'm in my late 30s living in London and like a lot of my friends I missed out on the great house price boom of the 90s onwards. Many of us live like adolescents because the one thing that's worth saving up for isn't available -so what's the point? Almost none of us have children.

In my case, I can't see how I could ever afford to own a home unless their prices fell by about 60 per cent. A three bedroom house, which I would want in order to have a two-child family (needed to keep the population stable) is hopelessly out of reach.

Will there ever be the politcal will to build more in the South-East, where I live? I'm encouraged that the Tories have at last seen what the Green Belt has done to people like me, but will they permit enough building to make family formation affordable or will the votes of the older generation who don't want new houses spoiling the view from their windows win out?

I feel like Britain is turning into a big retirement home.

David Young
England

 

MARK: That's a very interesting point. When I was in Australia, I said that I thought one of the biggest threats to their relatively healthy birth rates was the fact that Aussie cities are among the most expensive housing markets in the world. Obviously London and most of southern England fall into that category, too. Conversely, one of the reasons why America has the healthiest fertility rates in the western world is that it's the country in which it's easiest to get a four-bedroom house with a big yard in a nice neighborhood. Nobody wants to raise three kids in a small apartment. I happen to think that also explains the difference between the US and Canadian birth rates. Canada is, paradoxically, more urban than America, mainly because 99% of it's too bloody cold so the population huddles in cities strung along the border. Londoners earning what by most standards are huge salaries claim not to be able to "afford" children, in part because they've paid half-a-million quid for a bedsit in Hackney. It's not the money, it's that they're paying family-estate-sized money for a bachelor pad. 


Sunday, 8 October 2006
Oil is fungible!
Topic: Politics

A few weeks ago, I used the word 'fungible' to describe money. In case some of you don't know what it means, I quote a definition -

(esp. of goods) being of such nature or kind as to be freely exchangeable or replaceable, in whole or in part, for another of like nature or kind.

When I used it before, I was making the point that money received from one source has the same value as money received from another source, even though people often treat them differently.Today I'm reminded of it because I've stumbled on what I consider to be some well-meaning idiocy - a campaign designed to persuade Americans to purchase oil from countries that don't finance terror. I realise how seductive this notion is (though Canada is actually America's largest foreign supplier) because it's painful to think that you're funding jihad when you fill your tank.

But the idea is utterly flawed. Oil is fungible. If the US were to somehow buy all its foreign oil from sources like Nigeria and Brunei, that would merely remove from the market oil that other nations, like China for instance, could buy from them. And since the US would not be buying from terror-sponsors, China and others would switch to buying oil from terror sponsoring states. And everything's back to square one.


_ DY at 3:57 AM BST
Updated: Sunday, 8 October 2006 4:03 AM BST
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Tuesday, 3 October 2006
Bad news for Al Qaeda.
Topic: Politics

However bad you think things have gone for the coalition in Iraq, its setbacks and mistakes are as nothing to the catastrophic failure facing Al Qaeda's mission in the country. That well known right-wing Neo-Con cheerleading rag The Guardian reports:

'Iraqi tribes launch battle to drive al-Qaida out of troubled province.'

The province in question is Al Anbar, Iraq's largest, and a major part of the so-called Sunni Triangle where opposition to the American occupation was at its most fierce in the aftermath of the war. Its long and pourous borders with Saudi Arabia and Syria made it the entry point for jihadi from both countries. Now it seems they have worn out their welcome. Iraqis have seen up close what they have to offer and are overwhelmingly rejecting it. A recent opinion poll in Iraq shows that 94 per cent of Iraqis reject Al Qaeda, with majorities against it shown in all the ethnic groups: Shia, Sunni and Kurds.

I'm not suggesting that this is the end for them, merely the beginning of the end. Its hard to see their popularity or influence being restored. The government's task now is to stop the disgusting sectarian slaughter in Baghdad, where rival militia groups seek to expel those of the opposite side in order to increase their influence.


_ DY at 7:31 PM BST
Updated: Tuesday, 3 October 2006 8:42 PM BST
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Monday, 2 October 2006
Those we have loved.
Topic: Poker

What has happened to the Victor Poker Cup? The website merely refers to 2005. I can find no reference to this year.

What about the World Sports Exchange London Open? Last year's event at Billingsgate was described as 'inaugural'. There is no mention of 2006 on the website.

While I'm at it, has anyone seen the Walsall Quartermillion kicking around anywhere?

They all seem to be suffering from a chronic case of Chuck Cunningham Syndrome!


Friday, 29 September 2006
History of the Middle East
Topic: Politics

The Egyptians, Assyrians, Hittites, Ottomans, Persians, Babylonians, Greeks, Jews, Romans, Byzantines, Caliphs, Crusaders, Saladin, the Mongols and the Europeans have all at some point controlled some or all of the area we call the Middle East.

This 90 second video shows the history of the Middle East from 3000 BC to the present day.

Fascinating viewing.


Wednesday, 27 September 2006
'Getting in cheap', continued.
Topic: Poker

So when is it correct to play a satellite for a big event? Before answering that, I'll just summarise the problems with satellites:

1) Inflexibility. If you win a ticket and can't exchange it for cash then you're commited to being in a given place at a future date. You may fall ill or have some other emergency in the mean time. What happens then? In addition note that in the UK, if you don't arrive in time to play the first hand, you are disqualified. If you have paid in cash, you'll get a refund. If you won a satellite you won't.

2) Tying up the money in the poker economy. If a card room runs satellites for an event that is far in the future, it ties up money that could otherwise be in circulation in the room's other tournaments and cash games. This can't be good for business. Of course not all that money is lost, as there are people who would play a satellite who wouldn't play a tournament or cash game with the same money. But even that extra money can't be a net gain for the core business, except in the rare situation that it generates another seat for someone who wins big in the main event and returns to the room to play with it.

3) Vulnerable to cheating. Satellites with more than one seat on offer are more vulnerable to cheating than any other form of the game. This is a tricky one to explain, as I don't really want to inform dishonest people why it's true, though it's fairly obvious once you realise that there is no difference between first and second prize. The silver lining in this cloud is that satellite finals tend to be watched and supervised closely, so that chip-passing ought to alert attention.

Before addressing the reasons why it can be correct to play in a satellite, I should make clear that I'm not addressing 'Grand Prix' events like the William Hill Grand Prix and the Grosvenor Grand Prix. These aren't satellites in the true sense, as you cannot buy in to the final with cash. However the point about the vulnerability to cheating is still true in the heat stages. It could be said, however, that someone who plays in a Grand Prx heat could just as easily play in a regular tournament of the same size and structure and use winnings to fund themselves in a big tournament of the same size and structure as the Grand Prix final. To illustrate by example, consider the Grosvenor Grand Prix. The Heats are £100+10 to enter and a seat is worth roughly £1,500 give or take a hundred. A player could just as easily enter a £100+10 competion, win £1,500 in it and then enter a £1,500 event at a future festival. This would achieve the same thing as winning a seat in the Grand Prix, with the added benefit of flexibility and reduced vulnerability to collusion.

I'm also not talking about one-table satellites. I'm less critical of them for two reasons. Firstly the collusion issue is either much less important or totally absent; I'm not sure which. Secondly they tend to be held much sooner to the event for which they are being held than multi-table satellites. If you relish the chance to play a sit'n'go with only one prize and you would have every intention of entering the main event if you won the same amount in cash obtained in some other way, I don't see anything wrong with playing a one-table satellite, particularly if it's held less than 48 hours before the main event.

So when is playing a super-satellite correct?

1) Only game in town. You may find yourself in a card room where there is nothing else to play. It's happened to me a couple of times, such as recently when I drove a friend up to play the second day of a two-day event in Luton on a weekday afternoon. In this situation, I didn't mind participating in the afternoon super-sat, as my time would otherwise have had zero value.

2) Added money, freeroll, FPP, guarantees.. There are times when money is added to the prize pool by sponsors, such as Blue Square does in the fortnight before each festival at the Victoria. That adds value. There is also nothing wrong of course in playing a freeroll or using up FPP online. You may sometimes find a satellite with a guaranteed seat where the number of runners is so low that the sponsor is forced to add money. It's fine to play in all these situations.

3) The standard of play is worse than in similarly priced tournaments.. This is perhaps the most important consideration of all. Given the nature of the satellite philosophy - the idea of turning a small stake into a very large win - it's possible that satellites attract some very poor players with big dreams. I certainly notice that there are some people who appear in the Victoria in the fortnight before every festival whom I don't see at any other time of year. I hear reports from friends who do play satellites that there is some seriously bad play in them and that many people don't grasp the increased importance of survival. I would have thought that this was obvious, but anecdotal evidence suggests that it isn't. Some people I consider decent but not spectacular tournament players do seem to reliably win seats for big events through satellites and this may support the thesis that the standard of play is far poorer.

Despite arguing against the expansion of satellites, I must confess that I have moments when I get caught up in the idea of 'getting in cheap' and going on to win a big score. I'm soon brought back to Earth when I remember that there is now no shortage of tournaments in London where sums of two to five thousand pounds can be won against a field of 25 to 60 opponents and money won in those can be used for any main event you fancy. Check out the schedules for the Sportsman (Monday+Friday), Western (Tuesday), Palm Beach (Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Sunday) and Gutshot (Saturday). I didn't understand why I had these moments of satellite daydream irrationality until I read that FT article I mentioned before. It's a common behavioural trait that people value money differently according to how it is obtained and knowing that it's irrational doesn't make the feeling go away. It merely tells us to think again.


_ DY at 2:53 AM BST
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Monday, 25 September 2006
'Getting in cheap'.
Topic: Poker

There's a book for sale in a glass cabinet in the Vic's card room with a title I find amusing. It's called Win your way into big money hold'em tournaments. It amuses me, because I can't stop wondering how that's any different to 'Win money'. After all, if you win enough money playing poker in any of its forms, you can use it to enter a big tournament. It doesn't have to be earned in a satellite. I've had this debate with many people before and I even wrote about it for the Gutshot site. 

There were times when I wanted to shout 'Money is fungible!', but it would have been no use, because it wouldn't have meant much to most people. But I came across an article on the FT website today that uses almost the exact same remark ( "Money is a fungible commodity" ). The article is worth reading, because it touches on the same illogical behaviour in consumer spending that people tell me about in poker.

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/ebe247e0-4a4b-11db-8738-0000779e2340.html

Instead of 'I'll play a big comp if I can get in cheap through a satellite, but if I won the cash I wouldn't buy the ticket with it', it's the idea that people will spend a casino cash win on a frivolous purchase, but would spend money inherited from a dead relative on something sensible. The difference derives from what the author calls the 'mental account'. Put simply: "We put a different value on money depending on the source of funds".

It may derive from some evolutionary programming in our minds, but it's illogical nonetheless. That's why I have a problem with super-sats. They seem to require the willing suspension of disbelief, rather like watching a ventriloquist with a dummy. The fun is gone if you see straight through the act. There are a few reasons why playing a satellite or super-satellite might be a good idea and I am going to give some thought to them this week. But in general, remember that money is fungible and 'getting in cheap' is a myth, particularly when there is a vibrant secondary market for tickets and your decision to play the event in question instead of selling means you've forgone the money that you could have sold the ticket for.


_ DY at 9:46 PM BST
Updated: Tuesday, 26 September 2006 4:08 PM BST
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Saturday, 23 September 2006
The Peak Oil cult.
Topic: Politics

If you don't drive a car you may not have realised that petrol has dropped in price at the filling stations by several pence a litre in the last month. This follows similar falls in the price of crude oil

See Chart  

For me personally it's good news. I like to drive. I'm also pleased to learn that there's recently been a large find in the Gulf of Mexico that will increase US reserves by about 50 per cent. You'd think that everyone in the West would welcome this. But you'd be wrong, for there are some people who derive a perverse pleasure at the thought of oil running out. They account for some, though not all, of the so-called 'Peakniks' - believers in the theory of 'Peak Oil' - the idea that world oil production is peaking.

I can't see anything good in oil running out suddenly. Obviously there has to be a finite amount of oil in the world, as Earth has a finite size, but I've been hearing that oil's 30 years away from running out for about err ... 30 years now. So I'm inclined to scepticism about Peak Oil alarmism and indeed the claims of most environmentalists on most things. Their behaviour reminds me of religion more than science. They demonise their critics, deride the pursuit of material wealth and preach the imminence of misery unless their calls are heeded today.

Here is one Peak Oil believer whose faith is starting to melt away:

http://peakoil.com/fortopic23731.html

This hapless unfortunate has invested a great deal emotionally in the idea that the depletion of the Earth's resources will bring about a revolution. It's finally dawned on him that this won't happen and he's devastated. Read his paranoid rambling and see the environmentalist movement for what it is - a CULT. It's all there.

What's tragic is that there are things worth worrying about, but too many people worry about the wrong things. The changing demographic profile of Europe concerns me far more than anything that Al Gore has to say about glaciers. And it's not based on computer projections of the future; it's based on who's being born now and what they will grow up to believe in.


_ DY at 3:14 AM BST
Updated: Tuesday, 26 September 2006 12:59 PM BST
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Wednesday, 20 September 2006
Crush or cultivate?
Topic: Poker

Over at 'Everything has a limit',

http://peterbirks.livejournal.com/162070.html#cutid1 

Peter Birks explains that a "a significant minority of [these] younger male players do not want to maximize their profit. What they want to do is dominate the game. They want to be the alpha male. And, in anthropological terms, causing your "opponents" to slink away, so that you can let out a lion's roar, or whatever the young American male quivalent of this is, is the ultimate victory. But, of course, this doesn't maximize your profit. That comes not from "crushing the poker economy", but from cultivating it."

I only mention this, because the next James Bond movie is based on Bond 'crushing the poker economy' of Britain's enemies! Youtube has the trailer for Casino Royale:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fl5WHj0bZ2Q

Believe it or not, this is actually quite a faithful interpretation of the Ian Fleming novel, except that poker has been substituted for Baccarat.  I know that some of the dealers at the Vic auditioned for it, though none got in. Apparently they weren't convincing enough at playing themselves, something that rather reminds me of the comment made by Arthur Freed, the producer of Brigadoon: "I went to Scotland and found nothing there that looks like Scotland".

Initial reports about the proposed poker action in the film are not encouraging, with Bond losing his money, going on the nip and then returning to win it back, and more, by hitting a back-door straight flush. I really hope that's been sent to re-write, but I fear not.


Wednesday, 13 September 2006
The politics of animals and children.
Topic: Politics

Animals.

 

I’ve been scooped. I was going to comment on the spate of attacks on Stingrays in Australia, pointing out that while the message will be lost on the Stingrays themselves, I like the way that Aussies have demonstrated retaliatory capacity. But Harry Hutton at Chasemeladies, www.chasemeladies.blogspot.com has done it far better than I could, and thrown in a gratuitous reference to Mark Steyn too!

 

http://chasemeladies.blogspot.com/2006/09/stingray-killings-may-be-irwin-revenge.html

 

Harry’s been on fine form lately. If you’re looking for some Miros-type humour to make up for the fact that Lord Miros hasn’t updated for months, then check him out. Please note that despite making frequent references to High Wycombe, we are not the same person. He’s far more critical of the place than I am. Any town whose municipal waste tip is named ‘High Heaven’ can’t be all bad.

 

Children.

 

I’m often amused at the way that children are held to be innocent of matters of politics. Of course they don’t have to discuss how budgets are allocated or fight over tax revenues, but they engage in plenty of machinations about the one thing they do need and have to offer – friendship. So I’m grateful to six-year old Amy at www.CatCoolamy.blogspot.com  for reminding us of this, by relating the fluctuating fortunes of her various friendships at Fircroft School.

 

Back when she started blogging in April, her best friend was Alfie.

 

http://catcoolamy.blogspot.com/2006/04/fircroft-school.html

 

despite the awkward age difference

 

http://catcoolamy.blogspot.com/2006/04/alfie-and-matthew.html

 

Amy, Alfie and another boy named Matthew used to have fun turning into things:

 

http://catcoolamy.blogspot.com/2006/04/me-and-my-friends.html

 

But over the summer things seem to have gone wrong. Her mother has reported rude notes with unpleasant anti-Amy messages being stuck on their front door

 

http://happysillyfun.blogspot.com/2006/08/notes-stuck-on-our-front-door.html  

 

and finally Amy has had to make the break. She is no longer friends with Alfie and Matthew.

 

http://catcoolamy.blogspot.com/2006/09/im-not-your-friend.html

 

I’m pleased that she’d found new friends and I wish her well in the difficult world of playground politics. If only the alliances of children were as simple and straightforward as those of the major world superpowers.


_ DY at 6:30 PM BST
Updated: Thursday, 14 September 2006 3:52 PM BST
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Thursday, 7 September 2006
Londoners.
Topic: Politics

I weigh in at Stephen Bartley's blog:

http://weird-and-turning-pro.blogspot.com/2006/09/londoners.html#comments 


Sunday, 3 September 2006
What is the sex ratio in Iraq?
Topic: Politics

I read a long time ago that Iraq was 62 per cent female. I wish I'd bookmarked where I read it, because when I tried to track down the statistic, I could only source it to this:

http://www.portaliraq.com/news/Conference+targets+woman-owned+businesses__671.html

which states: 

"Women are 62 percent of the population and represent tremendous intellectual and human resource pool."

Has anyone got a better source? If true, then it's a shocking revelation of the horrors of the Saddam era. Even if the coalition forces have killed the number claimed in the Lancet report of 2004 (100,000), that does not in any way explain a 62 to 38 female - male ratio in a country of over 20 million people. When Mark Steyn drove around Iraq in 2003, he said that he encountered many families that were almost entirely female, so many men having been killed in the wars against Iran and Kuwait, as well as the hundreds of thousands killed in the Al Anfal campaign and the suppression of the uprising against Saddam in 1991.

I've even read it claimed that one reason why the Americans underestimated the level of post-war violence was that they believed that the high level of women relative to men in Iraq would have a pacifying effect.

I know that I have at least one Iraqi reader. Would any care to comment on the gender split, please?


Friday, 1 September 2006
Why is Phil Laak so highly rated?
Topic: Poker
I got a flyer from the Sportsman in the post yesterday, promoting the William Hill Grand Prix. It mentioned that Phil Laak won it last year and that at the time it was his biggest win (£150k). I found that hard to believe, so I checked it out on the HM database and it's true!

http://pokerdb.thehendonmob.com/player.php?a=r&n=16576

What I can't figure out therefore, is why then this bloke is so well revered? His record isn't that impressive relative to the attention he gets and I can't understand why he was invited to an invitation only tournament in Feb 2004. What had he done prior to that to deserve it?

_ DY at 5:41 PM BST
Updated: Thursday, 10 June 2010 6:24 PM BST
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Tuesday, 29 August 2006
What if they didn't report?
Topic: Politics

I'm not one for censorship, but there are times when it's obvious that the media can change events merely by being around to report them. This week, two kidnapped Fox News journalists were freed by the Islamic militant group that had captured them in Gaza. One of them said on his release:

"I just hope this never scares a single journalist away from coming to Gaza to cover this story because the Palestinian people are very beautiful, kind-hearted, loving people who the world need to know more about and so do not be discouraged. Come and tell the story. It's a wonderful story."

But that got me to thinking - what if journalists did refuse to go to Gaza? I think it would be a positive thing. If Palestinians really are the "very beautiful, kind-hearted, loving people who the world need to know more about" then is it too much to ask that they don't kidnap the journalists who are going to tell their version of events? I think a media boycott would benefit Gazans and journalists worldwide. Perhaps if there had been a temporary media boycott a few years ago, these two wouldn't have been kidnapped in the first place.

On a connected theme, I was struck by a comment in the middle of this report about a trip to southern Israel, near the border with Gaza:

http://www.michaeltotten.com/archives/001251.html 

Key Quote:

“Lots of Qassams hit this city,” Shika said. “Most people killed by the Qassams live here.”

“How many rockets are hitting the city right now?” I said.

“Not as many today,” he said. “Because of the war in Lebanon.”

“What does Lebanon have to do with it?” I said.

“All the journalists forgot about us during the Lebanon war. So the terrorists are waiting for the media to come back before firing rockets again. They don’t want to waste those they have.”

“That can’t be the only reason,” I said. “The IDF has been active in Gaza this entire time. Surely that has something to do with it.”

“Yes,” he said. “Also because of the IDF.

Later two more Israelis repeated what Shika said about Hamas and Islamic Jihad cooling their rocket launchers while the media’s attention was elsewhere. I haven’t heard any official confirmation from either side that it’s true.

(Emphasis mine)

I realise this is merely anecdotal, but it makes a lot of sense. Terrorists see the western media as a front in their strategy.


_ DY at 1:14 PM BST
Updated: Tuesday, 29 August 2006 1:30 PM BST
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