Sunday, February 14, 2016

Liars' Poker

In terms of making a mint from the internets, I frequently think I was born about 15-20 years too early (1967), maybe more. I think people born about 1990 or so, growing up with the modern toys we all take for granted now, are instinctively attuned in a way we older folk had to learn. I can definitely say that even mundane things such as Excel have made me think and process information differently than I did in the previous century, but they've grown up with those things, where we older folks learned them, implanted them on the old paradigm we grew up with, which was so different.

Having a teenager in the house is a constant reminder of how difficult it is to convey how much different life was before these wondrous things. Of course I have tried, by mentioning such oddities as rotary-dial phones and black-and-white TVs, but understandably I just get a blank stare. It would be like my great-grandmother trying to explain how music recordings were once played by wax cylinders.

Like many kids her age, my daughter wants to be a video game designer, which is yet another area in which I can only lamely attempt to tell her how things used to be. Games are as sophisticated as movies now, of course, and as such require not only coders but scriptwriters. I don't have any ironic nostalgia for Pong or Adventure or Pitfall or Pac-Man, as much fun as those games were back in the day, anymore than I would trade Breaking Bad for Dukes of Hazzard. Trust me, your Facebook friends posting memes about that shit are missing the boat.

However, as a lifelong fan and player of various card and board games, I can tell you that many of those old-school pastimes teach concepts and ideas that aren't always evident in modern gaming. I grew up playing various card games, especially spades, hearts, gin rummy, and poker. Board games such as chess and checkers, and the many Parcheesi variants, were also big in our household.

As anyone who played these games growing up knows, the immediate effect of bonding is a special thing, especially compared with our more atomized lifestyles these days, where paradoxically everyone is instantly interconnected, but in a household tend to segregate off into their own rooms to do their own things.

It's not until later, until you've mastered these games and made them second nature, that you see the other useful qualities that can be gleaned from them. For board games it's chess, and for card games it's poker, as far as the most impactful, and the qualities they impart are strategic thinking and patience.

Think about it -- from what video game can you learn the use of patience, of playing the long game, of reading your opponent's tendencies and capitalizing on them? With chess, patience is useful in building your strategy, seeing everything on the board, how the pieces fit and cooperate, and either waiting for your opponent to commit a misstep, or find a way to outflank and dominate them. The patience that forms your strategy in poker is much different, partly because you can't see everything, so there's some guesswork involved, but also because the overall game is constructed of a multitude of short hands, and you have to have enough risk tolerance to eat a few hands, and play the long game.

Patience is typically thought of as a "virtue", which lends an unnecessary veneer of traditionalist -- even providential -- thinking. Sooner or later, if we hold out, our ship will come in. That's been the dynamic, colored with the spiritualism and Calvinist work ethic that pollutes this country. (Not to say that work and belief are bad things, but that they historically have been tethered to a mindset that substitutes magical thinking for actual productivity.)

But the great thing about poker and chess is that they make patience a vital part of strategy, very much in a Sun Tzu way. It takes time and observation to know the terrain, the habits and capabilities of the opponent, what you can afford to lose versus what you have to gain.

Which brings us to one Addison Mitchell "Mitch the Bitch" McConnell, currently the Majority Leader of the United States Senate. This chinless, turtle-faced asshole leaped on the still-warm corpse of Fat Tony Scalia like it was the cock of a teenage Thai rent-boy, and quickly proclaimed that Preznit Chocolate Thunder would not be allowed to appoint a replacement. This is in diametric opposition to what Addison declared eleven years ago, as well as the many precedents for lame-duck SCOTUS appointments by various presidents of both parties. I know, try to contain your surprise at the idea of situational ethics.

What's interesting about this is that it's basically an unforced error on Addison's part. He could quite easily have mumbled some platitudes about Scalia's long career of public service, that it was too soon to comment further, and then proceeded with a long, slow, drawn-out process through the year of delaying confirmation to whomever Thunder (or, if you prefer, "CT") might appoint. It could be the second coming of Robert Bork and they would jerk it around just to fuck with him.

But noooo, Addison outsmarted himself by declaring the strategy as an opening tactic. In chess terms, he brought the queen out on the second move, after moving a blocking pawn; in poker terms, he pushed all-in on the first hand.

Unless you drew a full house or higher, you'd be a complete idiot to go all-in on the first hand. Yet that's essentially what Addison has done. There are quite a few swing-state Senate seats in contention, and the senators running in those states may not want to hitch themselves to Addison's wagon. Not only that, but Addison will have to keep at least two senators (one to talk, and one to listen, seriously) in chambers at all times, never going into recess, so that CT cannot recess-appoint someone (which presidents from Washington to Eisenhower have done). Especially in an election year, they need to be out glad-handing and fundraising. They have to generate thousands of dollars every on average; they don't have the time to dick around with Yertle the Turtle's little game.

This is all assuming (on Addison's part) that the end-product of the delay game is a Republican preznit who can make the "proper" appointment. Right now that is a 50-50 proposition at best, and after Trump's latest smackdown, maybe not even that. Consider that the lead dog by far in the GOP race, at last night's debate in a critical state, in preparation for a vital primary, flat-out said that the last Republican president lied his way into a costly, destructive war, that his feckless policies allowed for the most catastrophic attack on the American mainland in the nation's history.

These are things that the Democratic front-runner would not have said (but might now), at least not as directly. This is the sort of stuff that librul bloggerses such as yours truly truck in. But such things could very well set that side of the table in serious disarray. Trump's success so far has been in no small part due to the chaos sown by the large number of candidates, as well as his name recognition and habit of speaking as bluntly as possible. As the field winnows further, the constituents are forced to consider their choices, and decide if they are comfortable with a candidate whose statements on 9/11 and the Iraq War -- things that have been settled dogma with the base -- are almost identical with those of Bernie Sanders. Truman's dictum about fake Republicans and real ones works the other way too, you know.

As Driftglass points out, Trump is correctly highlighting the fact that Fredo's legacy is far from settled:
But a funny thing happened on the way to the beatification.  Dubya started to lose.  And lose badly. He lost two wars,  He lost the economy,  He lost a major American city,  He lost the Congress.  And he lost all those things and so many more in a way that showed the world that the Dirty Hippies had been right about Dubya all along  He really was a criminally incompetent dry-drunk halfwit.  He really did appoint politically-connected idiots to run vitally important parts of the government.   He really was in the thrall of genuinely evil men who operated him like a marionette and made themselves fabulously wealthy thereby.  The base of his party really were raving lunatics, bigots and imbeciles.

That's it in a nutshell, and the party is only now dealing with the natural fallout of that catastrophe. What I've been saying about the failure of Democrats to develop their bench holds true, but the fact is that, despite the comically large number of "candidates" that jumped in the Republican race, maybe three of them (Kasich, Christie, Paul) are actually qualified to do something more complicated than clean your rain gutters. That's how they've ended up with a crazy reality-show billionaire as their front-runner, and now all they can do is sit and watch as he burns it all down and salts the earth.

To his credit, Trump is playing the game the way it should be played (in terms of actions, rather than actual ideas or policies), with real stakes and genuine boldness. Fortune doesn't always favor the bold, but it does run into the "nothing ventured, nothing gained" corollary. Only someone who doesn't give a shit about consequences could hold the outcomes of the last failed Republican regime right up into the party's collective nose, and make them smell it.

Trump would still be terrible in any gubmint office, but we are witnessing a process in which he is forcing the party to ultimately reinvent itself. He is making them confront their own flock of clusterfucks. This is not a small thing -- either the party gets its shit together, or they collapse under the weight of their nonsense. Right now it appears very much to be the latter.

Of course, the real problem is that regardless of who wins the White House this year, the Congress is still dominated by these shitbirds, as are most of the governor's mansions. And that's where Addison's poor gamesmanship comes back into play:  even the Democrats, bless their pointy little heads, should be able to make hay out of deliberate inaction to allow the elected leader of the country to do his damned job.

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