Unfortunate Misapprehensions

With each day’s news comes further affirmation that it is entirely possible to be reasonably intelligent, highly educated, and specially trained while also being utterly ignorant of what’s commonly understood to be reality. 

No, I’m not speaking of the funny folks with advanced degrees who denounce the Theory of Evolution in favor of loopy fairy tales such as “intelligent design” and “creationism.”

I’m referring to people like Mr. Gary Norton, the district attorney in Columbia County, Pennsylvania, who believes it his duty to prosecute residents of his jurisdiction for playing poker in their homes. Pennsylvania is one of 37 states where a game of skill doesn’t qualify as a game of chance, and in January of this year a judge there dismissed charges against a man accused of running a poker game out of his garage, noting that when skill predominates it’s not gambling. Mr. Norton, though, asserts that “there’s a huge element of chance in the dealing of cards.”

He also thinks that “there’s one choice in Texas Hold ’em: hold or fold {sic}. That is not necessarily a skill as much as just having guts or not.”

Apparently Mr. Norton is one of the lucky Americans who have managed to avoid seeing poker on TV, despite its presence on every third network known to man. His obliviousness to basic mathematical concepts such as probability and long-term expectation is to be entirely expected from people who play State Lotteries, Slot Machines, and Roulette Wheels. But the guy responsible for prosecuting miscreants for violating the sacred laws of Pennsylvania, one would like to imagine, would be slightly more enlightened. These are not advanced concepts we’re dealing with here. Anyone bright enough to understand that a pocket pair of Aces will triumph over a pocket pair of Sevens 81% of the time should understand that the 19% of the time the underdog wins is not an expression of “chance” or “luck” but, rather, a statistical inevitability. When the Kansas City Chiefs manage to beat another NFL team — any team — it will be a surprise (and perhaps a relief to certain fans), but it won’t prove that football is a game of chance. Every result in every contest can be explained mathematically. Some results are more unexpected or outlandish than others. But if you experience enough poker — or golf, or baseball, or life –you eventually realize that almost nothing is genuinely a matter of chance. Quite the contrary: the numbers don’t lie.

In an unrelated folly — well, related only in the magnitude of ignorance — several California State Senators and their lobbyist cronies recently approved a measure that will allow a football stadium to be built in Los Angeles County without following the state’s environmental laws. In other words, granting an exemption from the laws that protect millions of us from pollution and atmospheric degradation.

Led by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Stienberg (D-Sacramento), and supported by 20 other easily bribed lawmakers, the measure follows a similar piece of political filth submitted by the Assembly last month.

The stadium, Stienberg told reporters, is “an opportunity to create thousands of construction jobs, thousands of permanent jobs.” John Semcken, a bag-holder for the real estate developer who intends on building the stadium, claimed that the bill really is not about circumventing environmental laws. “This is about good union jobs.”

Actually, it’s about circumventing environmental laws.

It’s about further desecrating the land and air — and the lives of millions who breathe and walk –in the interest of further enriching powerful men who don’t much care about working people (union or otherwise) unless those serfs are laboring at the developer’s behest. Perhaps I’m misapprehending the situation. But it appears that if you have enough money to dole out, you can buy yourself an exemption from laws meant to protect everyone. The frightening reality is that 99% of the citizens in my fair county aren’t aware of the shenanigans, and if they are, they really don’t care. because, you know, it’s NFL football we’re talking about.

The house and the car and the college degree and the nice wardrobe are a mirage. It really is entirely possible to be reasonably intelligent, highly educated, and specially trained while also being utterly blissfully willfully ignorant — or at least pretend you are.

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