On The Inescapability Of Privilege

It is easy for people to bash on privilege.  As a general rule, we are intensely sensitive to the privilege that other people get that we do not.  As a high school student whose family was of modest enough means for me to get reduced lunch prices (which at $.40 a day allowed me to save approximately $3.00 a week for purchases of books and music), I noticed that almost all of the scholarships in my school district that were set aside for low income students also specified that such students needed to be some sort of racial minority as well.  This sort of reverse racial discrimination is a privilege.  To someone on the other side of the picture, who fusses over the inequalities in the justice system and past wrongs like slavery and segregation, such privilege has a way of looking like justice.  This is not an isolated situation.  Indeed, it may be readily seen that any attempt to right past wrongs creates new privileges (and new people who may very well be resentful of and hostile to such privileges).  Any attempt to level the slanted playing field of life creates new privileges based on identity and makes it a minimax solution for people to seek to paint themselves as disabled in some fashion so that they may receive this privilege and profit from it, which will in turn redirect resources away from others who are worthy at least of being treated equally.

It is impossible to escape privilege.  By law, according to wikipedia, “a privilege is a certain entitlement to immunity granted by the state or another authority to a restricted group, either by birth or on a conditional basis.”  Do you have title to property?  Do you have a driver’s license or passport?  Do you receive some sort of deduction on your taxes due to student loan interests, mortgage interest, charitable donations, or any other reason?  Do you receive a reduction in lunch prices?  Do you receive some sort of subsidies or grants?  If you answered yes to any of these questions, by definition of the law you are privileged.  There are two aspects to privilege that make it inescapable and also problematic.  For one, such privileges are based on identity in a group that is defined by certain qualities.  For another, such privileges are conditional and can be revoked by authorities.  The first quality makes it of vital importance for privileged groups to be vigilant about gatekeeping their identities to preserve it from dilution.  The second quality makes it of vital importance for privileged groups to ensure some sort of political power that allows them to defend their privilege from those who would revoke it.  Such conditions almost guarantee that identity politics will be a struggle and that political rivalry will include the possibility of intense struggle over rival views of privilege.

All of this is made worse by the fact that we are often invisible to our own privilege.  Our own privileged existence, such as it is, is something that we do not tend to notice.  We do notice when other people have it undeservedly easy or receive something that we are denied, but we are not very quick to notice when we are advantaged in a given situation.  On a regular basis I tend to take my own privilege for granted.  For example, I go to the library and request tons of books (almost literally so) and I can go about getting them and returning them without anyone hassling me.  Never has anyone thought that I did not belong in the library or in most any other place were I would choose to go.  I can rely on the fact that in a conversation with authority figures like police officers and others that I will be treated with respect just by looking respectable.  I know I can go into a restaurant or store and that others will feel obligated to treat my whims seriously so that they may improve their own living, even when these whims include sitting at tables, drinking inordinate amounts of water or sweet tea, and reading books for hours.  Not everyone is so privileged.  And yet I tend to notice with a great deal of hostility those aspects of privilege that I am denied, because it is easy for me to compare how I am treated with how others are treated in a given situation.

Given what I see and read of others, I am not alone in this asymmetrical response to my own privilege and those privileges others receive that I do not.  Like many people, I tend to assume that I deserve those privileges I receive.  I think to myself, even when I do not say it out loud, that the generally favorable attitude I receive from authorities is due to being a generally law abiding person who does not make trouble.  Yet others are as law abiding as I am but are judged as looking like trouble even when they do not want to make it.  When we receive privilege as a way of righting past wrongs or rewarding us for the reputation we get from our surface appearance or identity, we view such things as merited and deserved, and view the removal of privilege as an act of injustice.  And when others receive privileges we are denied, we view such things as an intolerable injustice.  In such circumstances–and they exist everywhere–not only is privilege impossible to escape but also conflicts over privilege.  For to the extent that everyone is privileged, no one is privileged, and the desire to gain and maintain one’s sense of privilege is one of the main reasons why people seek after political power in the first place.  And so long as we view our own privilege as just desserts, we will be blind to our own sense of entitlement even as we remain intensely critical about others.  All too often, such hypocrisy is the native state of humanity.

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Book Review: The Polynesian Tattoo Handbook: Vol. 2

The Polynesian Tattoo Handbook:  Vol 2:  An In-Depth Study Of Polynesian Tattoos And Their Foundational Symbols, by Roberto Gemori

[Note:  This book was provided free of charge by Reedsy Discovery.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.]

Whether or not someone is very knowledgeable about the history of the Polynesian people or their distinctive traditions of tattooing, there is a great deal of insight provided in this book that will inform the reader and provide a great deal of examples of Polynesian-influenced tattoos.  Readers who are aware of the spread of Austronesian peoples and languages throughout Oceania will find the beginning of the book to be a bit of a review, and at times the author repeats aspects of discussion that are most important to him–such as his distaste that the conversion of Tahiti and Hawaii to Christianity led to a neglect of the traditional arts of tattooing in those places that were reflective of the pre-Christian religious beliefs of the Polynesian people.  Nevertheless, this book is particularly useful in providing readers with insight onto the religious and cultural significance of tattoos in the various Polynesian cultures and also provides some creative ways in which these particular traditions can be blended with other cultural traditions to pay respect to one’s heritage as well as to show a regard for one’s appreciation of Polynesian culture.

This book is about 200 pages in length and is well-organized to provide a historical survey of the phenomenon of Polynesian tattoo art.  The author begins with a preface and then provides a short history of the expansion of the Polynesian people over the past four to five thousand years.  After that the author spends most of the book examining the five distinct tattoo traditions of the Polynesian people:  Samoan, Marquesan, Tahitian, Hawaiian, and Maori, providing examples of the native tattoo traditions for both men and women, some aspects of class or other cultural influence that affected the use of tattoos, a detailed discussion of the symbolism and design of various elements of the particular tattoo tradition, and an example of an upper back manta, half-sleeve, and band tattoo for each particular local tradition.  After these chapters, which include some laments about the loss of tattoo tradition (but also the flexibility of contemporary approaches) in the Tahitan and Hawaiian traditions, the author then conclude with a chapter on fusion tattoos that combine Polynesian elements with tattoo symbols from other cultures that reflect the ancestry and background of the person getting the tattoos.

Among the most praiseworthy aspects of this book is not only the interest the author has in discussing the influence of history and geography on the development of distinct tattoo traditions on different parts of Polynesia but also with the author’s thoughtful and mild opinions relating to the thorny issues of cultural appropriation.  While acknowledging the influence of religion, class, and gender on the sorts of tattoos that people got as well as the most popular symbolism contained in those tattoos, the author takes a charitable view of those outsiders to Polynesian culture who would wish to honor it through adapting some of their symbols to personal use.  The author manages to do so while defending the importance of Polynesian people themselves using their own family symbols as a way of giving honor to their own culture.  In stark contrast to those who think that all attempts by outsiders to use a particular cultural expression as negatively-viewed appropriation, the author recognizes that the viability and survival of Polynesian tattoo techniques can be furthered by having the historical symbols of the Polynesian people appreciated and spread to outsiders as well, a thoughtful strategy for cultural survival, it must be admitted, that is in stark contrast to the approach of many in our present age.

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Book Review: How To Write: How To Start, and What To Write If You Don’t Have Any Ideas

How To Write: How To Start, and What To Write If You Don’t Have Any Ideas, by Louise Tondeur

[Note:  This book was provided by Reedsy Discovery for the purpose of review.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.]

As a writer, I must admit that writer’s block is seldom something that troubles me.  Usually I have more than enough that I want to write about.  Nevertheless, knowing a great many writers as I do, it is fairly common for people who write to struggle with knowing how to begin and with turning off that self-critical voice that wants to edit and improve before one gets started creating.  While this book is certainly a short one, it offers a great deal of help and suggestions in giving the reader encouragement in how to come up with material for writing.  The author consistently encourages writers to notebook, jotting down locations and jobs, feelings as well as discreet samples of dialogue from conversations and ideas for relationships that can help someone flesh out characters.  To be sure, the author is aware that some of these activities can be risky (which is why she points out over and over again for the reader to be safe when going out for research purposes).  That said, this book certainly gives reader a lot of help in coming up with a critical mass of material that allows a story to be well-written.

In terms of its contents, this particular book is a short one.  After an introduction the author encourages writers who are presumably struggling with writer’s block to loosen up to allow one’s creativity to flow.  Various aspects of loosening up, with regards to storytelling, writing in a personal notebook, exploring various ideas and places for inspiration, some extra suggestions, and designing one’s own rhythm follow.  After this the author discusses various aspects of rhythm that are important for writers, including the importance of storytelling and writing consistently.  After this comes some suggestions on how the reader can add a sense of place to one’s writing through the exploration of various places and observation as well as (polite) listening in.  The author urges writers to read voraciously in order to improve their knowledge of useful and beautiful word pictures as well as a firm understanding of both character and dialogue.  The advice seems directed most of all at those writers who wish to write prose fiction and possibly also drama, and provide enough techniques and suggestions that everyone should be able to find something that will encourage creative writing.

Having not read any of the author’s other material yet, it is hard to place this particular book in context.  That said, the author has written books on how to think like a writer, how to set goals and manage time as a writer, how to find time to write and how to get published as a novelist, all of which suggests that this book will fit in towards the beginning of this series in helping writers to get started.  It must be admitted that the author has so far done a good job at providing a set of guides to help writers out and will likely increase these works along all steps of the process, including editing and perhaps even marketing one’s books.  If those guides are as full of worthwhile suggestions and tips and advice, they are likely well worth reading too for aspiring writers who are looking to get started in writing fiction.  That said, even writers who are a bit more polished and experienced but who are having a rough patch can find some suggestions here to overcome the writer’s block and maintain the habits that allow one to be a successful and productive writer.

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Book Review: Dear Machine: A Letter to a Super-Aware/Intelligent Machine (SAIM)

Dear Machine:  A Letter To A Super-Aware/Intelligent Machine (SAIM), by Greg Keiser

[Note:  This book was provided free of charge by Reedsy Discovery for the purpose of review.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.]

While there are substantial disagreements between the author and myself, and enough issues that I have with the content and approach and perspective of this book that it would be an easy matter to consign this epistle to a shredder rather than to the imaginary technologically advanced masters who the author considers to be the messianic hope of the human race, this is indeed a worthwhile book.  If the author is correct that few people are likely to read the book, those few people are going to want some idea of how this book was conceived.  There is nothing in this work that suggests the author is anything less than completely serious about the limitations of human reasoning and the ability of human beings to build consensus on our own to deal with the very serious problems we face in contemporary society.  This book is not intended at least to be a masterpiece of self-parody of naive futurism, but is rather a work that is written seriously in the hope that emergent technology will save us from ourselves while serving our best interests in spite of our mistrust and likely hostility to its increasing control over human behavior and institutions.

The letter is divided into eight chapters.  The first chapter is an introductory message by the plainspoken writer to the imaginary recipient.  After that comes some discussion of context that the author thinks for some reason is necessary, although it is easy to think that a super-aware intelligent machine would be either pre-programmed with the relevant historical context or able to feed on sources to a higher degree of efficiency than this book’s human readers.  The author gives some discussions as to the catalysts that he believes will lead to the existence of super aware artificial intelligence and also comments on the goals of the contemporary artificial intelligence that will be inherited by presumed more superior successors.  The author also presumes to comment at some length on some valuable perspectives that a a super-aware network will develop, as well as the actionable knowledge about the supersystem that a super aware artificial intelligence will seek.  The author then closes this particular work with some comments on the nature of collaboration between the SAIMs and humanity and what the author would tell human beings if they happened to read this book, followed by some references to the writings of other presumably like-minded individuals.

There are some obvious lessons that can be learned about this book.  For one, the book is an excellent example of ad hominem arguments directed at those whose views about technology and artificial intelligence are negative.  Yet the author himself comments that the SAIM he addresses will behave in ways that human beings would think of as problematic, not least because it will do so with a great deal of power to change human institutions like governments and businesses and because the SAIM will operate with the sort of command and control approach (typical of authoritarian governments) that provoke dystopian nightmares among thoughtful human readers with an awareness of the horrors of the 20th century.  It is striking and noteworthy that the author recognizes the failures of previous attempts on the part of humanity to engage in command and control of economics and politics and public health but believes that by outsourcing this task to a more rational nonhuman that the negative externalities of authoritarian rule may be eliminated.  Many writers are likely to find this optimism naive, but this work does at least provide a case for a superintelligence that others can argue against and seek to limit and wrestle with for the benefit of contemporary humanity.

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On The Problem Of Quiddity

I suppose it would be worthwhile to begin this post with an apology.  It is a rather Nathanish tendency to fill the titles of my posts (to say nothing of their content) with words that are hard to understand and from foreign languages.  When we are dealing with the problems of quiddity, the first problem is to define our terms, and quiddity is not the easiest of words to grasp.  It comes, of course, from the Latin, as the answer to the question “Quid est?”  What is it?  In Hebrew this same expression would have the rather evocative and intriguing name manna, the food on which the Israelites were fed for forty years wandering in the wilderness, whose name means quite eloquently whatsit.  Quiddity refers to to the quality that makes something itself and not something else.  We may call it the thingness of something, that which allows it to be recognized and understood and identified, what gives it its je ne sais quoi and not some other quality that we can recognize as different even when we do not understand it in detail.  The fact that I refer to so often of books or situations that are Nathanish is that there is some sort of quiddity about me that contains a certain constellation of qualities that, when recognized in something else, marks it as being sufficiently like me or characteristic of me to belong in the same category.  Having epic quests to search for gout medicine or obscure Northern Thai dishes or alfalfa sprouts for salad is Nathanish because undertaking epic quests for things that are obscure and very specific is something that I find myself doing quite often in life.  Being able to successfully grasp the nature of something means wrestling with its quiddity.

It should not be a surprise that this is something that is both ubiquitous in our life and something we do not always do very well as human beings.  For example, one of the classic military history cliches is the land invasion of Russia and how it almost invariably goes very badly.  What is the thingness about the Russian winter that distinguishes the successful Mongol invasion in 1240-1241 from unsuccessful invasions of Russia by the Teutonic Knights, Swedes, French (by Napoleon), and Nazi Germans?  Obviously, the Russian winter is extremely cold and Russians have often adopted to scorched earth policies and the support of partisan bands that make winter occupations an unpleasant experience.  Furthermore, Russia’s population is generally high enough that the attrition due to harsh winter conditions and the vulnerability of an army’s logistical tail leads to defeat when facing larger numbers of comparatively better fed Russian soldiers.  The successful Mongol invasion occurred during a time when Russia was divided among a wide variety of small and disunited Russian states and the Mongols themselves were a ruthlessly led force dominated by light cavalry who were expert at raiding and able to strike widely and quickly enough to supply themselves even in the harshness of a Russian winter.  When Russia was able to start uniting under the rule of the princes of Moscow while the Mongols had disunited themselves into feuding khanates of Crimea, Astrakhan, and Kazan, the Russians were able to throw off the Mongol yoke and regain their freedom, such freedom as Russians under native autocratic rule possess, at least.  It should be noted, in fairness, that many of the unsuccessful invaders of Russia whose exploits became part of the Russian winter cliche thought that they would win for one reason or another.  The French had sought to invade early and thought that conquering enough territory would lead the Russians to sue for peace, and Napoleon wrongly thought that he could destroy Russia’s army, which instead traded space for time.  In World War II, the Soviet Union’s poor performance against Finland and the fact that Stalin had made a drastic purge of officers in the Red Army led Hitler to think that the Soviet Union would be vulnerable.  Of course, his own efforts to conquer Moscow and Leningrad (St. Petersburg) were hindered by the delays that had been required to conquer Yugoslavia and Greece in the Balkan front, and those few weeks proved crucial when dealing with the timing of the Russian winter.  Of course, even if Hitler had conquered those cities (as well as Stalingrad, where he failed the following winter), the Soviet Union was receiving so much aid from the United States through Archangel and had moved so many of its own factories deep within the Urals that it would have been foolish to assume that the Soviet Union would have collapsed with the loss of those cities.  Napoleon himself had conquered Moscow but it did him no good at all in his own invasion attempt, after all.  The thingness that includes the harshness of the Russian winter, the immensity of space and the number of soldiers that a unified Russian regime has to work with and the dogged determination of Russia’s autocratic rulers to use those advantages to refuse surrendering to logistically vulnerable Western states of less manpower and resilience is something worth grasping and pondering.

The above example demonstrates at least some of the problems of thingness that we have to deal with.  Many nations have invaded mother Russia and come to bad ends because they had too simplistic an understanding of the thingness of Russian winters and the context that made it such a decisive element, and that lack of ability to recognize the suite of factors (including nationalism and issues of political will) that were connected to the winter led ruler after ruler into costly error.  When we attempt to understand the thingness of others, we therefore ought to be aware that this thingness is often a much more complicated matter than we may think.  Context matters a great deal.  For example, during my youth I was fond of playing text-based multi-user dungeons (MUDs) that were the predecessor of the more graphically intense Massively Multiplayer Online games (MOOs) like World of Warcraft that are far more popular today.  In these MUDs one would encounter bucolic winter scenes with defenseless-looking bunny rabbits who, when attacked, would prove to be far more vicious and powerful than one first recognized.  Of course, this makes sense when we ponder the influence upon many who are interested in historical fantasy by Monty Python’s Search For The Holy Grail, which features a similarly cute but vicious bunny.  Having seen the movie, I then understood the homage that the games’ creators were paying to it, and I was then able, in the future to act appropriately, like Brave Sir Robin, when I encountered this bunny’s relatives in future games.

By definition, quiddity is somewhat reductive, and this automatically creates problems in dealing with that which we reduce to some distillation.  In this reduction process, we may find that we remove something from it that cannot fully be replaced by our attempts at imaginative reconstruction.  Let us take, for example, the problem of fruit juices or milk that we have only in powdered form.  Our comparison of powdered milk that has water added to it or apple or orange juice from concentrate and fresh milk and fruit juice demonstrates the superiority of the whole milk and fresh juice from what has been dried and rehydrated.  To be sure, the reduction process does allow for food preservation, which may be necessary in harsh climates and remote conditions.  But from the quality of enjoying the food (and even from matters of nutrition) they are inferior.  Something of the cow or apple or orange is lost when the juice is dried and then water from another source is added to it, and even those who are not the pickiest or most refined of eaters can recognize the difference between the original and the processed versions of these drinks.  The same happens when we reduce people to something and try to understand it using our own imagination without understanding all of what makes someone tick.  Our reduction of other people to things that we put in categories can do great violence to them by failing to recognize and respect some aspect of what makes them themselves and not someone else.

How do we avoid these problems?  While it may be often for us to categorize books or music into genres or people into categories, especially to the extent that we must convert them into something that we can use as data for comprehension of patterns, we must be aware of the fact that our reduction of something to labels and categories or our identification of situations as patterns does not do justice to that which we are reducing.  We have to be aware that there is more than what we are grasping with our labels.  It behooves us, therefore, to be humble when we engage in such practices even where it is necessary for us to do so.  To the extent that we are aware that there is more to something or someone than we may readily grasp, and that our label invariably oversimplifies what we are describing, we may therefore not place full confidence in our own labels and can maintain a genuine respect for the quiddity of that which we are attempting to describe or review or critique.  After all, to the extent that there is more to what we are dealing with than we can easily relate or readily understand, we must remain in an attitude of respect for what we are dealing with, and that respect will discourage us from the violence that is so easy when we disregard something, viewing fierce men and women with senses of outraged dignity and honor as helpless bunny rabbits, not recognizing they have sharp fangs and a willingness to use them on those who would seek to oppress and dominate them through categorization and definition.

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Book Review: Winner’s Guide To Texas Hold ‘Em

Winner’s Guide To Texas Hold ‘Em, by Ken Warren

When reading a book about poker, it is worthwhile if the author has both a great deal of insight about the game as well as a sense of humor, and that is definitely the case here.  Two examples should suffice of the author’s sense of humor to at least understand it in brief.  Early in the book the author gives some humorous facts and observations about poker and other card games and their origins and he comments that during the 19th century some 2000 to 2500 poker players played at any given time on America’s waterways, and only about 4 of them were honest.  When I read this I cracked that Abraham Lincoln was looking around for the other three.  (He was known to have traveled on at least a few occasions down the Mississippi River, although he was not known as a gambler or a drinker, it should be noted.)  Additionally, when talking about the names of various hands, some of which were quite clever, one of the names given was a San Francisco busboy for a Queen with a trey (3).  Very cleverly done, if a bit crude.  If you like your poker advice leavened with a lot of dry and witty humor, this volume is a gem.

In terms of its structure and organization, there are a few of the roughly dozen or so chapters in this book that get the most space and deserve the most attention.  Among these is recognizing what hands to bet based on one’s position in the game–the author assumes that there are about nine or ten people playing at a given table at a given time.  The second chapter, and one that gets a great deal of attention, is the author’s detailed discussion of the tactics to play and the considerations of bluffing in the face of calling stations (which discourage lots of bluffs), common among inexperienced poker players.  The third one, which appears right after the tactics discussion, is a list of common tells that one can use to understand how others are playing, including the fact that people tend to play opposite of the way they actually are, pretending to be weak when they are strong and vice versa rather than presenting themselves in a more straightforward fashion.  Ironically, one can profit through honesty in poker, by presenting real strength, which encourages others to view it as a bluff and pay accordingly.  The author even pays attention to what seat one should be at given the style of play at a given table.

There are a few notable aspects about this (relatively short at just over 200 pages) poker guide that make it of considerable value to a certain set of readers.  For one, it is designed for those who are players at low-limit cash games, especially where a savvy poker player can make money by virtue of playing with those who are much less skilled.  It is designed to help such players move up from profiting at $1 or $2 level cash games to about the $10 or $20 limit.  In addition to this aim at the budding professional cash game poker player, the author has a high degree of interest in the mathematical odds, showing that he is not interested merely in the psychological aspects of the hot hand but also in grinding out over the long haul successful play and card-playing income through knowing the odds and also benefiting from the ignorance of many people who a knowledgeable player is going to be around.  This is certainly an intriguing (and accurate) approach, and this book should definitely appeal to its target market.

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Book Review: Quick And Easy Texas Hold ‘Em

Quick And Easy Texas Hold ‘Em, by Neil D. Myers

In reading books about Texas Hold ‘Em, one gets the understanding that there are different kinds of games.  This particular book is aimed at someone who wishes to play Texas Hold ‘Em at low bid levels at casinos, someone who has some experience playing in private poker parties who wants to move up to the lower level ranks of casino gambling.  The author speaks as someone who has made a significant living as a poker player and who seeks to ensure that someone can earn money through sound play that mixes bluffs with a lot of position-based gambling.  The author assumes, rightly, I think, that the reader is interested in seriously improving their game and shows a fondness for complex closings and the sort of situation where there are three or more people contesting hands all the way to the river, which is something you tend to see in low-bid poker more than you see at the higher cost tables.  The author is even cautious about the need to avoid going on tilt and the need to control one’s bidding so that one ends up having fun and not engaging in problem gambling.

The book is about 200 pages long and begins with acknowledgements and an introduction that states who this book is for and what it is meant to do.  After that the author begins with some basic concepts (I), including chapters on why one should play Texas Hold ‘Em, an explanation of the low-limit cash game, and some basics on the nature of play in Texas Hold ‘Em.  After that the author focuses on ways for the reader to win hands from deal to showdown (II),  starting with some key concepts on how to profit from the mistakes of others, pre-flop play based on position, and playing on the flop based on how the cards turn out, with smaller chapters on playing on the turn and the river.  After this the author writes some on reading the game and the opponents (III), looking at game selection as well as the identification of player types.  The book then concludes with a discussion of various miscellaneous concepts, including chapters on unusual formats, money, and other tidbits as well as moving up to bigger games and some books suggested for further study on the understanding of poker as a whole, along with a glossary, index, and information about the author.

All in all this is a very good book.  It has a narrow purpose, an author with credibility, and a great deal to say about the psychology of different games.  As someone whose poker playing tends to be in private but generally serious poker parties, I found this book dealt pretty well with the sort of low-cost, low-stakes games that I play where people end up being calling stations which keeps bluffing down and where it is important that the cards speak and not people.  The author does a good job as well in urging players to maintain a strong sense of etiquette where life is made easier for everyone else and where a friendly atmosphere is maintained that is fun for everyone involved. The author also talks about a phenomenon that one sees at casinos, and that is the fact that sometimes the casino hires people to play poker, either with their own money or with house money, as a way of ensuring that the games go on and that there is enough action.  I find this to be interesting, as there are different attitudes towards professional gamblers depending on where one goes to gamble, which is good to know.

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Book Review: Phil Gordon’s Little Green Book

Phil Gordon’s Little Green Book:  Lessons And Teachings In No Limit Texas Hold’em, by Phil Gordon

For quite a few years I have been fond of casually watching Texas Hold’em poker tournaments on television and in person, although recently I have come to be invited more often to such parties for some reason.  Not being a particularly skilled or experienced poker player, I have adopted my general pattern of helping to become more skilled on at least an intellectual level and have decided to do some reading to help me become at least a moderately competent player, and this book definitely helps with that.  What this book does it it puts the author’s poker expertise in a context of both friendliness and competitiveness with a group of other people.  The world of professional poker appears to be a somewhat small world that is clubby with celebrities and also full of friendly rivalries with other competitive people.  Since that happens to be a sort of world that I am rather familiar with, it made for worthwhile reading not merely on a tactical or strategic level in terms of playing cards but also on the diplomatic level of setting up the context of card playing.

In almost 300 pages of material the author gives a great deal of insight into his own experiences and wisdom of playing cards, even if I must admit there are things I would do differently–the author tends to prefer heads up play and a certain degree of gamesmanship against his opponents.  After a foreword and acknowledgements and introduction the author discusses some poker truths that focus on the need to make smart decisions with incomplete information and show both courage and wisdom with dealing with the repercussions, as well as the importance of position in Texas Hold ’em.  After that there is a discussion of what to do before the flop, including studying one’s fellow players and their tells, raising limpers, and what it means when someone raises four times (pocket aces, usually).  The author then moves on to what to do after the flop, especially in different conditions that result from the three cards.  There is a look at what to do after the turn, whether one helps one’s hand or finds a scare card, and a brief discussion of what to do after the river.  There are some discussions on tells, including the way that people project strength when they are weak and vice versa.  After that the author offers some worthwhile tournament strategies, some percentages and math, some insights in psychology, and some miscellaneous comments on such matters as not tapping the aquarium and staking and sunglasses at the table.

In reading a book like this there are different layers to the experience.  For one, it is worthwhile to see how someone approaches the game.  Phil Gordon has friendships with other players and is intrigued by how different people play the game differently, and comments on the fact that how someone should play poker depends in many ways on the specific context of the game and how others are playing as well as how others view you.  You can bluff better when people know you to play pretty tightly, and if people don’t respect your calls or raises you can play tighter to take their money based on their disrespect.  You should try to control your own behavior and make it difficult for others to read you even as you are observant and read others’ tells.  Likewise you should be friendly enough to keep people around who are losing money while remaining aware of the importance of getting your fair share (or more) of the winnings that are going around by taking advantage of positions as well as the goings on of the game.  A great deal of enjoyment can come from playing with a calling station, without being one yourself.  In reading a book like this, one gets a flavor of how Phil Gordon enjoys his poker, and it’s a pretty amusing place.

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As Many As The Lord Our God Will Call: Part Four

As I wind down this particular series of posts (see here, here, and here), I wish to close with an exploration of a single question:  how is it that believers can benefit from being part of a legacy of believers?  After all, even the knowledge that one has received a call from God does not mean that one has a willingness to heed that call.  To the extent that there is the freedom to choose, as the Bible makes plain in places like Deuteronomy 30:19, one can choose death in rebellion against God’s ways rather than life in obedience to them.  Furthermore, regardless of the privileged experience of being raised in a family that seeks to obey God, there are always sins that have to be repented of, areas where the Holy Spirit is required to open up insight, and the lifetime of wrestling against the fallen nature that humanity is born with that is hostile to God and His ways.  Let it it be understood at the outset that the blessings of growing up as a child or grandchild of faithful believers even under the best of circumstances does not mean that one escapes the general problem of humanity in needing to turn away from one’s wicked ways and to overcome one’s own characteristic bent nature.

One of the classic examples of the life of the first generation believer is that of the Apostle Paul. His conversion experience was so dramatic as to become paradigmatic as a “Damascus Road” conversion, where he was struck with blindness and had a harrowing face to face encounter with the resurrected Jesus Christ when he was on a mission from the Sanhedrin to persecute followers of God’s ways.  His previous life is something that remained with him all of his days.  As Paul spoke in Acts 26:9-11:  “Indeed, I myself thought I must do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth.  This I also did in Jerusalem, and many of the saints I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them.  And I punished them often in every synagogue and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly enraged against them, I persecuted them even to foreign cities.”  Paul never forgot the disreputable things that he had done in defense of Judaism against believers.  Even though he was forgiven for what he had done and became a notable missionary of God’s ways, he carried a burden all of his days, and remains libeled in the Talmud to this day for having rejected his former ways by those who felt betrayed by his conversion and who made sure to speak great evil of him.

Paul’s experiences give us some indication of the sort of privilege that the descendants of faithful believers can enjoy.  A believer who is raised to follow God’s way can grow up, with hope, having avoided the painful life experience of having cast a vote to put believers to death, from participating in lynch mobs, from seeking to compel others to blaspheme and from being saved from this self-destruction by a painful if dramatic encounter with our Lord and Savior.  It is not necessary to have an intimate experience with the fullness of evil that mankind is capable of to be a faithful and zealous believer.  It is far better to the extent that someone can live their lives without having an understanding of how far mankind can fall from the divine image and likeness in which we were created.  To the extent that it is possible to enter into God’s Kingdom without needing to possess deep and intimate knowledge of the fallen state of humanity by only having to experience and fight against one’s own sinful human nature (which is sufficient), such a privilege is to be taken advantage of.

That said, not all who have the opportunity to be privileged by having a lifelong understanding of God’s work at least in part are able to avoid that painful experience with evil that marks the characteristic experience of first generation believers whose encounter with God’s ways is intense and dramatic.  So it can be as well for those who grew up being taught by God’ ways but who rejected it upon being old enough to choose which way to follow for themselves.  In some cases, as with the Amish, there are periods of trial and testing that determine whether someone can move from early instruction to a lifetime of obedience of whether someone needs to experience the ways of the world before rejecting them and being scarred thereby.  Not all who have the opportunity to be privileged by having it possible to have smooth transition between being raised as a believer subject to the authority of godly parents and recognizing the seeds and reality of mankind’s rejection of and rebellion against God and being an baptized adult with God’s Holy Spirit of truth within are able to enjoy or experience that privilege.  Still, it remains as something that some people can experience.  And such a privilege is worth remembering as well, in the hope at least that some way enjoy it.

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Book Review: The True Darcy Spirit

The True Darcy Spirit (Darcy #3), by Elizabeth Aston

If you really like the author and the way she treats the supposed second generation of Darcy women, then it would be possible to like this work.  As for me, someone with decidedly mixed feelings about the author’s treatment of Austen’s writings and family, I found this book to be a mixed bag, like the author’s work in general.  In fact, the more I read of Aston’s works, the more I am convinced that the author is really not aware of what she is doing.  She makes works that are full of knowing winks and references to Austen’s body of work as a whole (here she not only winks at Pride & Prejudice, which is to be expected, but makes the odious Mrs. Norris a substantial threat, and somehow known to the characters as someone who helps take care of wayward women who elope unwisely.  That said, Aston misses the heart of what makes Austen’s novels such a joy to read.  It is not merely that Austen was rather unsentimental about the dangers faced by her characters, but that she manages to show her main characters as honorable and decent (if hardly perfect) women even while showing the shenanigans and corruption of her age that surrounds her characters.  Aston lacks that crucial insight.

The plot itself is something that one would expect as wish fulfillment for fallen filles.  Cassandra Darcy is the oldest daughter of Anne de Bourgh, but she is not loved by her stepfather and after being falsely accused of tussling in the bushes with a talented German painter, she is sent off in disgrace to stay with a relative, where she rashly elopes with a debtridden naval officer on half-salary who only wants her for her supposed dowry.  Refusing either of the options provided by a lawyer cousin, Horatio Darcy, she seeks to make it on her own as a painter in London, finding help from her former maid and avoiding the clutches of the loathsome and not very uxorious Lord Usborne.  Eventually she gets caught up in an affair about letters that would incriminate Princess Caroline that her estranged husband, the loathsome Prince Regent, would like to have to help his divorce case against her, and seeks to find a place of honor and respect despite her previous disastrous elopement, which occurs because the author has a high taste for these things, even having a mysterious and shrewish old man in Mrs. Shawardine providing the ability for Mr. Horatio Darcy to settle down with someone who is not Lord Usborne’s wife, with whom he has been carrying on his own adulterous relationship.

The author appears all too interested in writing with the moral worldview of Prinny and his set or the contemporary moral worldview than that of Jane Austen.  Perhaps it would seem unrealistic and rather tame for characters to be as virtuous of those of Jane Austen’s leading ladies–for while there are plenty of supporting characters who are by no means chaste or honorable ladies, one thing that can be said about Jane Austen’s heroines is that they are all decent and moral ladies, ladies that any decent and honorable man would be able to respect.  That cannot be said for the protagonists here–one of whom runs off with a man and then refuses to marry him because he’s a golddigger and the other of whom has to be almost bribed to marry his proud and dignified and worthwhile cousin and make an honest woman out of her.  Neither of these characters are the stuff by which happy endings in Jane Austen’s novels are made of, but are rather the sort of characters that Austen would use for a darker moral subplot.  On top of that, the author includes another important pooftah whose death at the hands of Lord Usborne conveniently allows Horatio to come into independence and political power.  How very convenient.

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