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Wednesday, Jun 29th

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We Will Never Get What We Want or … The House Always Wins

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The saying, What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas is the condensed version of:

Every year people go to Las Vegas, and the billions of dollars they lose gambling … stays in Vegas.

The house has a built in advantage on all the games. The gambler who plays long enough … will lose. The Smart Gambler plays the games with the smallest House Edge like Baccarat or Craps. The Idiot Gambler goes straight to Keno or the slot machines. But lowering the odds doesn't mean you are going to win. It just means you might win some of the time, but overall you'll lose more slowly.

Commercial casinos gross about 34.6 billion yearly, Native American casinos rake in bout 18.5 billion, and state lotteries do a little better at 19.1 billion. Add it all up and you're looking at 72.2 billion dollars lost every year by people who don't seem to care that all the games are rigged in favor of The House.

The House Edge. Everyone knows about it. Everyone knows the rules. Gambling is a consensual act. If I gamble and lose … I have no one to blame but myself. Y'see I knew it was a rigged game before I bet my first dollar. And knowing the House Edge ... I would rather wager my life's savings in Las Vegas than vote in an American presidential election. At least I'd have a chance of winning in the casino.

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What's the Signpost Up Ahead?

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For anyone driving through the American countryside before 1963 there was a good chance they'd see a series of six signs spaced along the side of the road written to entertain and promote the sale of Burma Shave “brushless” shaving cream. Here's one of the last set of signs from 53 years ago:

We don't

Know how

To split an atom

But as to whiskers

Let us at 'em

Burma Shave

The Burma-Vita company's original product was a liniment made of ingredients described as having come from "The Malay Peninsula and Burma." Sales were poor until the company hit upon the road sign advertising gimmick, and at its peak, Burma-Shave was the second-highest-selling brushless shaving cream in the United States. But now those quaint little signs of Americana are as dead as Dodo Birds.

You can find examples of them by Googling around the web, and you can find pictures of Dodo birds too if you want. But you won't find either one of them in their “natural habitat.” They're gone. As Monty Python would say, they've kicked the bucket, shuffled off this mortal coil, run down the curtain, and joined the choir invisible.” They are extinct.

But Burma Shave signs are culturally extinct. In 1963 the company was sold to cigarette king Phillip Morris, spun off to a Phillip Morris subsidiary, and now is owned by the Energizer Bunny. Energizer could bring Burma Shave signs back by kicking off a nostalgic retro roadside campaign, but nothing short of Jurassic Park technology will bring the Dodo Bird back. The Dodo is really really extinct. They've been gone since 1662 and they're never coming back. As Kurt Vonnegut wrote many times, “And So It Goes.”

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Symptomatic Nerve Gas

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One of the low-key lunatics who skulked around the Seattle's University District would set up shop on the corner of 47th and Brooklyn near the Safeway and rant to anyone within earshot about UFO’s and the CIA. He carried hand-lettered signs detailing in teeny tiny print exactly what the CIA and the UFOs were up to. Not a bad act compared to other street shouters I've seen. If you passed him on the street when he wasn't “performing” he'd mutter “Symptomatic Nerve Gas.” out of the corner of his mouth like a gangster from a 1930's Warner Brothers film.

I never stopped to ask him about Symptomatic Nerve Gas because I had learned years before to never engage with street corner crazies. They were on A Mission … while I was simply curious. Guys like that are searching for full-time converts … not dilettantes. They could get downright testy when they realized I didn't buy into their particular brand of crazy. Don't poke crazy bears with sticks I always say.

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God (or whoever) Bless You Mr. Vonnegut

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47 years ago I bailed out of a Medieval English Literature class just in time and took a Modern Satire class instead. I knew I'd get an easy “A” because how hard could it be? Read a couple of books, answer questions about the books I'd just read, and then I'd maintain a high grade average. Guys that didn't keep their grades up were destined to become soldiers instead of students. Without a high enough grade point average it could get pretty drafty going to college in those days.

The assigned reading list was fairly long. I can only remember two of the books from the stack I brought back from the bookstore because they changed my life. To be more precise they changed the way my brain worked. They were The Magic Christian by Terry Southern, and God Bless You Mr. Rosewater by Kurt Vonnegut. Both books are about money.

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I'm not on Drugs … Maybe I'm Dreaming

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You can find just about anything on The Internet. I was looking for the right words to describe a state of mind so I clicked on Google, typed in “anxiety dream”, and in point 39 seconds Google served up over 58 million entries. I didn't need to look any further than the first one:

An anxiety dream is an unpleasant dream which is less disturbing than a nightmare. Anxiety dreams are characterized by the feelings of unease, distress, or apprehension in the dreamer upon waking.

That's exactly what I was looking for. Ain't technology grand?

Years ago, if I wanted to get an idea about What's Going On, I could talk to our next door neighbors and the 85 year old World War II vet who lived across the street. Every weekday, just before 3:00 pm, I'd be with all the other moms and dads at the front door of my son's elementary school waiting for our kids to get out. Listening and talking to these folks didn't lead me to think I had my my finger on the pulse-beat of the nation, but at least I had an idea about What's Going On in my little corner of the world. The information I gathered was firsthand. I didn't primarily get it from television, newspapers, magazines, or websites. I got it from listening to the people who lived in my city, my neighborhood.

Now we live in Canada. I can tell you all I know about The Great White North but I don't know shit about what's going on in the US. I can call up a couple of people I know, and get their take on Current Events … but it's their impression of What's Going On. I don't have any firsthand knowledge about what appears to be a nation-wide descent into full-blown madness.

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'183,429 Better Ways to Elect a President'

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The best book I've read in quite a while is a nonexistent one called Scorched-Earth Realpolitik Cookbook:  Cajun-Style Political Elexting and Black-Eyed Peace for the Rest of Us, by Pfisher Pranx, a renowned, well-respected, award-winning author whom I made up only a few seconds ago, while typing this sentence.

The alternate title of the book, I just now realized, is:  Or: 183,429 Better Ways to Elect a President.

This fictitious book is from Keisterville Publishing, a company which fails to pass the real-company sniff test.

  • (Full disclosure:  However, this is true except in an accidentally oblique, and quite eerily coincidental sense, way out in pretty-much-still-real Pennsylvania, where Keisterville actually exists. This is a coincidence for which I deeply apologize discovering, and then mentioning, after first selecting my own fake company's name, liking it, and then Googling it at the last second to make sure there wasn't a real publishing company named that, thereby accidentally setting up myself and others for a lethal, 60-kiloton mega-legal blast.  Sorry, Keisterville -- about, uh, everything -- and hello there, Keisterville Publishing.)

In this book which exists in some alternate reality not our own, there is also featured The Best Music Video Which Doesn't Really Exist.  Two of them, in fact.  (This is an incredible accomplishment, I have to say, having an old-fashioned paper-and-pressed-board book, with the ability to project a full, room-sized high-def hologram with rich colors and 10-point sound, simply from within the book's pages and binding and vocally activated with individual password... amazing!)

Wait -- I should probably start again.

Here's the thing: Since the Laws of Legitimate Political Reality have been totally gutted, abandoned, and forever revoked by the Lame, Hamstrung, and Hungover Lower Deities of Self Governance with whom we Humans have saddled ourselves in a cruel trick of Fate and our own brain-dead decision-making attempts, the common civic reality we once all shared has been shattered and suspended. The common good, and common sense, have all been devastated and obliterated by far-right-wing psychoses, propaganda, and personal Ponzi pyramids.

We're just about back to monosyllabic grunting, if you haven't noticed.

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Hello, Dali...

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It's been threatening to get out of hand for some decades, and it's finally happened: Every news report -- global, national, local, and personal -- is competing for that rarest of all awards, the Golden MacArthur Oscar Genius Emmy Grant Globe Prize in Massive Surreality.

Life is now like being overdosed on an iffy batch of blotter paper acid, spending the day in a Salvador Dali exhibition featuring peyote hors d'oeuvres and really good wine, then moving right on into a Federico Fellini film fest boasting magic mushroom tapas and too many flavors of seat-side, delivered tequilas and mandatory, last-shot worm-eating ultimatums.  With curry.  And that really hot, yellow Chinese-dragon-mustard that attacks every moist membrane in, on, and around your body.

Yes:  The whole Reality business jumped the tracks some time ago, when The Incoming News shot off the rails at the same time as my health track slipped the surly bonds of Earth and took flight, winging me into the uncertainty of the ER wing. Again, some more.  One more once.

It all gets jumbled together, as most disaster victims will tell you: There are some inexplicable events, then comes perception and a beginning recounting of horrors -- peripheral and central -- as if everything was experienced in a waking dream...

Somewhere in there, at the end, after therapy involving hand-wringing, chin-scratching, wall-bashing, pillow-scrunching, and quite a bit of Kleenex use, there is a final uncomprehending shrug aimed at the universe at large, and a muttered, superstitious incantation of Hell, I dunno, and then, there is some serious drinking (and/or bathing in) some alcohol to be done.

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