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16 Oct 2010

Raise The Stakes

It is easy to see why gambling is addictive. It is a win-win situation for the house, may not be so for gambler but he returns nevertheless. 

If one is running through a streak of bad luck, there are two things that will bring him back. A hope that the luck will turn someday and one will at least make the money back that one has lost, makes one want to return. The reasoning that if it were the case for everyone, the casino would not be raking so much moolah is lost. If it is not the, forgive me, foolish and what also appears to be desperate at times, hope that makes one come back, it could be the frustration. The anger and despair at having lost all that money and the ego fight to keep going until one wins at least once. The "I will not give up" protests of the pride help keep the casino lights burning. 

Another kind of addiction exists, with the appearance of a wee lesser madness in the eye. That is when one returns to gamble ever so often but argues that one is only losing (playing) small values of money. The argument persists - what if one would win someday, one might make a fortune but if one does not, the losses are of slight consequence. This could, by far, be crazier than the rush kind of addictions for this could grow and be hard to shrug off. Like smoking. One is not a habitual smoker nor a chain smoker, yet one needs to smoke when stressed or when drinking or when doing something else. One can give it up but won't. How long before the will not turns into a can not? And one might not even notice the addiction creeping in. The losses at the tables will soon be budgeted into the monthly math.

Watching some of the tables last night, it was obvious that the tables are played so as to ensure that house always makes more money than the player. The simplest was the game of the wheel. The 1-1 payouts cost the casino nothing and the wheel had a 1 alternating every other number. The highest 47-1 was only present on the wheel once. What are the odds of that turning up? A gambler who wants to chance his luck on something so high might do so on small amounts, for he wins he makes a fortune but if he does not (which is more often the case), the casino keeps the money. 

The odd payout means nothing to the casino. Again, what are the chances of the winner putting all of that back on the table? Pretty high, no doubt. If one is willing to gamble one's hard-earned money at the table, one would be doubly willing to gamble a win that one freely obtained. If one lost that money, it does not matter for one did not lose one's own money. Neither did the casino. In short, when one loses, the casino makes money. When one wins, the casino gets it back more often than not.

A fellow that was with me at the Blackjack tables last night insisted that the Blackjack is definitely a lesser of a gamble than the others. "Because there is some decision-making involved", he argued. Admittedly there is a certain amount of decision to make. How long does one keep tapping for the next card? Who does one chance one's luck upon, for a perfect pair or a coloured pair? However, what does one base the decision upon? It is purely accident that one might win. It is a gamble. While it might give one a false sense of control over one's decisions or a feeling of more probabilities of a win, that is not necessarily so.

This is another age-old and classic examples of a mere tweaking of human psychology bringing the executor of the deed enormous profits. Another perfect sample of expensive addictions. Preying on one's weakness and feeding it just enough to reap benefits while giving one a sense of elation that cannot possibly exist. Such is life. As the saying goes, life is a gamble. Everyone loves it that way. Is that not why book-readers tend to love mystery thrillers and action stories which have all the rush that lead up to a supposedly unknown end. Everyone knows that the hero will win but it is the stakes that he plays along the way that keeps one reading. 

I went in merely to watch people gamble last night. If it were not for serious crunch of cash, I might have done so myself. The attraction is monstrous! The only language at the table is numbers. The deals are number, the coins are number, even the crisp notes one lays at the table are mere numbers. The $$ sign just blurs away from those little pieces of paper. One puts down a hundred, one gets coins that add up to a hundred and one lay the coins at numbers. Then one exchanges coins with the dealer, one loses some and wins some. It is all a stack of nothing but numbers. It is only when one steps out does one realize the weight of the abandoned $$. The dealers or the casino owners themselves have to do nothing, save for creating the right atmosphere. Each gambler incites the next one to keep going. It is a strangely perfected method of allowing people to feed off of each others' defects with no intervention from the original one that set the ball rolling. Fantastic, that is what it is.

3 Oct 2010

The Story Of A Highway, Rain, Car Crash and A Happy Child

Watching your car hurtling down the road, straight into the back of a stopped car, is a nightmare. For a few seconds, it is like being on a giant Ferris wheel, as the your cage plunges downward. You're plummeting towards the capsule in front of you and there's the adrenalin rush but in some brave corner of your mind, you know you won't hit it. Only, in the case of a real car on a real highway, when you're speeding at 90kph, you actually hit the car in front of you, causing serious damage. You watch yourself rushing into the target and the crash itself takes only a split second. You can barely remember the instant of contact. Then you watch the back of the car in front dent and crack, in the moments following the impact. 

Seconds later you realise that your car has stopped too. It suddenly registers that, with the hit, you haven't really displaced the other car. It probably wasn't that bad, eh? 

What is the first thing that comes to your mind? Impossible to remember. Thoughts have flitted past and fluttered about like shards off a grenade, in those couple of minutes. Some come back, a lot do not. Your first reaction is to get out of the car. Then, you look over to see those getting out of the other car. Was the only damage you did, to the car, when you rear-ended them? It had not occured to you until then that it might have been otherwise. Why? You did not see anything. Nor hear anything. The car had not moved. The mind rests knowing it was not worse. Until you see the driver of the hit car open the rear door and get his baby out. A baby! In the back seat! This cannot be happening!

You rush forward to check if he is okay. The little one is crying. There are no visible injuries, he might be shaken. There's no saying that nothing is wrong yet. What about whiplash? Or something else? He did cry, didn't he? He did feel the impact, didn't he? It is of no consequence that, after crying for about 15 minutes, little Michael seems alright. He is excited by the big red fire-truck of Emergency Services, with lights flashing. He is thrilled to bits when the guys in their fireman uniforms give him a stack of stickers and goodies. When the first ambulance arrives minutes later, with more lights flashing, he jumps in his father's arms in glee. While the paramedics try to talk to him and find out how he felt, he keeps pointing towards the second ambulance that is pulling in. As far as he is concerned see it, it is a grand party. He is enjoying every second of it... the flashing lights, the big trucks, the men all dressed up in uniforms, the attention he is getting. You cannot help but smile at his sweet innocence. He is going to be alright. He is one hell of a kid, isn't he?

The minutes spent waiting for the towing trucks, the emergency services, the ambulance and the numerous questions, calling the car hire agency... it seems endless. It is a real slow hour after all is over that the cops finally arrive. A good couple of hours and half since the accident. Then, another hour of gruelling questions targeted at the driver who rear-ended the car. It does not matter that the car stopped bang in the middle lane of a speeding highway. The car behind should maintain enough distance to stop without hitting, is the argument. Fair enough, you think. 

Fifty kilometres away from the destination, over an hour's drive away from the starting point, standing in the rain, on a highway. Quite a scene. All you have is a few smokes, the towing guys for conversation, stressed parents, grand-mom and little Michael for company. Once the trucks started leaving, it is the rain and slush which excites the kiddo. He jumps on the wet grass, splashing the muddy water and grime over himself, laughing and clapping with joy. In the harrowing minutes that pass, playing with Michael is a little joy, of those hours, to be cherished later. 

You give him little stones to throw in the dirty water and you are his best friend now. It keeps him from jumping into the water for a while. He manages to mess up his clothes, anyway. When his mum tries to distract him with a book and pen, he runs to his new playmate who gave him a choccie some time ago. It is enough for him to trust the stranger, who draws a cat in his book, which he watches with wide eyes. He is overjoyed and asks for it again and again. He takes the pen from his new friend and tries to draw circles in the book. Then he gives up, not disappointed but happy for you to draw some more cats for him. Such a little thing seems to give him so much happiness. He settles down on the road and refuses to go home when his parents call him. He wants to watch his buddy draw pathetic little figures in his tiny notebook. The blessing that innocence is cannot be described!

His dad carries him back to the car, crying and screaming, because he wants to play, not go home. He doesn't want to leave his friends. He likes the rain, the mud, the stones and everything that is here, not back home.

A longer wait follows as the policeman, with the strong accent, goes about his interrogation of the errant driver. The friendly towing guys readily agree to drop everyone off at the Caboolture train station. It is not too far from here (Morayfield, the site of the events), they say. Soon, the first truck takes off with 2 people, while the other one would take the remaining two. It's a good hour before the latter arrive in the towing truck, with the rental car that was also battered in the front. 

Hours from when it all first started, numerous questions, notes, recording, signatures and a ticket later it is finally over! 

It is too late to continue the onward journey, heading home is the only option. The long train journey, filled with conversations of cricket, footy, tennis, badminton and other accidents, ends in a curry lunch at the only Indian restaurant that is open at 5PM on a weekend. 

There is no place like home, no person like a spouse and no activity like a warm shower to get over the events of the day. And a good 12 hours of sleep.

1 Oct 2010

The Ayodhya Verdict

I heard the verdict on the long-standing Ayodhya issue. It was pathetic, if nothing else. No offence but why did it take this long to say something I could have said right back then? On the surface it sounds like a reasonable decision. Except that, it is not. 

If Hindus and Muslims could live in harmony, sharing the same ground, why have they not already? Maybe most Hindus and Muslims do not really care if they had to share the ground. They can live in harmony. There are certain sections of troublemakers who needed the issue to thrive because it served their selfish interests. How is this verdict going to address that? In my view, the core of the problem has been less religion and more politics. Mud-slinging and buying vote-banks, in the name of Ayodhya, has been a norm at every major political event. It has been nurtured by some of our leaders, to increase the bulge in their pockets. Why will they accept this verdict now? Of course, they will not go out and protest against the verdict. Does that mean they like it?

Taking advantage of the hype of the issue, a few objects of media have dug up the history of the issue. Apparently, this is not just a two-decade old issue, as most of us know it. It dates back centuries. One version I read said the start of the story is way back in the 11th century when Lord Rama was born in Ayodhya. There was a temple built in his honour, which was later demolished by a Mughal Emperor, who built a masjid there. A good 300 years later, that was demolished by a group of party workers and politicians led by L K Advani. A long, painful 20 years later, a verdict is given that Hindus and Muslims should share the land equally. And the 3rd party. Like a friend of mine tweeted, how do you divide 1 by 3 and get a whole number? Does each party get 0.333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333% of land?

Here are a few excerpts from people's views collected by the TOI group.  

Hindus are happy that the court has said they can have the land, they cannot see why they need to share it with the Muslims...

"The court has accepted historical facts and ruled on the basis of facts," said Nritya Gopal Das, president of the Shri Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas, the chief body in Ayodhya working towards the building of a temple on the site. "Every Hindu already knew in his heart that Ram lived here. Now the court has ruled that this is true," Das added. 

"When the court has ruled this is where Ram was born, what is the meaning of a one-third share for Muslims? The whole area is Ram's and we will go in appeal to the SC against the one-third given to the Sunni Waqf Board," Das said.

The Muslims cannot see why the Hindus need to be given any part of the land at all...

"Does all this mean that it was okay to tear down the Babri mosque? Why is the court deciding matters thousands of years old but ignoring matters 20 years old," asked 24-year-old Ashraf Ali (name changed on request), a resident of Ayodhya who works in a printing press in Faizabad.

It has not been accepted silently. The issue lives on. The only thing that has changed is probably the judge who retires today. He had to say something. He earned a good salary on the supposed verdict for a greater part of his career and when he had to leave, he told them to grow up and share it like good children. The saga continues.