Sunday, February 6, 2011

Gambling: Time to Outlaw Video Slot Machines!

Gambling. A nasty habit, and one that I have visited before as a topic for columns. In those columns I was railing against those video slots that are “for entertainment purposes only” in every gas station in the state, so it seems. My contention was that the places that have them are paying cash as a prize, and we all know that it is a practice that is illegal. It still goes on. I have seen it with my own eyes.
After my last piece about the machines I received some very strongly worded letters from the dear readers of the JPA. These readers stated that gambling was an individual choice and that it was not the job of government to regulate those things that hurt no one. My contention was that, because I was once briefly associated with those machines in a seedy little underworld web that is constantly trying to evade detection by the police, I know of what I speak, and that the machines are programmable to only pay limited jackpots and are fodder for weak-minded individuals who have addictive personalities. Same response: “No harm, no foul”, as long as the laws are followed. Well, the laws are not being followed and are regularly broken with impunity. I saw it as recently as three days ago at a local gas station. But that’s not my battle here---the police do what they can against tricky proprieters who make payments in restrooms where video taping is illegal. My concern is that the very people who should not be gambling---the poor, those on public assistance, those barely able to feed their families---are seduced by the machines. And now medical evidence backs me up. A recent 60 Minutes piece on CBS detailed the fact that gambling is addictive and that the very worst facet of the addiction is those very gambling machines I have been trying to get outlawed.
What once was a casual activity, with big and very legal casinos in a limited number of states like New Jersey and Nevada, has now grown to a disturbingly large number. Casinos or gambling establishments are now in 38 states and looking to expand to even more. What once was an occasional entertainment is now pervasive and all too easy to have access to and people are losing money and their assets at alarming rates. Those on the side of the casinos say what some readers have said---it is a personal choice. Medical professionals say something else: the machines are indeed addictive and they have the studies to back it up.
Here is how it works: the machines, which used to be called One Armed Bandits, and had a lever on the side that you would pull, could only go fast enough to allow the player to pull the lever several hundred times in an hour. The new video slots, such as seen in gas stations, have no lever and are all button controlled. Money in, push push push. At a rate of up to 1200 games an hour! The combination of speed and the little rewards are exactly what creates the addiction, and the manufacturers of these machines know that. The machines are set to pay a little bit, small amounts, occasionally, giving the false impression that the player is winning, when in actuality they are losing and throwing their money in faster than they can count it out. This actually creates a chemical situation in the brain that is terrifyingly like that of crack cocaine addicts and when some players are in the “zone”, as it is known, they actually could not remember their own children’s names. They also suffer from similar shakes and other conditions akin to withdrawal from a chemical addiction.
The government has stepped in to regulate alcohol, tobacco, and medicine. It is time to do something to help hard working Americans to keep their money. Outlaw video slots now. Let the gamblers play legal lottery, or better yet spend their money on viable products and services that help us all to exist.

Rock IS Dead.Long Live ROCK!

I am in mourning. I think it is official that something that I really love is dead.
I’m talking about rock and roll music.
You know the scene from countless movies and television shows where a couple are at a dance, or a wedding, or some social event, and the band strikes up a mellow tune, and one of the couple looks at the other, and says, “Listen! They’re playing our song…?” Well, in my mind’s eye I see two old people slow dancing to Stardust or another classic in the Cole Porter/Hoagie Carmichael style. And that is the way it used to be.
Then along came rock and roll. Born from the marriage of rhythm and blues and jazz numbers of the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, rock and roll began as a near-novelty, arguably first with a song called Rocket 88 and then with danceable tunes like Rock Around the Clock. Then along came Elvis Presley, a white boy singing like a black man, and the glue that held it all together was set. Little Richard, out of Macon, Georgia, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, and many others came along and all of a sudden “playing our song” meant something a little different—a little more bounce and swagger that brought it all home.
The songs themselves were often silly, simple and were mainly about love and automobiles. Even the Beatles, who first came to the world’s attention in 1963, were mainly singing about the same things, albeit with a different accent and with fresh sounding chords and melodies.
Then Bob Dylan went from folk music to electric and it was Katie bar the door, as complex lyrics and songs that were not the usual three minutes long hit the airwaves, and on Dylan’s watch, everything about music and society changed in 1965. Some say that it was the final nail in the coffin for manufactured, fabricated tunes from the old Brill Building group, like Carole King, Neil Sedaka and Neil Diamond, who sat in offices and wrote songs on demand. All of a sudden lyrics about “Einstein disguised as Robin Hood” and “Googoogajoob, I am the walrus” were sung to heavier melodies and it was then that rock and roll really became an art form. This art form grew and insinuated itself into the public consciousness even more, and after, with the help of punk rock, surviving the disco era and the techno era and even the recent hip hop era, rock and roll, now usually just called “rock” has finally and probably been undone by something that I had thought was dead itself: manufactured music, done for money, and with no soul, no heart and with a clear eye on just making as much money as possible.
I’m talking about American Idol. To my mind, this “talent”-show-on-steroids is symbolic of all that is wrong with music, and by extension, art, today. Nothing about the show is creative. Indeed, when some of the hopefuls try to express some individuality, they are often harshly criticized for straying from the melody or for being “pitchy”, a word that may be the only thing creative to come out of this show. The most damaging and insulting aspect of the show really began a couple of season ago when the “judges” began telling these young people, many of whom were very talented singers, that they should be doing one style of music or another, instead of what they liked to do. This is no different than telling Leonardo Da Vinci to focus on comic book art, or telling Marlon Brando that soap operas are his future. How dare they!!!
So the death knell has rung for rock and roll. That American Idol and other factors (the internet and corporate greed among them) helped put the last nail in isn’t their fault, but there are about five generations of mourners who have lost the love of their lives. A sad time it is indeed. Long live Rock!