You Bet

Supposedly, the single greatest invention in casino gambling (from the point of view of the casino owners) is the board next to the roulette table that displays the results of the last several spins. Potential players will see, for example, that the last 10 spins have all been black, and they will think, “The odds of 11 straight black spins is quite low! It is more than usually likely that the next spin will be red!” Or, in short, “Red is due!”

But red is not due. The odds of any given spin of a roulette wheel are the same as every other spin. Each individual spin of the wheel is completely independent of each other. So although it is true that the odds of 11 straight black spins is quite low, the odds of the eleventh spin are not at all affected by the 10 that preceded it. The board does not lie, but it does present information that makes it easy for people to lie to themselves.

There have been suggestions that television and the internet have a similar effect on people. The new media grants us access to unimaginable quantities of information; more than we could ever really process. But, as in the casino, more information does not necessarily mean more understanding. In fact, extraneous information can make it harder to think clearly about what is really going on. And often, the information that is thrust upon us by the house (even when it is not untrue) is the kind of information that is really designed to obscure the way we think about what is actually important.

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Beer of the week: Shock Top Choc’ Top – This week is something of a three-for-one deal. This is the first layered beer drink to be reviewed on this site. It is a combination of Shock Top Belgian White and their winter seasonal, Chocolate Wheat. So first, I tried the component beers:

Shock Top Belgian White – This wheat beer is cloudy and slightly orange colored. According to the bottle, it is brewed with citrus peals and coriander, but I couldn’t really taste the coriander. There is, however, a definite aroma of orange. I was surprised to find that the brewers showed some restraint in not overdoing the orange sweetness. Unfortunately, that is partly because there really is very little flavor at all. The beer is smooth and refreshing, but decidedly bland. Since this beer is unfiltered, at the bottom of my glass I had a little extra sediment that did add a bit of pleasant yeastiness, a little hint of how close this beer gets to being good instead of just ok.

Shock Top Chocolate Wheat – This very dark wheat beer pours with a creamy tan head, which unfortunately dissipates quickly. Vanilla and coffee dominate the aroma. Notes of chocolate and coffee blend with the vanilla to make this taste more like a piece of cake than like beer. I couldn’t drink this often, but as the Preacher says, “A time to every purpose under heaven.”

Choc’ Top (Shock Top Belgian White layered on top of Shock Top Chocolate Wheat) – I was positively tickled with how nicely the beers layered and how pretty the drink looked. Early on, the Belgian White’s flavor dominates, naturally, with just hints of vanilla and chocolate slipping in at the finish. By the end, there is mostly only the darker beer left, though the sweetness is not quite as pronounced as the Chocolate Wheat alone. Overall, I like it. It looks so good that I am willing to forgive the fact that it really is a bit too sweet. I just think of it as a desert beer.

Reading of the week: Jim Smily and His Jumping Frog by Mark Twain – The titular character of this story (also known as The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County) is a compulsive gambler. He’d bet on anything: “if there was a dog-fight, he’d bet on it; if there was a cat-fight, he’d bet on it; if there was a chicken-fight, he’d bet on it; why if there was two birds setting on a fence, he would bet you which one would fly first”. But he met his match when he tried to introduce a wringer into a frog jumping contest.

Question of the week: Does the player get any advantage from knowing the result of previous spins of the wheel, or is that information strictly extraneous?

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Of Cats and Dogs

Some people divide the world into two groups: cat people and dog people. I think that the distinction is too stark. I know people who love both dogs and cats. I also know of people who don’t like either. In The Reivers, William Faulkner, without expressly stating a personal preference, rated cats as more intelligent than dogs (though less intelligent than rats and mules.)

Cats, he explains, are total parasites. They do whatever they want and cannot be bothered to lend a hand. They contribute nothing to your household by way of work. They don’t help with the chores. They don’t sweep the house or bring home groceries. (Although in my experience, cats will bring home a mouse or mole occasionally, which certainly gives the appearance of attempting to chip in.) Still, “the cat lives with you, is completely dependent on you for food and shelter but lifts no paw for you and loves you not.”

Although many dog breeds were selected for labor, the vast majority of dogs are every bit the parasite that cats are. They too are totally dependent for food and shelter. The difference is that they don’t have the good sense to resent you for it. For your approval, they will perform all manner of demeaning “tricks”. As Faulkner says, “[a dog] will debase and violate his own dignity for your amusement; he fawns in return for a kick, he will give his life for you in battle and grieve himself to starvation over your bones.”

Nobody can ever accuse a cat of being so foolish as to actually care what his owner thinks.

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Beer of the Week: Pegas New Zealand IPA – This local brew from Brno, Czech Republic is pretty darn good. As far as I can tell, it is an American-style IPA brewed with New Zealand hops, and plenty of them. The alcohol content is a bit lower than most American IPAs at 5%, but the flavor is dead on. This golden beer has a nice, thick head and a very strong aroma of hops. The bitter hops dominate the flavor as well, but there is some good bready malt in the finish to round out the taste. With the quality of this beer, I would not be surprised if Pegas expands beyond Brno soon.

Reading for the Week: The Reivers by William Faulkner – During this comedic novella, the narrator goes on a few interesting digressions about the history of his part of Mississippi and on the nature of animals. In this excerpt, he ranks animals based on intelligence and usefulness and explains why he holds mules in such high regard.

Question for the week: Is Faulkner’s ranking of animals based on intelligence (rat, mule, cat, dog) the reverse order of how these animals would rank in terms of companionship? If so, what about the inclusion of the horse as the least intelligent?