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Music Matters

March 16, 2012

Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band - Dublin 2008

Like most of my generation, I grew up on what is now considered classic Rock & Roll. The Beatles, The Stones, Led Zep, The Doors, Tom Petty, Dylan, and the list goes on and on. The songs on classic albums like Sgt. Peppers, Sticky Fingers, Damn The Torpedoes, and Blood on the Tracks were the soundtrack of my youth and I still listen to much of the same music today.

Still, I have to pick one favorites artist of all time, the choice is easy. Bruce Springsteen. The Boss.

In 1975, my sister Paula and her friends would spend hours listening to everything from Neil Young and Paul Simon to the Eagles, Steely Dan and, of course, Bruce. At eight-years old, I had no understanding of the issues Bruce was addressing in his songs, but I did know they sounded cool. Big guitars. Pounding drums. A wailing sax. And stories about cars, gangs, fights, and exotic sounding places like Thunder Road. I was hooked.

As I got older, the meanings behind Springsteen’s songs became clearer and his music continued capture my attention, both sonically and lyrically. While not every song or album he’s put out over the past 30 years has been great (or sometimes, even very good), I remain a fan simply because of the effort he puts into each release and live performance. He believes in the power of music to move, inform, entertain, and even educate his audience.

What’s more, he’s still a fan of all types of music. How do I know? Because I listened to his incredible key-note speech from the annual SXSW conference yesterday. In about one hour, Springsteen talked about the influences that shaped his career and encouraged up-and-coming musicians to keep following their passions.

The purity of human expression and experience is not confined to guitars, to tubes, to turntables, to microchips,” said Springsteen. “There is no right way, no pure way, of doing. There is just doing.

It’s hard to argue against that advice, but then again, they don’t call Springsteen “The Boss” for nothing.

What Does It Mean?

March 7, 2012

Double rainbow image courtesy of Chirs and Lara Pawluk

That’s the question the poker world (and 2+2) has been asking since Poker Strategy published a public apology from Full Tilt Poker CEO and online poker pariah, Ray Bitar. The answer, I’m afraid, is nothing good.

What’s curious about Bitar’s statement isn’t its content or lack thereof, but rather, its timing. Why, nearly 11 months after the DOJ shut down FTP’s US operations, did Bitar finally break his silence? Is this a sign that the long-awaited GBT deal is about to reach completion? Are the players who’ve had their money locked up on FTP finally going to get repaid? Will FTP rise from the ashes?

The optimists among us all hope so. Cynics, like myself, don’t.

Not being able to speak for the optimistic crowd, I’ll take just a few moments to explain my views on Bitar’s comments. First, let’s look at what Ray had to say in response to Poker Strategy’s first softball question: Ray, there has been public outrage surrounding the fact that you have been silent since the Black Friday shutdown and indictments. Can you say why you haven’t made any public statements?

Ray Bitar:  There are two reasons. One is the ongoing legal process which has precluded me from providing any relevant information surrounding the on-going investigation, and of course, I have not wanted to jeopardize the process in any way. While I could have made general statements throughout this process, they would not directly relate to the issues under investigation. Any such statements would be so general in nature that they would not provide answers to the many questions people understandably have…

The second reason is that, along with others, I have been working every single day since Black Friday to ensure players are repaid, which has been my top priority, as well as working on the future plans of FTP.

Did anyone actually expect Bitar to say anything different? Of course not. This is a standard, boilerplate answer that any embattled CEO would provide. He admits nothing and gives nothing away. It’s a statement that he could have given at any time over the previous 11 months without jeopardizing any part of the deal or hindering the legal process that FTP is currently navigating its way through. (My attorney friends can correct me if I’m wrong about this.)

So, if Bitar’s statement doesn’t change anything the question is, why speak out now?

While my opinion is nothing more than speculation, I have to think that Ray is softening the ground before news breaks that the GBT deal is, like many people have already surmised, officially dead on arrival. In my mind, it’s the only explanation that makes sense.

Why? Well, let’s look at who Ray is speaking to. His statement isn’t meant for FTP’s board, its shareholders or any of the myriad folks who have been working on trying to put the bailout deal together for the better part of the past year. They all know what’s going on. Instead, Ray is speaking to the player base and the great unwashed masses who already hold him in contempt. He’s pleading his case.

With that in mind, let’s look at why Ray justified keeping quiet about the FTP situation for so long:

It was done out of necessity to ensure the focus remained on the continued efforts to reach the best outcome for the players. My entire focus is on obtaining a successful resolution for the players. I hope that before long I can provide some good news for all of the players involved.

Maybe what Ray is saying is true. Having some personal insight into his character, I can tell you that on some level, I do think he is sincerely sorry for what has happened. But the thing about Ray is, he doesn’t do anything without a reason and that reason is usually something that he believes will benefit himself in the long run.

Working to obtain a successful resolution for the players is all well and good, but to many observers, this statement seems like way too little way too late. If Ray really wanted to build goodwill, he could have said this months ago when people may have actually believed him. By waiting until now, however, it looks like he’s trying to save what little shred of his reputation he can while, at the same time, setting GBT up as the bad guys when the buyout deal most likely falls through. It’s the classic, “It wasn’t me, it was them” defense.

I really hope I’m wrong about Ray’s motives and the status of the GBT deal because I think it would be good for the players and the poker industry if it somehow comes to fruition. Seeing as how I’m a cynical SOB, however, I’ll remain skeptical until I’m proven wrong.

Why the Hell Not?

March 4, 2012

Clicking through my RSS feeds led me, as it inevitably does, to Grump who mentioned that this is apparently Hooker Week for poker bloggers. And no, that doesn’t mean I’m heading out to try my luck with any of the ladies of the night, but I am instead, sharing one of my favorite hooker-related stories. (Living in Vegas for the past three years, I have more than a few.)

This particular story takes place downtown at the Golden Nugget during Rodeo Week. A few friends and I had decided to play the 11pm hold ’em tournament at the Nugget and to have some fun wandering around Fremont Street after we all eventually busted. (The 11pm Nugget tourney is really nothing more than an excuse to drink and have fun while playing some relatively cheap poker.)

After registering to play, we had some time to kill before the tournament started and, seeing as the Nugget’s center bar is just mere feet from the poker room, that’s where we adjourned. A few of us were talking and couldn’t help but notice the young cowboy who was talking with an obvious (to us) working girl. He was working her with everything he had, which was pretty funny since she was the definition of a sure thing. Still, she played along and their conversation had to have run for 15 minutes or more before the cowboy asked the question of the night.

“So, what do you do?”

The woman took a second to form her response before answering simply, “I’m a pleasure provider.”

If you’d had a portable x-ray machine, I’m sure you could have seen the gears turning inside the cowboy’s head as he tried to determine exactly what the definition of her job could possibly be. After what was probably just a few seconds, you saw the penny drop and the lightbulb come on.

“Oh, that’s ah, nice,” he stammered before pulling the classic move of looking at his watch and noticing how late it had suddenly gotten. I don’t know if that kid ever ran away from a bull any faster than he high-tailed it away from the bar, but I’d bet against it.

A few minutes after the cowboy left, our tournament started and we left the hooker sitting at the bar awaiting her next potential customer. I’m sure there was someone in the Nugget who was seeking the kind of pleasure she was offering.

Killing Time

March 1, 2012

So, I’m sitting in a Sunoco station on Central Avenue, bored out of my mind. This is what happens when you’re dealing with 11-year old Volkswagens.

I came down this morning to have the headlights checked out because they seem awfully dim to me. Apparently, the problem there resides with my 44-year old eyes. Fine.

While here, however, our friendly mechanic – who I think is financing his new boat off this VW – noticed that the car’s inspection expired in January. Easy enough.

But, it never is. While on the lift, he pointed out that the exhaust is about ready to fall off (not a surprise, considering the car sounds like a diesel truck) and, more importantly, it needs needs rear brake pads. It’s an easy and fast fix. Or it will be, once the parts arrive.

Because Murphy’s Law is always in effect, our mechanic doesn’t have the pads in stock. His supplier is right down the road though, and the parts should be here in 20 minutes. That was almost an hour ago.

I’ve surfed the web, checked my email and Twitter, taken some pictures of rusted out old cars, and wandered around the strip mall next door. Meanwhile, the car remains on the lift, waiting for new brake pads to arrive.

I’m bored, but I’m not going anywhere without wheels. Or brakes.

Suffice it to say, I miss online poker at times like these.

An Epic Collapse

February 29, 2012

It was only a matter of time.

In theory, the concept behind the Epic Poker League was pretty good. Create an invitation only tournament series for the world’s best poker players and let them compete against one another for boatloads of cash and, more importantly, bragging rights.

And they might have pulled it off, if it wasn’t for those pesky feds.

Unfortunately, the EPL was doomed from the start because their timing, to put it frankly, sucked. Announced before Black Friday, but launched well after the DOJ had shut down FTP, Stars, and UB, Epic entered the market at just about the worst time possible. Yes, they were promoting a new series of televised poker tournaments featuring some of the biggest names in the game, but the problem was, the game and its players were suddenly viewed as pariahs by people outside the industry and neither TV networks nor corporate sponsors wanted to go near it with a 10-foot pole.

Epic did finally get a “deal” with CBS/Velocity, but they were paying for the airtime, which cost them plenty. Even then, the show was aired on a fledgling network that many people didn’t know about/get on their cable systems, or was aired on CBS at unfriendly hours such as last Sunday’s 10am broadcast. Poker enthusiasts are, by and large, not morning people, which means that early morning broadcasts aren’t likely to generate substantial ratings.

Couple that with all of the EPL’s other expenses — hotel rooms for their players and media folks, tournament overlays, food comps, etc., and the bills added up pretty quickly. Without the big name online poker sites or any other serious sponsors to help defray the costs, today’s announcement was kind of inevitable.

Say what you will about Annie and Jeffrey, but I have nothing against either of them, and I think they were actually trying hard to create something that was honestly good for poker. I know the league provided jobs for many of my friends, which was certainly good, and I feel bad for folks who are very likely going to see their paychecks disappear. What’s more, I think the league’s televised shows were – aside from Pat O’ Brian – much better than what the WSOP produced this year and could have done a lot to polish the game’s reputation in the wake of Black Friday.

So, am I happy about Epic’s collapse? Not at all.

Can I say I’m surprised it happened? Not at all.

Give Me Space

February 24, 2012

Kevmath just tweeted a link that got me thinking. It seems that Phil Galfond, poker player extraordinaire, is putting his ridonkulous NY apartment on the market for $4 million.

Read that again – a two-bedroom (easily converted to four, according to the listing) apartment on New York’s Lower East Side is listing for $4 million. Granted, it’s a nice apartment with what look like some pretty spectacular views. And it is New York City, which is as over-priced as any place on Earth. But still. $4 frickin’ million?

As much as I’m enjoying being back in my home city, I realize that I don’t think I can ever earn enough money to actually live in Manhattan any more. Looking at listings for random apartments in the city, the cheapest two-bedroom place I could find on the Upper West Side was $2,250/month. The average for a decent two-bedroom in a doorman building is about $5,000/month. Things are even more ridiculous downtown, where a two-bedroom walk-up starts at the same $2,250/month and prices escalate all the way to $27,495/month for a top-of-the-line place in the East Village. Look to spend at least $4,000/month if you want an apartment in a doorman building.

Buying places in the NYC is no cheaper. If you’re lucky, you can find a two-bedroom fixer-upper in a walk-up building on the Upper West Side for somewhere around $550,000. For a doorman building or a nicer neighborhood, forget finding anything for less than $1 million. And, the thing is, most two-bedroom apartments in New York aren’t all that big. If you’re getting 1,000 to 1,100 square feet of space, you’re doing well for your money.

As a single guy, I don’t need a whole lot of space, but that doesn’t mean I want to live in a closet either. In New York, I’m afraid, a closet is all I can afford.

For my money, I’d rather live somewhere within reasonable commuting distance of the city where I can find a decent two-bedroom apartment and a really large garage. Why spend millions of dollars on a view of lower Manhattan when, for the same money, I can purchase a fleet of classic and new cars that will take me anywhere I want to go? Give me the choice between a movie screening room and a ’69 Camaro SS, and I’m taking the Chevy every time.

Sure, a high-rise apartment may offer views all the way out to Jersey, but a BMW 3.0 CS will take me to Jersey, and beyond. A private gym may help keep me in shape, but I’d be just as happy driving to and from the local Gold’s if I’m traveling behind the wheel of a 911. It’s simply a matter of priorities.

Of course, everything I’m typing right now is nothing more than wishful thinking. But, if and when I’m in the market for a new place on the East Coast, look for me in a small apartment located next to a giant old barn.


February 23, 2012

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Nobody has a clue as to when – or if – a federal law overturning the UIGEA and legalizing online poker will come into existence. Of course, that doesn’t stop people from all corners of the industry from speculating on what the possible law may or may not do, and on who will benefit from it the most should it be approved and signed by the president.

The latest name to weigh in on a potential bill legalizing online poker is MGM CEO Jim Murren, who thinks Congress will approve a bill before the end of 2012. While I like his optimism, I have a hard time believing that the most divided Congress in recent history will agree to pass a bill that social conservatives clearly hate in the middle of an election year.

That said, recent legislative actions on the state level may force Congress to take up an online poker bill sooner than it would like. In the past week, Iowa has joined Nevada and become the second state to approve legislation approving intrastate online poker. California, which has been studying online poker legislation for a while now, is likely to keep moving forward (albeit slowly) while recent news reports suggest that Mississippi and Massachusetts are also looking at legal online poker as a way to help fill their state coffers.

I don’t think you can classify these state actions as a surge or a groundswell of support for online poker, but they’re definitely a signal that at least some government officials have begun to realize that prohibiting people from playing poker online makes less sense than creating a regulated environment where people can play safely. In exchange for this enlightened attitude, the regulating authorities collect some much-needed tax revenue. It’s a classic win-win situation.

So why are the states moving forward when the federal government isn’t? Is it because state regulators are smarter than their counterparts in Washington? I doubt it. Instead, I think they’re willingness to consider legalizing online poker stems from something that Washington sorely lacks at the moment. Common sense.

We all know that not everyone is in favor of legalizing online poker. Some people of have moral or ethical objections to “gambling.” Others may be beholden to constituents or special interests that have their own reason to oppose legalized online poker. But, what these legislators do have in common is a willingness to debate the issue and to compromise in order to reach a solution that they believe is best for every one involved. Players. Site operators. Tax payers. Special interest groups. You name it.

Washington can’t – or won’t – do this. Political gridlock and brinksmanship is the name of the game in DC nowadays, with legislators more concerned about securing a political majority and their own re-elections. Screw what’s good for the country or what their constituents may want. It’s every man and political party for themselves. The problem is, while Washington is fucking around, individual states are moving forward creating a patchwork of rules and regulations where some people are allowed to play online poker while others living just a few miles away cannot. That’s not fair and it’s not good.

Like I said earlier, no one knows when we may actually see a federal law legalizing online poker, and no one knows exactly what that law may look like when it’s finally approved. But, the one thing I can say with a fair degree of certainty is that the more states that address this issue on their own, the more likely it is that Washington will have to step in with a unifying and over-arching federal law.


Considering the Unthinkable

February 22, 2012

After college, I spent one somewhat painful year living in the small town of Medina, Ohio.

Maybe it was because I moved to a small town after spending four years living in Boston. Maybe it was that I was young and inexperienced in living outside of a major metropolitan area. Maybe it was the fact that people in Ohio were just nicer than the people I was used to in New York and Boston. I don’t know, but whatever the reason, Ohio and I just didn’t mesh.

The daily paper that I worked for took a chance on hiring me right out of college, and I felt like I couldn’t just pack up and leave even though I knew that’s what I wanted to do almost immediately after I’d arrived. So, I toughed it out and spent a fairly miserable year in the Midwest. When I left, I vowed never to live in the center of the country ever again.

Today, I find myself considering breaking that vow.

If you’ve read this blog even occasionally, you know that I’m a car enthusiast. I love everything about cars, from the way they look to the way they sound and, of course, the way they drive. I read all the popular car magazines, I watch all of the popular car shows, and I drive everything I can get my hands on. Knowing this, it should come as no surprise that one of my dream jobs is to write for an auto-related publication like Car & Driver or Automobile.

So, why haven’t I pursued any of these jobs before? Aside from the fact that the major mags like writers who also have engineering degrees (which I don’t have), they’re all located in Detroit. Forget for a minute that Detroit has a reputation as one of the most depressed and dangerous cities in the country. I can deal with that. My problem is that it’s also smack in the middle of the Midwest.

They say beggars can’t be choosers and I’ve been looking for full-time work for a while now. So, when a job lead that sounds almost too good to be true comes my way, I have to chase it, even it means potentially relocating to Michigan. So today, I did the unthinkable. I applied for a job in the Midwest. Will I actually have to consider moving to Detroit? It all depends on if I get the job.

Right now, I’m taking one unthinkable step at a time.

Of Hometowns and Shit Holes

February 20, 2012

Now Main Street’s whitewashed windows and vacant stores
Seems like there ain’t nobody wants to come down here no more
They’re closing down the textile mill across the railroad tracks
Foreman says these jobs are going boys and they ain’t coming back to your hometown
Your hometown
Your hometown
Your hometown

— Bruce Springsteen, My Hometown

I don’t know exactly when my hometown turned into a shit hole, but things in Ardsley, New York certainly aren’t what they used to be. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like people are dealing crack on the corners or stabbing each other on the streets, but Ardsley has fallen on harder times than many of the neighboring towns in the area where I grew up.

If I have to guess as to what’s caused Ardsley’s problems, I’d say it’s mostly due to poor planning and the lack of a cohesive downtown area.

Ardsley isn’t a big town. It’s a village, really, measuring about one-square mile. Growing up, it was the picture of the (near) perfect small town. Lots of small, independent businesses run by families who lived within a mile or two of where they worked. A Rexall pharmacy. A Big Top novelties store. A Sunnydale Farms convenience store. A shoe store, a couple of pizza places, a couple of local garages, a flower shop, a diner, a couple of local bars. It could have been any small town in America.

Nowadays, you can get all (or most) of the same goods and services you used to find, but the town has lost its soul. The Mom & Pop stores have all been pushed out by big chains stores. The shops that haven’t been completely replaced sit vacant, along with an abandoned gas station, and a rundown string of shops in the square. The place feels like it’s dying from a slow, painful disease.

Ardsley's Clock

The thing is, there’s no reason Ardsley should be in this kind of shape. Located about 20 miles North of Manhattan, it’s still a popular commuter town with folks who work in the city. We’ve got good highway access and are close to three different Metro North stations that can get you from here to Grand Central in about 40 minutes.

What’s more, it’s not like this is a poor part of the country. The median cost for a house in Ardsley is about $500,000 and most people who live in the area have plenty of disposable income to spend. We even have a celebrity living in town, if you call Funk Master Flex a celebrity. (Other “celebrities” with Ardsley connections include Tom Carvel, Peter Riegert, Alan Alda, and Mark Zuckerberg, though none of them live here anymore.)

Driving around the area, I’ve noticed that neighboring towns like Dobbs Ferry, Scarsdale, and Hartsdale all appear to be in much better shape than Ardsley, and I think I know the reason why. Unlike Ardsley, these towns all have real main streets or shopping districts filled with interesting stores. They encourage people to leave their cars, walk around and, ultimately, spend money.

Ardsley has Addyman Square, a small collection of uninteresting shops and cheap takeout restaurants that no one wants to go out of their way to visit. And, even if someone does want to purchase something in the square, it’s almost impossible to park there. What’s more, Ardsley’s main street is Saw Mill River Road, a busy, unattractive artery that does little more than link commuters with the New York State Thruway and the Saw Mill River Parkway, both of which have exits located within a few hundred yards of “downtown.” There nowhere worth walking to on Saw Mill River Road and no reason to walk even if you wanted to.

It’s obvious that Ardsley can be so much more than it currently is and the thing I don’t understand is why the residents and taxpayers don’t do more improve things. Sure, revitalizing a town isn’t easy or cheap, but the thing is, any money that’s spent on rehabbing the village now will be returned with interest if town officials encourage new, unique business to open their doors. Give people a reason to shop in Ardsley – and create a shopper friendly environment for them to do it in – and they’ll show up. Dobbs Ferry, Hartsdale, and Scarsdale have all proved this to be true. There’s no reason Ardsley can’t do the same thing.

Going Off the Grid

February 17, 2012

So, I missed another day of posting.

I tried to come up with something interesting to write about yesterday, but I just couldn’t do it. There was nothing there and, rather than bore people with bull shit, I decided to skip a day. I’m not displeased with the decision. Sometimes, the best thing to do is nothing.

That said, I do have a new post rattling around in my head. I’ve actually tried starting it a couple of times today, but it’s not coming together the way I want, so I’m putting it aside for a while. I’ll come back to it though. In the meantime, I’m letting this space go dark again for a couple of days. Not because I don’t want to post, but because I’ll be up in the wood in Becket, Massachusetts where I’ll have no Internet connection.

Circumstances beyond my control, you might say, except for the fact that I’m voluntarily choosing to go to the Berkshires. No matter. The fact is, I won’t have Internet at the house, so I won’t be posting.

See y’all in a couple of days.