Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Alternatives to gambling

Alternatives to losing at gambling

My brother-in-law has a system. He says it works on a regular basis, and it must do, because every time he comes to visit us, he goes into the local casino and comes out with some small amount of winnings. 'Small'? Yes, that's part of his system. “Most people are just too greedy,” he says. “They imagine they'll win millions and end up losing everything they have.” If you're not greedy, he says, you can count on winning small amounts regularly. That helps to pay the rent, it might even buy you a bottle of champagne, so isn't that worth having? Well, no, not for most people. They buy Lottery tickets in order to win the million pound prize. If they got a letter saying they'd won three hundred thousand, they'd probably be disappointed. That's part of the problem of gambling: it inspires a level of complete unreality. But that's the point, isn't it? The casinos in Las Vegas provide an adventure in a fantasy world. They know they shouldn't be selling 'reality'. If they did, people wouldn't part with their money so easily. In fact, they'd win more often. Like my brother-in-law.

The second part of the system kicks in when he sits down. He plays Blackjack, starting slowly and relaxed, and looking around the table to see who else is in the game. He spots the losers, the high-rollers, the emotional types, and distances himself from all of them. Because that's another way to lose. If you get influenced by the other players, you can't watch your own game. Of course, in the real world, it happens all the time. Why else did thousands of people invest in 'dot com' companies in the 'noughties’? They were copying other people. Why else have so many people in Britain invested in housing and renting out those homes, even though the market has peaked and is now slipping down? They've listened to other people, they've followed what everyone else is doing. You want to win at gambling? Look at your own hand first and consider the odds you're facing. Then, and only then, consider comparing yourself to everyone else, after you've got some idea what your chances are.

The next consideration is luck. Successful gamblers know it's all about luck, but they work with it, play along with it, coax it and cajole it. They never, ever work against it. My brother-in-law says that Blackjack is a game where the cards seem to go in runs. For a while they might be with you and then they'll turn against you. At that point you need to back off and wait for the good run to come round again. It always does, he says. So he plays with his luck, not against it. He's placing small bets and if the cards seem to be going his way, he'll slowly increase his bets, planning on building up winnings. If the hands are going against him, he'll slow down, minimise the bets and conserve his stake. Why would that work for him? Because most people do the opposite, he says. If they see they're losing, they'll panic and increase their bets enormously, trying to win back all the chips they've lost. That's crazy, he says. If the run is not going your way, you need to calm down and minimise, not maximise bets. Above all, don't panic. Just wait for your luck to turn, as it always does. If you bet high while the cards are running against you, then all you'll do is lose bigger. That's his philosophy and it seems to work.

That might be for two reasons. One is that 'runs' do exist. Try it. If you flip a coin and record the results you won't get a list that says 'head, tails, head, tails'. Sure, it's random and there's an even chance that it will come up heads or tails each time. But it won't alternate. Instead, you'll get a list that says 'heads, heads, heads, tails, tails, heads' and in the sequence you'll see runs going one way or the other. In fact, this is a complex point, and fools a lot of people. When the first computer programmers tried to build a Random Number Generator a few years ago they were disappointed at their first results. They kept getting runs. To the untutored eye, it didn't look 'random' enough! But it was. Randomness produces runs. You just have to be conservative enough to see it.

That's the main point. My brother-in-law is cautious. It's the way he plays and the way he wins. Because he's aware of the dangers of following other players; because he's only aiming to win limited amounts; because he knows the cards could turn against him and produce a losing streak; he's always reserved and waiting. He never makes snap judgements and never, ever takes absurd risks. In the end, he walks out of the casino with money in his pocket not because he's a great winner, but because most of the other players are big-time losers. They follow other players; they risk high bets; and they compound a losing streak by betting amounts they can't afford. In the end, that's why he wins. All he has to do is keep his cool and win some money, standing by while everyone else loses theirs. He watches the cards, places small bets and increases only when he's feeling safe. But that's okay. The system works and will continue to work. Because? We know that out of all the people reading this article, most have never set foot in a gambling house, so they're not rivals. Of those who do, most don't go regularly and have never thought about applying a system. Of those who have a system, most are still prone to emotional and panicky responses. That leaves, well, how many? Not many. At the end of the day my brother-in-law is a regular winner, but then, how many real competitors has he got?

Monday, December 03, 2018

Alternatives to 'Customer Service'

It's Thursday today. Just a normal day, an ordinary day. One more opportunity to work hard, get rich, and one more chance to be slammed around by people who seem never to have heard of the concept of 'customer service'.

It seemed like a simple problem, at first. The post-person arrived this morning, but they were only holding letters, no parcels. We had been expecting a parcel for weeks. My partner is taking part in a table-top sale this coming weekend, and had ordered some paperback books that she wanted to take along and re-sell as part of a health package. The books were ordered two weeks ago, with a promise that delivery would take place in '3-5 days', but when no books arrived, we had to email. We were told that the supplier didn't have them and had had to outsource the order. Still, they said, delivery wouldn't have been delayed. The books should have arrived, they said. They would look into it. Next day an email arrived from the out-sourcer. It said that 'an account had to be confirmed'. My partner tried logging on to their website and was refused. She had to phone them.

So far, so bad. Still, don't forget we've only lost a week at this point, and it doesn't seem fatal: we've got another week to go, and as we know, (or have been told), the books could arrive in '3-5 days'. So that's all right, then. It was a nuisance that the newly found supplier was telling us to register and then had established a website which didn't allow a non-customer to establish a new account, but we thought we had cleared that up on the phone. All was going ahead – or so we thought. But - a new day dawned and no books arrived.

It's Thursday. We tried emailing, but got no reply. We tried phoning the real supplier, the new one, but they said their lines were busy. We went back to the original supplier – pre outsource – and tried them. We couldn't find a phone number, anywhere. It took half an hour, but there it was at last – no, not on the 'Contact Us' page. That would be too easy. Okay, so we phoned and the man checked his computer. He said no order existed. We asked him to check again. He said the records showed that our order had been cancelled the previous week. Right, so the out-sourcer had wanted confirmation of the account and, in the meantime, cancelled the order. When he confirmed the account – with us, on the phone – he forgot to re-instate the order. He had an account but no order. He didn't query or question that. He went on with his life, we went on with ours. The difference is that we were expecting books to arrive. They didn't. If we hadn't chased it up, we would never have found out why, either.

The man on the phone was pleasant enough. He asked us if we wanted to make the order again. We asked him when the books would arrive. When he said, 'After the weekend', we declined his offer. The books were needed this weekend coming. Not after. Definitely not after. What could he have done (better)? After all, he apologised, which was nice, considering he would probably be thinking that it probably wasn't his fault. Of course, in reality, it was. He had set up a system that placed orders to outside bodies and his company had no control over the quality, honesty or memory of their ‘outsourcing’ people. They didn't cancel the order, so they probably thought it wasn't their fault. Why not? Why were they working with a sub-contractor who was so slapdash and careless? Would they follow it up, complain, seek recompense on our behalf? Not a bit of it. It's life, they implied. These things happen, mate. Life goes on. In our case, for me and my partner, life would have to be without the books we wanted.

Well, we didn't place a second order and we won't be doing it, not within the foreseeable future. If we can avoid it, we will always avoid that firm in future. A very wise man once said, 'If you make a client, you should keep them for life and they will keep you'. The alternative to that might read something like, 'If you lose a client, you never get them back'. That's certainly true for us. Why? Because there are plenty of other suppliers and, being human, we don't just want books, we want service. Superlative service.

I know what you're thinking. Look, you say, the guy isn't going to ruin his day with an apology, then rush down to the warehouse, pick out your books and stick them in an envelope, posting them off that very afternoon. Why? Does anybody do that? Because I tell you what, readers. The company that does that is the one who gets our business, now and in the future. Everyone else gets a surly customer, chasing an order they think they placed and not understanding the lack of communication, updates or delivery. There's no profit in that, no future. Or, just to make it clear - even if you aren’t the person who has to answer the phone in your company, business or trade, - here’s something you could think about: doesn't anyone – any trading company, individual, person or animal out there – wonder why people keep phoning them up and complaining? Could it be because they are actually doing something wrong?

Monday, November 26, 2018

PART 2 of 'Alternatives to Torture'

There is an alternative to torture, of course there is. It's called 'being nice to people' and giving them things.
Before you dismiss such an idea as crazy and misguided, it's worth remembering that it has been tried quite recently, and it achieved favourable results. I'm referring to the situation in Iraq, just a few short years ago. At that point, the Americans had drawn up a list of the Most Wanted, and had put a price on each one of their heads. Mr Saddam, you may recall, was top of the list and the figure was twenty five million dollars. When someone tipped off the authorities that the great man was hiding in a hole in the ground, no doubt the cash was paid over. After all, that was the aim – to find the tyrant, alive.

Ah, you say, but we know all about Rewards. They worked in the Wild West, over a hundred years ago. Outlaws like Billy the Kid had a price on his head. Eventually he was tracked down by Marshall Pat Garret, as a recent film shows. Right, so how many people were tortured then – in an effort to find out where the bad young man was hiding? Well, none. The alternative - paying for information, not squeezing it out of people in pain - was equally effective and consistently produced results. Nobody saw any need to use torture to track down gangs, gangsters and cowboys on the run in those days.

Strange, then, that in these modern and enlightened times, we seem to have forgotten the lessons of the past. When it comes to spies and terrorists, we have lost the imagination we once had. We don't wave a chequebook in their face, to those people down there in Guantanamo Bay, we wave a rubber cosh. And we don't tempt them with an electronic transfer of funds, we inflict the pain of an electric shock. Does it work? Well, there's two answers to that. From the government, the answer seems to be a consistent 'Yes'. That's the first answer. When was that then, you may well ask? When did that happen? Nobody knows, is the second answer. Well, strictly speaking, it's 'We can't tell you', but hey, that's the same thing. Sorry, but it sure is a topsy-turvy world in counter-espionage, the 'alternate universe' of spying. The torturers always manage to look sinister and mysterious and tell you that their system works, but - and they’re really sorry about this - they’re just not willing to give you any details that might justify the allegations they make. Who knows, if YOU found out what they know, then maybe they'd be forced to make you the next victim.

Anything else won't work, they say. There's no mileage in trying to bribe these fanatics, we're told. Their families are back in the home country and would be terrorised by the other terrorists still living there. Okay, so logically what it would need is for the suspect you've got in custody, plus all his relatives, to be relocated – new names, new homes. Hey, that doesn't sound impossible, and it could all be done for a few millions, far less than the disruption caused by terrorism itself.

There's also one major pay-off. Torturers will tell you that the trick is to get the person being interrogated to a point where they give up and realise they're not going to escape. At that point they tell you everything, (they say). Unfortunately, by the time you've checked on whether the info is worthwhile or not, it's too late to do anything about it, because your prisoner has given up - just like you intended - and likely died, usually. If they realise that, if they know they're going to die, then they might as well lie, mightn't they? Yes. So, one big advantage of bribing instead of paining, is that the suspect is still alive, (even if in hiding). If what they told you was wrong - or, in fact, if you've got any complaints at all - you can go and see the person and remonstrate with them. If you're irate at the bribery not working, you can go back to Plan A and get the thumbscrews out. What have you lost? If you chose the former route, (the more usual 'modern' example), there's no second chance, ever. Not very smart, is it?

So, money. There's a suggestion for the anti-terrorism units all over the world. I don't expect it to be popular, because of course, there's another item on the agenda, isn't there? Torturing 'suspected' terrorists is, first of all, a lot of fun for the person holding the whip or the electrode. They can get a big kick out of inflicting pain. Ever tried it? It's great, apparently. Second of all, it makes the whole counter-terrorism thing seem important. Hell, if your government is telling you that you have the right to skin someone alive, then you must be a pretty important person, right? And the work you're doing must be Top Priority too, eh? Yes, that's the reality of it all. Torture is self-justifying. It's so awful that it must be right, otherwise why would any sane, sensible, educated person take part in it, support it, or condone it? It's bad, right? And you're only allowed to do bad things if there's a good reason. So there must be a good reason, mustn't there?

What if there's not? What if all the torture committed since 9/11 hasn't produced that alleged long list of names, phone numbers, and leads, that makes it all worth doing and justifiable? What if the entire top-heavy, administrative enterprise isn't worth a damn? Well, let's not go there, let's not think about! Because that would mean – Oops, our government, and the governments of our allies, has been involved in inflicting inhuman treatment on people who've never even made it into a court of law – for what? To make themselves feel good, look important and justify their salaries. Not much in the way of a 'good' reason, is it? 

Want to read more? This article - and others like it - have been gathered into a collection of essays published by Mike on the internet. It's available on Amazon Kindle (although other bookstores are available). Click the link below and a new window will open. (It's Magic.) 

Thursday, November 22, 2018

OLD ARTICLE (goes into New book)

Here's an article, from several years ago.
Where is it now? (answer at end)


We live in a tough old world. As a recent film tries to tell you, it's possible that you will be snatched off the street tomorrow by people you don't know, bound and gagged and flown off to some far-distant part of the world where you can be interrogated, harshly. Oh, all right, then, we'll tell you the truth. You'll be tortured. Pain will be inflicted on you as a way of encouraging you to confess the crimes that you're assumed to be thinking about, conspiring to happen and planning, such as terrorist attacks on the Western world. This is all in the name of 'security', patriotism and anti-terrorism - all good stuff. If all goes well, you'll tell them what they need to know and lives will be saved. That is, if you are a terrorist. Things start going wrong if you aren't.

Let's imagine, purely for the sake of argument, that you aren't a terrorist, haven't been and don't plan to be. You're strung upside down and people you don't know and haven't been properly introduced to are beating the soles of your feet with iron bars. They ask you questions, and you hesitate, because you know you don't have any answers. In fact, as soon becomes clear, these people are pretty sure they already know the answers to the questions they're putting to you – they just want you to confirm their suspicions. What do you do? At first you might figure they will come to their sense, realise you aren't a threat and let you go. If they don't seem willing to do that, you might come up with another plan: you'll admit anything they put to you. That way, at least they'll stop the pain. Of course they won't let you go either, but at least you might get a day in court and then you can plead your innocence. Trouble is, you've just admitted your guilt. Not to worry, you'll tell the court your story, tell them you only made an admittance so that they'd stop doing the bad things they were doing. So they might believe you. But they won't. The record shows that people who admit their guilt – such as the Birmingham Six in Britain in the 1970s – and then retract their forced confessions on the grounds it was beaten out of them - aren't believed later.

So, torture works. At least, if you are the person aiming to find someone to admit to being guilty. Like the Birmingham Six. You, the torturer, then have people you can blame for the bombing of civilians and the state can send them to prison and announce that justice has been done. In that case, unfortunately, as it emerged later, they got the wrong men. It took many years but it was later proved that they had nothing at all to do with the crime. The judges had to let them go. But why? Why were they in jail? Because they'd admitted they had done it. Why? Why would anyone admit they were guilty unless they were? Because they were smacked around for days, deprived of sleep and threatened. This, in a civilised country like England. In any other part of the world it would be called 'inhumane and degrading treatment', in other words, torture. Not here. We don't do torture in Britain, (we say.)

But we did once. It was back in the time of Shakespeare and shortly after. Then we tortured witches, regularly. We know they were witches because they admitted they were witches. That's why they were then killed, because of all the evil things they admitted to doing, like consorting with the Devil and flying around on broomsticks. Now here's the problem. No one does that sort of thing anymore, (at least, as far as we know). Oh sure, there are some people who call themselves White Witches and claim to mix potions and cast spells – but only to do good. So here's the issue: we live in a scientific age and think that talk of witchcraft is nonsense. No one can really fly around on a broom, (except in movies). But did they ever? If they did, then why can't we do it now? If they didn't – because it's impossible, we know – why did they ever say they could? We know they said they could do those things, because we have the records. Why would people say such a thing? Well, one reason might be because they were routinely tortured. That's how our ancestors extracted the confessions. Maybe, just maybe, there never have been people who can fly or cast bad spells. But that means – well, that the people who said so were in fact lying, for some reason. Maybe - is it possible - inn order to stop the torture, perhaps.

In the modern world it's different. We know that terrorism exists, because we've seen it happen, and we know that terrorists are out there somewhere, planning it. The problem is, using torture, that we have no way of knowing – for sure – if the people who admit to it are being genuine, or lying, to save themselves pain. Ah, you say, but if only one life is saved – yes, well then, any amount of inflicted pain might seem justified. The problem with that is that we aren't being told if it's currently effective, for the sake of 'security'. Well, sorry, but that doesn't add up. If our side uncovered a terrorist cell because we had a spy in their camp, then no, we wouldn't want to reveal the source and so ruin their placement. But if we torture information out of a person? Well, then we already have them as a prisoner. It does no harm to reveal who they are and what they're alleged to have done or be doing, doesn’t it? So we should be seeing spy cells broken and terrorists arrested. Regularly. Why aren't we?

There could be one simple reason. Maybe the sad fact is that not a bit of useful information is coming from torturing detainees at this present time. The truth might possibly be that doing torture in the modern world is merely 'busy work', making it look as though we're fighting the threat of terrorism without actually doing anything useful – such as catching the real bad guys, perhaps by intelligent means. After all, if we could do that, we wouldn't need to torture anyone, anymore. Is that an alternative?

Thank you.
That article has been put in a New book, as part of a collection of essays.
The collection can be had as an e-book, if you follow this link below.
LINK: click here