The Sorry States of Casino Gambling

There are currently 28 states that have casino gambling, and like a drunken man tossing down his last $20 at the roulette table, Massachusetts is rushing pell-mell to become number 29. Here in Western Massachusetts, depressed locales such as Holyoke, Palmer, and Springfield are already battling for the dubious honor or further depleting resources in order to lure a hypothetical casino to their squalid borders. I say hypothetical because no casino has actually been built yet, and only one in the region stretching west of Worcester to the Berkshires will be permitted. Cities are literally betting on red—they are going deeper into debt to toss financial inducements to developers that might be awarded a casino license.

I shall not delve into the morality of casino gambling. I will say, though, that the poorest state in the Union, Mississippi, has 15 casinos and shows no sign of pulling itself above the Inferno's lowest rung. I understand the allure of casino gambling—it’s a lot like the drunken man down to his last twenty. As the Massachusetts’ Lottery—a cash cow in danger of being sent to the abattoir once casinos open—puts it, “You have to play to win.” Cities are like dream-drunk bettors who think they can defy the odds. After all, look what happened at Foxwoods in Connecticut. Funny that everyone looks there, but fail to see; Foxwoods has been hemorrhaging cash for several years and has been quietly moving resources into non-gambling ventures. Funny that people continue to treat the post-apocalyptic landscape of Atlantic City as an aberration rather than the rule. When Holyoke or Springfield boosters speak of casinos as the centerpiece of urban renewal, I wonder why they never invoke Detroit, which has three casinos and remains near the top of everyone’s “Why would I want to go there?” list. They never visit the wastelands of St. Louis, which opened casinos on dry land in the vain hope of raking in money that it thought went to Illinois when riverboat gamblers drifted across the Mississippi River’s state line.

What’s not to understand, folks? The entire point of casino gambling is that the house wins and the rest of us lose. Please refrain from playing the “Casinos create jobs” card because the house is holding at 21. Go online and check out where the nation’s 500 casinos are located. They fall into two categories: places you’ll never be able to afford, or places you’d never want to live. Casinos are simply the latest quick-fix straw at which down-on-their-luck states and municipalities are grasping. When the U.S. economy tanked in the 1970s, lots of places were sure that shopping malls were the answer and built them at the speed at which Henry Ford once cranked out Model-Ts. America got malled/mauled and the only discernible effect was that inner cities declined further. Come the 1980s, it was tourism that was supposed to rescue the economy. Golf course projects got enormous tax breaks, but we didn’t really become a nation of duffers; we simply built lavish playgrounds for the 1%, the ones who never stop at the local visitors’ center to pick up brochures for the area’s historical houses, scenic delights, home-cooking restaurants, or “unique shopping experiences.” Now it’s gambling’s turn to fuel false hopes.

If we actually lived according to the logic of one-fix experts, the America of the future would consist of dividing the masses in halves. A pot of money would be set aside for allocation to the masses. For six months of the year people would work in either the tourist or gambling industries and collect their allocations; for the other half of the year they would be furloughed and forced to spend their earnings at tourist sites and casinos while the other half worked. If my remarks sound as if I see municipal planning as a cynical shell game, that’s because I think it such. Has it not dawned on anyone that we’ve been spinning our wheels trying to substitute a future one-industry strategy (gambling) for the failed one-industry models of the past? (Detroit-automobiles; Holyoke-paper; Atlantic City-conventions; Springfield-machine tools) As a student of proverbs, I know that many of them convey timeless wisdom. Like the one that goes: Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Like the one that says: A fool and his money are soon parted.

The drunken man stumbles to the table. His hoodie says Massachusetts on the front.        


Orient an Ecumenical Tour of Music, Culture, and Religion

Orient Noir
Piranha 2645
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If you want a musical tour of Middle Eastern and North African rhythms as they might have sounded in the 1930s when Western grooves etched themselves into the musical landscape, Orient Noir is your ticket. It’s a set of offerings assembled by Dr. Bertram Nickolay, a German scientist, computer programmer, and intellectual who also happens to collect world music, especially “Jiddish” music–Yiddish songs, klezmer, and Sephardic traditions. This collection branches across religious, geographical, and cultural borders. We get Nubian wedding dance music, pop songs, Turkish chants, Lebanese café bands, Serbian songs, New York City musicians…. You name it. Some of the music was on Euro charts back in the 1970s, such as Efendi Garden’s “The Garden,” a stellar example of what was once labeled Krautrock. It also includes The Klezmatics’ “I Ain’t Afraid,” one of the finest songs I know that takes down religious zealots of all stripes. It’s closing refrain line “I’m afraid of what you do in the name of your God” pretty much sums up about half of what’s wrong with the world these days. World music aficionados will recognize names such as Watcha Clan and Mahmoud Fadl, but most of the performers are not as well known. Some of the artists package themselves as avant-garde, but a track such as “We Daret El Ayam” sounds as if it’s in search of a black-and-white movie and “Maka Shelishit” as if we’ve been transported to a dusty casbah. Intriguing stuff throughout.

For something more contemporary, check out The Klezmatics singing “I Ain’t Afraid.” 


Waiting to Ex-Kale

Kale chips? Are you freakin' kidding me? 

Summer’s almost over. Among other things this means the offerings from our CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farm are winding down. It’s just a matter of weeks until late tomatoes, zucchini, cabbage, and onions give way to potatoes and squash. After that, it’s winter pickup time–sometime around mid November we can swing by for some winter keeping foods such as beets, turnips, potatoes, tear-inducing onions, and giant blue squash that can be hollowed and rented out as student apartments.

There is one silver lining in the bitter drama we New Englanders call “winter;” its impending arrival means it’s at least six months before we have to pretend we’re interested in kale. I want to go on record as saying that kale is to green vegetables what carob is to pod foods–a non-edible weed posing as nutrition. Let’s be honest–human beings are carnivorous mammals that occasionally devour plants. But we are not meant to consume kale or Swiss chard, sorrel, or other such horror stalks. These are the kinds of substances, which, if Rover ingested them, you’d take him to the vet to see if he’ll survive.

Spare me all sure-fire recipes for scrumptious kale. You might as well tell me you’ve discovered Noah’s Ark intact in downtown Atlantis. I’ve boiled kale, sautéed it, steamed it, added it to soups, seasoned it with herbs, and nailed it to the doorframe to ward off zombies. I’ve eaten kale chips, as if somehow these were a substitute for Cap Codders. I’ve tried recipes from every source from Bon Appétit to Worm and Grub Weekly. Thus far I have found a single good use for kale and its ilk–they make excellent compost, which is where they end up every week. I want to tell my CSA–don’t grow this crap; harvest something we actually want, like cheeseburgers.

I have found only one leaf plant that’s choke-downable: collards. I attribute that to African Americans, who brought their Southern foodways with them during the Great Migration. Give me some pork barbecue, some cornbread, thirteen side dishes, and a plop of collards soaked in vinegar and I’m okay with that. Of course, barbecue is a food no kale-o-holic would ever dream of eating. They like to tell me how good kale is for me. Yeah, so are periodic colonoscopies, but you don’t see anyone growing them in fields, do you? Who wants to live forever if it means eating stuff that induces suicidal thoughts?

The leaves are turning and soon the snow fill fly. I will grumble as I shovel my driveway, but I will gaze out at the frozen fields and smile when I think of all the dead kale buried in their white tombs.