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Archive for July, 2009

Oh Hell!

Sunday, July 12th, 2009

While doing a recent turn in stir owing to an unfortunate misunderstanding, I discovered a swell card game called “Oh Hell!” Played with 3 to 7 people, each player declares a bid per hand, immediately after the cards are dealt. A hand of 7 cards equates to 7 rounds, because only one card per player is put into play per round. The bid reflects the number of rounds each player thinks hu can win (referred to as “tricks”), with 2 through Ace values applying. For example, let’s say I am dealt 7 cards, 3 of which are Aces. I might declare in advance a bid of three tricks, because I am confident that each of those Aces will win a given round. There’s more to it, but that’s the essence. Details include things like the number of cards dealt per hand (ascending then descending) throughout play, and the presence of a trump suit per hand.

What really interests me is that scoring is based entirely on how accurately one bids (in Project Management parlance, estimates versus actuals). In other words, it doesn’t matter how many rounds I win in a given hand; I only win points for that hand if I estimated my bid accurately. For example, let’s say that I declared a bid of 3 tricks for the hand. If I win exactly 3 tricks, I get 3 points plus a 10-point bonus for estimating accurately. If instead I only won 2 tricks, I lose 10 points plus the difference between my estimate (3) and the number I actually won (2), for a total of -11. Therefore, as a hand evolves, one’s strategy sometimes involves playing to lose.

I had great fun when I played.

There are many variations to the rules and scoring of Oh Hell!, so I decided to create MrPikes’ House Rules, fundamentally based on Carter Hoerr’s rules (rulekeeper for the OH HELL! Club of America) with a couple of interesting differences, Rule 2 inspired by PJ O’Rourke’s Modern Manners:

  1. When all players are ready to BID, they put a fist on the table. When everyone’s fist is out, the group says “One, Two, Three” while bouncing their fists on the table. On “Three”, everyone must stick out some number of fingers (possibly zero) to indicate how many tricks they will try to take. Of course, with this method, there’s no restriction against the total number of bid tricks being equal to the number of cards dealt. Since players cannot adjust their bids based on the other players’ bids, the total tricks bid can be wildly different from the tricks available – for example it is not uncommon for three or four players to bid “one” when only one card was dealt.
  2. The PANTS rule: Any player who bids 5 tricks or higher and does not realize that bid precisely has to take off hus pants. For the especially shy or aesthetically repugnant, writing “Dumbass” in grease pencil or lipstick on the forehead is an acceptable substitute. The spirit of the rule is to add an element of risk (and corresponding thrill) to the game, similar to Russian Roulette but without the cleanup headaches. In addition, you can learn a lot about a person who willingly takes the gamble. The pants rule applies once per player.

Leave Hitler Alone!

Monday, July 6th, 2009

Bernie Ecclestone, billionaire Formula 1 supremo, in a recent interview with the Times (entitled “Bernie Ecclestone, the Formula One boss, says despots are underrated”) stepped spectacularly on his own dick.

In a lot of ways, terrible to say this I suppose, but apart from the fact that Hitler got taken away and persuaded to do things that I have no idea whether he wanted to do or not, he was in the way that he could command a lot of people able to get things done.

This, the week before the German Grand Prix. The fallout was predictable. It seems as if anyone even remotely connected with German politics is boycotting the Grand Prix, and organizations such as the Jewish World Congress are demanding Ecclestone’s resignation.

This, a mere 15 months after Max Mosley, the president of the Fédération Internationale de l’ Automobile (FIA) and the hammer to Bernie’s anvil with respect to controlling Formula 1 for decades, was outed by the News of the World on video engaging in a five hour, Nazi-themed, sadomasochistic orgy with five prostitutes (previously, previously, previously aaaaaaaaaaand previously).

It’s as if they simply cannot help themselves. I am reminded of this brilliant bit from Fawlty Towers, in which John Cleese’s character (suffering the effects of a blow to the head) cannot stop himself from upsetting four German hotel guests by repeatedly mentioning the war:

Genuine American Exceptionalism

Sunday, July 5th, 2009

I have been meaning to write about this for a while, but this Salon article is so good there is no point in restating it. To summarize:

First term Virginia Senator Jim Webb is engaged in what can only be characterized as a politically toxic but noble agenda: fundamental reform of our criminal justice system. From Senator’s Webb’s own web site:

  • With 5% of the world’s population, our country now houses 25% of the world’s reported prisoners.
  • Incarcerated drug offenders have soared 1200% since 1980.
  • Four times as many mentally ill people are in prisons than in mental health hospitals.
  • Approximately 1 million gang members reside in the U.S., many of them foreign-based; and Mexican cartels operate in 230+ communities across the country.
  • Post-incarceration re-entry programs are haphazard and often nonexistent, undermining public safety and making it extremely difficult for ex-offenders to become full, contributing members of society.

At least the U.S. is number one at something

This issue is something of a sacred cow to me because I believe that a fundamentally important measure of a civilization’s worth is in how it treats its wretched. It’s essentially a riff on Abraham Lincoln’s sentiment:

Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.

Again from Jim’s Webb’s policy statement:

America’s criminal justice system has deteriorated to the point that it is a national disgrace. Its irregularities and inequities cut against the notion that we are a society founded on fundamental fairness. Our failure to address this problem has caused the nation’s prisons to burst their seams with massive overcrowding, even as our neighborhoods have become more dangerous. We are wasting billions of dollars and diminishing millions of lives.

We need to fix the system. Doing so will require a major nationwide recalculation of who goes to prison and for how long and of how we address the long-term consequences of incarceration.

We, invoking the voice of our national identity, can state uneqivocally that we are powerful but just. We can demonstrate as a matter of policy that we will always take the high road, especially when that way is hard, and we can again lead the nations of the world by example.

While this attitude extends far beyond criminal justice reform, for starters think of this post the next time some reference to prison rape comes up on your favorite sitcom or in casual conversation. You know what I mean. “Don’t bend over for the soap” is an axiom, and pop culture references such as “The trick is: kick someone’s ass the first day, or become someone’s bitch,” (á la Office Space) abound.

Imagine for a moment the genuine, pure swelling of pride you might feel from being a member of a huge, powerful and principled nation. Two out of three sucks, and Senator Webb is doing something about that, at tremendous expense to his political capital.

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