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August-05-2002,
Re: We Need More Writers...By J on Booking & Betting

Comp Fan recently posted a thread titled "We Need More Writers." His point was that other sites put out daily stories that circulate news and views about the offshore world, while MW is just its posting forum. Minnow puts links to the important news service stories on the front page, but we don.t have anybody to dress them up as articles or treat things like Herman being taken into custody as breaking news.

      Other posters to the thread contributed a variety of opinions. It was said, for example, that there has been a brain drain at MW perhaps due to the Major.s over-zealous concern.bitingly satirized in Philo.s recent piece.with the tone set by vinegar-ish player advocates like Peep and Samurai. Reno was one of the brain drain theorists, and to him I would say, Look in the mirror pal. Your writing about betting and scalping culture was the best stuff on the net a few years ago, but now you mostly give us mongering allusions, mysticism, and puff about ice cream, whiskey and restaurants. I understand you made some bad calls on your sportsbook endorsements, and I respect that you have become more cautious and less confident in your recommendations. But if you ever wanted to use your intelligence and savvy to write in considered ways about sports gambling and sports gamblers I.d gladly retire and have Russ and Freddy send you my cap. In case anybody is reading this who hasn.t read Reno.s "Las Vegas is Disneyland" (was that the title?) from a few years back, it.s gold. Is it posted anywhere on the net? I did a search for it at Bettorsworld where it first appeared and couldn.t find it. If anybody has it please post it here one of these days.

      Sportsbank.s contribution to the thread was to remind us all not to take the exchanges that take place here so seriously. The forum could still be an interesting place to spend some time, she claimed, if you remembered you were here to be entertained. Sometime the pissing matches get to be a bit much, so you go away for a few weeks, but then you come back, maybe play a part, and it.s interesting again.

      On the entertainment point Count Zero replied as follows:

      Sportsbank may be right when she says places like this are just for entertainment, but that still leaves open the question of how sophisticated the entertainment should be. Some are entertained by Hee-Haw and some are entertained by The McNeil-Lehrer Report, so really, acknowledging that we`re all here to be entertained doesn`t advance the discussion much. Besides, how can any online group in any area of interest not aim as high as possible?

      It would seem that many posters would deny the premise here that there is such a thing as better entertainment. They would say that just because some folks are entertained by Hee-Haw and some by McNeil-Lehrer that doesn.t make the news show better than the hoe-down show. From inside that viewpoint the aim to aim higher is incoherent, and those who suggest the possibility of doing so must be thinking of themselves as better than other people. A variant position would have it that what.s good about the board is that you never know what show you.re going to be watching whenever you open any particular thread, so the trick is to value the surprise element. On the radically leveled fantasy plane of the Internet these antinomian (sorry SG) positions will, I think, always have a strong presence. They are also always in a strong rhetorical position because they.re always reactive, they never want to do anything they just want someone else to cut it out.

      It also strikes me that within the connotations of the Count.s choice for a value term, "more sophisticated," there.s a history of the very discussion that.s been preoccupying some of us at MajorWager. The ancestor words of "sophistication" are very old names for prudence and wisdom, on the one hand, but on the other, the word has always carried overtones of the gratuitously subtle and falsely complex. The fact of these semantic currents within the word itself suggests, I think, that "sophistication" can be suspect from other than backslapping and know-nothing positions. Sharp guys are sharp because they already tend to know what they want to say about stuff. In the plan to put them together I see some risk of the civility that is being sought turning into over-civility which could turn into the lower kinds of silence that people with social power use all the time to preserve their distances.

      At this point there entered into Comp Fan.s thread something that we might call a youth element. In its own eyes by picking a single winner it had earned the right to be loud and proud. In the thread there were three strategies aimed at making it go away. Some posters addressed it directly and asked for its self-moderation or silence. Others counseled that it would go away if the board at large stopped paying attention to it. Finally others simply did ignore it. Perhaps they had trained themselves not only to what I.ll tip my hand and call the higher silences, but also to a mental editing by means of which mere provocation becomes invisible at a glance. Some positions can only be overcome by not confronting them.

      Alysheba88 answered Comp Fan.s original request in this way: "As for articles, why don.t people throw out some possible topics they would like to see discussion on and see if some of us can write intelligently about it?" In the tens of posts that followed his suggestion, however, no one threw out any possible topics. I take this to mean that we don.t collectively know what we want to know more about, but we.ll keep reading because we know there.s more to know and we hope we.ll know it when we see it.

--

      When I came on board to write this column we imagined two audiences for it. First, we wanted a link that bettors who had never heard of or visited MajorWager might click on when their surfing first landed them here that would show them the kind of information this site offers at its best. Second, we wanted someone who stayed up on the Mess Hall discussion who could report back to the forum about itself. The idea was that in some sense or another this is a place where people gather, and that when people gather stuff happens. We thought that if the patterns of what is happening were noticed and commented on the board as a whole might become better able to remember itself, to refine itself, and (I won.t runaway from using the word to designate possibilities of improvement) to become more sophisticated. We hoped that if somebody took some careful, focussed, distanced notice of what we were saying to each other in the forums it would help make the place seem more worth belonging to and posting at.

      Maybe it.s a dumb goal. Somebody posted a poem the other day about how pathetic people are who engage in time-consuming acts of friendship with people they.ll never meet and who therefore can.t in any strong sense be their friends. Maybe trying to make this place better instead of just accepting the whole circus of it is just a bit hopeful. Maybe someday I.ll decide that what I get here isn.t enough to warrant the time I spend here. For now, though, the fact that this isn.t a place to make friendships based on sharing the good, or even to get out of yourself the way you do at a bar, isn.t as interesting to me as the question of the kind of place it might be. One gets glimpses of that, and wants more.

      Also, I see the coming MajorWager convention, which I.m sorry I won.t be able to make, as a promising sign for the board.s future. It might turn out that posters who.ve hung out together are going to work a little harder at being respectful and thoughtful than those who have no sense of the golf swing behind the handle. And if these guys.already the forum center.become easier with each other, the anonymity that licenses some of the worst abuses might be partly overcome and could quite possibly help things at large.

      Anyway, to get back to Comp Fan.s thread, it seems to me he is exactly right: We need more writers. But I would define that term this way: Writers are people who are interested in what they don.t know, and willing to struggle with it in words.

      On this definition sometimes I post as a writer, but most often I put myself in other more comfortable roles. From post to post we all take on different roles, sometimes working to formulate what.s at the edge of our power to understand, and, sometimes rehearsing opinions we.ve held all too long and know all too well. My claim, though, is that to the degree that we.re working on saying stuff we haven.t already said before, and that we don.t quite know how to say, and that nobody does because it has never quite been said, MW becomes a better place.

      Here.s an example of a post that was made where it seemed to me there was room for the contributors to be writers, but they backed off. Charlie Rosen, an old friend of Phil Jackson.s and co-author with him of a couple of books, is the best current writer on basketball. He recently had a book published called The Wizard of Odds about the Ivy League game fixer and NBA rookie of the year Jack Molinas who in later life had a business making porn films and was hit by the mob. Someone wrote a post saying that the book had "a few inaccuracies" in it, but was pretty good. Another poster responded it was "fabulous" and someone else said it was a "great read." But the first poster didn.t say what the inaccuracies were, and the others didn.t say anything about what they liked about or had learned from the book, and for this reason there could be no discussion of it, only these decisive judgments. Now, why did the posters office so little about what had captured them? The theory I.m pushing today is that it was because they didn.t treat themselves as writers. They were impressed by the book, but were unwilling to take on the burden of trying to change the good vibe they had about it into language that groped for what it had offered their minds.

      I.m sure this was because they were busy and so on, but I.d also guess it was because they weren.t able to imagine that they were writing for writers. In other words, people who would respect their attempt to go beyond Amening the book in order to put a more specific response into words. That.s all to say that there.s some kind of seriousness function that makes the X of how well we are able to treat ourselves as writers dependent on the Y of how well we treat others assuming the role.

      So here.s my point: Yes we need more writers, but we are the writers we need more of. And what I mean by writers is anyone who posts in the spirit of trying to teach themselves something or open themselves up to be taught. And I.m not necessarily talking about anything grand here. For example this exchange was recently on the board: Poster A: "Was just wondering if anyone was goin to the vegas insider convention on august 24th? I`ll be there." Now for my money here is someone who has, in some small way, opened themselves up for possible exchange. But here is veteran poster B.s response: "HELL NO...I have no time to waste at the annual square convention." Now I don.t know much about the Vegas Insider Convention, but from what I understand they have the better touts in the business doing panels in which they discuss the prospects for each team in each conference, college and pro. I.ve also been told that there.s substantial audience participation in response to the experts, and that those exchanges are exchanges between men who.ve watched, read, and thought.

      I don.t want to be understood as saying that the Vegas Insider thing is worth attending. Gambling as a consumption item attracts a lot of people more interested in feeling a certain way than in making their bets reflect a achieved opinion, and I.m sure those people will be there in droves. But for all we know, Poster A is some young guy looking for the way. And I.m sure for such a person going and listening and taking notes and meeting others interested in the art would be a good stepping stone. And even if I.ve painted too rosy a picture of the quality of the presentations, well, going might help someone internalize the important lesson of how squares think and how one thinks when one thinks squarishly. What I.m trying to get at is that Poster A might be.and should be treated as if he is.someone looking for fellowship around what he doesn.t yet know, in a word, a writer.

      A lot of other theories can be offered and cases can be made about who Poster A is, but why not aim high? Like: "Hey Poster A, Have you been to one of these conventions before? What are they like? If you haven.t been to one, what do you hope to find there?" Like: "Hey Poster A, I went to one a couple of years ago and I wouldn.t spend the money because.". Like: "Poster A, If you go be sure to come back and give us a report on it." You know? Or if saying such things seems like women.s work or whatever, well, there is still the higher silence.

--

      A few years ago I was posting my picks and analyses somewhere and I featured a 13.5 point dog that I thought would go to 14, but it went all the way down to 10 by game time and I didn.t bet it. When it won outright and the other pick I had that day lost I should have had the O-fer feeling, but instead I had the split-games-lost-vig feeling. I knew I.d get kudos at the forum, and I discovered at that moment that those kudos felt as valuable to me as cash money. I knew feeling that way was an emotional error, but thinking about that error got me thinking about the relation of handicapping to writing and posting.

      My first reaction was that I should stop posting completely because I couldn.t be thinking clearly if I was responding to the reactions of others instead of to the reality of my results. But as I got to thinking about it a little further the reasons that I said the dog was live were the reasons that steamed it down, and that in fact played out on the field.

      What struck me, then, was that I wasn.t so much responding to the atta-boys that would be coming my way, as to the accuracy of my analysis. And here.s the important point: I wouldn.t have had that analysis in mind had I not posted it in the forum. In other words, on Sunday night I made the game 9.5 and it opened at 14 and went down right away to 13.5. Now when I make my lines I circle some games whose lines I.m not sure of, but by and large I trust the lines I make and don.t think a lot about why one of mine might be at odds with the consensus. Because I was going to post the pick, though, I had to do a different kind of analysis than I was used to doing. In making my reasons explicit, then, I found myself discovering what my reasons were. As someone already interested in the processes of informal guessing and inferential reasoning I was already tuned into the distinction between what we think (our conclusions), and why we think them. It wasn.t until I began to write out picks for others to see, though, that I discovered how to get inside my own silent weighing handicapping mechanism. Putting myself in the position of having my shoulder looked over, then, has long seemed a good resource for tightening up my picks. Yet it.s a hard sell to get people to post reasoning about their picks, as well as to present their picks as a linked series rather than one at a time.

      I think this is because Excel rather than Word is the tool of choice for most good handicappers, but it.s never been clear to me why one couldn.t use both. Why, in other words, having built an algorithmic analytic method one couldn.t translate what the computer says into X-and-O reasoning to see what kind of sense it made there. I.ve had guys tell me that what their numbers do is to allow them to see through the on-the-one-hand-but-on-the-other-hand kind of reasoning allowed by the resources of mere natural language syntax. They argue that since the square reasons by talking to himself about what will happen and lands on the favorite and over, the method of talking to oneself about what will happen must be flawed. As much as I respect the intelligence of technicians, though, they always seem to undercut themselves by rightly complaining about their limited sample sizes. In handicapping everything is worth knowing about and asking why, but the asking why part as it applies to a particular proposition for a particular game.I want to argue.is a job for writing. Bettors who write, therefore, are of more potential value to this forum than writers who bet. And bettors that write about what triggers their plays should be the real kings of the forum, provided they take the responsibility of presenting the "whys" of their play and of presenting them in decently sized linked series.

      Let me explain that last point with some big talk. In the history of civilization the invention of writing made new forms of thought possible by perfecting the power of memory. Before writing when the tribe bards sang of the heroes. exploits the telling of the moment was the only one that existed. Because there was no writing, the past was literally out of mind. The situation of the pre-literate bards is also the situation of the undisciplined gambler. For him the results of the most recent bet are all that remain of a personal history of gambling. Drunk as we are on the desire to be heroes and to sing of our exploits, it.s the rare gambler who is willing to write the history of his own bets.let alone publish it as it happens.

      Yet as the football season approaches, I would extend exactly that challenge to those offering picks. I hope to hold myself to account in just this way when the NBA rolls around. My idea is to start a thread in which I am going to make a hundred picks through the season explaining my reasoning for each. As I go along, I.ll summarize my betting results to date. It strikes me that if this convention of reasoned pick-sets became the convention of the board the discipline would be good for the posters as well as the overall quality of posting. If you.ve never done anything like this you might consider giving it a try with a twenty-pick sequence. The important part is to put your ground rules and the number of picks you.ll be making out in advance, and to follow through on your thread.perhaps including second thoughts if you think the results reveal holes in your own posted thinking.

      Although some handicappers report that sensing an audience over their shoulder actually throws off their ability to think clearly, my experience suggests it can be focussing. Of course, statistically speaking, one.s record at the end of a hundred picks isn.t much less a product of chance than at the end of ten.but this is about making a contribution to the board through an exercise of focussed, disciplined handicapping, not establishing objective evidence. Also, were the hundred-pick unit to become a common convention at MajorWager, it would also give the board at large a procedure to which to refer the one-shot wonders. To the degree that we were able to make our plays visible we would be helping brother and sister handicappers who aim high in their gambling practice, even if, for reasons of their own they didn.t follow our plays. That would be the way to earn the respect that no one doesn.t crave.

--

      A few of months ago I called CRIS because I was thinking of doing a write-up on the baseball books and I wanted to understand why a CRIS-backed book, Option Sports, would offer a nickel-line when CRIS itself wouldn.t even offer a ten cent spread. Herman was, as always, to the point. "Look, it.s not a business thing.it.s a friendship thing. I.ve known him for a long time. Yeah, he.s betting. He thinks he can make money and he hasn.t done too bad, so I.ll guarantee if you bet into him you.ll get paid. But if somebody calls CRIS and asks for the name of a book where you can get a good deal on a baseball line, they.re not going to be told Option. And I won.t say it will be there next year, either. But for now it.s there. If you can.t help your friends, who can you help?" Thus spoke the Kid Rock of offshore bookmakers. We wish him all possible luck in working through the present scrape.



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