Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Lies, All Lies!

The big rip-offs in the world are predicated on lies.   If you choose to believe these lies, you likely will be ripped-off.   But you have to choose to believe.

A reader writes, asking me the title of a book I mentioned in my posting about gambling.  As I noted in that posting, I was drawn into a "friendly game of poker" which is to say, a "friendly game of playing with our wealth" which really was more of a "scheme to take money from you and give it to me."

One of the players perhaps took pity on me, and loaned me his book about poker playing, as I wasn't quite clear on strategies for obtaining a winning hand (there are few, it is mostly luck).   What was fascinating about the book was that it had only a chapter or two about how to play the cards, but the rest of the book was about how to play your opponent.   They offered strategies on how to get your opponent drunk (or high) while you carefully nursed watered-down drinks.   They offered advice on how to use psychology to keep a loser in the game ("you could win it all back in the next hand!").   They offered advice on how to collect on gambling debts through intimidation - calling your opponent at work, calling his wife, implying you are "connected" and even threatening bodily harm.

Fun stuff!   I quit the "friendly poker night" and found new friends.  I don't recall the title of the book, I'm afraid, as this was in 1982, which seems like yesterday to me, but I guess was 37 years ago (!!).  Time sure does fly.

I have been reading Ian Fleming's James Bond novels, and what struck me, other than the writing was pretty basic, was how Fleming used gambling and casinos in almost every novel.  Fleming himself was a prolific gambler (and apparently womanizer and playboy) which confirms to me that he wasn't all that smart.  He was very taken in by flashy things - cars, women, nightclubs, wealth, casinos, etc.  And his books reflect that, and they reflect a fascination - on both sides of the Atlantic - for this sort of lifestyle.

The gambling industry, or as they like to call themselves, the gaming industry love books and movies like James Bond, which paint gambling as a form of sophistication, with men in white dinner jackets and women in slinky black dresses all having fun gambling and sipping cocktails and champagne.  They also love the mythology of gambling - that somehow it is possible to "win" at gambling through sheer skill and verve and perhaps a little luck.   James Bond, in Casino Royale, takes down the bad guys not by shooting them, but by gambling them to death.  Because, you know, you can do that - if you are good enough, you can out-gamble someone, and it has nothing to do with luck.

But the fact that these poker tournaments are routinely won by unknowns paints a different picture.  And just as Wall Street lauds the latest wunderkind who successfully picked three stocks in a row which went up in value in a bull market, the press interviews the come-from-nowhere poker winner and lauds his "skills" in beating the big-time players.   Of course, we never hear from that fellow again.

These ideas that gambling is somehow glamourous and moreover that you can "beat the odds" if you are sufficiently suave like James Bond are all, of course, base lies.  "The house always wins" is a phrase you hear not from gambling critics, but from gamblers themselves.  I was invited to the Mohegan Sun casino by a "diamond club" member (or whatever they call it) for a free meal he "won" by dint of losing a substantial portion of his wealth at the casino.

"Look around you!" he said to me, "What do you see?"   I mumbled something about flashing lights and security cameras which is all I noticed.

"Losers!" he replied to his own question, "Losers, every damn one of them!  And I'm the biggest loser of them all!"

It was an odd admission for him to make.  And he still goes to that casino and still loses regularly.  I should have bought those bonds!   He would be funding my retirement.

But of course, he was hooked.  And once you are addicted, it is hard to quit.   The opiate addict is drawn into that world by promises that "it's not that addictive" and that he needs "pain management" for his "sports injury" - never mind the fact the "sports injury" was caused when he fell out of his easy chair reaching for the remote while watching football.    Sometimes it is a blessing that I am allergic to pain medication.

These sort of industries use lies to rope you in.  And once you are roped in, you can't get out - or can't get out easily.   Like the bear trap, it sure looks tempting with all that sugary bait, but once you step into it, you'll have to gnaw your leg off to escape - either that or walk around with a bear trap embedded in your leg and tell people, "It isn't so bad, once you lose enough blood to not feel your leg anymore!"

Lies are what is used to rope people into raw deals, usually by appealing to their emotions.  If you can get someone to think emotionally, they will do just about anything you want them to do - strap on a suicide vest, run up credit card debt, lease a new car, buy a timeshare, become an MLM distributor.  The first is the least painful.

This is why I say it isn't hard to spot raw deals - they are predicated on lies.  You can spot them from 100 miles away, once you know what to look for.   Any deal predicated on a lie, no matter how trivial, is sure to be a raw deal for you down the road.  Just now, the phone rings, and a recording tells me that there is a "limited enrollment period!" for a new health care plan!  Press # for more information!

They have lied to me twice already, before I even picked up the phone.  First, they spoofed the caller ID to use the same area code and exchange as my number - to trick me into believing that someone I know is calling, so I'll answer.  Second, they drove a semi-truck right through the tissue-paper-thin protections of the Do-Not-Call registry.  These are people who are quite comfortable with being deceitful and breaking the law - am I going to buy health insurance from them?   Only a fool would - yet there are many fools out there.

But that's just an obvious example.   The loud ads for the car dealer, followed by the tiny fonts (in print or on TeeVee) or compressed audio (on the radio) spooling the "fine print" that basically negates the verbal promises made by Smilin' Sam the used car dealer, pretty much tell you the whole deal - you are not going to come out ahead here.   Yet, every middle-aged heterosexual white male I know tells me that they "pulled a fast one" on the car dealer and somehow scored a deal.   No, they did not get a car for free, of course, and they are still making payments on their Jalopy.  But they told the dealer what they would pay and that was that!  (Since the amount they "demanded" was $100 over book, the dealer readily agreed).

Lies, lies, all damned lies.   These are the things they use to get at us, to get us to spend.   "If you lease the car, it frees up your cash-flow!" the salesman chirps.  So now you can kid yourself that you are not just mortgaging your future so you can have a flashy car today, but are making a smart financial decision.

You can waste your time "cranking the numbers" on raw deals - just be sure you are not distracted by funny accounting, such as "opportunity cost" arguments or "why not invest in your vacation?" kind of deals - because liars know how to use math, to their advantage, by failing to include all the variables.   It's just a lot easier to walk away from these sort of deals, as you can see they are raw deals from 100 yards away.   You can't "win" at the casino, or the credit card company or the car dealer, so just stop trying.

That's all you need to know to get ahead in this world - turn away from lies.   It doesn't take rocket science or "secret inside knowledge" to wealth, insider tips on stocks, or strategies for slot machines. The "secret" is no secret - just turn away from these things - and perhaps instead of gambling at the casino, own one.   Or maybe at least own a slot machine at your place of business, if you are in Reno.

That is, of course, a metaphor.   You can make money by exploiting other peoples' weaknesses and by being willing to lie, yourself.   I could have made millions setting up an "invention broker" house and put ads on the Internet on how you can get rich with your invention - if you first send me some money, of course.   And it's all perfectly legal.  Oh, sure, the FTC may harass you now and again, but that is like brushing off a fly.

And I don't blame you if you go that route.  Of course, you'd understand why I keep one hand on my wallet when I am in your company, of course....

But for the rest of us, there is a middle-course that doesn't require we sell our souls to Satan, or to the finance company (a division of SatanCo, Inc.).  We don't have to become crooks ourselves, or be beholden to crooks.  Just turn away from these sleazy deals and use your logic, not emotions, when investing or spending money.

That's it - the vaunted "insider" secret to everything in life.