Monthly Archives: April 2011

The US Government is a Bully

This blog is mostly my attempt to vent my frustrations at my government’s interference in the world of online gambling. Meant for those who are unaware of our government’s history, I’ll lay out the coordinated attack that my country has laid on my favorite pastime (and until yesterday, main source of income).

Thanks to new legislation, many folks have become aware of a law passed in 1961 called the Wire Act. This made offshore sports betting illegal. It’s important to keep in mind that it wasn’t possible to play poker over a phone line at this time, because the internet was many years in the future. But expert interpretation of the law concluded that this didn’t include poker, blackjack, etc. after these games were introduced.

In 2006, the US Congress passed a law with an earmark referred to as the UIGEA (Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act). This didn’t change the status of online gambling – it was an “enforcement” act, that simply went on to enforce what was, previous to this bill, unlawful. While this didn’t include internet poker, US Republicans spoke to the media as if it did*. The US Democratic party has since tried to overturn this law, also under the assumption that it somehow prohibited online poker.

So how do I know that online poker was (and is) legal? After all, the Wire Act could’ve been interpreted to cover this also. Well, there was a federal case in 2001 where several poker players, after losing millions to an online poker site, sued that site. They claimed that the online poker site was committing fraud, and therefore owed them their money back. While this may be silly on ethical or logical grounds, it would’ve been legally sound – but the court found that the Wire Act did not cover online poker.

A supreme court decision makes the interpretation of the law set in stone, so there would be no more federal trials of this sort. However, shortly before passing the UIEGA, the US government had this tried in an international court (US vs Antigua). The World Trade Organization found the US to be out of line, stating that they didn’t have legal precedent for trying to stop offshore (Antigua is an island in the Carribean) gambling sites from operating in the United States.

So the issue is finally over, right? Wrong. The US blocked service from an EWallet service (a middleman that allows you to move money from a bank account to an offshore account, such as a poker account) called NETeller. This company lost millions as a result, and rather than fight this legal issue for years, finally decided to give up and no longer offer its services to Americans. This case, unfortunately, never saw its end in a courtroom. Our government simply bullied them into submission, despite not having a legal backing for its case.

They’ve now done this to the popular online gambling sites. I imagine you’ll still see what I saw at www.FullTiltPoker.com, a federal notice that they’ve shut down business in the US. I can’t get back to a table, nor can I access my poker funds (despite a lack of allegation that poker players have done anything illegal). I hope you can see, with a little bit of history, why I consider the US Government a bully when it comes to the regulation of online gambling.

-Supernova

*Sorry that I can’t cite this… I simply couldn’t find a related article. If anyone does find an article about congress members speaking about the UIGEA at the time of its passing (specifically Republicans or Focus on the Family, the lobbying group behind the provision) I’d appreciate a link.

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Evolution is not Improbable

In a primordial soup, random chemicals are floating about. Suddenly, lightning strikes the primordial soup and somehow links the chemicals in a chain that resembles DNA. Around the DNA a single cell forms, complex and with evidence of clear design, yet strangely made through an accident of fate. And against all odds, that one cell reproduces to make other cells, which proliferate in an effort to make themselves into modern humans.

I know the story above seems like total fiction, and that’s because it is. I decided to start this blog with the creationist’s view of the origin of life. From their point of view, it does seem like evolution is mindlessly wild and extremely unlikely. This is because their point of view is wrong. Creationists have (for the most part) not familiarized themselves with evolution. Let me start with the beginning.

Life started in the oceans. It did begin with chemicals floating freely, which probably formed into protein chains. These chains probably came together to form peptides. These peptides probably formed self-replicating molecules, etc. until they formed primitive cells.

I keep using the word “probably” because this is a long process that’s extremely unlikely to observe, so we’ve never seen it happen naturally. Fred Hoyle first estimated the probability of life’s formation at 1 in 2.04 x 10 to the 390th power, but he was guessing that simple chemicals would somehow jump to the formation of the first cell (see the above story for an example of what he pictured). The chances of life forming are actually much more likely (especially when you expand that “primordial soup” to “earth’s oceans”).

Creationists have likened this to a tornado passing through a junkyard and leaving behind a fully-functioning 747 (using Hoyle’s estimation, which as I said, is based on faulty logic that assumes a sudden jump). However, as Richard Dawkins has pointed out in the Ultimate Boeing 747 Gambit, even a creator that was capable of nothing but planting the first cell on Earth would be more improbable than Hoyle estimated, as His existence would be nothing but chance… He would be a machine more complex than any aircraft and yet built without even the help of a passing tornado. Simply saying a creator “was always there” is just begging the question, as a critic could respond that life “was always there” if he or she wanted to make unsubstantiated claims of that nature.

Furthermore, while evolution was at one time “just a theory”, is now has a mountain of fossil evidence as well as lab experimentation to back its existence. It has never been disproved, despite what creationists think. However, like any scientific theory, it can be disproved. This is what makes creationism unscientific… you can’t even possibly replicate it, test it, or falsify it. Its entire premise is that things “look designed” (I’d love to hear an actual definition of design that fits this context) and therefore must have a “designer”. This isn’t science – it’s philosophy. Yet the religious want it taught in our science classes, because they don’t believe in evolution based on hypocritical ideas such as its improbability or the inability of scientists to recreate its origin.

But evolution isn’t improbable. It’s a fact.

-Supernova


A Suspicious Tale

John 8: 1-11

1 but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.

2 At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. 3 The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group 4 and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5 In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 6 They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. 7 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

9 At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

11 “No one, sir,” she said.

“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

 

You may have noticed I’m calling this story “A Suspicious Tale.” Yeah. That’s because, within these 11 verses, there are no fewer than 6 errors.

1. She’s alone.

The bible is pretty clear on this; if two people are having sex and one of them is married, they’re both supposed to die. Was this woman “caught in the act of adultery” all by herself? The Pharisees don’t mention the man and Jesus doesn’t ask about him. I guess he’s let off the hook by Jesus, too.

In the modern world, this would be like getting robbed by two thieves and the police letting one of them go without so much as a warning. How would you feel about that?

2. The author tells you up front who’s wrong and who’s right.

The fact that the author of this story says “they were using this question as a trap” is assuming the unstated intentions of others (that is, it’s not a fact but rather a guess) and without that line it’s reasonable to wonder what makes the Pharisees wrong in this case. They were absolutely correct in saying that Moses commanded them to stone her, and that commandment was found in the bible. Jesus’ words and actions are not based on previous scripture. If instead we were given the same exact story, but with different players, would we come to the same conclusion?

If this were an Indiana Jones movie, the Pharisees would be the Nazis (arriving, of course, in a black car) and Jesus would be Indiana Jones. We would excuse the hero of this movie for anything he did to the bad guys,  just because the movie established who we should be rooting for. But the bad guy isn’t always the bad guy just because of the story’s premise.

3. Jesus’ response is both illogical and dishonest.

Up until this point, God left it up to “the whole assembly” to carry out his punishments. God apparently has the power to carry out punishments himself, but instead leaves it up to people “with sin”. It doesn’t make sense that a person needs to be sinless to punish sin, because then sin would never get punished… except in this case, where they dragged her before someone who, according to the bible, is “without sin”. So if that was truly Jesus’ reason for preventing them from stoning her, then he would have carried it out himself.

Remember the story proving Solomon was wise? Two women were brought before him, arguing about a baby, and through his infinite wisdom he determined who the mother is. But this story also infers that the Jewish leader settled civil cases brought before him, presumably for hundreds of years before Solomon took the throne. And none of the previous judges had Solomon’s wisdom. Do you think these mere mortals always judged correctly? Clearly God should’ve taken been judge, jury, and executioner all along if he didn’t want mistakes to happen. But I think it’s rather silly of Him to command men to do it instead (because he’s lazy?) and then tell them they weren’t worthy of doing it in the first place (because he’s arrogant).

4. The author of the story didn’t witness it.

First he’s making assumptions about the Pharisees testing Jesus, and then he’s assuming how the story ends. “Those who heard began to go away… until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there.” The author is no longer present, and so he either interviewed the woman (unlikely) or took Jesus’ word for it.

You may wish to rebut with something about “divine inspiration” in the bible’s authorship. If you really believe in divine inspiration, then you’ve never tried to define it literally. I’ve already painted that picture… there’s no need to do it again.

5. Jesus believes that his forgiveness is enough.

Even if you granted Christians this belief that every sin “wrongs God”, therefore requiring an apology to Him, this still doesn’t excuse a wrongdoer from apologizing to the person who was actually wronged – in this case, her husband. Remember him? He has no idea that she cheated on him, and Jesus doesn’t tell her that she needs to say “I’m sorry” or even to confess that she cheated on him. And if he picks up a venereal disease from her that she received from the act of adultery, I guess Jesus is in the clear for that one, too. Because he’s Jesus.

6. He lets her go with a warning.

Forgiveness is a nice concept. It really does paint Jesus as a nice guy here, even to an unbeliever. But even though we see this as an act of love, the bible says it’s the exact opposite. And if it were the modern day, Jesus would be yet another traffic cop letting a beautiful woman get away with just a warning. And why not – she is totally naked, after all, and he’s a virgin. His decision might be just a little biased.

And if you agree that Jesus was right, you also may be just a little biased. Let’s change the players in this situation. Let’s call the woman “Willie Horton” and let’s call Jesus “Michael Dukakis”. If you aren’t familiar with this story, Willie Horton was a murderer/rapist who was let out of prison on a furlough program supported by Dukakis. And he then went on to murder and rape again. Many Republicans (who aren’t necessarily Christian, but the two groups often coincide) saw this as a good reason not to elect Dukakis as president. But wasn’t he just emulating Jesus? Or perhaps Jesus was foolish, too, because a simple “leave your life of sin” doesn’t fix the problem.

 

Adding further suspicion to this story, you should also know about its shady origins. Read what http://www.biblegateway.com has to say in the preface to these verses:

[The earliest manuscripts and many other ancient witnesses do not have John 7:53—8:11. A few manuscripts include these verses, wholly or in part, after John 7:36, John 21:25, Luke 21:38 or Luke 24:53.]

– Supernova