Monthly Archives: July 2013

On judgement

Finger-pointing-icon

My brother (in spirit) Masood said the coolest thing today. I can’t remember the exact wording, but it was something along the lines of “see; when you point a finger at someone else, three fingers will be pointing back at you”.

On gambling, addiction, and how the government profits

 

Logo_NorskTipping

Keep in mind that this is written by someone who has no interest in gambling whatsoever. Ever since I learned (and since forgot) how to calculate probability, it has held absolutely no appeal. The odds of winning are so miniscule (particularly in the national/international lotteries) that I consider it a waste of money; I am indeed more likely to be struck by lightning than to win “the big one” . If you like gambling, I have no issue with that, it is just not my thing. I am also not talking about gambling that requires skill (say poker), but rather the random numbers-type games like lotto.

Now, anyone who has lived or lives in Norway knows that there are strict regulations in many areas (see post on drug-regulations for more on this).  The Norwegian government does not allow alcohol or tobacco advertising, and Norwegian television channels are not allowed to air ads aimed at children. I think it is a great idea, though I’m not sure how effective it is.

But, we have a government-owned institution called “Norsk Tipping”.  I’m sure the English speakers understand what it means, but just to make it perfectly clear, our government controls and regulates our lotteries.  Norsk Tipping (and  therefore by extension the Norwegian government) should cause anyone to question the moral fiber and ethics of the ones in charge.

First, let’s take a look at the psychology behind gambling and why it is so addictive to some. Many (if not all) of you have heard of operant conditioning. If we want to teach someone (human or animal) a new skill or task, we most frequently use operant conditioning. When said human (or animal) carries out a desired behaviour and we reward them for performing that behaviour, we are using operant conditioning. So a dog that receives a “sit” command, sits down, and subsequently gets a cookie has just been subjected to operant conditioning. In the beginning we have to give a reward (say a cookie) every single time the dog carries out the behaviour, but after a while, the dog will sit when you give the command, even if it doesn’t receive a cookie. The dog will be likely to repeat the behaviour most (if not all) the times you ask, again in the hopes of getting a cookie or another kind of reward (the reward can be anything the dog likes mind you- a pet, praise or likewise).

In operant conditioning  there’s something  referred to as reinforcement-schedules. “Reinforcement-schedule” is just a fancy term for how frequently you give the dog a cookie; or in the case of  gambling, how often the gambler wins. You can reinforce the behaviour every single time. A hungry dog would sit for a cookie every time, but a dog like my dog Niko (who is weirdly disinterested in food) will only sit if he feels like having a cookie.  You can reinforce every second (or third, fourth and so on) but most animals and humans will quickly figure out the pattern and make a half-hearted effort  the time it/she/he knows there is no cookie or reward. Imagine if you gambled and you know that you would win every forth time you pulled the arm of a slot-machine? It would take the fun out of gambling, right? Well, the reason why gambling is exciting, fun (to some) and absolutely addictive is because the reinforcement-pattern is so unpredictable. Take slot-machines for instance. People will sit for hours on end at the same machine; the machine will give them a little money now and then (normally much much less than what the person is spending) and the individual remains in the same spot, because the next pull might just be the one that pays off hugely!. This is why the elderly ladies (this might be all in my head, but I seem to recall seeing far more women using these machines than men) on the boat between  Norway and Denmark make their friends hold machines for them while they (quickly) visit the washroom. It is also why they become angry if anyone “steals their” machine. In lotteries the numbers drawn are completely random, and an increase in numbers decreases the likelihood of getting the right combination. I know that the top price in at least one of the lotteries here in Norway requires you to get 7 numbers correct.  You do however get a prize if you have 5 and 6 correct numbers (I think. As I said, I don’t play). The prize you receive is much lower than the top prize of course, but even if you receive only a 50-60 crowns (there’s about 6 crowns to a Canadian dollar) you’ll feel like you won. This is how they ensure that you’ll continue playing while they rake in an enormous profit.

So we have operant conditioning, a random reward-schedule that reinforces the behaviour, and the perfect setting for psychological addiction.

Back to Norway and our state-owned and sanctioned gambling. IT IS LITERALLY EVERYWHERE! I see ads for lotteries all over the place. Print-ads are frequently worded  in a “Check this guy out, he won a bajillion crowns! Maybe you’re next?” manner.  They use famous athletes as well as the everyman in advertisements. We admire the first, and if someone we admire sanctions a concept or an idea, we’re more likely to accept it and partake. We relate to the second  as “someone who’s just like me”; this reinforces the belief that it could happen to us as well.

 

Dale Oen, a famous (and now sadly passed) Norwegian athlete.

Dale Oen, a famous (and now sadly passed) Norwegian athlete.

In television ads they’ll display what crazy-cool stuff you can do with your new-found wealth. They’ve been known to lie outright; in one  case it was found that norsk tipping had created fictitious profiles of big winners and placed ads on finn.no (our equivalent of Craigslist/Kijiji).  The winning numbers appear in most (maybe all?) the newspapers. The draws for several of the big lotteries are also aired on television (prime time, in combination with the news even) and winners are called on the air. We get to see/hear how happy they are, we get to imagine ourselves in their place. We are constantly reminded that all our financial woes could be over in a snap. Now, many people face financial ruin because of their gambling. We have a show on tv called “luksusfellen” (“the luxury trap”) where people who are screwed financially receive help. Many of those who participate have gambled away large sums of money. What is just sad is that as the money disappears, the person is even more likely to gamble, in the hopes that a huge win is going to resolve the money-problems…

Lastly, I realize that I don’t know enough about the institution (norsk tipping that is), and it may be that some of the revenue is used for social betterment, but from where I stand, it seems like an awfully exploitative way to generate funds.

More on Dublin

Ireland has seen some problems, both historically and more currently. The current issue is of course the economic situation. We met a super-interesting cab driver who told us much about migration from Ireland (currently mainly to Australia and Canada).The situation has improved from 2009-2010 to now; Ireland’s economic growth is at about 2%, and considering their base-numbers, it’s ‘ok-ish’. Economic growth percentages can be misleading though. If I had $0.25 and my net worth increased by 100%, I would still  only have 50 cents- I wouldn’t have enough money to buy a cheap chocolate bar, but I’d be able to report a 100% growth in my net-worth.

That economic growth described in percentages can be totally misleading is evident in the case of some of the African countries. Percentages make it appear as though the financial growth is staggering, but,  the base-line was at such a ridiculously low level that they’re still very very broke. If I had donated $217 to Zimbabwe a while back, I would have increased their state budget by 100%). Nevertheless, 2% is decent for a country like Ireland.

Migration from Ireland is nothing new. Allen, like many other Canadians (and Americans) has roots in Ireland, and his ancestors migrated during the famine in the 19th. Century.

 

Famine, Ireland 1845-1852.

Famine, Ireland 1845-1852.

 

This statue made me feel horrible.

This statue made me feel horrible.

 

famine..

famine..

"The universal links for human rights" commissioned by Amnesty Int. I have been (off and on) active (as a regional rep/a member of amnesty, but as of right now, I am not impressed with their effort. How about Manning (and Snowden) Amnesty?

“The universal links for human rights” commissioned by Amnesty Int.
I have been (off and on) active (as a regional rep/a member of amnesty, but as of right now, I am not impressed with their effort. How about Manning (and Snowden) Amnesty?

The link

The link

Heh :D

Heh :D

 

Oi! Demonstrations!

It has been a very odd day. Recall the thing about pro-life (anti-abortion/anti-choice) and pro-choice I posted yesterday? The demonstrations were today.

Pro-choice

Pro-choice

 

Pro-"Life"

Pro-”Life”

We were asked (kindly) to join the pro-choice side, and we did (really, all we did was to put the yellow “7 years for rape, 14 years for abortion?” sticker on our sweaters). The crowds were ridiculously large (particularly so on the anti-abortion side); there were riot-police present; several police helicopters; mounted police, and paddy-wagons aplenty. The pics do not adequately display the numbers present.

20130706_145658

 

 

I <3 the guy smiling!  (left in pic).

I love the smiling guy :)

 

20130706_144425

Yup..

 

Kids everywhere..

Kids everywhere..

Many (and I mean *Many*) of the pro-lifers brought their kids to the demonstration. What a horrible thing to do to a child. A 1-6 year old does not understand why the adults are angry with each  other. They do not understand demonstrations. They don’t understand why adults are yelling at each other, but they sure experience and understand fear.
CruelCruelCruel. I understand that bringing your child emphasizes your stance, but really?
For shame.

I am tired now so i’ll continue tomorrow.

 

Dublin

I’m in Dublin and I’ve taken some pictures.

Bachelor Inn

 

Truth.

Truth.

In terms of economists though, I like Keynes, and I like this quote in particular:

Keynes Capitalism

 

20130705_200627

 

James Joyce statue. Neat.

James Joyce statue. Neat.

 

Street art, bachelors walk.

Street art, bachelors walk.

Ireland is bizarre in some respects. My mother and I saw several young girls handing out fliers for this event. It seemed to be a reaction to the public meeting described in the flier/poster/event pictured below:

 

Indeed.

Indeed.

And here’s my opinion on abortion (heh! I seem to always have one, don’t I?): I do not believe the myth  that women “use abortion as a contraceptive”.  I firmly believe that i in most cases, it is a  last resort solution (seriously though, the “morning-after pill” is not an abortion). I do nevertheless believe that those who make the (frequently incredibly difficult) choice, should be able to do so without others interfering (I think this is a given in most of Norway. Norway is wonderfully progressive in terms of women’s rights, but since I’m at it…)

It is particularly jarring to see young girls with hardly any life-experience getting into it. I am not discounting their opinion(s) simply because they are young, but experience does hold some importance (and as for men..Shut up guys. This is not about you, unless you want to take on the full responsibility of raising said child). It appears to me that much of the abortion debate is founded on  judgement and (attempts at)  control, particularly so when men get into it (this whole thing is absolutely nuts in the U.S).

The financial and emotional implications of raising a child are enormous in scope, so I find it to be super-arrogant and unempathetic to judge/attempt to shame those who choose to end a pregnancy.  What if (when) the child was conceived in a non-consensual or casual/weird manner? Even worse.

If these young women really wanted to make a difference, how about volunteering? I’m sure there are many underprivileged mothers out there who would appreciate some extra help, both financially and emotionally.