As far as I'm concerned, with Bill Bennett's statement from Monday saying his gambling set a bad example, the story is over. And I hadn't planned to write any more about it. But I do need to write a few lines about the astonishing column James McManus wrote on Tuesday's Times' OpEd page: "Virtues, Values and Vegas."
Quite apart from anything to do with Bill Bennett, this piece struck me as one of the most vacuous and shallow pieces of writing I've seen in a very long time. (Actually, it was a day of highs and lows for the Times' OpEd page: Krugman's and Kristof's columns were both excellent.) I just want to note two portions of the McManus piece: the first an error of fact, the second an error of humanity.
In the third and fourth grafs, McManus writes ...
More important, the authors admit that it's impossible for them to determine whether Mr. Bennett's in the black or the red as a player. If he has legally put $8 million in play over the course of a decade, it's not the same as risking that amount, let alone losing it, in a weekend. Playing slot machines, blackjack or video poker may involve cycling a few hundred thousand into action, but for practical purposes a gambler is risking only a small fraction of that amount, since no one loses every spin or hand.This is just dead wrong on the facts.
The authors didn't say Bennett put $8 million "in play." Nor did they get that figure of $8 million by adding up Bennett's losses without figuring in his winnings.
What they had were several spans of time over which they had records for Bennett's winnings and losses. Add all those spans of time together and they netted out at a loss of some $8 million. One of those spans of time, as both the Newsweek and Washington Monthly articles note, was 18 months.
The reason the articles could not say definitively that Bennett was a net money loser on gambling over time is that it's possible there were other spans of time -- say some other 18 month period -- where he was a big net winner. That seems improbable, but not impossible. The particulars of this don't really matter now, since Bennett has pretty much put an end to the whole thing. But McManus simply misstated what the stories said.
The more stunning stuff comes in grafs six and seven ...
For some people, however, betting pennies on tiddlywinks or 10 bucks on Pick 4 constitutes a "gambling problem." They sniff that gamblers are venal because "they want something for nothing." Yeah, well, of course we do. Players and nonplayers alike get aced out of cherished, indispensable things all the time and get zip in return, so it seems only reasonable to want to balance the equation a little. All of us gamble. Air travel, dating, investments, education, even driving or walking to work are not for the risk-averse. Vastly more is at stake when conceiving a child than when Mr. Bennett plays video poker, yet married couples are treated to no finger-jabbing sermons when they roll the dice on reproduction.As I've said, I don't think much one way or another about gambling. But I'm not sure I've read a group of sentences more fatuous or morally shrunken as these in some time. Gambling may be harmless fun, but can't you distinguish between that sort of risk and the one people take when they bring a new life into the world?
Who is this guy?