Manifesto: On Poker Chips, Paperback Book Publishing and Health Care Reform

Unless you’re color-blind like me (yes, I’m color-blind, and yes, that probably does explain the color scheme here on Literary Kicks), you probably see two different color chips in the photo above.

Well, I don’t. Neither did my brother Gary (who is also color-blind, naturally, since it’s a deterministic genetic trait, and I’d really like it if people would start calling us “color-capable” instead of “color-blind”, but that’s another topic) this weekend when we both played poker at the Gulfstream casino in Miami, Florida. I have no idea what colors you see when you look at these chips. But what Gary and I both see is one tan-green-orange-gray chip that says “$25” and another tan-green-orange-gray chip that says “$5”.

Now, this isn’t a big problem when I’m looking at my own chips. But it’s a very big problem when I’m looking at the chips the other players are throwing into the pot, and I know it put me at a disadvantage this weekend that I had to deal with this extra level of uncertainty while also trying to navigate through a particularly vexing session of Hold ‘Em (don’t even ask me about those pocket 7s I folded). The annoying thing is, there are really a lot of colors that I can tell apart. I can tell most colors apart. Blue and yellow? No problem. Yellow and tan? Bring it on. Red and purple, blue and green? Easy, all of it. Just please don’t mix browns and greens and ask a color-blind person to know the difference. Just stay away from those earth color variations and we’ll be fine.

But, now, here’s the funny thing. 7 to 10% of males have the same red-green color-blindness as me, and none of us can tell those $25 chips from those $5s. 7 to 10%. That’s a lot of unhappy poker players, isn’t it? Since this problem can be easily solved by using any of the countless combinations that color-blind people can tell apart, why wouldn’t the Gulfstream casino do so? This is a bigger question, and brings me to the main point of this blog post.

Sometimes I wonder what I’m doing when I use my blogging platform to critique or criticize various companies or organizations like the Gulfstream Casino, or the New York Times, or Slate, or Microsoft, or the US government, or Taco Bell or the New York Mets. I can’t stand it that I come across as a curmudgeon or a whiner, because that’s really not who I am. Rather, I do all this complaining because I am deluded enough to think that somebody out there may be listening. Yes, I’m even deluded enough to think I may make a difference somehow.

I complain because organizations and corporations and governments often need to change, and need to be urged to change. I’m an urger. Some people think I’m arrogant because I believe I’m smarter than, say, the New York Times executive board, or the USA Joint Chiefs of Staff. Well, I gained this arrogance at my day job. As I may have mentioned recently, I have spent the last twenty years working for major finance, entertainment and media conglomerates in New York City and Washington DC. I’ve seen how these organizations work, and what I’ve learned is not to disrespect them, but always to question them.

When I complained at my table at the Gulfstream Casino, another player said to me “there’s probably a good reason they use these colors”. Um, actually, there probably isn’t. If you think important organizational systems and processes are rational, look at the US economy in the last ten years, or look at how our Congress and Senate work. If you think a typical executive boardroom meeting produces logical decisions, you have probably never attended an executive boardroom meeting.

I am personally an idealist — Glenn Beck might even call me a “progressive”, and I’ll be damn proud of it — because I believe it is the right (not the duty, but certainly the right) of every person on earth to try to do something to make the place a little better. What the hell else are we here for? And, I ask my writer friends: what the hell else are we here to write for?

I take a lot of flak for believing that I can change the world by speaking up. For instance, because I often criticize the New York Times, I’ve been told that I must hate the New York Times. You’d be surprised how often I hear this. People … I adore the New York Times. That’s why I care enough about it to speak up when I disagree with its direction. (And that’s why I don’t want to see them go to oblivion in a shopping cart with a stupid paywall scheme that’s bound to fail.)

I got a lot of flak a few years ago for speaking up against hardcover-only book publishing, a tradition that makes about as much sense as earth-toned poker chips for the color blind, as far as I can tell.

I get a lot of flak from friends and family for sticking up for the brave health care reform package Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid have been working so hard on, and are working hard on right now.

Why don’t I just shut up? A few people seem to think I should.

But here’s the crazy thing. There were about 500 people in the poker room at Gulfstream friday night. Let’s say 350 of them were guys. That means probably 25 or 30 of them were color-blind. And yet nobody was speaking up about the fact that the color selection on these poker chips sucked.

For all the noise in the world, our public conversations really haven’t been very good. I think we can do better. What else is a writer here to do?

6 Responses

  1. Levi, your love for poker is
    Levi, your love for poker is utterly baffling to me (though likely largely because I spent a year working in a Vegas casino serving food to bleary-eyed, uncommunicative Hold ‘Em players who’d been up all night and no longer had enough money to even pay for their morning coffee), but I love the fact that you found a beautiful point to make from it. Goddamn right we writers should keep on bitching, even when the rest of the party might call us nuisances for doing so. Because that’s the thing about the guy who speaks up — everyone might roll their eyes at him at the time, but secretly most of those guys are glad somebody else had the balls to say something.

    I found this post bizarrely inspiring, actually.

  2. Levi,
    I have seen you,

    I have seen you, watched you, respectfully I might add, patiently build your case and your platform as the reform candidate. And in another world, a prior version of this one, you would have been brought in, paid, and allowed to play a humanizing role at the margins of the corporate publishing project. But we’re all beyond that now. If that call were going to come it would have already come.

    Bless every single closed door they have slammed in your face or merely refused to open when you politely but firmly knocked. They will lead you to the open door. There is one. I promise you.

  3. Levi, I love the way you
    Levi, I love the way you weaved the color-blind chip issue into a larger tale of social consciousness and responsibilty towards perhaps making our world a better place through writing. I feel somewhat embarrassed that, although I have a vague recollection of your taking that picture of the chips, I didn’t even think of asking you about it at the time as my main impulsive thought was whether the casino feds were going to come pull you away for daring to capture a visual image of their business venture. And then after that fleeting fear didn’t come to fruition, I probably just hyper-focused on my hand and the ensuing table action. It’s funny what we choose to focus our perceptions on. While I agree that the similarly-colored chips were annoying, I remember not really caring about that but being actually disappointed that many of my chips were faded badly – as the parental units had told me ahead of time that the casino had only been open for a week and these old chips put that tale to rest. (It turns out that the fancy renovation of the casino area was a week old but poker had been played here for a few years at least). Your essay did not present the worst-case scenario of poker chips and color-blindness, which occurs when you play in tournaments where there are no number values listed on the chips and you need the dealer or another player to help you sort them out when you win a pot. Also, although I am right there with you in your advocacy for changing the color of the chips (and I know there’s no good reason for these colors regardless of what your fellow player suggested), having us called “color-capable” is both too politically correct and inaccurate. Color-challenged or color-disabled may also be politically correct terminology but at least they don’t pretend that a disability (albeit a minor one at that) is something desirable-sounding.

  4. Hey Levi, why not use your
    Hey Levi, why not use your weakness as a strength, when it comes to poker? Use it to your favor.

    I mean color blindness could be a great bluffing tool… when you stop and think about it. You could literally have your opponents thinking you are the dumbest poker player, when you really aren’t.

    I wonder if we could use our weaknesses in writing as a strength also. Hmmm.

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