No one is talking about the real problem with John McCain playing poker during his briefing on the possible use of force in Syria.

Senator John McCain was caught playing poker on his IPhone during a U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations hearing where Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey testified concerning the use of force in Syria.

There was a small uproar over the idea that one of our lawmakers was playing a game while discussing our potential involvement in Syria, and rightfully so.

McCain attempted to excuse his behavior by attributing it to the length of the meeting, which was reportedly three hours long. Obviously, this is shameful, particularly in light of the topic being discussed.


But here is the real problem with McCain’s decision to play this game (and I’m completely serious):

Playing online poker for real money was banned in the United States in 2011. This means that McCain was playing poker with pretend money, and there is nothing more inane and ridiculous as playing poker without any real stakes.

Without actual money involved, the game ceases to be poker. Instead, it’s a game of “Look what I found!” You’re dealt some cards, and when they make a full house or a flush, you push all your pretend chips to the middle in hopes of winning. The game does not require any of the mental faculties that the real game demands.

And if you don’t get the full house or the flush, you probably push your chips to the middle anyway, since it’s not real and you can start over at any time.

It’s a stupid game. It’s so stupid. It’s so incredibly, awfully, frighteningly stupid. It’s the adult version of War, except it’s only suitable for brainless adults. I can’t imagine a bigger waste of time. I can’t imagine a more ridiculous game. Go Fish requires more strategy than pretend poker. Candy Land offers higher stakes than pretend poker.  Twiddling your thumbs demands more skill than pretend poker.

I know that John McCain is a skilled and thoughtful man, but I have a hard time respecting the intelligence or wisdom of anyone who is willing to invest even a second in a game that makes so little sense.

Resolutions that didn’t make the 2013 list

In deciding upon this year’s New Year’s resolution, several were discarded for a variety of reasons. Among them were the following:

Set a new personal best in golf.

I may have excluded this from my list simply because I am afraid that it is not possible. My lowest score for nine holes is a 46, and my lowest score for 18 holes is 95. Without lessons or a dramatic increase in the amount of playing time, I just don’t see myself improving these scores without an enormous amount of luck.  

Launch a podcast related to teaching.

I already plan on launching a podcast related to writing in 2013, so my idea of bringing three teachers (my wife, my friend and me) together to discuss education and answer questions of parents, students and fellow teachers might turn out to be fairly simple once I learned about the process, but it may not. Even if I manage to streamline the technical aspects of the process, it will still take time to record. As a result, I thought that one podcast this year would be more than enough. If the second manages to get off the ground, it will be a bonus.

Deliver a TED Talk.

While the idea of delivering a TED Talk remains something that I would like to pursue in 2013, the amount of content that I already plan on producing is so large that I felt that some ideas had to be left off the list. A TED Talk was one of them. 

Write and perform a 5-10 minute standup comedy set in 2013.

I would like to attempt standup comedy someday, but once again, the amount of writing, storytelling and podcasting that I have planned for 2013 is already more than enough.

Launch a proposed business venture with a close friend.

A friend and I have a possible business idea on the drawing board that we hope to launch in 2013, and we are already in discussions about it, but it may take more than a year to accomplish, so I have left it off the list for now. 

Read a specific number of books in 2013.

Readers suggest this resolution to me every year. Three years ago I established the goal of reading a dozen books published within the same calendar year (and achieved the goal fairly easily), but that goal was set in order to force me to read more current material.

My attitude towards overall reading has always remained the same:

Read as often as possible in 2013. The number of books doesn’t matter if I am reading as much as I can. Therefore no resolution is needed.

Make one mortgage payment from poker profits.

I paid for our honeymoon with poker profits, and I’ve always wanted to make at least one mortgage payment via poker, but the amount of playing that I do today is limited because of my writing schedule. Also, the online poker environment became decidedly more challenging with the US restrictions on online gambling in 2010. While I am fairly certain that I could earn enough money via poker to make at least one mortgage payment if I dedicated time to the endeavor, it turns out that writing is simply more profitable.

I experienced my first taste of anti-Semitism through online poker, and I’m not even Jewish.

Self acknowledged gamer and geek Eisa Melendez wrote a piece for Slate on the challenges of being a female gamer in today’s world, including the horrific levels of sexual harassment that they routinely receive from male gamers.

I was an online gamer for a long time (and occasionally dip back in from time to time, and though I was admittedly a griefer (and proud of it), I never witnessed this kind of harassment first hand.

I have, however, experienced similar harassment while playing online poker, though not even close to the levels that some of these female gamers have suffered. Though I am not Jewish, my wife is, and several years ago, she placed a dreidel in my Christmas stocking. I quickly learned to play the game, only to discover that I was the only person in my wife’s immediate family who knew how to play or even wanted to play. Stymied by their disinterest in the game, I wondered what to do with the dreidel.

Then it occurred to me:

The dreidel would make an excellent card protector while I was playing poker. Lightweight, unique and perfectly sized, it was the ideal object to place atop my hole cards. In addition, when faced with a 50/50 decision, I could spin the dreidel and allow it to make the tough decision for me.


I’ve been using it ever since.

When it came time to register for online play, I was asked to provide a username, and I chose Dreidel Man. I wouldn’t be using my dreidel in the digital world, but I thought my username could pay homage to it.

Almost immediately, online players began mistaking me for Jewish because of the name and attacking me with anti-Semitic slurs. While this was an exceptionally small percentage of players, I found the attacks shocking and infuriating. While I am well aware that anti–Semitism still exists in this world, I was stunned that players would be so willing to affix this hateful sentiment to themselves in such a public way. Of course, the use of usernames affords a degree of anonymity that the real world does not, and anonymity has always been the shield of cowards, but still, these usernames were attached to players who would sit at digital tables and play alongside other, most of whom presumably found these attacks as disgusting as me.

As a white American male, it’s difficult to single out a single time in my life when I was discriminated against based upon my race, religion or sex. In fact, it could be argued that my sex has assisted me in the workplace. As a male in the predominantly female dominated field of elementary education, it’s difficult to imagine that my sex didn’t assist me in finding a job,

But this experience online gave me a glimpse into an ugly world that I had thus far managed to avoid. And yes, I realize that this experience certainly didn’t give me a true sense of what it’s like to be Jewish. I could always turn off the player-to-player chat function, and none of the harassment impacted my life in any real way. It all occurred online within the confines of the game. It was rude, ugly and disconcerting,  but it did give me a peek into a form of discrimination that I had not experienced firsthand before.

Imagine what might have happened had I used the name Dreidel Girl.

It could make for an interesting experiment at some point in the future.