Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Inflection Points

I am recalling at least three occasions when acts of violence so horrific and massive have occurred in this country, I’ve found myself unable not to write about them here on HBP.

This is a poker blog, after all, and while I’ll often write about sports, politics, entertainment, business, music, and other non-poker topics including what it’s like living on a horse farm, I still try to keep things oriented in the direction of poker, which necessarily leaves certain topics out of the mix.

One was the shooting at Virginia Tech in April 2007, prompting in part a meditation on college classrooms (where I’ve spent so much of my adult life, including then when I was teaching full-time). Another was the one at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut in December 2012, also taking place at a school, with many children among the victims.

The third was the bombing at the Boston Marathon in April 2013. As had been the case during the Sandy Hook shooting, I was reporting on a tournament at the time, and wrote then how “it felt odd to be locked in that poker tourney cocoon while such terrible things were happening outside of it.”

The shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando early Sunday morning has again forced all of us out of our respective cocoons. Or has it? Beyond the horror of the scene and the extent of pain inflicted, there’s that unsettling sense already that even the “deadliest mass shooting in American history” -- as some (not all) have described it -- hasn’t necessarily moved the collective to a point of acting in response.

Remember the Harrington on Hold’em books, and that explanation of “inflection points” that comes up in the second volume? That’s the concept associated with the famous “M” ratio signaling how many orbits you have left according to your stack size, and the corresponding “zones” (green, yellow, orange, red, and “dead”) meant to identify what sort of maneuverability you have left according to your remaining chips.

Regarding inflection points, authors Dan Harrington and Bill Robertie introduce the concept by way of a football analogy, referring to a team that is behind having to jettison certain plays from their playbook in order to preserve time and score fast. As the clock winds down, multiple “inflection points” are crossed -- i.e., first short runs are out, then all running plays, then even short passes aren’t viable as the seconds tick away. Finally a team’s options are whittled down to just one -- a long Hail Mary pass into the endzone.

Similarly in tournaments, they explain, when your stack gets too short your reduced to just a few moves, then eventually only the one of going all in. Each time you reach an inflection point, you must actively recognize certain options are no longer available to you.

I feel like each of these shootings first appear as though they could represent “inflection points” insofar as they seem initially to encourage both dialogue and even action designed to reduce the chances of another occurring. But we never seem to reach the inflection point beyond which the option just to keep on sitting tight is no longer available to us.

Perhaps as a collective we’re overwhelmed by the seeming impotence of the majority in the face of those in power (or, in this election year, those seeking power) -- that is to say, those whose all-encompassing motive is to preserve their comparatively elite status. Such a goal is usually best achieved by continuing to encourage all to keep on sitting tight -- that is to say, to prevent us from thinking we’ve crossed an inflection point beyond which some sort of drastic, culture-changing, life-altering action emerges as the only option left.

(Incidentally, the screamingly hurtful, nonsensical noise emanating from the demagogue who has now secured the Republican party’s presidential nomination is meaningfully confusing to many. If regarded with any scrutiny whatsoever, the several “options” he proposes are in truth uniformly self-destructive, and if we step back to take a broader view of the nation’s history, we quickly realize his proposals were shown to be untenable long ago, after we crossed earlier inflection points.)

There’s a point somewhere, I’m sure of it, which if reached will finally force our hand in some constructive way to make such acts of violence less likely. What’s most chilling is to try to imagine what must happen in order for us to get there.

Image: “The Point of No Return,” Pat Hawks. CC BY 2.0.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

A great post, Shamus, and an interesting perspective on what seems to be an intractable problem in the United States. Thanks for writing and posting this.

6/15/2016 4:16 PM  

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