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Gambler, No. 1 [On Gambling]

Gamble. v. n. [To] Play extravagantly for money. — Dr. Johnson 

Gambler, No. 1At various times during my brief pilgrimage on this planet, I have regarded the human race as mere insects. As if, I suppose, we all lived a Kafkaesque experience, walking our streets like respectable Gregor Samsa’s, understood, mind you, for all share the same plot. It is easy enough to imagine all human’s scurrying about as one small vessel, like ants zipping around their hill. In cities that hold millions, this image makes sense. And so does another. Looking at a city at a giant’s viewpoint may suggest an anthill by day. But by night we resemble something different. In our ecstasy, many of us head for the brightest lights we see. We head downtown. Like flies, we fling ourselves headfirst into the chaos of the lights. We go there to die.

Not too many days ago, I was drawn to what may be the brightest district in America. Las Vegas Boulevard. Unlike other cities, this district does not necessarily attract its own. Nay. Las Vegas Boulevard is so bright it attracts men from every area of the globe, who come to stare at its monstrosities and gawk at its vanities as kids used to stare at candy shops. It should be correctly called Vanity Fair. For one crowds in amongst thousands of mindless tourists, insisting on stopping every two minutes to take pictures; one will watch these tourists do nothing but walk and gawk; one will hear seven-year-olds ask their father if they can stay to watch Britney Spears, only to hear the father say, like some grand idiot, “I don’t know, sweet-heart. We’ll see.” Young men, dressed up as if they’re going to prom, waltz around with long, skinny drinking glasses, chasing skinnier women in skinny outfits smoking even skinnier cigarettes. The smell of sweat and bodies mixes with the smell of cigarette smoke as more people fly toward the lights. Men—without hesitancy—pass out fliers to unsuspecting, or suspecting, young men, as long trucks with mere advertisements covering their women, suggest other ways a man can be led to death. And then one remembers there is a seven-year-old here. The Homeless also join the fray, playing instruments if they have the energy, or sitting and looking as miserable as one can possibly look. And when one isn’t noticing them, he is given another flier by another shameless man. And when one has had enough of the idiotic fathers and shameless men, he turns to the casinos, and gambling does not seem so sinful after all.


It is erroneously thought in this country that mere stupidity is the equivalent of gambling. The equivalent of mere stupidity is not gambling. The equivalent of mere stupidity is foolishness. The man who puts down his lifesaving on a racehorse does not have a gambling problem. He has an intelligence problem. The man who flings himself onto crocodiles his whole life, only to end up eaten by one, is not gambling with his life; he is throwing it away. The man who holds a view that is contrary to tradition is not a man “taking a chance;” he is merely a rebel, rebelling against he knows not what toward something he knows even less about.

It is supposed that being intellectually risky, having some sort of opinion that questions the supposed belief, is a type of wisdom. A professor will saunter into a room, lay down the beliefs of our forefathers with perfect clarity, and then debunk the whole thing. He will do so not with anything necessarily concrete. For to be concrete in one’s thinking is not being quite risky enough. He will debunk the concrete beliefs of dead Theists with such statements as, “It’s hard to really know if God exists. He may or may not.” “I believe there is truth, but it is something fluid, something constructed from both within us and among us.” “It’s possible that our death is part of some larger order. What that is, is hard to say. But it could be something great. It usually is reserved for those who love the most.” And so on and so forth. The professor may believe he is taking great risks in his belief system, when really he is only stating platitudes that offer little hope. And if one has little hope, it cannot be said that he is taking any sort of thing that can be called a risk. For to gamble without hope is not to gamble at all. To say, “I do not know. Therefore, hedonism” is not a life of risk and adventure but a life of sad slavery to pleasure.

If one wants to meet a real gambler, one who is willing to take a risk, it is not the intellectual snob who knows not why he believes his own unbelief. It is the family praying to the invisible God at dinner. It is the Christian holding onto his hope in the face of beheading. For those in America, it is often the man unwilling to succumb to the nonsense of the world, throwing in his lot with the nonsense of heaven. Not without mistake did the great apostle claim that the wisdom of God is foolishness to the world. But, indeed, it is better to be a knave or a jester in the courts of the king, than a sage or tyrant in the hierarchy of hell.


We chose the Bellagio. The most iconic perhaps. It is a gorgeous building rounded in a half-circle which opens to a small pond. Tourists often stop outside to watch the fountain show (which is quite good if the correct song is played) and pretend they are Brad Pitt.

I cannot do justice to the description of the Bellagio casino, for they all look quite similar to my Midwestern eyes. They are quite pleasant places, if one does not mind cigarette smoke. They are very clean, and actually not so crowded. I find them enjoyable to be in after being out on the strip. I suppose that is what they want. Anyhow, looking for penny slots, we sauntered on up to some shiny slot. After much initial confusion, the time came to place the bet. Having virtually no idea how the machine worked, I slowly inserted my cash. I quietly said goodbye to Andrew Jackson as I put him in what I thought was a fancy garbage can.

“Alright,” I said. “Here goes.”

I hit the button that said, “max bet” and saw it light to life. Then, fully expecting nothing to happen, I hit the “place bet” button. Now, it would be a lie to tell you what happened next with the slot machine, for I have little idea. This slot had roughly six or seven columns of icons—those in the movies, you will remember, have three—and nothing really seemed to line up with anything else. But what really caught my attention was a quite audible dinging sound mixed with many coins on the screen falling down like large, golden raindrops.

“I think you won,” I heard from behind me.”

It certainly seemed that way.

“Eh? Where does it say…” I questioned as I squinted my eyes, looking frantically for some type of indication as to what happened. Then I found it. $120. Just. Like. That. I will not fail to confess the temptation in my breast to put that $120 back in the machine. But greater heads prevailed. Vowing to never place a bet there again, I strolled out and watched the fountain show, feeling as if I had broken the Bellagio.

Each day, on my way to work at the local university, I drive down Flamingo Road and see that Casino in all it's morning glory. As I park and begin my walk into campus, I give the Boulevard one last glance. It is not a temptation but a reminder. If I am indebted to One, it is only because I am the Gambler.

Broom Snow
Written and transcribed at my apartment, The Desert Schooner,
Las Vegas, Nevada
August 18, 2015

Painting: "The Gambler"
By Christian Ludwig Bokelmann,
Oil on canvas, 1873


A Blessing for the Beer

A Blessing for the Beer

Oh God—Who makes the wheat and barley fields grow from the soil, Who sends the rain to fatten and ripen each head of grain—thank you for this beer. May it lift our spirits without making us intemperate in any way, that we have no regrets for using this fermented gift improperly. May our moderation as we drink be an example to those who drink immoderately. Now, as we savor the barley, yeast, hops, and malt we drink in thankfulness to you who made them ripe in their season. Amen.

R. Eric Tippin
The Catacombs, Kansas State University
January 22, 2014

"Cheese and Beer Mug"
Oil on Canvas - 1960
George L. Reekie 


On the Universe and Other Trifles: An Imitation of G.K. Chesterton’s Prose

Last fall, as a part of an independent study in which I participated alongside the now diceased Sam Snow, I was given the monumental task of imitating, at intervals, Rudyard Kipling, Hilaire Belloc, and G.K. Chesterton. I have posted my first two imitations on this site here and here (not here) but have felt a reluctance to post the third. This reluctance stems from a certain acid tone in the Chesterton imitation that the author himself might have taken toward modern ideals were he alive today.

I have decided, however, after very little thought, to post the imitation, trusting to my readers' sophistication and their and understanding that sometimes (perhaps always) content and style conflate. I exaggerate for effect because Chesterton exaggerated for effect. I over-simplify for effect because my subject utilized the same tactic. Now, to the imitation:

It is true, the universe is the largest thing we know, but we know so little, really[1]. We have placed our mustard seed faith in the universe as something vast beyond measure, but it could be that the universe itself is the mustard seed to some other colossal object. We believe our universe to be gigantic, romantic and hauntingly cold and beautiful, but, as universes go, it could be a rather medium-sized, homely one. Maybe in a cosmic perspective its great galaxies are mere clouds of sediment suspended in the flowing tides of space and its fiery nuclear orbs are but fireflies to some invisible galactic race of giants. In other words, we feel we are small because the universe is large, but perhaps the only reason the universe seems large is that we are so small.

The weak-eyed, shortsighted modern is reluctant to address is this all-important question of the firmament, but the question remains: Why is our universe so unfathomably large, so spread out, so maddeningly outside our ability to explore it? Space may be the final frontier, but in it we have finally found a frontier we cannot explore as Shakleton did the arctic or Livingston did the Congo. Our pride in our pathetic attempts at going to the moon and mars are like swimming a couple meters off the coast of California and claiming we have explored the Oceans of the earth or reading Sartre’s “No Exit” and claiming we know drama. We are like a colony of ants in Texas calling Siberia our “last frontier” or a snail in Seattle setting his sights on Singapore—a fine sentiment but a weak demonstration of sentience. The theist and the atheist alike are faced with answering the question of meaning behind this unexplorable size of our cosmos, this elephantine girth so incredible to us. The theist, faced with this question, can and does answer the “who” and “how”; the atheist does not have the luxury of the “who,” and, because of this, generally ignores the how. The atheist even goes out of his way to avoid the giant “why” question behind the universe in one of the most natural places in the world for discussing it—the university. One would expect every class at a university to begin by speaking about that university’s namesake; that every history class would begin with the history of the universe, that every algebra class would not proceed without outlining the numbers and formulae dictating all motion in the cosmos, that every writing class would start by tracing the primal and universal language written boldly in the stars, that students of art would not place brush on canvas before they looked into that most venerated and ancient portrait of the man in the moon.

But this is the modern trend. Just as the universe has no place in the modern university, so subjects modern professors profess to teach have strayed from their real subjects. Take, for instance, the new, vogue, and progressive new field of study, Children’s Literature. Now, there is one group of individuals unwelcome in the modern study of Children’s Literature, and happens to be the one group most naturally associated with it. I speak, of course, of real children. Introduce a real child into the modern academy’s study of Children’s Literature, and it would crumble under the sheer rationality of that child. For the child knows far more than the academic how to read Cinderella or Beauty and the Beast. The child knows Cinderella’s gender identity is far less important to the story than the fairy godmother’s strict rules or Cinderella’s shoe size, but the academic will write of jargon on the first and hardly mention the second two. The child knows the beast is transformed into the prince through the good graces of the beauty, but the academic seems to believe the beauty need become the beast in order to be a female worthy enough to subvert the male beast.

 It should be a requirement for every Children’s Literature department to have daycare attached, in whose playroom scholars must write every word of their criticism, surrounded by rollicking hoards of those they claim to represent. Let that scholar read his prose aloud to a company of seven-year-old-kids and let them be the judges of its acuity and cogency. Let him defend his dissertation before a dissident panel of hungry toddlers. Let him be dragged before a tribunal of eager kindergarteners and let them decide whether his attempts to prove the presence of phallic symbols in Winnie the Pooh make him worthy to take the name of children’s scholar. Let him find out that “serious Children’s Literature scholar” is an oxymoron to the real child and that his jargon-packed work serves only one practical purpose in the nursery—to put any child to sleep.

But in the universe of the university all things are topsy-turvy. Children’s Literature has little-to-nothing to do with real children; cultural studies celebrates everything but good culture; philosophy departments no more love wisdom than they believe they can prove the word wisdom has meaning at all; rhetoric and composition take only scant and scoffing glances at classical rhetoric and the tools of composition; communication scholars have made it their job to end any and all communication of unsafe ideas coming from those less open minded than themselves. Yes, it is only natural that the universe is ignored in the university. And why should it not be? It screams for answers and the modern is too busy screaming for questions. It declares the glory of God and they declare the irrelevancy of God. It makes man feel insignificant; they make man the measure of all things. It declares that there are constructs beyond social ones. They declare the social ones are the only true constructs. It threatens to cool man’s pleasure in time. They worship man’s pleasure wildly like pagans did Baal. It preaches a singular reality behind the university. They can preach nothing but diversity.

R. Eric Tippin
In "The Catacombs," Kansas State University
October 22, 2014 

"Blue Sky"
Oil on Canvas - Date Unknown
Herbert Rollett 

[1] Careful readers of this blog will recognize this sentence (and the title of this imitation) as self-plagarism. I care little.


A Technical Primer in Blowing Smoke Rings

This post was originally published on the website of the Eighth Day Institute (of Wichita, Kansas) as a lead up to a conference on the work of Inklings. You can find a link to the original post here or here but certainly not here.

To clarify, a smoke ring is not blown, it is ejected. I think the “blowing” nomenclature is counterproductive for the novice. If you blow a steady stream of air from your mouth, you will not get a smoke ring. If you blow continuously, the swirl necessary for a smoke ring will curl and curl until it bursts in a chaotic mess. More than one frustrated pipe smoker has unnecessarily hyperventilated thanks to this misleading verbiage. To form a stable smoke ring requires that one eject a cylindrical slug of fluid which is about four times as long as it is wide. The slug must have a beginning and an end, and you must provide a reasonably sharp, fairly circular orifice to give the swirls a place to collect. The tongue rather than diaphragm is the motivator: rather than blowing from your lungs, close the back of your mouth with your tongue and push the air out with a gentle back-to-front motion. The smoke ring will take flight when you cease to push air out of your lips.

This essential mechanism both issues Gandalf’s special-edition smoke sculptures from his lips and carries an A380 airliner from London to Dubai. There’s actually a raging online debate between Bernoulli’s Principle Progressives and Newtonian Fundamentalists about what it is that keeps winged things aloft (I wonder if, in a nominalist world, a capable mind deprived of teleologically significant grist doesn’t simply create ideology where none exists), but there is another way to come at the question. 

Fluid (including air) sticks to itself. If, for whatever reason (Mr. Boeing and Gandalf, or Tolkien and Lewis themselves, for that matter, have different motives to be sure), one pushes on some air, it will drag some of its neighboring air along with it. At the meeting between the air getting pushed and the air left alone, a molecular friction swap meet occurs. The end result is that some of the pushed air gets swung into the still air, and some of the still air gets swung in to the pushed air, creating a swirl effect that engineers (and Cable Weather Hyperbolistas) call a vortex. An airplane, for instance, is always moving on to new air and abandoning the old (truly modern, alas), leaving a trail of swirl behind it (though in the end, it is a very long, stretched ring that stretches from takeoff to landing). In the case of air being pushed out of your mouth, the swirl gathers ‘round your mouth forming a complete vortex ring which, if you’ve the good fortune to have a mouthful of pipe draw, you can see.

I doubt that any of this was explicitly available to the cast of pipeweed-smoking characters traversing Middle Earth, and the story does not suffer for lack of it. The pipe and its accoutrements lay late-summer-hazily over the topology of the storyline, always pleasant, never surprising, occasionally missed. I wonder how such benevolent nonchalance would be greeted from a contemporary author. Perhaps absence of vitriol against the unalloyed evil of tobacco can be forgiven the ignorant writer of yesteryear, along with fidelity to a sacramental ontology, as a doddering atavism that gets in the way of spectacularly rendered characters and settings.

Only villains smoke now. The fire in the Cracks of Doom, we now know, was fueled by Phillip Morris. In a desacramentalized world, smoking (of tobacco rather than the “healthful” cannabis) runs afoul of the corporeal morality which, in the absence of any transcendent reality, is the summum bonum, along with the consent of the human will to sexual intercourse of any variety. The horror with which my students received my jocular suggestion that one could use tobacco smoke to visualize interesting engineering phenomena punctuates the reversal. I wonder that a professor on a public university campus would be subject to arrest for smoking a pipe within a dozen paces of any entrance on campus, but would run afoul of no Kansas law were they to become romantically involved with a nineteen year old sophomore.

And for those of you yet wondering if it is Bernoulli or Newton responsible for keeping your aluminum chariot aloft, I can tell you that it is definitively both. And arguably, neither; to the frustration of nominalist Progressives and Fundamentalists alike, wings and rings fly without regard for the name. It is in the very nature of air to make flight.

Brandon Buerge
Newton, Kansas
June 29, 2015

"Albert With a Pipe"
Oil on Canvas - 1978
Peter Burns


The Romance of Reading

The modern romantic ironically knows very little about Romance. We live in an age where “all you need is love” has become “I get whatever I want.” This is romance in the modern, cheapened sense, where life is a series of events that cater to my whims and fancies. And in order for the American to be released from this self-destructing road of hedonism, he must do away with thinking romantically and begin thinking Romantically. That is, he must do away with this silly notion that the princess in the tower is saved so they can ride off into the sunset, happily ever after. He must do away with any such thought; he must realize that he is saving the princess from an evil that must also be destroyed. He must realize that a marriage with her requires a killing of a giant and that any happiness will inevitably be colored with a variety of weekly—or daily—crises. But in our modern fairly tale, the evil that exists is up to the individual person, so that while the prince may see the giant as evil, the princess (a feminist) is already mad at the prince for trying to save her. This romance merely results in the pursuit of making the other person happy.

I frequent academic circles, and it so happened one day that we were discussing a recent phenomenon that takes place in the college classroom. In a modern classroom, the professor does not walk into rooms of chattering students; he walks into something more solemn than a mass; he walks into a room of adolescents who all have bowed in holy reverence to their phones. Some have their heads jammed so far into them only their neck can be seen. This should elicit some concern, for the obvious fact is that students are becoming less socially aware and more like zombies. A zombie could walk into the room, and the only person ready to fight it would be the professor. We talk these days about gun violence. But if we took the gun away a man could walk into any room of modern millennials and still have his way, for the children would be unaware until it was all over. But as most academic circles tend to be, someone took a stance I didn’t ever think I’d hear. “They may not be talking,” she said about those students, “but at least they’re reading!” Now I am highly skeptical they are doing any such thing, but for the sake of this essay, I will assume these mindless millennials are reading something and not merely playing Angry Birds. Let’s even go so far as to say that all twenty-five students are reading news stories and not status updates. We could even go so far as to say that every student is reading the textbook for class—or Dostoevsky or Dickens, for that matter. Let’s make all these students little literary bookworms.

The statement still reveals a terrible philosophical trend toward reading that has crept into the classroom in the last few decades. It is, probably, a result of the nonsensical “art for art’s sake” movement that eventually gave us very bad art. For it is the notion that “reading for the sake of reading” is good enough for most, and it will likely result in creating very bad readers. But in what other area of expertise do we ever trumpet this ideology? Do painters stroll across town with their buckets and ladders, exclaiming, “painting for painting’s sake”? Do they splash paint on every hearth and home they see, regardless of color or coat? Do sailors sail for the sake of sailing, without a care to where they port? Do barbers, with great zeal for their trade, accost each hairy head that passes their shop, shaving and snipping till there is nothing left, all in the name of “cutting hair for the sake of cutting hair”?

I myself am a mower of sorts—you might call me a mid-mower. Nearly every day this past summer I have mowed and trimmed the local town parks. Now, I do not get atop my mower and proclaim, “At least I’m mowing!” No, I have a very clear outcome I wish to arrive at. I primarily want to make sure I don’t kill myself or any children. I secondarily want the parks to be completely mowed as efficiently as possible. My highest goal is to have the parks look beautiful when I am finished. The point here is that if those goals are not met, I am dis-satisfied. If I’m flung off into on-coming traffic or mow over a child, I do not comfort myself with the words “at least I’m mowing!” I do not comfort myself with “at least I’m trimming!” after destroying the child’s sandcastle or the flower-garden. The modern notion, though, would have the mower mowing anything at any level of efficiency and decency. The mower would be equally pleased mowing a field of lilies or a field of ladies, or trimming an area of wildflowers or women. The fact is, without any standards on which to evaluate the work, the work becomes meaningless and the females grow angry.

There is a deeper thing going on here, however, a deeper philosophical trend that has paralleled the above. That is the notion that can equals should. “If we can do it,” goes the theory, “then we should do it.” We see this often enough. We can drive hours on end at dangerous speeds in a metal box, so we look down on those who do not practice this buffoonery. We can marry two men, so it’s morally right. We can face-chat with whomever, wherever and whenever, so if you leave Faceland,* you are an outcast. We don’t really think anything of it. The student can read whatever he’s reading, so he should not only read it but rest content at reading only that. He’s still reading Dr. Seuss in the tenth grade, but he can, so he’s morally obliged. This again begs the question. If the painters painting for the own sake began chanting, “yes we can!” upon arriving at every house, it does not keep them from being tarred and feathered for proving the statement. If I’m screaming, “yes I can!” after mowing over the child’s sandcastle, it will not stop his tears from flowing, though the sand in his eyes might soak up some. In short, the mere ability to do something does not mean things will improve if the thing you are doing is shoddy work. The boy who reads John Green all his life muttering, “yes I can” will never read Shakespeare. And even if the work is good work, if it is done at an inappropriate time, it is not acceptable. The carpenter hammering at two in the morning is thrown off his ladder; the boy opening and reciting his Shakespeare during his father’s funeral is smacked by the mother. But all this really does is shed light on the deeper truth behind the whole matter.

The children can’t read real literature, so they’ve settled for less. The real philosophy is “no we can’t, so we’ll settle for less.” No we can’t be socially aware of our surroundings, so we’ll get on Faceland and pretend to be social. We can’t live in communities, so we dash of to various cities at the speed of light. We can’t read Spenser, so we’ll read Stephanie Meyer. I’m not a good mower, so I’ll practice being a bad mower until I arrive. I can’t write a paragraph, so I’ll tweet ten times until one is created.

The heart should not rejoice but break at the sight of so many faces looking at phones, for both their social and reading skills are taking a hit. We who wish to raise literary prodigies are raising a generation of mere zombies too dead to attack. And it comes back to the fact that the students are living the modern romance—everything they want is at their fingertips. They do not have to fight for anything. If the above individual had thought about what she was saying, she would realize that no one in that classroom is reading. She would realize that reading, in the sense we are using it, must be more than a means of arriving at meaning. I have no problem for the common man to be merely reading for this purpose; many a common man may go through life barely literate and be completely happy and well-off. But if we truly wish to raise well-rounded intellectuals, reading Faceland status updates should not be enough. The reader who reads only for that end is not even alive enough to lose himself in the story; he is not even alive enough to lose himself at all. For reading is a means to losing oneself, to becoming smaller so you can see more and be more. It is not mere escapism, for the children are doing that in Faceland. It is escaping with the intent of returning to your land with a new perspective. But the reader reading for the sake of reading is the mower mowing for that same end; he has lost the ability to be small in a grand world; he has lost the joy of the battle in which he is engaged. For the mower is doing much more than merely mowing; with blades, he is fighting a furious field of overgrown blades. And when he grabs his weed whacker, he finishes off the stragglers. When I trim some large oak, I often imagine I’m trimming the toes of some giant turned to wood.

Broom Snow
Written & Transcribed at the Ole Midshipman,
Manhattan, KS
July 9, 2015

"A Woman Reading a Newspaper"
Oil on Wood - 1891
Norman Garstin 


*Facebook, the Land of a billion false faces