Who Needs A Civics (Or Composition) Lesson?

Wednesday, March 21st, 2007, 8:44 am

I just read Allyn Jaffrey Shulman’s latest column over at Card Player. Headlined “Write Your Congressman”, it discusses the news that Barney Frank, the new chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, plans to introduce a bill to repeal the UIGEA. We’re OK so far. Thing is, after identifying Frank as the chairman of the HOUSE Financial Services Committee, she spends the rest of the column calling him “Senator” Frank.

Sigh. Now, last week Bill posted a little something about Frank’s intentions and I teased him because he too gave Frank a promotion to Senator. Now, Bill just made a (quickly-corrected) boo-boo in a post, and besides, he lives in exotic Gibraltar and floats above our petty politics. Shulman actually calls Frank a “US Congressman” who chairs a House committee…and then refers to him as “Senator” the rest of the way. Shulman is identified as the “Card Player Resident Legal Expert”. Uh huh.

In the column there is a link you can click that takes you to a page where you can send a form letter to your Congressman and/or Senators. Fine. What’s NOT fine is the form letter itself. Allow me to post it here in it’s entirety:

Dear Member of Congress:I am a voter. I am a poker player. And, I am mad.

Under your watch, Congress passed legislation that prohibits me from playing the great game of poker on the Internet. Legislation that impacts millions online poker players in the United States like me, deserves more debate than a back-room deal. Today, you have an opportunity to correct this injustice.

Poker is a great American game with deep roots in this country. Throughout history presidents, generals, Members of Congress, Supreme Court justices and average citizens have enjoyed poker with family and friends. Also, unlike other forms of gambling, poker is a skill game where performance is merited, and a community game, where the “house” is not your competition. These are real and significant differences. Simply putting the word “Internet” in front of poker does not change the qualities of the game and it should not make the people who play it suspect.

I am urging you to support amending this new Internet gambling law so that it has a “skill game exemption” for poker. Please note, that other forms of Internet gambling, such as horseracing, lotteries and fantasy sports are already protected under this law. A skill exemption for poker is not unreasonable, it is good public policy and would help preserve and protect an American tradition.

I look forward to your support for a poker exemption. Again, I am a voter and I remember.

Sincerely,

I mean, where to begin?? Beyond the fact that I’m sure every member of Congress gets mass-mailed form letters/emails like this and instantly deletes them? Well, first off are the odd spacing errors–indeed, there’s a sloppy extra space before the greeting (though you really can’t see it here, it’s more noticeable in the letter itself). And why not have a way to instantly fill in the Congressperson’s name instead of the sure-to-be-ignored “Dear Member of Congress”? Especially as the Message Recipients are shown to be “Your U.S. Senators”. If it’s only sent to Senators, why not have “Dear Senator” as the greeting? Not ideal, but less insulting to their Senatorial pride as “Member of Congress”.

There’s also the subject header for the email–“Support Amending the new Internet Gambling Law”. No! It should reference the precise name of the law, the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act. Ideally it would have the actual number of the bill and the date it passed. Sloppy. Inexcusable.

Let’s move to the opening paragraph. And, what an opening paragraph it is! Let’s look at it again, shall we?

I am a voter. I am a poker player. And, I am mad.

Terrific. In thirteen words we’ve demonstrated that we have the intelligence and emotional maturity of a five-year-old. Maybe a robot would enjoy prose like “I am a voter. I am a poker player” but most human beings, even the putative ones in Congress, almost certainly would not. And, how much do I hate the comma after “And” in “And, I am mad”. Normally I love commas. I love, love, LOVE the comma. Here it provides a moment of hesitation that makes you think some profound statement is coming. And instead we get “I am mad”. Awful.

Let’s continue.

Under your watch, Congress passed legislation that prohibits me from playing the great game of poker on the Internet

Under whose watch, buddy? My Congressman is Jason Altmire–he didn’t vote for the UIGEA. In fact, he defeated Melissa Hart, who championed the bill in the House. Members of Congress get blamed for enough as it is; slagging them for stuff they had nothing to do with isn’t going to get you in their good graces. Much better to simply say “Congress passed legislation…”

Actually, let’s look at the rest of that sentence, “that prohibits me from playing the great game of poker on the Internet”. Does the UIGEA really prohibit people from playing online poker? Not according to…Allyn Jaffrey Shulman, who wrote a column three weeks ago that began with this sentence: “I have written many times that there is no federal law prohibiting the online gambler from playing poker online”. Congress makes Federal laws. If there is, in Ms. Shulman’s words, no federal law prohibiting the online gambler from playing poker online, then why are we pestering our Representatives and Senators. Should we not accurately discuss the issues at hand?

We continue:

Legislation that impacts millions online poker players in the United States like me, deserves more debate than a back-room deal.

Again, we have felony comma abuse. And shouldn’t it be “…impacts millions OF online poker players”? Yes, it should. And what with that timid, tiny voice saying, “like me”? Unnecessary. Weak. Get rid of it. Along with the “in the United States”. We’re writing to a US Congressperson. They don’t care about the French anymore than we do. And saying that this issue deserves “more debate” than a “back-room deal” rather glosses over the fact that in a back-room deal there’s NO debate.

Then there’s the grandiose, “Today, you have an opportunity to correct this injustice.” Well, maybe not TODAY. Maybe not tomorrow. And, maybe not this year. Why not get rid of it? Also is the UIGEA really an “injustice”? I don’t like using that word in this context. It’s too emotional–we should stick to the facts and let Enlightenment (and Money, lots of Money) do the work for us. I fear this graf is beyond saving.

Nor is the next one. The sentence “Poker is a great American game with deep roots in this country” reminds me of the great Spinal Tap song, “Tonight I’m Gonna Rock You (Tonight)”. Poker is a great American game…with deep roots…in this country“. Which is…America.

Tonight I’m gonna rock you
Tonight!

It almost hurts the eyes to read the next sentence:

Throughout history presidents, generals, Members of Congress, Supreme Court justices and average citizens have enjoyed poker with family and friends.

Did I say almost? First of all, “Presidents” should be capitalized. You should probably capitalize “Generals” too just to keep the eye from getting airsick going UP and down this interminable list. Why not use specific examples (President Truman, General Eisenhower, Justice Scalia)? I also don’t like “average citizens”–it makes being an average citizen sound less-than-average. I also don’t like “with family and friends”. The goal is to fully legalize online poker (or online gaming in general), which is rarely played with family and friends. Let’s not muddy the waters.

Also, unlike other forms of gambling, poker is a skill game where performance is merited, and a community game, where the “house” is not your competition.

“A skill game where performance is merited”. Um, that doesn’t sound right. Because it isn’t right. Poker is a skill game where performance is rewarded, maybe. Actually, “performance” AND “merited” don’t work here. It’s a game where skill is rewarded. Period. The line, “…and a community game, where the “house” is not your competition” should be reworked to say something like, “You play against your opponents, not the house”.

Moving along:

I am urging you to support amending this new Internet gambling law so that it has a “skill game exemption” for poker.

How about, “I urge you to support amending this law…” Better, yes? Actually, why are we arguing for an amendment, a “skill game exemption”? It’s a bad law, we should want it repealed. Let’s not perform surgery on the law with a Bowie knife–that leads to confusion. Repeal it. It’s a lousy piece of legislation. Start over if you want to, but get rid of this first.

Please note, that other forms of Internet gambling, such as horseracing, lotteries and fantasy sports are already protected under this law.

Goddam it, learn to use the goddam comma correctly! Either ditch the comma or say, “Please note, other forms of Internet gambling…” Or just say, “Other forms of internet gambling such as lotteries and horse racing (should that be two words?) are still legal under this law. Is this not hypocritical?”

A skill exemption for poker is not unreasonable, it is good public policy and would help preserve and protect an American tradition.

It’s good public policy? How so? Explain how it is. Or, just cut the damn catchphrase. Actually, cut this whole sentence.

I look forward to your support for a poker exemption.

Sounds like you’re sending a resume in response to a want ad, “I look forward to hearing from you”. No. Better to reinforce the message you’ve sent, something like, “Please support the repeal of the UIGEA, it’s the fair and honest thing to do.” Something like that, only better.

Again, I am a voter and I remember.

Ah, the not-so-subtle threat. “I remember“. Yeah, that’ll get them shakin’ in their boots. What’s the saying, you get more flies with honey than vinegar? Wouldn’t it be better to say, “This is a very important issue for me and for millions of my fellow Americans. We aren’t criminals and we don’t think Congress should treat us like criminals. Thank you for listening to our concerns about this very important issue.” The threat is there, but it’s more cleverly veiled, yes? Not my best work, but I think it shows that a bit of arm-around-the-shoulder is better than the angry, balled fist.

I wonder who the hell wrote the text of that letter. And, did anyone READ it before they decided to use it for mass-mailing Congress? This stuff isn’t hard, but it’s important, dammit. The poker community should be linking arms and working together to make online gaming legal. Sloppy, ill-considered nonsense like this does not aid the cause.

UPDATE: The column by Allyn Jaffrey Shulman I referenced above has been corrected to show that Barney Frank is a member of the House, not the Senate. Thing is, the word “Representative” is in a slightly bigger font. A bit of petulance, perhaps, after the comments to the column pointed out the error? Or perhaps I’m just being a bit mean-spirited. I think I’ll go with the latter option. Though I am in a pretty good mood. A correction is a correction.

Also, as pointed out by bitguru in the comments to this post, the word “president” should not be capitalized, nor should “general”. Nor “member of Congress”. My goof, for some reason I thought “President” was capitalized when it referred to the President of the United States. Shouldn’t have used my old AP Stylebook to balance that wobbly table.

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20 Responses to “Who Needs A Civics (Or Composition) Lesson?”

  1. Joe Toboni Says:

    It’s not a bad letter just because you have some stylistic quibbles. No one expects fine prose out of a mass form letter anyway.

  2. Joe Toboni Says:

    It’s not a bad letter just because you have some stylistic quibbles. No one expects fine prose out of a mass form letter anyway.

  3. ScurvyDog Says:

    I try not to criticize, because I’m doing absolutely nothing personally to help, but I’ve been less than impressed with pretty much everything Allyn Jaffrey Shulman has written so far.

    Aside from her vested, financial interest in the matter (which she never bothers to makes explicit), everything she writes on Cardplayer is sloppy at best, and dangerous at worst (her Legal Landscape of Online Poker Has Not Changed article is a good example of the latter.)

    Again, I should keep my mouth shut, as I’m doing nothing to help, but if this is the best the online poker world can summon up as a defense and/or call to action, well, it’s not surprising that outisders continue to look at the lobbying efforts of the poker community as clumsy and amateur, at best.

  4. BG Says:

    I, don’t think this was bad letter. When the Vice Commandant slipped this legislation in the legislation, with no one in the Parliament objecting to it, behind their back too, I have every right to be mad. And to vote.

    And, most importantly. To remember.

  5. Bill Rini Says:

    It’s just like when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor.

  6. Haley Says:

    Mad, they say? Perchance they mean angry?

    Cue the dogs with foaming mouths, please.

  7. Short-Stacked Shamus Says:

    Dead on, Gene. I’m tempted to list a half-dozen more howlers here, but we’ll get on with our lives. You are right, though. The surface-level issues make it easy to dismiss the letter without really reading it, but if someone does happen to read it, that person will discover a hopelessly poor understanding of audience and argument. Only those readers who already agree with Shulman will be at all convinced by the letter, and, as you’ve demonstrated, it also has the potential to turn off some of those as well.

  8. Drizztdj Says:

    I wonder if Spicoli would dare turn in a letter drafted that poorly to Mr. Hand.

  9. Haley Says:

    BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAA!!!!

    I just surfed over to read the original and any comments that might have been left. This text appears on that page:

    Messages that harass, abuse or threaten other members; have obscene or otherwise objectionable content; have spam, commercial or advertising content or links may be removed and may result in the loss of your MyCardPlayer ID (including e-mail). Please do not post any private information unless you want it to be available publicly. Never assume that you are completely anonymous and cannot be identified by your posts.

  10. APOSEC72 Says:

    But, I, am, mad, and, I want, to, be, heard,,,,,

    The run-on sentences and fragments could be expected of someone in elementary school, not a “legal expert”.

    Sheesh.

  11. bitguru Says:

    I’m with you most of the way, but I don’t see why “presidents” or “generals” should be capitalized, and I’m not so sure about “members” (of Congress) either.

    see http://www.grammarbook.com/punctuation/capital.asp

  12. biggestron Says:

    cf: Haley’s comment

    I thought the same thing: mad is actually defined primarily as insane. The term they wanted was any synonym of angry, upset,… But judging by the rest of the general (with a small g) crapiness of the letter, perhaps ‘mad’ is the correct term after all.

    Now whether anyone will cater to insane voters remains to be seen.

    But then again, Bush did get two terms.

  13. Darcy Says:

    Thank you, BG, for the laugh out loud comment. Thank you, Gene, for standing up for the correct use of the comma and for the English language in general.

  14. Bayne Says:

    If I send a form e-mail to either of my Senators or my Congressman it gets routinely bounced. If I want to contact them electronically I fill out their Senate or House web sites form and get their form response to what ever issue I have selected from pulldown menu.

    My Congressman’s staff (Mike Honda) does a far better job than my Senator’s staff to make sure response is crafted well.

  15. Gary Carson Says:

    It’s an awful letter. It’s bad writing, bad grammer, bad punctuation, bad law, and bad logic. Awful.

  16. Bill Rini Says:

    I just feel honored that Gene used me as an example of someone only slightly less stupid than Shulman.

    Woot!

  17. BJ Nemeth Says:

    Gene — I know I’m three days late to the comment party, but your post hit the nail on the head. This is an important letter, and it deserves to be written (or at least edited) by someone who understands the importance of quality writing.

    While I could easily write a better letter than they did, I don’t think I could have written a better analysis of that letter than you did.

  18. jeff Says:

    god i hope that ugly bitch shuts her fat fucking ugly fat fucking fat fat at at at at at ugly ugly mouth

  19. jeff Says:

    Fattttttttttt ugly mouth

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