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Posted: June 27, 2010 12:01 a.m.

Sad, sorry situations

Tunica, MS — My wildest dreams of traveling the world to exotic locales never included Tunica, Miss. But my wife, along with her mother and aunt, accepted a free week’s trip to a resort, airfare included.

So here I am.

Where, you may ask, is Tunica, Miss.? The map puts it 30 minutes southwest of Memphis, Tenn. But the airline flew directly into Tunica, and the resort’s shuttle whisked us straight to our hotel, so I haven’t seen anything that resembles a town at all.

In the middle of what appears to be nowhere are half a dozen hotels and casinos; the hotels are on solid land but the casinos, by law, are located on the waters of the Mississippi River.

It’s hot, humid, and mosquito-infested. And did I mention that it’s hot, humid, and mosquito-infested?

Personally, if given a choice, I’d never visit another casino. I’d rather watch the sun set over Yosemite Valley from Inspiration Point, or swim in the glacier-fed Snake River in Idaho’s Hell’s Canyon. If I must sweat, give me the bleachers at a Braves game.

But as an old social studies teacher, I purely love casino situations from a case-study perspective. It’s hard to beat watching crowds on "the strip" in Las Vegas, or here in Tunica where the bettors form basically a captive audience in the middle of nowhere.

Two old adages are at opposition here: on the one hand, you don’t look a gift horse in the mouth; on the other hand, if something appears too good to be true, it usually is.

There’s a reason the resorts are giving away free trips, including airfare. Due to the depressed economy thinning crowds have diminished casino cash flows. The crowds nowadays are comprised mostly of lower socio-economic folks who can afford such a venture least. Gambling, you know, works in much the same way as a regressive tax. For the rich, several hundred dollars may be pocket change; for those from lower socio-economic levels several hundred dollars may constitute half a month’s salary. Although the percentage of income spent is far greater for the poor, the very ones who can least afford the false hope that playing a penny slot machine will convey them into millionaires regularly feed the one-armed bandits.

It’s a sad and sorry situation, indeed.

And casino slots are tighter than ever, meaning that they don’t pay off as much. So desperate and despairing people sit before the glittery devices and feed a week’s pay into them before walking away in even more despair.

But I did experience two electric, memorable moments here in Tunica, however. Last Wednesday morning, along with several dozen other folks, I watched on a big screen television as America beat Algeria in World Cup Soccer at literally the last moment, 1-0. The room erupted as grown folks who didn’t even know each other high-five’d and hollered "USA! USA! USA!" as if they believed soccer was anything other than a Communist plot undermining American football.

The other electric, memorable moment came just a few hours later, when General Stanley McChrystal resigned command of American forces in the AfPak War. McChrystal and his staff, in a recent Rolling Stone magazine article, made disparaging remarks about not only their commander-in-chief, but also about the vice president and other members of President Obama’s leadership team. McChrystal, summoned to the White House to explain himself, was subsequently forced to resign.

Obama, upon taking office, had sacked former AfPak commander David Petraeus to elevate his hand-picked man, McChrystal. Now Obama, commander-in-chief’s hat firmly in hand, has turned back to Petraeus and asked him to resume his former post. Petraeus, a man who fainted recently in a briefing, accepted. Obama’s top cheerleader team, NBC, speculated Petraeus did so to posture for eventual chairmanship of the Joint Chiefs of Staff when that position opens.

And it will open. It’s my take that General McChrystal resorted to insubordinate remarks just to get the war back on the front burner. After all, last December Obama promised 30,000 still unrealized additional troops to McChrystal. It seems that nobody realizes that America is at war.

And that’s a sad and sorry situation.

Speaking of which, oil continues to fill the Gulf of Mexico. Obama and his crack leadership team wring their hands and promise retribution as the worst environmental disaster in our history worsens.

Oh, and the White House Budget Director, Peter Orszag, resigned last Wednesday. The head of the Office of Management and Budget inherited a $5.5 trillion national debt which, in just 18 months on President Obama’s watch, now stands at an unbelievable $9 trillion.

Rats abandon sinking ships, you know. It’s a sad and sorry situation, indeed.

Nat Harwell is a long-time resident of Newton County. His columns appear regularly on Sundays.

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