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Arthur S. ReberI’ve spent over fifty years living two parallel lives. In one I am a semi-degenerate gambler, a poker junkie, horse player, and blackjack maven; in the other, a scientist specializing in cognitive psychology and related topics in the neurosciences, the origins of consciousness and the philosophy of mind. For the most part, I’ve kept these tracks separate mainly because my colleagues in each have little appreciation for the wonder, the complexities and the just full-bore fun in the other.

But over time these two avenues of my life have meshed. There’s a lot that we know about human psychology that can give us insight into gambling, especially poker and, of course, there’s a lot that poker can teach us about human psychology. It is quite astonishing how richly these topics interlock. I’ll also introduce you to some engaging characters I’ve known – bookies, con artists, hustlers, professional poker players and perhaps an occasional famous scientist.

This site will wander about in both worlds with new columns and articles along with links to scores of previously published ones. Now that I’ve retired I’ve become something of a political junkies and will go on rants on politics and economics,  When the mood strikes I’ll share views on food, restaurants and cooking. Any and all feedback is welcome.

Thursday
Mar162017

Trump/Bannon Immigration Policy: Tomorrow's Looming Disaster

A thought or three on the the immigration policy that Trump (and his Mephistophelian sidekick, Steve Bannon) are pushing. The first thing to grasp is that they are acting in what is easily seen as a classically childish fashion. Their vision is warped by narrow thinking and their decisions are driven by tiny, ego-centric, close-minded fears. There is, so far as I can tell, not a shred of interest in the long-range implications of their efforts, not a nod toward economic theory.

To see this we need to take a few simple principles of demographic analysis into account. These principles are, indeed, simple but they do call for a modicum of decency, a dollop of empathy and a willingness to acknowledge that cultures evolve and change over time. So:

I. When countries become economically stable the birth rate declines. None of the Western democracies are replacing the population through birth. This principle is as rock-solid as any. Children, in poor societies are more than objects to be cherished and nurtured, they are a source of economic growth. As a society become economically viable this benefit becomes a liabilitly and, consequently, the birth rate drops.

II. The elderly in a society are costly. Medical expenses, pensions, Social Security and a host of other support systems for the geriatric set need to be in place. Their costs are covered by the economic engines the younger generations provide. With declining birth rate that engine looses its steam. 

III. When birth rates drop, the well-being of the society is threatened by this economic disruption. The only place to find the younger “replacements” is through immigration — an obvious conclusion.

IV. Long-term demographic analyses project that the current rush of immigrants into Europe will provide strong positive economic gain in the decades to come — along with diversity in dress, food and the arts, further enriching the culture. How this plays out will be governed in large measure by the degree to which Europeans shed their fears and suspicion of cultural differences. If they marginalize the immigrants there will be fewer benefits of their presence.

V. These long-range projections also reveal which countries, based on current policy, are likely to blossom over the next several decades and which will not. Canada, for one, is projected to benefit significantly because of its relatively open immigration laws. Countries with xenophobic traditions and relatively closed doors will fare poorly. Amond developed countries, Japan has the worst economic prognosis because of their reluctance to absorb foreigners.

VI. Current analyses show that the US, because of policies in place before the Trump presidency, has a good, long-term economic picture. But if Trump/Bannon prevail, not so much.Their anti-immigration policies will have significant downward impact on the US economy. In addition to being a policy that is driven by fear, nurtures and encourages nativism and xenophobia, it is poor, long-term economic policy.

How much damage can the Trump administration do? This is far from clear. It will depend in large measure on how the courts treat things like the Muslim ban, the planned wall along the Mexican border and other proposed changes in immigration policy. So far the courts have not treated the Executive Orders banning Mulims kindly. It looks like Congress will balk at funding the wall and we have yet to see what specific changes in immigration policy will be proposed.

I’m hopeful…. Not something I often experience since the ugly people took over the government.

Thursday
Mar092017

Is our POTUS a Traitor?

Okay, it’s crazy time. Actually, it’s been crazy time since Trump took over the Oval Office. But all this craziness has me thinking crazy thoughts. The little spasm of nuttiness that’s commandeered my brain, however, could very well turn out to be true.

Follow me on this here. I’m beginning to believe that our POTUS may be an agent of the Kremlin, a traitor. I’m trying very hard not to sound like some wack-job, an “Alex-Jones-nutball” swooping in from the left. But, here’s the story:

It begins with Rachel Maddow’s show Wednesday night. If you missed it, track down the video and watch. She’s knitting together a string of little tidbits, meetings, notes, hints, some of it fairly “hard” (i.e. we know this meeting took place) much of it “soft” (i.e., allegations still without independent verification).

The bottom line is just fucking off-the-wall-impossible, incomprehensible. The Russians have the goods on Trump. His organization and Russian intelligence were colluding throughout the campaign. But the real quid pro quo wasn’t just the Kremlin getting the guy they wanted in the White House, it was to control Trump and America’s positions on international affairs. In short, Trump just may be an agent of the Kremlin.

The evidence that she cites that’s so tantalizing is not just the usual stuff (Trump’s financial dealings with Russian oligarchs, his admiration for Putin’s “strongman” style) but deeper and far more malevolent — it’s what’s happened to the State Department since he took over.

Rather than being the instrument of US foreign policy, it has been neutered. Scores of life-long diplomats were either fired or resigned. They were not (and apparently will not be) replaced. Trump’s budget calls for an astonishing 37% reduction in funding of the State Department.

Secretary Tillerson, long a friend of Putin’s and recipient of Russia’s highest award for foreigners, has been reduced to a hand-shaking bag of wind who, when he says anything, just mutters empty slogans. There is no Undersecretary. All hints of how State will operate in the months and years to come show it leaning toward assisting Russia with sanctions, supporting inroads into Ukraine, backing its stance with regard to NATO, its interventions in the Middle East and its position vis a vis China.

And, curiously but tellingly, every day a new tidbit emerges from some source that confirms the allegations in that “dossier” that Chris Steele (who has emerged from hiding) put together. The main things missing right now are “hard” data on exactly who said/promised what in the meetings, Trump’s alleged sexual misconduct while in Moscow and, of course, those golden showers.

It’s also telling that when word of those meetings between Trump, his people and the Kremlin first leaked they were denied — passionately. Trump, Manafort and others are on record stating categorically that no one from the campaign ever met with anyone from the Kremlin. Well, there’s certainly been a course-correction on these as independent evidence comes out. I think we’re up to around six of his people having been confirmed as holding meetings with operatives from the Kremlin.

So here’s the teaser: it really is beginning to look like Putin has Trump by the short and curlies and it is just possible (I can’t believe I’m saying this — I really am sounding like a left-wing Alex Jones) that our POTUS is a traitor.
Tuesday
Mar072017

Trump and The Goldwater Rule

The standard ethical position in psychiatry and clinical psychology has long been that a diagnosis of an individual should not be made without a personal diagnostic work-up. It’s called the Goldwater Rule and was put in place after unprofessional and distinctly unflattering opinions were put forward by psychiatrists about Barry Goldwater’s mental health during the ‘64 presidential campaign. It was painfully clear that these “remote” diagnostic conclusions about his mental state were being driven, not by legitimate psychiatric considerations, but by politics. It’s worth noting that Goldwater sued the magazine that published the so-called diagnosis and won a substantial award.
 
Since then, mental health care professionals have adhered to the principle which is enshrined in the code of ethics of the American Psychiatric Association. Section 7.3 of the code states that ”… it is unethical for psychiatrists to give a professional opinion about public figures they have not examined in person, and obtained consent from, (or) to discuss their mental health in public statements.” The American Psychological Association has a similar clause in its ethical guidelines.
 
However, there is a movement afoot that is challenging this principle and, of course, it is being driven by concerns about the mental health of one Donald John Trump. An article outlining the issue and arguing in favor of a reconsideration of the Goldwater Rule was published recently by Rosemary Sword and Philip Zimbardo and can be found here.
 
Zimbardo, it’s worth noting, is one of the country’s most respected psychologists. He is a Past President of the American Psychological Association, winner of that organization’s Gold Medal for a lifetime of significant contributions to psychological science and, I’ll note in passing, a graduate of Brooklyn College where I was on the faculty for 35 years.
 
There are two key elements in this reconsideration of the ethical standards of mental health practitioners and they need to be taken very seriously.
 
(a) Ultimately it is what a person does and says that forms the foundation for a psychiatric diagnosis. While a full, in-person assessment under informed consent is needed for an “official” diagnosis, a consistent pattern of irrational public behaviors and statements is sufficient for a “remote” consideration that the individual does, in fact, fulfill the standard criteria for a mental disorder.
 
(b) While the Goldwater Rule was designed to protect an individual from unethical attacks, in the case of Trump the rule goes out the window. It is not the individual (Trump) who needs protection from an unethical psychiatrist, it is the rest of the country (indeed, the world) that needs protection from the damage that an unstable, irrational person with immense power can wreck.
 
In short, the ethical argument is being flipped and the flip is gaining momentum. As of this writing over 30,000 mental health therapists have agreed that Trump is mentally unfit to hold the position of president of the United States — this is a remarkable number given the long-standing, inflexible adherence to the Goldwater Rule.

 

It’s important to understand that in the health care professions there are circumstances where the ethical guidelines may be set aside. For example, the doctor-patient confidentiality clause can (in fact must) be abrogated in the physician is convinced the patient is about to commit a felony. A doctor who is certain a patient is going to murder someone has a moral obligation to step outside the confidentiality clause and notify authorities. 

In a sense, what Sword and Zimbardo (and many others) are arguing is that Trump poses a similar threat, one sufficiently severe that mental health practitioners are obligated to suspend the Goldwater Rule and make public their professional opinion that Trump suffers from a number of identifiable psychiatric disorders that threaten the country — a country that, ironically, recently elected him president.

Like almost everything else surrounding Trump since he announced his candidacy, we’ve not seen anything like this before.

Let me end with a warning. If this this shift in the position of the mental health professions reaches a genuine consensus among practitioners and the carrying out of this kind of “remote” diagnosis is accepted as legitimate by the electorate, care needs to be taken. It must not be seen as some sort of psychiatric precedent but as a procedure only to be used in extreme cases such as the one presented by Trump. It should not become a cudgel to wield against a political adversary simply because his/her positions and actions are ones a clinician does not agree with.

Friday
Mar032017

Not Your Bubba's Mac & Cheese

The current political scene is like watching a slow-motion, hundred and fifty car-pickup-semi-SUV-motorcycle mash-up on the I-5. Just when you think it might be ending another 18-wheeler careens on its side into the pile. It’s horrible, bloody and should have been preventable. Its only remotely beneficial element is the dollop or two of Schadenfreude that comes from watching assholes like Flynn get the boot and racist creeps like Sessions melting away.

The way out of these doldrums is cooking. Tonight we shall have my favorite Mac & Cheese, the one dubbed around here as “sure as hell ain’t my bubba’s” recipe. It’s more work than nuking one from the take-out counter at the deli but it is sooo worth it. It’s a forgiving recipe and lots of ingredients can be in- or decreased and other things like garlic, bacon or mushrooms can be added. It should serve four with a salad on the side.

=============================================

3/4 lb macaroni — I use “Scooby doos” (a double curved macaroni) but regular will do if you can’t find ‘em 

1/2 lb chorizo, removed from casings and broken up

1/2 large onion — rough chop

1 medium tomato — rough chop

1 jalapeño pepper — chopped (I keep the seeds and inner ribs — hotter that way)

1 1/2 T powdered mustard

1 chipotle with 1 t of adobo sauce — chopped (toss in another t of the sauce if you like it strongly favored)

3 T olive oil

1 T butter

3 T of flour

1 c milk (or cream or half and half)

1 c cheddar cheese — grated

1 c bread crumbs (Panko preferred)

3 T (or more) cilantro

———————————————————————————————

heat oven to 350°

cook macaroni el dente — set aside

brown chorizo in 10” pan in a drop of olive oil — set aside

sauté onion in same pan for 5, 6 minutes, add jalapeño and tomato, sauté another minute or two — set aside

add 3 T olive oil and butter to same pan, heat, add flour and stir to make a white roux

add milk (or cream) and powdered mustard — stir to thicken

add 3/4 c of cheese — stir to melt

combine everything in large baking dish

sprinkle remaining cheese and bread crumbs over top

bake 35 minutes

garnish with cilantro

good with fresh sourdough bread and a glass or two of a decent red (maybe three if you’re planning on watching the news)

Wednesday
Feb152017

A Community Confused: A Microcosmic View of How We Got Trump

We had a most interesting town-hall meeting last night here in our lovely outpost of Point Roberts. I’ve written here several times about this oddity of a town where we live. There’s an intoduction to our “exclave” here. The meeting was called for a very specific purpose, to get input from the residents about how to finalize the revision of our community’s Character Plan (CP).

It degenerated into a semi-civilized brawl — sans any actual fisticuffs. But it did something more important — it let me understand with greater clarity how Trump got elected. It was a display of insane, unthinking, angry voices lashing out at illusory demons and searching to find a way to bring down the edifice — without having a clue what they were doing. This is a long post but it is illustrative.

First, some background: Back in 1992 a group of business owners and concerned residents here in Point Roberts met to discuss how to improve economic conditions, how to bring in jobs, encourage the establishment of new businesses and, importantly, find ways to keep young adults from having to move away to find well-paying work.

They looked at other more-or-less isolated communities like those on the San Juan Islands and other small towns along the Washington and Oregon coasts and determined that one potentially positive move would be to establish a kind of “image” for Point Roberts, something that reflected our history as a fishing outpost with its marine themes and promoted the period lighting, carved wooden signs and the local architecture which was largely Craftsman buildings with clapboard and board and batten design. They also wanted to try to keep any new development from being too large, garish, plastic or over-lighted.

Over a two-year period they crafted a Character Plan that provided a set of guidelines on new construction and renovations and made strong recommendations about things like the size, height, materials and lighting of signs. The regulations only applied in areas zoned “commercial” and “resort commercial.” There are only three streets so zoned and the plan exempted private homes.

The Character Plan was approved by the community. It became part of the official Whatcom County Code in 1994 and the county’s Planning and Development Services (PDS) agreed to adopt its guidelines when issuing permits for new projects. A Character Plan Committee (CPC) was established and began reviewing all new projects that fell under its umbrella before any permits were issued.

That was all well and good. Not surprisingly, the CP didn’t produce the kinds of economic gains or job growth that was hoped for but it did function in its own gentle way — for a while. The inevitable combination of demographic shift and ennui hit. Folks moved away, lost interest, got bored and dropped off the committee. Within a few years the CPC faded away and decisions fell to the personnel in PDS. Again, not surprisingly, the CP lost any remaining influence. New hires at PDS were often not given instructions about the guidelines; other agents simply forgot about it and projects began to be permitted that clearly violated the codes outlined in the CP.

In 2010 Whatcom County Council, working with several Point Roberts residents, established a Point Roberts Community Advisory Committee (PRAC), the community’s first “official” advisory panel. It was established to function as a liaison between Point Roberts and the County Executive’s Office. PRAC assumed the role of the defunct CPC and began reviewing all new projects within the assigned zones before PDS would consider permitting.

In 2014 PRAC formed a Special Committee for the purpose of revising the twenty year-old CP. The committee spent two years gathering data, reviewing existing guidelines, exploring changes in the community since the original CP was drafted and holding several open meetings to get input from the larger Point Roberts community. The committee drafted a Revised Point Roberts Character Plan which was given to PRAC. They distributed the draft to the community and, following the procedures established back in ‘92, scheduled a town-hall meeting to get input from the larger community.

The announced purpose was to work to reach a consensus about the draft, in particular to resolve a number of fine points where the committee was unsure of the best, workable option. For example, whether buildings in the “West Coast Modern” architectural style are appropriate, whether private homes within the identified zones should be included, whether “sandwich board” signs which announce that a business is open are appropriate.

It never happened. The meeting turned into a donnybrook only barely held in check by the efforts of the Chair of PRAC who did a remarkably effective job of preventing fist fights and the hurling of chairs. And, of course, we never got around to even getting the Revised CP on the table for discussion.

The session began with one resident raising the question of solar panels. An effort to provide an answer (“yes, they are permitted so long as they are designed to resemble shingles or other approved roofing materials”) was shouted down by a man who jumped to his feet brandishing a sheaf of papers which he said were the two hundred plus signatures on a petition to repeal the entire Character Plan.

A resident who served on the revision committee pointed out that the CP played a critical role in our winning a long (and expensive) battle to keep an array of five 105’ radio transmission towers from being built and that repealing it would let the owners of the radio station build some other monstrosity on the land they still own. There was no sympathy (or understanding) of this critical point by the gentleman who continued angrily waving the petition.

The next two hours went straight down the rabbit hole. Person after person stood up and complained bitterly about the economy, the lack of jobs, their concerns about their children and grandchildren, where they were going to find work, how Point Roberts hasn’t had any serious business development in years, how depressed people are, how they’re forced to use our food bank, etc. etc. and etc.

The various people who were on the revision committee (including me) tried to respond by pointing out that the current economic difficulties were certainly not the result of the CP and that repealing wouldn’t help. One woman, who was on the original CP committee back in ‘92, tried to point out that the purpose of the CP was precisely to encourage business, not to limit it and certainly not to discourage it.

Many of those objecting refused to believe that the CP didn’t apply to private residents. Others raised fears of “regulation creep” without realizing that no such thing is possible. The Chair of PRAC tried his best to explain the actual process of guiding a project through the various committees and to reassure everyone that no new regulations can be introduced under existing county code. His effort, as an old colleague of mine put it, “entered one ear, finding no impediments to its travels, immediately exited the other.”

Another, long-time resident gave a rousing speech about how these goddamn committees were wasting everyone’s time worrying about how damn tall a building should be or what goddamn color paints are allowed when they should be finding ways to make jobs come to Point Roberts. Efforts to point out that creating jobs isn’t the mission of those who drafted the CP were hooted down.

Finally, after over two hours, the meeting was adjourned. The Revised CP is still in draft form. We never got the feedback on the issues we thought the community might have reasoned views on. And, of course, when we got to actually look at that “petition” it clearly has no legal force. It’s a bunch of names without addresses, phone numbers, email addresses or any other form of identification to show that the signers even exist, let alone live in Point Roberts or rent or own property here. It has no reasoned argument against the CP. It fails to note any downside to the CP or outline any rationale for thinking that repeal would improve the quality of life or the economic wellbeing of residents.

I guess we’re going to have another meeting…. We can do this. But, as one resident noted when we were walking out, “this is how we got Trump.”