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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.


And From the Ashes Shall Rise?

Good day friends. I’ve been off, a bit of travelling and a bit of “other” things (published a paper on the “origins of consciousness” which I’ll post about soon) and, sigh, FaceBooking… What a sea of mixed madness that last one is, you’ve got your “Friends” and they’ve got theirs and the twisting threads that spin off from these nodes pick up trolls. It’s like using a huge fishing net in a sea of cod. No matter what you do you always end up with a couple of inedible or, worse, poisonous critters.

Anyway, as usual these days, my thoughts spin around the presidential election which lawyer Alan Dershowitz has dubbed the season of “Electile Dysfunction.” By now it looks pretty clear, Trump in going down. The remaining questions are by how much and can his fall be dramatic and “sticky” enough so that it takes down enough down-ticket Republicans to give the Democrats at least the Senate, if not the House.

If Hillary wins but the GOP holds both houses of Congress nothing will change. They will treat her with the same disrespect as Obama and we’ll be even closer to that constitutional crisis where the president begins assuming more and more authority because that will be the only way to get anything done. (BTW, if the GOP doesn’t figure out soon that this is going to be the outcome here we could all be in trouble.)

I can’t answer these questions, I’ll leave it up to Nate Silver and the stat-gurus at fivethirtyeight. Instead let me take a shot at the other hovering issue: What happens to the Republican Party after Trump?

There are many opinions, some thoughtful, some not. We need to start with the current sordid mess they’re in. The party is now a cesspool of their own making, the end of a decades-long effort to stitch together a coalition of racists, nativists, Evangelicals, backward-looking, delusional social misfits and, of course, the classical fiscal conservatives. This diseased entity is no longer a political party. It has no core values, no coherent political philosophy and no decency. It is not a happy place. Its future looks pretty grim — and this does not make me happy either.

I’m a big fan of the two-party system. Frankly, I don’t trust governments where one segment is in total control — and that includes my guys.

But unless the Republican Party can find a way to shed the intolerance that their social conservative faction embraces they’re doomed. The country is changing. Hispanics and Asians are the fastest growing minorities and increasingly moving away from the hatred spewed by Trump. The millennials are comfortable with biracial couples, gay and lesbian couples and don’t give a rat’s ass about transgendered folks in their bathrooms. They are multiculturalists, fans of ethnic foods and music and, critically, are less likely to belong to any organized religious group.

The Democrats are in a position to become the dominant party over the next several decades. The classic economic conservatives who champion smaller government, fewer regulations and fiscal restraints are an increasingly smaller segment of the current party and will, over time, come to claim a smaller and smaller percentage of the electorate.

The more I think about whether there will be any coherent Phoenix-like rebirth the less I understand. Frankly, I have no clear notion about what will replace the post-Trump GOP. It could go full, alt-right and slink into the woodwork with the neo-fascists and white supremacists. It could try to survive with its shrinking demographic. It could…, maybe, perhaps …, pull its shit together, recall its roots and come back as the real “Grand Old Party.” You know, the one that Lincoln founded, the one that persuaded Eisenhower to run under its banner or the vigorously progressive, pro-environment one of Teddy Roosevelt. Heck, even the small-government, fiscally-responsible one crafted in the vision of political theorists like William F. Buckley would be tolerable.

Of course I’m not holding my breath … Every time I click on a “conservative” blog site that sharp widow’s peak on Paul Ryan’s forehead pops up and I get unhappy again …


I Don't Pay No Freakin' Taxes: A Trumpian Paradox

There was an intriguing moment in last night’s Clinton-Trump debate. Clinton hinted that one reason (among several) why Trump is refusing to release his tax returns is that, just perhaps, he hasn’t paid any Federal income tax. She noted that the few times his returns were made public (back when he was applying for a casino license in New Jersey) he did, in fact, find ways to avoid paying any tax — despite the loudly offered claim that he was hugely wealthy with enormous income in the hundreds of millions.

Trump interrupted her (as he did some two-dozen times in a mere 90 minutes) by saying, “That makes me smart.”

Now that was quite a remarkable moment and it remains to be seen how it played with the electorate. But I do have two thoughts.

One, it shows he is a member of the group he has publically derided: the ‘takers’ who feed off the public trough, the ones dependent on government largesse. These ‘takers,’ goes the argument, use the roads, schools, police, firefighters, the military. They drink safe water, breath clean air. And the rest of us pay for it.

In the standard rhetoric from the right, it’s lazy welfare recipients, those on food stamps, the unemployed who’re the cheaters.  But here was Donald proudly announcing membership in this loathed category — and its those poor bastards who can’t hire expensive lawyers and free-ride their way to wealth and the good life who are footing the bill.

You’d think the recognition of this selfish and blatantly hypocritical message would doom him with the impoverished angry, those who feel that the system has failed them — the very people his message has resonanted with. 

Then again, this crack lets others see him as a shrewd, if marginally ethical, businessman, a cleverly devious operator who has managed to do what so many would love to pull off. It produces a kind of odd admiration, the sort of thing we see for a Willie Sutton who robs banks and laughs in the face of law enforcement or a John Gotti who parades his Mafia bone fides as a thug and a murderer. And they want to be like him and hope they will be some day.

It’s reminiscent of one of the reasons why an income tax was voted down in my home state of Washington. Although it wouldn’t kick in until a rather high income threshold was reached, a majority of lower-income folks voted against it because they planned/hoped/dreamed they’d be making that kind of money some day and were damned if they’d pay that tax.

So we have this odd paradox. Trump’s backers can easily see that he’s a hypocrite, that he actually is a huge ‘taker,’ one of those they’ve consistently attacked as they rallied around him. But they want/hope/dream/plan to be that person themselves, to be able to twist the truth, avoid the governmental regulations, defy convention, game the system.

They’ve convinced themselves that he is precisely what we need our president to be.




Trumpy Tribulations

I put an earlier version of this on Facebook. It’s today’s rumination about the miscreant who somehow garnered the Republican nomination for president and, even more “somehow” seems to have managed to get close to half the electorate to actually think he would make a good president.

It was provoked by Kurt Eichenwald’s Newsweek article that just came out painting an astonishing picture of Trump’s international dealings — ones so interlocking with politicians and businesses that they would seriously compromise his ability to function as president. If Eichenwald’s analysis is even moderately correct the entire Trump family would have to totally dissociate themselves from the existing business enterprise. Trump’s statement that he would absent himself from the operations and let his children run things is totally unworkable — and almost certainly not legal.

But even before these revelations about his complex international dealings, we knew more than a few things about him, enough to make apparent to any casual observer that he is the most unqualified person to ever even consider running for the highest office in the land. Below is a (somewhat abridged, there really are other things that could be added) list. All are true. All are easily verified. All are utterly damning.

With all the fuss being made about Hillary’s role as Secretary of State and her emails and the Clinton Foundation it is nothing short of astonishing that Trump has managed to create this laundry list of things beiieved, said, done and proposed with so little scrutiny from the press.

In no special order, Mr. Donald J. Trump:

*Bankrupted at least four major companies resulting in the loss of tens of thousands of jobs. 

*Failed in a series of minor business ventures from steaks to water to a so-called “university.”

*Been in court over 3500 times for illegal and/or unethical business practices for which he and/or his corporations have been fined over five million dollars.

*Engaged in fraudulent Trump Foundation business practices — for which the IRS fined him. 

*Made an illegal political contribution which may yet be determined to have been a bribe — and fined for it.

*Discriminated against black renters in his Brooklyn, NY properties — and fined by a Federal court.

*Is under indictment in Federal court for unethical business practices at Trump University (sic) and currently under investigation in New York State for similar practices. 

*Hired undocumented immigrant workers on NYC projects.

*Used foreign manufacturers for products bearing his name.

*Insulted virtually every racial and ethnic minority group and religion including war heroes, journalists, sitting senators and persons with disabilities.

*Proposed illegal restrictions on those who’ve applied for immigrant status. 

*Called for the return of and increased use of torture saying he doesn’t care about the Geneva Convention. 

*Called for the murder of civilian family members of suspected terrorists saying he doesn’t care that it’s a crime against humanity. 

*Encouraged violence at rallies — including offers to pay legal fees for those who get arrested.

*Stated that climate change is a hoax and supported more fossil fuel use.

*Is a serial adulterer and been suspected of sexual abuse and child molestation. 

*Stated that he thinks using nuclear weapons is appropriate or, as he put it, “why have them if you aren’t going to use them?”

*Praised America’s most dangerous adversaries like Putin and Kim Jong Un.

*Has lied consistently as several fact-checking sites have shown.

*Has changed his position on virtually every issue over the past decade or so. 

*Has run so bizarre a campaign that he’s now on his third manager in just the last few months.

*Has refused to dissociate himself from white supremacists. 

*Claimed that he doesn’t need advisers because he knows more about terrorism than our military and intelligence agencies. 

*Refused to release his tax returns. The audit claim is bogus — Nixon released his while under an audit.

*Refused to release his medical records (the one that surfaced was apparently written by his staff). 

*Has failed to put forward a single workable proposal for dealing with any of the problems facing the country. 

Now we get this incredible involvement in international dealings that would absolutely compromise his ability to function as president.

Yet nearly fifty percent of the electorate is ready to vote him into the Oval Office. It’s difficult to fathom. I note that recent polls show that roughly one-fifth of his backers think slavery should be made legal again and that the bulk of his support is coming from elderly, white, relatively uneducated males. I guess what this says is that between those who just don’t care about his unprecedented levels of incompetence, frightening  ignorance and utter lack of experience and those who embrace him for precisely these failings we find close to half of the American electorate.

Scary times.


Clinton'ish Thoughts

I posted a short version of this on Facebook. It’s an effort to diagnose Hillary’s decades-long tendency to find a way to put herself in a bad public light. It’s happened over and over forfreakingever. A quick run-down of the non-scandals over the years: the Rose Law firm cock-up, Vince Foster’s death, Whitewater, Travelgate, Benghazi, the email server and now the Clinton Foundation.

In each of these so-called “scandals” we’ve witnessed the same extended dramaturgical sequence: questions get asked, hints of possible misconduct emerge, investigations are mounted, evidence is presented and scrutinized and, sometimes after years of detective work, the final decision is that nothing is amiss, It was all just (another) nothing-burger, a tempest in a teapot.

As many pundits and commentators have noted, a lot of this political frenzy is initiated and promoted by her enemies who are many. But a lot of it is of her own making simply because she does not handle these things well.

When you brush away the “Hillary derangement syndrome” elements that drive those on the political right, Clinton’s main problem isn’t what she’s actually done, it’s how she (and Bill and the rest of their operation) handle issues. And it goes like this:

An issue emerges and the press comes snooping around. She responds in her patented buttoned-down style, dismissive, unrevealing — which, of course, does nothing to deter the curious who start asking more focused questions. To these she typically pulls the tent-flap up a bit but denies that anything’s amiss — which, of course, makes everyone ever more curious. When they predictably push harder she acknowledges, usually in a vaguely obscure way, that perhaps there were some things done not according to “standard protocol.” To calm the criticism, she releases some of the information in the form of memos or emails which, quelle surprise, just tweaks the press and her critics who assume that since she only served up some of the material she must be hiding something.

Finally, often after some “official” investigation initiated by the GOP, she opens the books and/or releases the emails and we see that she was right all along, that nothing out of the ordinary was going on, nothing indictable, nothing illegal, nothing treasonable, just the usual mishmash of government and the occasional errors of judgment that any and every official makes. Interestingly, once this point is reached virtually everyone, including the FBI, the GOP and her enemies, grudgingly acknowledge her non-culpability (if not her actual innocence). Even Tray Gowdy whose entire political focus for several years now has been a laser-like effort to bring her down, has admitted that she’s done nothing improper.

But by the time we’ve reached this semi-denouement, it’s too late. Everybody (including those on the political left who should be her strongest supporters) can’t shake the feeling she’s still hiding something …. and the wolves start howling for her flesh yet again.

This pattern’s been going on for decades and why she hasn’t learned is a puzzle.


A Democracy? Not So Sure.

A thought about our representative democracy, stimulated by analyses by David Wasserman over at  Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight and some recent data from Cook’s Political Report:

Fewer than 10% of Congressional districts are competitive.

Only some 14% or 15% of the electorate vote in primaries. 

Roughly half of these are from each major party.

Hence, roughly 95% of the House of Representatives is determined by approximately 7% of the eligible voters.

This set of circumstances is due, in large part, to our polarized political world. In fact, this trend is now so strong that it swamps the impact of gerrymandering. I used to think that if we had more balanced districts laid out that Congress would naturally become a more representative body, simply by virture of the nature of the electorate. Now I’m not so sure.

The deep problem is that the Founders’ rationale for having the entire House come up for election every two years — which was to encourage turn-over — has backfired. Now it encourages retention. Off the top of my head, I can think of several factors that would drive this tendency like name recognition, a preference for continuity over change and a sense of comfort with the current office holder over a newcomer without a significant public record.

So, not surprisingly, the likelihood of re-election is now high, so high that the real election isn’t in November. It’s in the earlier primary. The way to knock someone out of their seat is to go after them in the primary — a tactic now so common that “to primary” has become a common verb.

This political gambit, of course, drives the parties to even greater polarization because it is typically the extreme wing that gets its knickers in a twist over the excessive moderation of the current congressperson and comes swooping in from the radical wing. We saw this in dramatic fashion when Eric Cantor, then the House Majority Leader, got tossed into the dumpster by an obscure economist named David Brat, whom no one had even heard of before and who, according to Cook’s analysis, is a virtual shoe-in for re-election. FWIW, Brat aligned himself with the extreme right-wing Freedom Caucus and has accomplished essentially nothing but be a reliable vote to block any legislation proposed by any Democrat.

This end-point seems to be an inevitable and troubling outcome of our form of government, one that the Parliamentary system avoids. The only solution I can see is for moderates to become so infuriated with the extremists that they primary them with more reasonable candidates. We’ll see if this strategy emerges in any meaningful way in the next couple of election cycles.