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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.

Monday
Nov212016

Richard Rorty's Prescient Vision

The late philosopher Richard Rorty wrote a book back in 1998 (Achieving our Country: Leftist Thought in Twentieth-Century America). It contained some truly prescient paragraphs where he predicted a day where “old industrialized democracies” would find themselves heading toward a time “in which populist movements are likely to overturn constitutional governments.” Mike Walsh has a nice, in depth look at what Rorty wrote and how uncannily it fits with what we are witnessing in Trump.

I’ve been thinking a bit more about this, especially after reading several pieces on voters who should have backed Clinton but either wrote in someone else (usually Bernie) or just didn’t bother to vote. In interviews, these folks complained about being left behind, ignored by those in power (like Rorty predicted) and feeling like their concerns were not even on the table for discussion. Interestingly, many Blacks said they felt disappointed in Obama. Having a Black president made them feel better about racial identity but made little difference in their quality of life.

I understand but I wonder if these folks realize that their problems, stark as they are, are shared with most of the middle and working classes around the country. The recovery from the ‘08 financial meltdown has been the slowest recovery from a recession ever. The main reason, as economists like Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz have been saying over and over, is that the 2009 stimulus package was too small and distributed in non-optimal ways. It stopped the bleeding but it wasn’t effective in turning the economy around. The result was a turgid, molasses-like recovery accompanied by anger that none of the miscreants who brought it about suffered for their actions.

Then in 2010 the GOP took over the House and in 2014 the Senate. They insisted on austerity budgets and they got them. The result was there wasn’t enough growth. Businesses didn’t open or expand at expected rates. New jobs were added regularly but they tended to be low-paying, service-oriented.

Money stayed in the banks or went into the stock market which soared. The wealthy got wealthier and everybody else got hosed. And those that got hosed are feeling hosed and roiling with the resentment that comes from it. As any social psychologist worth their salt can tell you, wealth inequality has profound effects both physical and emotional.

Alas, the angry and the frustrated took their feelings out at the ballot box but backed the wrong horse either directly or indirectly. It’s gonna get worse because it cannot get better with the kinds of programs Trump’s hinted he wants to put in place. Go here to see Paul Krugman’s analysis of the debacle that may be upon us in the next couple of years. If Krugman’s vision is correct we’re in for a whole mess ‘o shit because the GOP’s got Congress all locked up and the term “privitization” is going to get one heck of a workout. Either we take the final step into becoming a true oligarchy or we’ll see endless filibustering and continued deadlock. The latter is much preferred.

It is, from this classic twenty-twenty hindsight pinnacle, possible to think that Sanders might have been able to beat Trump. I, quite honestly, did not think he could because I was envisioning what the Republican slime-machine could do to him (“Socialist” “Communist”). What I missed, what almost all of us missed is that Bernie was tapping into the same vein of frustration and anger at the establishment that Trump was.

Friday
Nov182016

How Hillary Won in a Landslide and Lost 

There’s a lot of “buyer’s remorse” among many moderates these days — and their numbers grow as Trump’s team screws up the transition process and he begins naming some truly horrible people to key posts.

There is also a lot of agonized hypothesizing about what went wrong, what factors produced a Trump win when all the polls were pointing to a clear Clinton victory. Carrying out these postmortem-like analyses is becoming a cottage industry among members of the Democratic Party, pundits and bloggers. Heck, I even tossed in one of my own — just scroll down to see what I was thinking just last week. Predictably, they’ve come up with a variety of factors, each of which appears on the surface to have been critical. Among the many reasons I’ve seen are:

a. Comey’s letter reignited the email “scandal” turning voters away from Clinton (Hillary herself thinks this was the primary cause).

b. Hillary’s failure to make “contact” with the folks in the rust belt increased their anger and frustration at the “elites” who’ve neglected them for years.

c. Voter ID laws limited minority access to the polls.

d. The blizzard of fake news stories, many of which Trump joyfully re-Tweeted, gave undecided voters reasons for supporting him.

e. Sanders supporters, particularly those who believe the DNC rigged the primaries to deny him the nomination, refused to vote for Hillary.

f. Overconfidence in the DNC and Clinton’s campaign people.

g. A general feeling of unease over having a woman in the White House.

h. A failure for the DNC to have its usual “ground game” in place.

These are all correct — and this is the key to understanding what happened. Each factor contributed a bit to the outcome. None of them would have been sufficient without the others. It is false to say something like “Comey cost her the presidency.” Comey’s actions contributed but could not have been the cause without the others playing their roles.

Trump won because he carried the swing states — all of them and all by razor thin margins. Statistically speaking what happened was a very unlikely outcome that depended on the cluster of factors all playing a role in all the key states.

When the full country-wide vote is looked at, where each of these elements only played a tiny role, Clinton wins — and by a significant margin. Her overall lead now is approximately 1.2 million and will continue to climb as ballots are counted. Her popular vote lead is greater than Nixon’s was over Humphrey and Kennedy’s was over Nixon and is projected to reach 2 million. She lost to a candidate whose percent of the popular vote is less than that of Ford, Gore, Kerry and Romney — all of whom lost the presidency.

In short, the nationwide polls were correct. In any country other than the US which uses an Electoral College she wins the presidency, handily.
Thursday
Nov102016

Trump's Razor Thin Win: How it Came About

Protests against Trump’s victory are spreading. I am not a fan of this . It does not make me happy. He won the Electoral College vote. Yes, it’s a flawed system but it’s the one we’ve been living with for centuries. Accept it and deal with it and move on. There are reasons why he won and the ones I think are significant haven’t gotten much play in the media. Sure, he pandered to racists and xenophobes and nativists and misogynists. But others have done so and not gotten the traction with the larger electorate. No, folks, there are other elements operating here and they are important and they are critical to anyone who hopes to understand the febrile undercurrent of the American electorate. 

I, we, my friends, mostly educated, liberal, thoughtful are appalled at Trump’s language, his naked prejudice, his unthinking reactions. His special base, the one that pushed him over the top, is not. They do not care. We, we look on in horror and ask ourselves “how can anyone support this man?” They do, passionately. “But,” I, we repeat, “do you not see how crazy this is? do you not understand that we cannot have someone like this as commander-in-chief, with the nuclear codes, in negotiations with the Chinese?” They laugh and flash their T-shirts with “lock up the bitch” on them.

They hear the pundits, they see the newspaper columns but the sound that penetrates is that of intellectuals talking past them, the message that comes through is the opinion of another coastal elitist who’s been taking them for granted for decades. They hear Trump and there, they say, is a guy who just fucking gets it. His words resonate with them. He stands there, tall, wealthy, powerful, an authority figure who, they know, they know, understands them, will return their once useful lives to them.

And, you know, they’re right. The pundits have neglected them. The intellectuals look down their noses, walk past them on the street, drive through their decaying, rural towns looking for the Interstate and tsk, tsk about how America has declined. But I, we don’t stop. We go to our offices, homes, businesses and worry about what’s happening. We know that Clinton’s programs are the ones that would help these poor bastards, that the Democratic platform is geared to their pain, that the left’s economic policies are designed for boosting the working classes. But we didn’t stop. Trump did.

So we sit here at our desks, like I am at mine right now doing what I, we always do: think about the issues, analyze them and fall back into wonk mode. And the thought just won’t go away, “why didn’t they see that Trump’s policies will not bring back the jobs, that he’s a horrible human being.” But they weren’t thinking about whether his actual plans would work and they didn’t care about his personality just like I, we didn’t care about Crooked Hillary’s emails — which they thought utterly disqualified her from the presidency and made her a criminal who should be in prison.

How large is this cohort? Not that big, but it didn’t have to be. Where is this cohort? Well, all across the country but the ones that counted, the ones that ushered him into the Oval Office are in the rust belt. They’re the ones who lost their homes when the housing bubble burst, got laid off when the steel mill closed, lost their jobs when the local plant got automated. They used to be Democrats. They still should be. And if Hillary and the DNC had spoken to them instead of past them they might still be. Now they’re his and they gave him razor thin wins in Pennsylvania, Ohio, North Carolina, Michigan and Wisconsin.

Now I, we, all of us live with what we have and we wait to see. There is one thing we can be quite sure of. Trump’s plans will not help this cohort. How long before they turn on him?

Wednesday
Nov092016

So, Where are We Now?

Something important died last night. Do we have a Lazarus move in us? A friend likes to joke about how maybe we have to burn the village down to save it. Is this the start of the bonfire? I wondered to some folks just yesterday if we were coming apart at the seams. Maybe. I don’t know. I really don’t.

I crawled into bed at 2 and was awake at 5:30 and could not fall back to sleep. I’ve been reading a novel rather than look at a paper.

We’re both physically and emotionally hit by this …. this thing … this impossibility, the thing that could not happen, that could not be allowed to happen.

There will be postmortems but we are looking at a retrograde GOP that now controls all three branches of government. There will be few checks on them. The only block will be the Democrats in the Senate. Get ready for obstructionism coming from the other side. Who ever thought we’d be looking at Chuck Schumer in a role like this?

My wife is Canadian but the folks to the north have their own immigration regulations and it’s unlikely that we (well, “I”) would qualify. Like the US they’re not happy taking in people who put strains on services. I’m concerned about a tightening at the border crossing since we go into Canada almost daily. We’ll see…

The markets fell then stabilized. A legit worry is an economic free-fall if Trump et al. do very weird or dangerous things. I worry about the next couple of years. Many bad things are sure to happen. The Supreme Court will drift into bizarro-land. Obamacare will be repealed — and no one has a clue about what will take its place. We’re liable to have a serious trade war with Asia and the Eurozone. Roe v Wade is dead. Planned Parenthood will be defunded. Unwanted pregnancies will rise and abortions will go underground again.

No one knows about the really crazy things Trump talked about like that idiotic wall or deporting millions of Hispanics and Muslims, pulling out of NATO, nullifying the Iran deal….

But one thing we can be sure of. He will not be able to fulfill those promises to bring back jobs, to rescue the rust belt, coal country or steel manufacturing. His tax plan will increase the deficit and hurt the working and middle classes. And what will those folks, the ones who made up the bulk of his support, do then?

And to put final smack on the day, we just heard that our daughter went into the hospital with appendicitis last night. The surgery was this morning and we got the word that she’s fine and will be home in a day or two. She has a chronic immune deficiency so they’re keeping her into make sure there’s no infection.

I just checked the results for an important local proposition, a small tax levy to finish the funding for a new library here in Point Roberts. It lost. The levy would have cost the average homeowner a lousy $8 a month for one year — and the vast majority of that would come from the part-timers (mostly Canadians) who own roughly 70% of the properties.

Even the weather here matches the mood. It is dark and raining. The sky is gray and gloomy. The hummingbirds usually at the feeder outside my window are hiding somewhere.

I am not a happy camper.

Monday
Nov072016

Cajun Black Bean Soup -- Perfect for an Election Party

This soup is spicy and, I think, reasonably authentic. It’s the distillation of a lot of tweaking various recipes and experimenting. Ideally you can do the soak and simmer thing with the beans but, perhaps surprisingly (perhaps not) canned beans are just fine. I have a preference for Bush’s (and hope it’s not the same family!). You can also make a veggie version using vegetable stock leaving out the various meats though it’s not as complex. The following recipe makes enough for six or more. Feel free to adjust.

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Ingredients:

2 or more cups of the Cajun “Holy Trinity” — onion (1 large), green pepper (1 large), celery (2 stalks) — all rough chop (if doing a vegetarian version of this dish use more of everything)

1 lb of dried black beans or 3 or 4 15 oz. cans of black beans

1 decent sized smoked ham hock (or 2 small)

1 lb andouille sausage (cut into small chunks)

1 or 2 T’s of Cajun spices — I make my own of roughly equal amounts of dried basil, cayenne, garlic powder, onion powder, thyme, powdered mustard, paprika (Hungarian), oregano, white pepper, black pepper. This makes a pretty “hot” mix so adjust to taste. If this is too much trouble, use Prudhomme’s.

2+ T’s of chopped cilantro

2 T’s flour

1 c chicken stock (more or less — you’ll know how much when you get to finishing it up)

Any or all of various garnishes: chopped red pepper, thin slices of scallions, finely chopped white onion, additional cilantro, sour cream, guacamole.

—————————————————————————————-

Cover ham hock with water. Toss in an onion (cut in half, leave skin), a carrot and a stalk of celery and boil for two or three hours. Let cool, discard veggies, remove all usable meat and cut into bite-sized pieces (yeah, it’s a pain in the arse but worth it).

Put beans in a large pot with 1/2 c chicken stock and warm gently. Add half the cilantro. After beans are warm you can puree half if you like a thicker soup.

In large skillet heat a T or two of canola oil and fry the ham hock bits till the pieces darken and crisp up a bit — remove and set aside.

In same pan fry the cut-up andouille sausage till the pieces darken and crisp up a bit — set aside.

In same pan add the chopped veggies and dust with the spices and cook till they start to darken (add oil if needed) — about 10 minutes or so.

Add flour and incorporate — cook a minute or two to get rid of the flour taste.

Add the remaining cilantro and the rest of chicken stock to the pan and scrape up the fond — how much stock depends on how thick it gets. You want it pretty sticky to give you the texture and consistency for the soup.

Add the veggie mix and meats to the beans and simmer (stirring from time to time) for an hour or two — adding stock if needed.

Serve in warmed bowls over rice with garnishes on the side.

If the soup is too thin use the old flour and chick-stock trick and incorporate as needed. If too thick just add more stock.

You can use chicken broth but I prefer stock. You can use different amounts of everything to change the balance of flavors — the dish is very forgiving. You can also start with a couple of ounces of bacon and use the fat to fry the other meats in.

Enjoy and keep a bottle of wine on hand to toast your candidate when she wins.

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