Thursday, June 30, 2016

Trump actually appeals to “losers”

Trump’s bombastic invitations to get mad, get even and hate someone are actually reaching willing ears, especially when he spews his lies about what “we’ve lost” and what’s been “taken from us” and what “we could lose” in the future.

I’m not talking about “loser” in the schoolboy insult meaning that Trump uses to denigrate his political opponents.

It turns out that lots of folks think of themselves as “losers” in some very specific ways. James Surowiecki spelled it out recently at, read it here

Some excerpts:

"When Donald Trump appeared at the N.R.A.’s recent national convention, he had a simple message: Hillary Clinton “wants to take away your guns.” This was familiar rhetorical ground: warning of dire losses has been the core of Trump’s campaign. Free trade means that “we’re losing our jobs, we’re losing our money.” China’s trade practices amount to “the greatest theft in the history of the world.” We need a wall to stop illegal immigration because “we’re losing so much.” In Trump’s world, things are much worse than they seem, and it’s because American prosperity has been stolen: “We’re losing everything.”

…Trump is playing to one of the most powerful emotions in our economic life—what behavioral economists call loss aversion. The basic idea, which was pioneered by Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, is that people feel the pain of losses much more than they feel the pleasure of gains. Empirical studies suggest that, in general, losing is twice as painful as winning is enjoyable. So people will go to great lengths to avoid losses, and to recover what they’ve lost…

…A study by the Pew Research Center last fall found that seventy-nine per cent of those who lean Republican believe that their side is losing politically. A Rand survey in January found that voters who believed that “people like me don’t have any say about what the government does” were 86.5 per cent more likely to prefer Trump. Trump supporters feel that they, and the country, are losing economically, too…

…As one study puts it, “People are willing to run huge risks to avert or recover losses.” In the real world, this is why people hold falling stocks, hoping for a rebound rather than cutting their losses, and it’s why they double down after losing a bet. For Trump’s voters, the Obama years have felt like a disaster. Taking a flyer on Trump actually starts to feel sensible…

…Hillary Clinton has recently been emphasizing what a risk Trump represents. That’s fine when rallying the Democratic base and appealing to genuine independents. But it will only make Trump more popular with those who already believe in him. When he says, “We’re losing our country,” it doesn’t sound overwrought to his supporters. It sounds like the truth. For them, Trump is the long shot who may come in and give them back all that they have lost.”

Either Trump or Clinton is going to be the next president of the United States.

No sensible person can think there’s no difference between them.

Vote in November—if you don’t, everybody else is going to pick the next president.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Kids will be kids—update

There has been a fascinating and, I think, poorly understood evolution of parenting and childhood since the earliest colonial days of the American experience.

Paula S. Fass writes about it in The End of American Childhood: A History of Parenting from Life on the Frontier to the Managed Child (Princeton University Press, 2006). A New York Times reviewer points out that the narrative gets a bit lost in the most recent history of “helicopter parents” who are overwhelmingly focused on controlling and protecting their children so they grow up to great lives with success and affluence and notable careers and….cue the all-important play date….make sure Joshua can get into Yale….

It’s intriguing to me to understand that colonial parents rather consciously moved away from the Old World view of children as economic resources, and adopted a more relaxed willingness to give their kids some degree of independence and flexibility in their paths to adult life. Of course, kids were put to work at a young age, but parents gave them opportunity and approval to feel engaged in the work and be open to wider horizons and innovation. Europeans thought that American children were “rude, unmannerly and bold.”

There were many circumstantial differences at work. In the colonies and early United States, there was an abundance of cheap land and a shortage of labor, and thus, pervasive opportunities for personal success. The European tradition of primogeniture was largely absent: on our side of the Atlantic, a father’s land and estate did not pass automatically to the firstborn son, so the more egalitarian inheritance practices boosted the life prospects of most children.

Of course, there’s another side to the childhood narrative: slave children in America were often treated as economic units by their owners. That’s a disgusting reality in our history.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Movie review: "Brokeback Mountain" (2005)

Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal
Director: Ang Lee
Won Oscars for Directing, Music and Writing/Screenplay

Based on the short story by Annie Proulx, screenplay by Larry McMurtry

Here's the big bad spoiler: It's a love story. It has cowboys. And scenic mountains. What could be more all-American?

The love positively erupts, it's a stunning revelation, there is gentleness later, and disappointment that can't be contained. There is real love, you cannot be in doubt about that, and there are the hobbling constraints that Jack and Ennis cannot overcome.

In the end, there is a bloodied shirt that is a delicate memento linking Ennis to Jack, a painfully impotent manifestation of the many wounds they bore, and inflicted on each other.

In the end, there is a big empty space where love should be, but too many precarious opportunities have already passed by.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Monday, June 27, 2016

The women who helped create electronic music

Electronic music doesn’t talk to me in a real loud voice, but this piece from rings a few bells.

It’s intriguing because it mentions the not too surprising fact that women were involved in the earliest incarnations of electronic music, back in the 1950s and even earlier.

Didja ever hear of Daphne Oram, Laurie Spiegel, Éliane Radigue or Pauline Oliveros?

I think it’s a good bet I can say “Of course you didn’t.”

OpenCulture explains that these women represent a small sampling of too-often-overlooked electronic composers, musicians, engineers, and theorists whose work deserves wider appreciation, not because it’s made by women, but because it’s innovative, technically brilliant, and beautiful music made by people who happen to be women.”

Laurie Spiegel

Read a little bit about them and hear their ethereal music here.

Amen, sister.

I’m sticking with Odetta and Joan Baez (her early work), but this was a tantalizing interlude.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Book review: Orphan Train

Book review: Orphan Train
Christina Baker Kline, Orphan Train, New York: William Morrison, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishing, 2014
278 pages

Typical kids on an "orphan train"

The first appeal of this book was the historical context: the so-called “orphan trains” that carried as many as 200,000 orphans and homeless kids from the East Coast to most of the states in the interior of the country during 1854-1929.

The short version is: well-meaning social workers and benefactors (the Children's Aid Society of New York and others) took kids ages 6-18 off the streets and out of institutional settings, and transported them to other states where families almost literally grabbed the children off the trains and took them into their homes, for good or ill. Some of the “orphan train” kids are still living.

Kline creates believable characters. Niamh Power, the Irish lass whose family fled Ireland in the early 20th century, is the hardiest of the hardy. One is tempted to say that her life of struggle, obstacle, and success is a fantasy of the novelist’s musing. Perhaps it’s more credible to suspect that Niamh’s trajectory is all too characteristic of many of the “orphan train” kids and the grownups who thought they were helping them and the grownups who didn’t think that….

Another character, Molly Ayer, the modern goth lassie who interacts with the nonagenarian Niamh, is a puzzlement. She’s a foil and an analog for Niamh—her story is a provocation in Orphan Train, it adds interest and it injects a diffusion of clarity. I assume that’s what Kline wanted.

This would be a more compelling story if it were a shorter compelling story. The point is clear: the child’s life was a succession of individually exceptional but dully repetitive episodes of joy, sadness, and degradation that, frankly, would kayo most kids, most people. Even at 278 pages, Niamh’s tale is overwritten and restated, time after time after time.

This is a respectable, perhaps a superior composition. There are simply too many notes.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Another thing I don’t understand….

In the United Kingdom on Thursday, a slight 52-48 majority of voters decided to take the UK out of the European Union. The process will take about two years.

The thing is, more than 1 out of 3 grownups in the UK didn’t bother to vote.

I don’t know what they were thinking. It’s a bit hard to imagine a more momentous nonviolent event that will affect the entire population of Britain, and much of the population of Europe.

For example, almost 50% of Britain’s exports go to the countries of the European Union.

After the vote result was announced, the British currency (English pound) immediately traded lower on world financial markets to its least favorable value in the last 30 years.

It is widely believed that the British economy will suffer in the wake of being cut off from EU financial and commercial activities.

Older voters in Britain strongly favored getting out of the European Union, while younger voters gave a large majority of their votes to staying in.

Sadly, it seems that this vote was more about immigration fears than economics.

p.s. A lot of folks in the UK apparently didn’t know too much about what was going on with this vote. After the “NO” decision was announced, the most popular EU-related Google search in the United Kingdom was:
“What does it mean to leave the EU?”

The next four most popular were:
“What is the EU?”
“Which countries are in the EU?”
“What will happen now we’ve left the EU?”
“How many countries are in the EU?”

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Friday, June 24, 2016

The wisdom of William H. Gass

“The true alchemists do not change lead into gold;
                they change the world into words.”

William H. Gass (b.1924)
American writer and philosopher

There are so many ways to say what so many folks apparently do not accept as an obvious goal of good, persuasive, expressive, exhilarating writing: one indispensable element of success is choosing the right words.

I don’t mean words presumed or mandated by other folks to be “right.”

I mean the words that say what’s in the writer’s mind and heart, say it fully, explicitly, beautifully, nobly, indubitably, with exquisite particularity….

That’s the world I want to live in.

Thanks to my trusted personal advisor for this quote.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

$1.2 billion for coffee!?!

I don’t think there’s any criminal intent here, it just seems to be a really awkward fact that Americans have loaded $1.2 billion onto their Starbucks cards and the Starbucks app, waiting to pay $3.65 for that cinnamon dolce latte or whatever….

These coffee lovers apparently didn’t think twice about giving Starbucks the use (and the earned interest) of that $1.2 billion float—in financial terms, preloading your Starbucks card is the same as putting your coffee money in a sock.

So, we live in a world in which mostly perfectly normal people aren’t concerned about putting $1.2 billion into a noninterest-bearing account that really doesn’t make it easier to grab a Starbucks coffee.

I’m moving on, thinking about global climate change now….

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Trump’s paying himself to campaign

The Trump campaign organization has paid about $6 million to several of his companies and to his family members.

That’s right. A big chunk of his meager fundraising haul is going right into Trump’s pockets.

For example: the campaign has spent $423,317 for space rental and catering at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Florida.

Nearly $350,000 has been paid for use of Trump’s own aircraft.

Oh yeah, in case you’re wondering, $958,836 has been spent so far on “swag”: hats, pens, T-shirts, mugs, stickers and printing services and stuff.

"The horror, the horror."

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The unnecessary wall: “for” and “against”

Paul Krugman offers more plain talk about the horrors of this political season in his recent New York Times column, “A Tale of Two Parties.”

Here’s a taste:
“The Republican establishment was easily overthrown because it was already hollow at the core…

“But as Mr. Trump is finding out, the Democratic establishment is different.

“As some political scientists are now acknowledging, America’s two major parties are not at all symmetric. The G.O.P. is, or was until Mr. Trump arrived, a top-down hierarchical structure enforcing a strict, ideologically pure party line. The Democrats, by contrast, are a “coalition of social groups,” from teachers’ unions to Planned Parenthood, seeking specific benefits from government action.”

There are more insights, read his column here.

Perhaps another way to say it is:

Too many Republicans are "against" stuff and people, while plenty of Democrats are "for" stuff and people. The difference is not subtle, but the essence of it often escapes public notice and thoughtful debate.

Which brings me to the media. I've stopped calling it "news media" because the content---on paper, on TV, online---isn't really about news anymore, it's about entertainment for the narrowly defined audience of each of those media channels. The media enabled Trump's success. I don't say the media "caused" Trump to win, but without the gazillions of dollars' worth of free coverage, I think he would have had a much more difficult time.

Needless to say, I don't watch TV anymore.

Have you noticed that it’s hard to find a “news” show that doesn’t have at least two people talking at the same time?

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Movie review: “Ethan Frome”

Movie review: "Ethan Frome" (1993)
Liam Neeson, Patricia Arquette, Joan Allen
Director: John Madden
1 hr 39 mins
Based on the novel, Ethan Frome (1911), by Edith Wharton.

I watched the movie, then I read the book, then I watched the movie again (and again), it's easier than reading the book again, but I'm going to do that too.

For my taste, the book and the movie are interchangeable. Knowing the ending doesn't reduce the dreadful intensity of this story that gets ever more sad from beginning to end.

The love story breaks through the arid shell of real life—oh, so briefly….Ethan (Neeson) wants more, Mattie (Arquette) wants more, the viewer wants more….

Every other character in the story seems to, well, not necessarily "want" less, but to be all too righteously satisfied with less. 


Except for a brief whirl of a dance scene, there are no smiles on the faces of any of the other characters who live dried up lives, and disdain the spark of love and life in Ethan and Mattie.

Doubtless, the town folk see a pitiless moral lesson in the damaged life of Ethan Frome and the love he must keep stuffed inside him.

I see a man and a woman who share forbidden love, but don't know what to do about it, and grotesquely fail to snuff it out.


Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Gee willikers, six miles an hour!

Roller coasters have been a hit since the early 1800s in France.

The first roller coaster in America opened in 1884 on Coney Island in Brooklyn.

Hold that thought.

First roller coaster - Coney Island
LaMarcus Thompson built that wooden wonder and called it the “Switchback Railway.” Basically, the cars started at one end of a slightly elevated track, rolled 600 feet to the other end, and then rolled back to the starting point. The ticket price was a nickel. That baby traveled at 6 mph. Ladies, beware!

Nevertheless, it was a big hit and by 1900 there were hundreds of bigger and faster coasters in operation around the country.

Today, the highest roller coaster in the U. S. is Kingda Ka at Six Flags Great Adventure in New Jersey. It’s 456 feet high and top speed is 128 mph. Gee willikers.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Fish wrapper….

Public confidence in newspapers has been declining for more than a generation.

Now Gallup says only 20% of Americans have “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in the institution that has proclaimed itself the “public watchdog” for more than a couple centuries.

I think it’s been a long-running head fake.

It’s somewhat surprising to me that younger folks (18-34) have relatively positive attitudes toward newspapers—America’s dailies and weeklies have notoriously lost their fight to keep younger readers. Less than 20% of folks under 35 claim to have read a newspaper yesterday. Even among this minority of readers, those with unfavorable perceptions outnumber those with favorable views of newspapers.

Let’s push the point here: Gallup doesn’t elaborate on the meaning of “have a great deal of confidence in newspapers.” Confidence about what?

Journalists and newspaper owners have always trumpeted their self-appointed role as a watchdog institution that champions the interests of “the public.”

I’ve never seen any statistics on the scope or success of this watchdog role. Of course, newspapers big and small have done investigative stuff from time to time, and occasionally a blockbuster story about scandal, corruption and greed makes big headlines for a while.

Think about all the bad stuff and the bad guys who never get a headline.

Newspapers have left an awful lot of watchdog stuff get past them.

Now, the core of newspaper readers are older folks who have lifelong reading habits. When they die, there’s no one to replace them.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Ways to watch the circus

Ways to watch the circus:

No. 1
Buy a ticket and sit in a seat inside the Big Top. This way you can buy and eat popcorn.

No. 2
Get together with your pals to crawl under the side of the tent far enough so you can see what’s going on, and hear the music, and smell the popcorn and stuff.
Try to do this after the bobby has passed by, otherwise you’re going to be answering some difficult questions….

p.s. The coppers in Britain are called “bobbies” and sometimes “peelers,” in reference to Home Secretary Sir Robert Peel, who introduced an act in Parliament in 1829 to create an official police force in London. They do not routinely carry a gun.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Forgive them….

Cut these guys a break.

I’m pretty darn sure the word “joyride” hadn’t been invented when these guys were on the loose, so technically, I think they didn’t know what they were doing.

Or whatever.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

LinkedIn employees: Kiss your job goodbye?

Microsoft wants to buy LinkedIn for $26.2 billion in cash.

The question in my mind is: who will celebrate this announcement?

Look at Microsoft’s recent track record on buying companies:
In April 2014 Microsoft bought Nokia’s smart phone and smart tablet business for more than $9 billion. Since then, Microsoft has laid off about 20,000 former Nokia employees and posted an accounting loss of more or less the entire purchase price. That flushing sound you hear is the background music for this deal, it’s just about a complete bust.

So, if I were one of LinkedIn’s roughly 6,000 employees, I might be thinking about polishing my resume.

And by the way, what is Microsoft’s board thinking? The purchase price for LinkedIn is about $196 per share—LinkedIn stock closed last Friday at $131.08, so Microsoft is paying a 50% premium over the stock market’s consensus value of LinkedIn. That’s a lot of icing on the cake. Obviously one can ask: is Microsoft paying too much?

One explanatory factor is that Microsoft is holding about $115 billion in cash and cash equivalents. That’s about $1 million in cash reserves for each of Microsoft’s current employees. What’s the point of holding that much cash? I’m sure the employees and the stockholders would like to get their hands on some of it.

Is it really possible that the directors and executives of Microsoft haven’t been able to figure out any profitable ways to invest that huge cash hoard?

What are they thinking?

Beats me.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.