Mike Kueber's Blog

September 9, 2014

The purposes of college

Filed under: Education — Mike Kueber @ 11:48 pm
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A recent column by the NY Times’ David Brooks suggests that there are three principal purposes of college:

  1. Commercial (starting a career)
  2. Cognitive (learning how to think)
  3. Moral (building an integrated self through moral, emotional, and spiritual growth)

According to Brooks, elite colleges have mostly abandoned any attempt to guide their students toward a meaningful, moral life because they don’t think it is their place or they don’t think they know how. But Brooks is encouraged by an essay by William Deresiewicz that “offers a vision of what it takes to move from adolescence to adulthood. Everyone is born with a mind, he writes, but it is only through introspection, observation, connecting the head and the heart, making meaning of experience and finding an organizing purpose that you build a unique individual self.”

Hear, hear! My thoughts exactly.

Danny Ferry and political correctness

Filed under: Culture,Law/justice,Sports — Mike Kueber @ 10:47 pm
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First we have LA Clipper NBA owner Donald Sterling complaining to his girlfriend about her habit of hanging out with former black basketball players at Clipper games. (Chris Rock has joked that he wouldn’t want his girlfriend hanging out with black basketball players either :) )  In the wake of the media/public uproar over “racist” comments, the NBA forced Sterling to sell his team.

Then we have Atlanta Hawks NBA owner Bruce Levenson complaining to his team executives about the team’s failure to get adequate numbers of affluent white people supporting the team. To remedy this failure, he suggested including some white women as cheerleaders and playing something other than hip hop music at the games. When Levenson learned that his emailed complaint, which he self-described as offensive, was going to be made public, he fell on his sword and agreed to sell his team.

Next we have Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice on a video coldcocking his then fiancée, now wife Janay in an elevator. Although local law enforcement and the NFL had already investigated the incident and issued penalties – i.e., anger-management counseling and a two-game suspension, respectively – the release of the video to the public created such a media/public uproar that the Ravens released Rice and the NFL banned him.

And finally, now we have Atlanta Hawk general manager Danny Ferry during a conference call to his ownership group reading the following scouting report on Africa-born free agent Luol Deng:

  • “[Deng] “is still a young guy overall. He is a good guy overall. But he is not perfect. He’s got some African in him. And I don’t say that in a bad way, but he’s like a guy who would have a nice store out front but sell your counterfeit stuff out of the back.”

This comment greatly offended one of the co-owner/listeners – J. Michael Gearon, Jr. – and prompted him to personally consult legal counsel to determine the team’s legal and exposure.   Following that consultation, Gearon issued a demand to the team’s controlling owner Bruce Levenson, which included the following verbiage:

 

With respect to one potential free agent, a highly-regarded African-American player and humanitarian, Ferry talked about the player’s good points, and then went on to describe his negatives, stating that “he has a little African in him. Not in a bad way, but he’s like a guy who would have a nice store out front but sell you counterfeit stuff out of the back.” Ferry completed the racial slur by describing the player (and impliedly, all persons of African descent) as a two-faced liar and cheat.

We are appalled that anyone would make such a racist slur under any circumstance, much less the GM of an NBA franchise on a major conference call. One of us can be heard on the tape reacting with astonishment. Our franchise has had a long history of racial diversity and inclusion that reflect the makeup of our great city. Ferry’s comments were so far out of bounds that we are concerned that he has put the entire franchise in jeopardy.

As a minority partner with no effective say in decision-making, we were somewhat at a loss what to do next. So we consulted this week with two attorneys, one a very well-known and highly respected African-American former judge in Atlanta, and the other a highly regarded employment discrimination lawyer. They confirmed our fears and then some. The former judge put it pretty succinctly, saying that any African-American who heard the comments would interpret them as meaning “all blacks are two-faced liars and cheats.” The employment attorney opined that we as a team face significant exposure, possibly in the courts, but certainly in the court of public opinion, and, as we all know, within the league. She described the possible fallout as “devastating.” We agree.

 

As you may recall from my previous posts about being politically correct, the Urban Dictionary defines the term as, “A way that we speak in America so we don’t offend whining pussies.” I wonder if you look up the term “whining pussies” whether you will see a photo of J. Michael Gearon, Jr.

I also wonder if the 24-hour media will ever be able to rise above its current role as an alter ego for a lynch-mob public.

Incidentally, Gearon is incorrect in referring to Deng as an African-American player. Deng was born in Sudan, move to Egypt, and finally settled in England, where he was naturalized in 2006.

 

The Ray Rice video and political correctness

Filed under: Law/justice,Media — Mike Kueber @ 12:58 am
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Full disclosure – I am the owner of a Fantasy football team called Team Mike, and I recently spent a valuable draft pick for the services of the Baltimore Ravens estimable running back Ray Rice. Thus, Ray’s future professional status will affect me financially.

I drafted Ray Rice even though the NFL had suspended him for the first two games of the season because of an incident of domestic violence – i.e., he had knocked his fiancée unconscious in an elevator.  As the owner of a top-tier team, I afford to miss Ray for a couple of weeks and still make the playoffs, at which time Ray would be critical to my success.  Today, however, the NFL announced that Rice’s two game suspension was being increased to an indefinite suspension because the incident had been caught on a video camera in the elevator.  Furthermore, the video had gone viral and was causing a public-relations nightmare.

Local Express-News columnist Gilbert Garcia complained on his Facebook wall about Baltimore’s too-forgiving fans who, prior to release of the video, had been prepared to welcome Ray back following his two-week suspension. One of his friends (Madeleine) piled on by urging criminal prosecution. I suggested a different tack:

  • A few commentators who aren’t hyperventilating are pointing out that we already knew that Ray Rice had coldcocked his wife/girlfriend. The only new news is that the incident was taped. Are we as a society going to double the penalty for violent crimes caught on tape? Madeleine, Rice has already been prosecuted for the assault. There is a law against double jeopardy in this country.

Incidentally, I didn’t know what distinguished domestic violence from garden-variety violence, so I looked it up. Wikipedia describes it as a pattern of behavior which involves violence or other abuse by one person against another in a domestic context. The Department of Justice uses a similar definition – “a pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship that is used by one partner to gain or maintain power and control over another intimate partner.” Criminal law, however, doesn’t like the requirement for a “pattern of behavior,” so it typically requires only “any criminal offense involving violence or physical harm or threat of violence or physical harm committed by one family or household member against another.”

So the obvious question is why does violence against a family member require a special status, and I wonder if that rationale would be the similar to the rationale for special laws against hate crimes. According to a cursory review on the internet, it appear that both sets of law impose stiffer penalties because the law considers the harm done in these contexts to be especially damaging to society. That makes a little bit of sense, but I think society would be better served if the law declined to make these micro-distinctions between victims.

That’s a slippery slope for the politically correct.  (Seems I am inclined to characterize anything as politically correct if I disagree with it. :))

September 8, 2014

More racism or more political correctness

Filed under: Culture,Issues,Law/justice,Media,Politics,Sports — Mike Kueber @ 3:06 am
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I know that I just complained in this blog about political correctness, but I can’t resist commenting on the latest outrage. Bruce Levenson has declared that he will sell his controlling interest in the Atlanta Hawks basketball team because of a self-described offensive email that he sent to his team executives a couple of years ago. Leading media outlets have variously described the email as racist, vile, and bigoted, but their reports failed to document precisely what the offensive language was. So I found a copy of the actual text, and concluded that Levenson’s email isn’t nearly as offensive as the political correctness in vilifying him.

Essentially, Levenson argued that the target demographic for Hawk season tickets is age 35-55 white males and that this demographic might prefer to see some white cheerleaders, some music that is not hip hop, and some post-game concerts that are not gospel or hip hop.

So that is racist?

NY Times columnist Bill Rhoden concedes that racism is a “sometimes imprecise” word, but that doesn’t stop him from concluding that Levenson was a racist:

  • Because the email was so open and earnest, it is likely that Levenson did not believe he was being racist, but simply addressing a problem that seemed obvious to him.

I wonder what Rhoden would think of a team owner who was concerned about the dearth of black people in its season-ticket base? Enlightened!

What if the owner suggested that the problem might be ameliorated by adding some black cheerleaders, maybe even some hip hop music?   Inclusive!

What if the owner desired a “critical mass” of black fans so that they didn’t feel uncomfortable or out of place in the arena? Far-sighted and shrewd!

Diversity cuts both ways, and when whites become minorities, as they already are in San Antonio, the politically correct will need to adjust their modus operandi.

 

 

September 1, 2014

A minority-affairs reporter in San Antonio

Filed under: Uncategorized — Mike Kueber @ 4:38 pm
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Today’s San Antonio Express-News contained a column on re-development of the Alamo penned by Elaine Ayala, a self-described Minority Affairs reporter.

In the context of San Antonio, you might wonder what minorities need a dedicated reporter to ensure that their issues aren’t overlooked. Although traditionally in America the overlooked minorities are blacks, Hispanics, and Asians, these groups already dominate San Antonio. Our recently departed Hispanic mayor was replaced by an African-American, and there are (or soon will be) seven Hispanics, one African-American, and one Asian, along with only two Anglos, on the City Council. Based on city demographics of 63% Hispanic, 7% black, 2% Asian, it appears that only the 27% Anglos are underrepresented on the City Council.

Not surprisingly, the Alamo column by Elaine Ayala objected to the current depiction of the Alamo defenders as heroes and suggested a fairer development of the Alamo not only should take the luster off the heroes, but also should shift attention toward Tejano contributions to the development of Texas. Also not surprisingly, I could not restrain myself from firing off the following angry critique (which I subsequently had to edit due to the paper’s character limit):

This is the type of column to expect from a Minority Affairs reporter and a Latino Life blogger. Life is a series of grievances.

As the city considers ways to upgrade the Alamo, Elaine Ayala suggests that, “Anglo defenders and their motivations have been mythologized. At the same time, new cadres of Latino academics have begun to shed new light on them.” I hope those “Latino academics” don’t have as much of a political agenda as Elaine appears to have.

So, according to Ayala, we upgrade the Alamo by pointing out that some of the defenders were not as purely heroic as history has depicted them? While correcting the inaccurate history of heroic Alamo defenders, Ayala suggests that we shed some light on Tejano contributions to state development, and even on the fact that the Alamo was near Indian burial grounds. (I’m not making this up.)

There can be only one “entry point” to the story of the Alamo – i.e., those 13 days in 1836. People who travel to the Baseball Hall of Fame want to learn about the legends; they don’t want to learn about the tawdry details of the players’ lives. People who travel to Gettysburg want to learn about the crucial Civil War battle; they don’t want to learn about the “rich history” of this Pennsylvania town.

Lincoln’s words at Gettysburg are something that are applicable for the Alamo Plaza committee and ultimately the City Council to recall:

  • We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Sunday Book Review #146 – The American boomerang by Nick Adams

Filed under: Book reviews — Mike Kueber @ 2:46 am
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If you are as old as me, you might remember a popular 1974 record titled The Americans. The song was spoken by a Canadian news anchor Byron MacGregor defending post-Vietnam America when it being disrespected throughout the world. The American boomerang is a modernized, book-length update to The Americans, with Canadian MacGregor replaced by Australian author Nick Adams.

According to Adams, America is the greatest country in the world because of its conservative values, and although those values are deteriorating in the face of a progressive assault, America has always possessed an internal, self-correcting mechanism that will get us back on the right track:

  • Tocqueville once observed that ‘the greatness of America lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather in her ability to repair her faults.”

Adams continually cites Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville, and although Tocqueville’s observations about American values and character are almost two centuries old, Adams is confident that most of them still apply. Examples:

  • America is great because she is good. If America ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.
  • The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers it can bribe the public with the public’s money.
  • Society is endangered not by the great profligacy of the few, but by the laxity of morals amongst us all.
  • There are people in Europe who, confounding together the different characteristics of the sexes, would make man and woman into being not only equal but alike. They would give to both the same functions, impose of both the same duties, and grant to both the same rights; they would mix them in all things – their occupations, their pleasures, their business. It may readily be conceived that by thus attempting to make one sex equal to the other, both are degraded, and from so preposterous a medley of the works of nature nothing could ever result but weak men and disorderly women.
  • A thousand special causes have singularly concurred to fix the mind of the American upon purely practical objects. His passions, his wants, his education, and everything about him seem to unite in drawing the native of the United States earthward.
  • Despotism may govern without faith, but liberty cannot.

So, what are the values that Adams thinks make America so exceptional?

  1. The Cowboy spirit. [No argument here.]
  2. Old Glory (patriotism)
  3. Faith (Judeo-Christian)
  4. God’s troops (He’s on our side)
  5. Liberty (government protects our right to life, liberty, and estate)
  6. Competitive culture (capitalists)
  7. Self-made men (and women)
  8. Constitutionally limited government (protection against dictatorship of the majority
  9. Tradition (conservative values)
  10. Armed (the Second Amendment)

I find it hard to disagree with the author’s point that these values are the basis for American exceptionalism, but I also understand that others in our country want different values going forward. In fact, Adams spends two chapters denigrating secular humanists (“An Almost Treasonous Culture War”) and Radical Islam.

Incidentally, in the Tradition chapter, the author pays special homage to Texas:

  • Exposed to the geographical diversity of this land, outsiders find different exceptionalism in each of the states.  But in my observation, the mammoth state of Texas stands alone….  The land of Texas is enough to excite any true-blooded conservative American.  The Texan is the most American of the Americans….  Texans have a merciless contempt for political correctness, and a steadfast refusal to embrace the new emasculated and morally debased world.  This makes it truly a piece of living history, one of the only places left where traditional values, Christianity, patriotism, and common sense still prevail.  Not to mention, the moxie, swagger, and bravado of Texas are intoxicating.  I love it.  With the current trends of the world, it is in any right-thinking person’s retirement plan….  If you weren’t born there, get there as quick as you can.

South Carolina is a distant second.

Although the boomerang reference is cute from an Australian perspective, Adams does little to support his theory that America will return to its historical roots and character.  I suspect his ability is better at cheerleading for conservative causes than it is at seeing into the future.

But I hope he is right.

August 31, 2014

Aphorism of the Week #21 – Lies, damn lies, and statistics

Filed under: Issues,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 2:53 pm
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VIA is San Antonio’s bus agency, and it is trying to recover from the recent repudiation of its extravagant plan to revitalize the downtown by installing a six-mile streetcar route.  As part of its recovery, two VIA executives in today’s Express-News provided an essay on the agency’s importance to San Antonio.

One of the first paragraphs, however, caused me to stop reading the essay and instead marvel at the shiftiness of the writers:

  • “Between 2000 and 2010, San Antonio saw the highest percent of population increase of the 10 largest cities in the nation with a gain of almost 182,000 people, boosting the Alamo City from the ninth-most populated city to the seventh, and our community is expected to grow by over one million more people in the next 25 years.”

First, the authors refer to percentage of population increase, and then sneakily shift to absolute numbers because 182,000 is more impressive than our percentage increase. Of course, if the focus is on absolute numbers, then San Antonio wouldn’t be the city with the largest population increase in the past ten years.

Second, the authors refer to the city of San Antonio growing from 9th to 7th in population ranking, and then sneakily shifting to a “community” that is expected to grow by over one million people over the next 25 years.  Of course, the city isn’t expected to grow by one million people, but the San Antonio metro area is, and one million growth surely sounds better than a half million or so.

My immediate reaction to reading this paragraph was to recall the aphorism coined by Benjamin Disraeli (sometimes wrongly credited to Mark Twain – “There are three types of lies – lies, damned lies, and statistics.”

My next reaction was to provide the authors with some feedback before concluding with “kudos to the VIA president and SVP VIA for apparently mastering the art of using statistics to mislead instead of to inform.  But I would prefer public servants who would rather inform than manipulate.”

One of my friends talks often of the need for people to develop critical-thinking skills.  Otherwise, people will take advantage of you.  Thanks, VIA, for reinforcing that.

 

August 30, 2014

Should all kids go to college?

Filed under: Education — Mike Kueber @ 4:37 pm
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I was reading a book recently about whether all kids should go to college. According to the book, this question had become an issue in the latest presidential campaign, with Republican VP candidate Paul Ryan apparently taking the position that only the liberal elites thought everyone should go to college, while broad-minded Republicans understood that success could be achieved in life without a college degree.

I wasn’t aware that this question had become an issue in the presidential campaign, but it has always been important to me. When I was parenting four young boys, I recall frequently pontificating that, although I wasn’t planning to push my sons toward college, I would be mightily disappointed if any of them didn’t want a college education.

Many years later – mission mostly accomplished. As with most kids of the upper-middle class, my kids graduated from high school and just assumed that they would go to college. Three of them have already graduated (two of them have graduate degrees, too) and the fourth is in his third year.

But how does this jibe with Paul Ryan’s suggestion that it is elitist to expect all kids to go to college?

As with most thought-provoking questions, my first reaction is to conduct some internet research. When I googled, “Should all kids go to college,” I was referred to an article by Dana Goldstein in The Nation titled, “Should all kids go to college?”

According to the 2011 article, the question is commonly phrased as follows:

  • Do poor and working-class kids have the same need for a liberal arts education as their middle-class and affluent peers? Or does the reality of inequality in America—the sheer unlikeliness of climbing from poverty into the intelligentsia within a single generation—call for a more practical approach to educating the poor, with a focus on technical skills that prepare a child for the world of work?

I think that framing the question this way, much like Paul Ryan did, forces a person to take a practical perspective. By contrast, my pontificating is more of an aspirational perspective – i.e., all parents should try to raise kids who want an education beyond high school, even if the kids don’t eventually plan to have a job that requires a college degree.

College is not the same thing as a trade school that is supposed to prepare you to get a job and make a lot of money. College should jumpstart you on a satisfying and fulfilling lifelong journey, and that is something we want for all of our kids.

An open letter to Nate Silver on ranking NFL coaches

Filed under: Sports — Mike Kueber @ 4:23 pm
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Dear Nate,

You might have noticed that ESPN has issued a list of the NFL’s best coaches, headed by the Patriot’s Bill Belichick and the Seahawk’s Pete Carroll. The list prompted Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith on First Take to get into an argument over whether the Cowboy’s Jason Garrett was overrated at #30.

I was wondering if you could take this listing out of the realm of subjective and into the arena of the objective, much like they already do with tennis players and golfers. Of course, unlike tennis players and golfers, football coaches couldn’t be rated exclusively on their Ws and Ls. You would have to include consideration of the talent they had to work with, the unlucky injuries that occurred on their teams, and perhaps even their ability to develop skilled players over time.

I suspect you might be able to think of some other criteria that reflects on a person’s ability to coach successfully.

I would love to see your list.

Sincerely,

Mike Kueber

August 28, 2014

Bad luck and life skills

Filed under: Education — Mike Kueber @ 6:48 pm
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Earlier this week, I went to my second funeral in two weeks. You might think that funerals get more common as a person ages, but these weren’t funerals for contemporaries. Rather, they were for kids.

The first funeral was for a 15-year-old boy who died when he hit his head on the bottom of my apartment pool. What horrible bad luck! Although diving is prohibited in our pool, people do it all the time, and I have never known anyone to hit their head on the bottom. But even more bad luck is the fact that no one noticed him on the bottom of the pool for several minutes. The incident reminds me of the young Irish boy Sean dying in Lonesome Dove because a fluky incident with some water moccasins. Gus McCrae’s words of wisdom – “He was an unlucky young sprout,” and later, “Life is short. Shorter for some than for others.”

The second funeral was for a 28-year-old young man who was one of my son Tommy’s best friends since high school. Tommy told me that the kid took his own life, and during the memorial service, there were a couple of mentions of depression. Following the service, Tommy told me the young man was having some financial problems since realizing that he couldn’t make a living in music. Plus, there was a problematic girlfriend.

I was not surprised to learn that there were financial and relationship issues behind this depression. In fact, more than two years ago, I wrote the following to a friend who is on the Texas Board of Education:

  • I suspect that there already are classes to help kids make intelligent financial decisions.  If there aren’t, there should be.  I would be surprised, however, if there are classes to help kids in making relationship decisions, and I can’t think of anything that would improve their lives and help them avoid mistakes more than a class on developing and maintaining good relationships and avoiding or ending toxic onesOne of the goals of a high school education should be to prepare our kids for a productive and satisfying life. And making good decisions, especially concerning money and personal relationships could serve as a cornerstone.”

Reminds me of the folk song, “Where Have All the Flowers Gone.”  RIP, Brandon.

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