Mike Kueber's Blog

July 20, 2014

Saturday Night at the Movies #120 – The Americans, season one

Filed under: Movie reviews — Mike Kueber @ 6:21 pm
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The Americans (2013) is a spy-drama series on FX. It stars Keri Russell, who previously played one of my favorite TV characters, Felicity. Her co-star is Matthew Rhys. Together, they play a couple of Russian spies planted in D.C. during the early 80s Reagan years. Their American counterpart is played Noah Emmerich, an FBI agent who happens to be their next-door neighbor. (This plot device reminds me of Walter and Stan in the iconic series, Breaking Bad.)

Although the setting of this show is the Cold War spying, the real story concerns relationships, especially the marriages of Russell-Rhys and Emmerich-Susan Misner. Not surprisingly, those marriages are strained with all of the extra-marital cavorting that is part of a spy’s job description.

I obtained DVDs for season one from Netflix, but season two, which concluded on TV on May 2014, will probably not be available until early 2015.  :(  Amazon Prime, however, has it for streaming, and I am tempted to buy season two now because according to the critics, although season one was excellent, season two was fantastic.

I agree that season one was excellent. Although the production was not at the level of the incomparable show 24,” its plot was more credible and its examination of relationships had more depth. Easily four stars out of four.

July 11, 2014

Buffett, Gates, and Adelson weigh-in on immigration policy

Filed under: Issues,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 5:27 pm
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A few days ago, one of my favorite yogis posted on Facebook a photo of a sad-looking Indian (Native American), with the following caption:

  • “So you’re against immigration? Splendid, when do you leave?”

Although my brain told me to let the posting pass, I couldn’t stop myself from responding as follows:

  • “Conflating legal immigration with illegal immigration, which the liberal media does continually, is not helpful to understanding the issue. I haven’t heard of a single conservative against legal immigration.”

Fortunately for me, there was no resulting brouhaha, and one of my yogi classmates even said she agreed with me.

Today, the immigration issue again came to my attention when one of my heroes, Warren Buffett, along with two other billionaires, Bill Gates and Sheldon Adelson, authored an op-ed piece in the NY Times titled, “Break the Immigration Impasse.”  The piece is supposed to be significant because, while Gates and Buffett are liberals, Adelson is a conservative, and their ability to achieve a compromise suggests that Congress could do likewise if it focused on good policy instead political posturing. After looking closely at the op-ed piece, I disagree.

Perhaps the most constructive component of the op-ed piece is that, unlike the Indian posting in Facebook, Buffett and his gang distinguish between legal immigration and illegal immigration. They accurately describe America’s flawed immigration for kids educated in our universities (“talented graduate program”) and the “immigrant investor program” (EB-5). Those are programs where there is bipartisan support.

But sandwiched between these two programs, Buffett and his gang gloss over the insoluble part of the immigration problem – i.e., the eleven million illegal immigrants. About them, they spout pabulum:

  • “Americans are a forgiving and generous people, and who among us is not happy that their forebears — whatever their motivation or means of entry — made it to our soil? For the future, the United States should take all steps to ensure that every prospective immigrant follows all rules and that people breaking these rules, including any facilitators, are severely punished. No one wants a replay of the present mess.”

The first part of this paragraph is as shallow and trite as the Facebook posting. If they wish to compare the immigration in the 1800s and early 1900s with today’s immigration, they should make their case instead of simply implying that they are. They differences are so profound, beginning with the fact that immigration back then was legal, that any attempt to equate them requires more than a superficial reference.

The second part of the paragraph also requires elaboration. How can you talk about law-breakers being severely punished in the future when you are granting them amnesty this time? When Reagan granted amnesty in the 80s, he also said that future law-breaking would not be tolerated. Won’t America want to be humane to future law-breakers, too?

Seems to me that Buffett and Gates needed to contend with a stronger negotiator that Sheldon Adelson, who seems to have given away the conservative store.

July 6, 2014

Saturday Night at the Movies #119 – Still Mine

Filed under: Movie reviews — Mike Kueber @ 8:20 am

Still Mine (2013) is a low-budget Canadian movie about the integrity of a rural 87-year-old man (James Cromwell). His integrity first is displayed favorably in the way he deals with the mental and physical decline of his wife of 61 years (Genevieve Bujold), and then is displayed unfavorably when he attempts to build by hand a new, smaller house for his wife and encounters government bureaucrats who insist that the building must be built to code specifications. The low affair of this old couple makes the movie great, and the punctilious, supercilious bureaucrats are unable to spoil the matter.

The Rotten Tomato critics love the movie at 93% and the audience is almost as favorable at 85%. I agree with the critics and give it four out of four stars.

Bill Powers

Filed under: Education,Issues,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 12:43 am
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Bill Powers came to UT Law School while I was attending the school – 1977. My recollection of him was a charming young guy and that reputation has persisted to this day while he serves as president of UT Austin. He reminds me of President Obama. But there was an article in today’s SA Express-News indicating that he has been asked to quit or be fired from his job. Why?

According to news reports, Powers is in trouble ostensibly for complicity in securing preferential admissions treatment for students of influential people – specifically, by forwarding preference-seeking letters (without comment) to admissions personnel and by falsely advising the influential people that he would keep an eye on the handling of their student’s review by admissions personnel.

In Texas, this sort of influence peddling is usually tolerated. So the real questions are which powers want Powers out and why.

July 5, 2014

Declining patriotism or creeping socialism

Filed under: Culture,Law/justice,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 1:24 pm
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According to an article in the NY Times on July 4, “Young Americans are less patriotic. At least in some ways.”  The article is based on a series of surveys taken by the American National Elections Study that reveal fewer Americans say they love America or that being American is a big part of who they are. Instead, more Americans express concern about unequal opportunity in America.

Leave it to the NY Times to suggest that this creeping socialism is a new form of patriotism:

  • In general, millennials have more appetite for egalitarian principles than older people. They may look less patriotic than the rest of America at first glance, but coming of age in the era of globalization and being a more racially diverse generation may simply mean that traditional symbols of American democracy hold less meaning for this cohort. Millennials may be less devoted to the symbols of America, but they are no less devoted to democratic ideals. A new patriotism in American may be rising.

Incidentally, patriotism means, “devoted love, support, and defense of one’s country; national loyalty.” I’m not sure how egalitarian principles qualify one for being a patriot.

July 4, 2014

Foxholes and assorted standards

Filed under: Aphorism — Mike Kueber @ 12:38 pm

“He’s the guy you want in the foxhole with you.” That statement has long served as an assurance that an individual was loyal and dependable, even under severe pressure. A similar statement is, “He’s the kind of guy you’d want to have a beer with.” This guy is personable. “She the kind of girl you take home to meet Mom.” This girl is a keeper. A few years ago, I described an individual as someone I would like to see running my family’s business. That person would have brains, common sense, good judgment, and integrity.

That’s my kind of guy.  But I’m not sure I want to have a beer with him.

Saturday Night at the Movies #118 – Monuments Men

Filed under: Movie reviews — Mike Kueber @ 4:10 am
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Monuments Men (2014) is about a team of men tasked with retrieving some works of art at the end of WWII before Hitler’s people destroy the art.  Although the movie is based on a true story and although two of the rescuers are killed, there is a palpable absence of drama associated with the stars – George Clooney and Matt Damon.

The central question during the movie is whether men should be risking their lives to save works of art, and that question is never resolved to my satisfaction.  Surely, men in ordinary times often risk their lives to preserve law & order and to secure justice, but in the context of war, I think our entire focus should be on winning the war instead of saving art.

July 1, 2014

Brutal comments

Filed under: Culture,Fitness,Philosophy,Self-improvement — Mike Kueber @ 5:55 pm
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Jennifer Coffey is a media personality, currently a host on QVC. She is a Facebook friend who recently posted the following on her wall:

  • In two days I’ve suffered two brutal online comments about my weight, suggesting I “put on a few.” 25 years ago I suffered relentless insults in school about my weight, suggesting I “drop a few.” What have I learned in those 25 years?
  • You are not your weight. You are not your age. You are not your job. You are not your income. You are not your past. And you are certainly not other people’s opinions.  You are your spirit. You are the love you give. You are the joy you feel.  And I feel so much joy.

As you can imagine, Jennifer received an avalanche of support suggesting that (a) she is beautiful, and (b) the commenters were jerks.

My immediate reaction was different. Instead of seeing her obvious call for support, I was hung up on her use of the term “brutal.” In checking with a dictionary, I found confirmed that the term meant savagely violent or cruel.

Since when does suggesting that someone has put on a few pounds amount to savage cruelty?

All of this reminds me of ND hockey star, T.J. Oshie, who responded as follows to being called a hero in an Olympic game – “No. The real heroes wear camo. I’m not one of them.”

Jennifer, I suggest that we save the term brutal for real victims of brutality.

p.s., subsequent to posting this note, a friend pointed out that Jennifer has been criticized, not for being overweight, but for being underweight.  I simply misread her comment, and I was not the only one.  On reader commented as follows – “Are you kidding me? You are so thin in person that I can’t believe anyone said that! Just ignore it!”  So the situation actually involves a woman who in her youth was criticized for being too heavy and now is being criticized for being too thin.  Although many women would be quietly pleased with such a comment (akin to being too disciplined or a perfectionist), Jennifer was “brutally” offended.

It’s sad that society has created such anguish for women over a few pounds, either way.

June 27, 2014

My summer vacation

Filed under: Culture,Philosophy,Retirement — Mike Kueber @ 4:48 am
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When you are a kid returning to school after summer, your teacher may traditionally ask you for a report on what you did during your vacation. That report would typically describe a trip that exposed you to fun and interesting things. My recent summer vacation to Aneta, like those vacations to Aneta before it, was focused not on fun and interesting things, but rather fun and interesting people.

My greatest interest in returning to Aneta annually is to observe how people are aging from one year to the next. And I’m not referring to the aging of their bodies, but rather how they are mentally adjusting to getting older. That is a problem that we all must deal with, and I attempt to gather a variety of “best practices.”

In addition to studying the aging issue, I also love to observe the different personalities with a detachment that comes from knowing that I don’t have to live with those personalities for more than a few days. Two unique characters presented themselves to me on my last full day in Aneta:

  1. A friend complained that his academic career was held back because he was always horrible at standardized tests. Instead of taking the politically-correct position that standardized tests are bad, I took a different tack that my friend, as a former basketball player, might understand – I suggested that the inability to do well on a standardized test is analogous to a basketball player being unable to make free throws – i.e., it doesn’t completely define that person, but it hinders that person’s utility in some situations.
  2. Another friend, who was in the process of trying to court a beautiful woman in a neighboring town, was upset that the woman had been told by someone from our town that my friend was “driven” and “particular.” I could tell that my friend was concerned that this description was not a good thing for his courting prospects, and he was highly interested in finding out who had slandered him. Because my friend is widely acknowledged as driven and particular, I decided not to advise him that truth is generally a defense to slander. And I also didn’t tell him that if the woman noticed that this description concerned him, she would have all the confirmation that she needed. I probably should have told him to admit that he is aware of these issues and is working on them.

Traveling to my hometown every summer takes a lot of energy, but the grounding and centering that it affords me is priceless.

June 8, 2014

Fun/happy

Filed under: Culture,Philosophy — Mike Kueber @ 2:22 pm
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Last night, a friend posted on Facebook from a George Strait concert, “That’s a wrap. Most fun ever.” When I read the post, I had just returned from an afternoon at my apartment pool and was feeling a bit like a curmudgeon and commented:

  • A George Strait concert was your most fun ever? Of course, I once said the same thing about a Jerry Jeff concert.”

Later, my friend explained – “he’s been my most fave since I can remember. We had a ball! Singing and dancing like there’s no tomorrow. So maybe not the MOST fun ever – but pretty darn close.”

Perhaps I was feeling like a curmudgeon because I had just finished reading Charles Murray’s The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Getting Ahead. In that book, Murray spends a lot of words talking about happiness, which he defines as “lasting and justified satisfaction with life as a whole.” According to Murray, happiness almost always comes from family, work, community, or religion.

Although happiness and fun seem like close relatives to me, Wikipedia disabuses me of that notion by defining fun as “the enjoyment of pleasure, particularly in leisure activities. Fun is an experience – short-term, often unexpected, informal, not cerebral and generally purposeless.”

So, while a George Strait concert may not be the place to be looking for true happiness, it obviously is a likely candidate for bushels of fun.

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