Mike Kueber's Blog

August 20, 2014

Sunday Book Review #144 – The Wisdom of Insecurity by Alan W. Watts

Filed under: Book reviews,Philosophy,Religion — Mike Kueber @ 4:12 am

A few weeks ago, a Facebook friend (Paul Stahl) posted something wise from a guy named Alan W. Watts. Unfortunately, I don’t recall what Watts said in the posting, but his quote prompted me to check out Watts’s classic 1951 book, The Wisdom of Insecurity, which dovetailed nicely with a similar book that I reviewed a few weeks ago, Benefit of Doubt by Gregory Boyd.  Both books examine how man deals with the modern predominance of science at the expense of religion. Boyd’s examination is from the perspective of a serious Christian, while Watts seems to be an agnostic despite his background in Christianity and Zen Buddhism.

The first chapter in The Wisdom of Insecurity contained several passages that reflect Watts’s impressive ability to articulate issues so that you don’t need a doctorate in theology to understand:

  • There is, then, the feeling that we live in a time of unusual insecurity. In the past hundred years so many long-established traditions have broken down – traditions of family and social life, of government, of the economic order, and of religious belief…. To some this is a welcome release from the restraints of moral, social, and spiritual dogma. To others it is a dangerous and terrifying breach with reason and sanity, tending to plunge human life into hopeless chaos.
  • As a matter of fact, our age is no more insecure than any other. Poverty, disease, war, change, and death are nothing new. In the best of times, “security” has never been more than temporary and apparent. But it has been possible to make the insecurity of human life supportable by belief in an unchanging things beyond the reach of calamity – in God, in man’s immortal soul, and in the government of the universe by eternal laws of right.
  • Today such convictions are rare, even in religious circles. There is no level of society, there must be even few individuals, touched by modern education where there is not some trace of the leaven of doubt. It is simply self-evident that during the past century the authority of science has taken the place of the authority of religion in the popular imagination, and that skepticism, at least in spiritual things, has become more general than belief.
  • The decay of belief has come about through the honest doubt, the careful and fearless thinking of highly intelligent men of science and philosophy. Moved by a zeal and reverence for facts, they have tried to see, understand, and face life as it is without wishful thinking. Yet for all that they have done to improve the conditions of life, their picture of the universe seems to leave the individual without ultimate hope.
  • What science has said, in sum, is this: We do not, and in all probability cannot, know whether God exists. Nothing that we do know suggests that he does, and all the arguments which claim to prove his existence are found to be without logical meaning. There is nothing, indeed, to prove that there is no God, but the burden of proof rests with those who propose the idea. If, the scientists would say, you believe in God, you must do so purely on emotional grounds, without any basis in logic or fact. Practically speaking, this may amount to atheism. Theoretically, it is simple agnosticism. For it is the essence of scientific honesty that you do not pretend to know what you do not know, and of the essence of scientific method that you do not employ hypotheses which cannot be tested.
  • [My favorite] – Consequently our age is one of frustration, anxiety, agitation, and addiction to “dope.” Somehow we must grab what we can while we can, and drown out the realization that the whole thing is futile and meaningless. This “dope” we call our high standard of living, a violent and complex stimulation of the senses, which makes them progressively less sensitive and thus in need of yet more violent stimulation. We crave distraction – a panorama of sights, sounds, thrills, and titillations into which as much as possible must be crowded in the shortest possible time. To keep up this “standard” most of us are willing to put up with lives that consist of largely doing jobs that are a bore, earning the means to seek relief from the tedium by intervals of hectic and expensive pleasure.

Unfortunately, the remainder of the book was not as understandable, so I will have to revisit it after I get my theology doctorate.



Saturday Night at the Movies #124 – Far From Heaven

Filed under: Movie reviews — Mike Kueber @ 4:07 am

Far From Heaven (2002) is an historical drama set in late 50s Hartford, with a quintessential all-American couple (Dennis Quaid as a corporate-guy dad and Julianne Moore as a suburban housewife) who are forced to confront two social issues before their time – homosexuality and racial integration.

I love the early 60s TV show “Mad Men,” and this movie has the same feel, but the similarity ends there. The characters in “Mad Men” have depth and nuance, while the characters here are shallow and simple. Ostensibly, everyone in Hartford is an intolerant bigot except for the enlightened Moore and her black gardener, Dennis Haysbert. And we are supposed to believe they have some chemistry, even a soul mate connection, but that never comes across on the screen. Despite this failing, Moore received an Oscar nomination. Huh?

Incredibly, the Rotten Tomato critics loved the movie at 87% and the audience was almost as favorable at 79%. Not even close, for me. I give it only one and a half stars out of four.

August 19, 2014

Rush to judgment in Ferguson

Filed under: Culture,Law/justice,Media — Mike Kueber @ 1:42 am
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As a mostly jaded, non-empathetic person, I don’t pay a lot of attention to human-interest stories. That explains why I didn’t initially follow the developments in Ferguson, MO. Then as things spiraled out of control, I played catch-up and read-up on the earlier activities and new developments. Part of my catch-up consisted of reviewing the Facebook wall of Cary Clack.

Cary is a Facebook friend who posts thought-provoking stuff. A couple of years ago, he was a columnist in the Express-News. Like most of the E-N columnists, Cary was a liberal and he provided readers with the African-American perspective on most issues. When Joaquin Castro decided to run for Congress, he lured Cary away from column-writing and into policy-advising. Then, when Joaquin was elected and left SA for DC, Cary stayed home and ran Joaquin’s local office. But that job didn’t last.

A couple of weeks ago, Joaquin’s brother, Julian, gave up his job as SA mayor and took a job as HUD secretary. The SA City Council replaced Julian by selecting Ivy Taylor as interim mayor, the first black mayor in SA history. (The city is only 7% black.) Ivy asked Cary to be her communications person and he accepted.

Multiple jobs haven’t changed Cary. One of his first posts on the subject of Ferguson and Michael Brown, Jr. included a link to a CBS St. Louis article titled, “Michael Brown called quiet, respectful.”  The following paragraphs were gleaned from the article:

  • Big Mike, as some of his friends called Michael Brown Jr., wasn’t the type to fight, family and neighbors said, though he lived in a restless neighborhood where police were on frequent patrol. His parents and neighbors described him as a good-hearted kid with an easy smile who certainly wouldn’t have condoned the violence and looting that spread through his north St. Louis suburb following his death.
  • Brown was an aspiring rapper, though it was more of a hobby. This week, he was supposed to start college in pursuit of a career as a heating and air conditioning engineer. On the day of this death, Brown had walked with another friend to a nearby convenience store. Mull saw them in the street and honked his horn to say to “hi” just minutes before the police officer came by.
  • “He was never a person who liked confrontation,” Mull said. “His smile was going to make you smile.”
  • Neighbors described Brown as quiet and respectful—a “good boy,” who “was never in trouble,” said Sharon Johnson, 58, who lives just a little ways down the street. Johnson said Brown would frequently stop to chat.

A couple of days later, the police released a video that revealed “Big Mike” was not always good-hearted, peaceful, and respectful. In fact, I can only imagine how stupid the reporter who wrote the article feels about saying Brown “wouldn’t have condoned the violence and looting.” Hell, Brown did not even need the cover of a riot to conduct his personal looting of a liquor store.

To Cary’s credit, he posted the Brown video and said:

  • “I won’t be a hypocrite and not post new developments that will be part of the Michael Brown story even when they’re not favorable to Brown. We can’t ask for facts that will help us understand the truth of what happened and then only accept the facts we like. No excuses for his behavior in the store. Still no justification for how he later died.”

Most of the commenter’s to Cary video posting followed Cary’s lead and attempted to downplay its relevance. I took a different tack and responded as follows:

  • Fair & balanced? Hardly. The vast majority of commenters attempt to minimize and marginalize the new evidence – i.e., an unarmed Brown (6’4″ and almost 300 pounds) apparently committed a strong-arm robbery shortly before he encountered the policeman – so that they can hold to their initial narrative. Of course, that always happens when someone rushes to judgment.

It amazes me that, while no one objected to the media portrayal of Brown as a gentle giant who was never in trouble with the law (at least, no trouble since his 18th birthday as any earlier activity would be juvenile-protected), it is suddenly highly objectionable when facts reveal the person to be a thug. While that may not be relevant in a courtroom, it is relevant in the court of public opinion. Furthermore, I think the fact that Brown had committed a felony less than an hour before the shooting is relevant to how he might react to a policeman confronting him on the street.

But, unlike the people of St. Louis who yesterday marched in support of their policeman or the people of Ferguson who rioted and looted in support of Brown, I’m going to try keep an open mind and not rush to judgment.

August 18, 2014

Sunday Book Review #143 – The Triple Package by Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld

Filed under: Book reviews — Mike Kueber @ 10:11 pm
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I first blogged about The Triple Package several months ago, and finally got around to reading it this past weekend.  As I wrote in my earlier blog post, this book by Amy Chua, the author of parenting book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, continues her defense of un-American traits such as superiority, insecurity, and impulse control. According to Chua and her co-author Jed Rubenefeld, these traits might be un-American in modern times, but they are what made America great in the past and they are what causes the spectacular success of eight groups in modern America – Jewish, Indian, Chinese, Iranian, Lebanese-Americans, Nigerians, Cuban exiles, and Mormons. Conversely, the absence of these traits explains the stubborn lack of achievement in Appalachia and African-American communities.

Significantly, the authors aver that the Triple Package effect is typically most powerful with first- and second-generation immigrants, and then quickly fades in subsequent generations, with Mormons being an exception.  They also argue that most studies that disparage the amount of social mobility in modern America are fundamentally flawed because they fail to consider the amazing mobility of first-generation Americans.

Also, significantly, the authors are concerned that American affluence and deficit spending will result in a nation that feels secure and declines to control its impulses. In that case, all that will remain is the empty swagger of superiority complex. Wowzers!

Saturday Night at the Movies #123

Filed under: Movie reviews — Mike Kueber @ 10:04 pm
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Rush (2013) is a biographical film about the dramatic battle in 1976 for the World Championship of Formula One Grand Prix auto racing. The battle is especially riveting because the two protagonists – James Hunt and Niki Lauda – are such different characters. Hunt, played by Thor’s Chris Hemsworth, is a hell-raising, carefree scoundrel while Lauda, played by Daniel Bruhl, is a disciplined, humorless cyborg. But despite their differences, Hunt and Lauda have a fundamental integrity that engenders their mutual respect.

The Rotten Tomato critics and audience loved Rush at 89%, and I agree. The characters are well developed and although the story seems too good to be true, Wikipedia confirms most of the storyline.   I give it three and a half stars out of four.

About Time (2013) is a fascinating romantic comedy about a family in which the men have the ability to travel back to an earlier time in their lives. This ability provides a perfect vehicle for “do over” incidents that went badly, which is especially helpful to this family of men who tend to be klutzes who don’t think well on their feet. Because of this ability, the principal klutz, Domhnall Gleeson, is plausibly able to win the hand of the beautiful Rachel McAdams, which creates an aura of Something About Mary.

Interesting concept; well executed. Gleeson, McAdams, and Bill Nighy are excellent. The Rotten Tomato critics scored the movie at 69% and the audience not surprisingly liked this romance better at 81%. I agree with the audience and give it three and a half stars out of four.

August 12, 2014

Sunday Book Review #142 – Smarter by Dan Hurley

Filed under: Book reviews — Mike Kueber @ 8:09 pm
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Smarter is an excellent primer on the new science concerned with improving a person’s intelligence. Because the science is not universally accepted (a few skeptics find the plethora of studies since 2008 to be unconvincing), author Hurley devotes much of the book discussing and evaluating the various studies. But the more interesting part of the book is its description of the fundamentals of being “smarter.” Such as:

  1. There is a critical difference between short-term memory and working memory. Short-term memory is the ability to quickly restate some information – like a list of numbers – that you have been given. (The vast majority of untrained people can restate 5-9 numbers, but with training can vastly increase that number.) By contrast, working memory consists of your ability to play with or manipulate the information that you have been given. Short-term memory has almost nothing to do with intelligence or problem-solving, but working memory is closely correlated.
  2. The most famous test of working memory is called n-back because the subject is read a list of letters and then presses a button whenever the subject hears a letter that was previously read n- characters back (“n” can be 2, 3, 4, etc.).  Most people can remember if a letter was read two characters back, but most people can’t remember if a letter was read three characters back.  Training can result in modest improvement.
  3. There is also a fundamental difference between fluid intelligence and crystallized intelligence. Fluid intelligence “is the underlying ability to learn, the capacity to solve novel problems, see underlying patterns, and figure out things never explicitly taught.” By contrast, crystallized intelligence includes “your treasure trove of stored-up information and how-to knowledge, which keeps growing as you age.” IQ tests measure a combination of fluid and crystallized intelligence. The essential issue of this new science is whether brain-game training that improves a person’s working memory will improve that person’s fluid intelligence.

Author Hurley examines a variety of brain-training games that are being marketed to make a person smarter – Cogmed, Lumosity, Posit Science, LearningRx, and First-Person Shooter games. He also evaluates some old-fashioned bromides – physical exercise, music, and meditation – plus Adderall, creatine, a nicotine patch, and fish oil. Then, before applying himself to the most promising games and bromides, Hurley has his IQ and fluid intelligence tested.

The book concludes on an ambivalent note. Although Hurley clearly believes in the science (it seems as one-sided as the global-warming debate among scientists), his final chapter concedes that his regimen of Lumosity, exercise, music, meditation, a nicotine patch, and, for good measure, some additional n-back training, resulted in his IQ increasing only one point and his fluid intelligence increasing only three percentiles. He called the change measurable; I call it statistically insignificant.

Although it would be nice to have a means to being smarter, I’m a bit relieved that I don’t need to join a gym for my brain and then put my brain through its paces for 30-60 minutes every couple of days.

August 11, 2014

Standing on the shoulders of others

Filed under: Philosophy — Mike Kueber @ 1:43 am

Sure, my friends on Facebook post a bunch of stuff that seems trite and hackneyed, at least from my perspective. But almost as often I see something that resonates with me, sometimes in a profound way. A few weeks ago, a friend posted “Seven Lovely Logics” (author unknown), and I shared it on my wall with the facetious comments – “Someone stole my ideas.” The profound logics are as follows:

  1. Make peace with your past so it doesn’t spoil your present.
  2. What others think about you is none of your business.
  3. Time heals almost everything; give the time, some time.
  4. Don’t compare your life with other’s you have no idea what their journey is all about.
  5. No one is a reason of your happiness except yourself.
  6. Stop thinking too much; it’s alright not to know all the answers.
  7. Smile; you don’t own all the problems of world.

My comment on the logics was only partly facetious because I have already thought of my life with a similar philosophy, but it helps to have that philosophy specifically articulated. This helpful specificity is analogous to a book that I recently read suggesting that a person should have a lifetime focus on developing body, brain, heart, and spirit. I already generally thought in those terms, but having the categories specified is helpful in considering them. Instead of reinventing the wheel, I can stand on the shoulders of others.

Earlier this weekend, I saw another post on Facebook that provided some guidance on relationships, which is an important component (i.e., the heart) in the aforementioned lifetime focus. The post, based on an article in the Huffington Post, was titled, “Three ways your fears of being alone sabotage your relationship.”

The short article resonated with me because it talks about a person being comfortable living alone (me) and another person not being emotionally available (others). It reads as follows:

Being single isn’t fun. In fact, it can be a very lonely time, and that time only becomes worse if being single or being alone is your biggest fear. There are many benefits to alone time and the most significant benefit is learning how to love yourself, stand on your own and work on building your confidence. There is nothing more appealing than confidence and nothing more attractive. If you continue to end up in dead-end relationships, your fear of being alone is probably keeping you with the wrong partners. Self-sabotage factors driven by fear:


  1. Dating the Emotionally Unattached – When we are afraid of being alone, we become needy. The greatest counterpart to someone needy is a partner who doesn’t need us. This becomes a game of cat and mouse with the cat always chasing — but never catching — the mouse. If your partner doesn’t take the time to nurture you or the other relationships in their life, there is no way you are going to be “the one” to change them. This is about emotional maturity. The emotionally unavailable are not mature enough to sustain any more than a cat and mouse game. If you stay with someone like this, you will feel more alone than if you were single, but your fears of being alone keep you from seeing rejection as more painful than aloneness.
  2. Excusing The Unacceptable – The fear of being alone can trap you into accepting treatment that is far below the standard of what you deserve. If you find that you are constantly justifying and rationalizing your partner’s treatment by saying to yourself or to others that “nobody’s perfect,” or “it’s not that bad,” then you are running from your own insecurity into a relationship that will only create more insecurity for you. Further, justifying and staying in these dead-end relationships only keeps you from finding the right person for you.
  3. Not Letting Go of Ex’s – If you are unable to let go of past relationships, needing to hang on or keep somewhat of a door open just in case you end up single again, you put too many players on the field. If you really want to be in love, you have to be able to take the risk of committing yourself to one person. If you have closed a chapter with an ex, keep it closed so you can give yourself fully to the new person in your life.

The fear of being alone drives us to lose our perspective on love and the value we have for ourselves. We will date anyone, accept anyone, chase after anyone and/or not let go of any of them. The best way to find a lasting relationship is not when you are in one. The best time to find one is to first find a lasting and connected grounding with your own self, with your life and with your worth. The best time to meet someone is when you no longer feel that “need” for a relationship. It is your job to create an individual life that you like so much that you do not need to be rescued from it.

This is good stuff. Don’t let anyone tell you that Facebook is a vast wasteland.

August 7, 2014

Saturday Night at the Movies #122 – Still Mine

Filed under: Movie reviews — Mike Kueber @ 3:10 am
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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 structure must be built to code specifications. The love 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.

Sunday Book Review #141 – The Rhythm of Life by Matthew Kelly

Filed under: Book reviews — Mike Kueber @ 3:06 am

My son Jimmy spent a few weeks at home this summer, before returning to Franciscan University in Steubenville, OH.  Although I sometimes wonder how much he is taking advantage of his college years to consider how he wants to live his life, I am mightily encouraged by a book that he suggested I read – The Rhythm of Life by Matthew Kelly.

In the first chapter of this book, the author describes meeting with a group of high school seniors and asking them what they want to do with their lives, and he was disappointed by how little the kids had thought about this important question. Worse, the kids had given even less thought toward the how to achieve their objectives. So, at the end of the chapter, before expounding on establishing ends and means, the author suggested that each of his readers put the book aside and write down what they want to do with their lives –

  • Before you read on, spend five minutes or five hours answering the question for yourself. What do you want from life? Take the time. Think it over. Write it down. There are no right or wrong answers. Write quickly. Don’t think too much. Don’t analyze or edit yourself as you make your list. Write everything down, even the ones you feel are foolish.

Because I am retired and 60 years old, the more traditional objectives of my energy – raising a family and having a successful career – are not as dominant as they once were. But that probably makes it even more important to rethink what I want to do in retirement. Here goes:

  1. Although I have not been aggressively looking for a mate, I think I should give that option a try. Not everyone is disposed to having a soul mate, but maybe I am. And I won’t know unless I try.
  2. As my kids start their own families, I want to help them and their families flourish.
  3. I want to develop a network of personal relationships. Right now, most of my encounters come from yoga/weights at Lifetime Fitness, and the relationships are like the Platte River – i.e., a mile wide and an inch deep. As those relationships deepen, perhaps I will make friends of friends. Maybe I’ll expand into biking groups, too.
  4. I don’t plan to get involved in politics again after my failed congressional and council races, but I will be filing suit shortly against the city of SA soon because of its illegal redistricting. So there is a chance that that activity will lead to something else, but right now that is not something I am going to look for.
  5. Blogging is something I plan to continue, not only because I enjoy it, but, like this document, I find that writing about something helps me think more clearly about not only mundane things, but also higher-level things.

After creating this list, I proceeded to read the remainder of the book. By far, the dominant theme of the book is that for a life to flourish, a person needs to develop four critical facets – body, relationships, intellect, and spirit (otherwise known as body, heart, brain, and soul). When I compared those facets to my list, I feel that I stumbled into solid compliance, although I should have better highlighted my daily 100-minute bike ride, which contributes immensely to body and spirit.

Incidentally, author Matthew Kelly described in the book that one of the most significant times in his life occurred when he took a three-month sabbatical at an Austrian monastery, the same one where my son Jimmy attended college last semester. Jimmy told me that it was wonderful reading about the author struggling with life’s issue under a big old tree while Jimmy was sitting under the same tree.

Sunday Book Review #140 – JFK Jr., GEORGE, and Me by Matt Berman

Filed under: Book reviews — Mike Kueber @ 2:45 am

A couple of years ago, I wrote about JFK Jr. based on a book, Fairy Tale Interrupted, written by a co-worker at GEORGE magazine who became a friend, RoseMarie Terenzio.  Although this new book by Matt Berman provides an almost identical perspective and no keen insights, I couldn’t put it down and read it in a couple of days. Both Terenzio and Berman were common folks, and although JFK Jr. was American royalty, he was amazingly grounded.  So sad what Ted Kennedy said at Junior’s funeral – “We dared to think that this John Kennedy would live to comb gray hair.”

P.s., my yoga mate Jose Caceres Galicia told me that a cousin and he were once visiting Manhattan and stopped in a bar around noon for a drink, and a few minutes later JFK Jr. sidled up to them and ordered a drink, too. They shook his hand and soon left, but because of their excitement had forgotten on the bar a new tie they had just purchased. It’s hard to imagine Jr. traveling alone and drinking alone.

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