Mike Kueber's Blog

October 27, 2014

Reproductive rights – what are those?

Filed under: Culture,Law/justice,Media — Mike Kueber @ 11:11 pm
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Local Express-News columnist Elaine Ayala wrote a column today extolling the virtues of fading feminist Gloria Steinem. Her column started as follows:

  • Gloria Steinem came to San Antonio last week and spoke for what was at best 30 minutes at the Women in the World Texas summit. In that short window, she talked about the status of women; the women’s, civil rights and anti-war movements, and the backlash they’ve experienced; the struggle for reproductive rights and the changing demography of the United States and the world. “Most women in the world,” she said to an audience hanging on every word, “are of color.” You don’t get to be an American icon without having the capacity to put the globe in perspective in one sentence.

Talk about drinking the Kool-Aid! Does Ayala really believe that the people of San Antonio go around thinking that the world is filled with white people? I know when I return to ND in the summer, I am struck by the abnormality of being surrounded by mostly white people.

Ayala’s column, as suggested by the passage above, was focused on securing women’s “reproductive rights.” As part of her argument, she described the death in 1977 of Rosie Jimenez, who had to travel to Mexico for an unsafe abortion because Medicaid wouldn’t pay for a safe abortion here in America:

  • Many websites pay tribute to her, and Rosie Jiménez Day is marked in several cities. In the mid-’90s, October was declared Abortion Access Action Month in her memory.

I was struck by the phrasing, “Abortion Access Action Month.” It seemed to me that that is exactly what feminists mean when they say “reproductive rights.  Why not call a spade a spade?

But I decided to do some research to see if the term might mean something more than abortion access. According to Wikipedia:

  • Reproductive rights are legal rights and freedomsrelating to reproduction and reproductive health. The World Health Organization defines reproductive rights as follows:
    • Reproductive rights rest on the recognition of the basic right of all couples and individuals to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing and timing of their children and to have the information and means to do so, and the right to attain the highest standard of sexual and reproductive health. They also include the right of all to make decisions concerning reproduction free of discrimination, coercion and violence.

Amazing! Not only does the term include things other than abortion, but it does not even appear related to abortion. This reads like Newspeak from the dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. George Orwell was off by 30 years.

October 23, 2014

“Yes Means Yes” – social engineering in its purest form

Filed under: Culture,Education,Law/justice — Mike Kueber @ 2:36 am
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The state of California last month enacted a controversial law, SB 967,  called “Yes Means Yes.” The law attempts to deal with the growing problem of sexual assault on the state’s college campuses. According to a survey, one in five college women will be sexually assaulted during their time as students. Of course, sexual assault is already illegal, but the lawmakers apparently concluded that (a) often sexual assault results from a misunderstanding between the sexes regarding whether there is mutual consent to have sex and (b) this misunderstanding needs to be clarified. Which is social engineering in its purest form.

Several years ago, I blogged about social engineering and relied on the following Wikipedia description:

  • An attempt to influence popular attitudes and social behaviors on a large scale. Usually the term refers to government action, but it can apply as well to private groups. Social engineering is not inherently negative, but because of its usage in the political arena, it has come to have a negative connotation. Technically, all government laws – such as prohibitions against murder, DUI, theft, and littering – are social engineering. Governments also engage routinely in social engineering through incentives and disincentives built into economic policy and tax policy. Conservatives and libertarians often claim that their opponents (the liberals) are engaged in social engineering, and that makes sense because liberals prefer a muscular government while conservatives and libertarians prefer a muscular private society. But even liberals complain of social engineering when it comes to prayer in school, abstinence-only sex education, and the English-only movement.

The social behavior the “Yes Means Yes” law is attempting to influence is that most men believe they are permitted to pursue a female sexually until she says, “no.” “No means no” fits that standard. By contrast, some females believe that a man should not initiate sex with a woman unless she gives “affirmative consent.” Yes means yes.

The key language in the new law reads as follows:

  • (1) An affirmative consent standard in the determination of whether consent was given by both parties to sexual activity. “Affirmative consent” means affirmative, conscious, and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity. It is the responsibility of each person involved in the sexual activity to ensure that he or she has the affirmative consent of the other or others to engage in the sexual activity. Lack of protest or resistance does not mean consent, nor does silence mean consent. Affirmative consent must be ongoing throughout a sexual activity and can be revoked at any time. The existence of a dating relationship between the persons involved, or the fact of past sexual relations between them, should never by itself be assumed to be an indicator of consent.
  • (2) A policy that,in the evaluation of complaints in any disciplinary process, it shall not be a valid excuse to alleged lack of affirmative consent that the accused believed that the complainant consented to the sexual activity under either of the following circumstances:
    • (A) The accused’s belief in affirmative consent arose from the intoxication or recklessness of the accused.
    • (B) The accused did not take reasonable steps, in the circumstances known to the accused at the time, to ascertain whether the complainant affirmatively consented.
  • (3) A policy that the standard used in determining whether the elements of the complaint against the accused have been demonstrated is the preponderance of the evidence.
  • (4) A policy that,in the evaluation of complaints in the disciplinary process, it shall not be a valid excuse that the accused believed that the complainant affirmatively consented to the sexual activity if the accused knew or reasonably should have known that the complainant was unable to consent to the sexual activity under any of the following circumstances:
    • (A) The complainant was asleep or unconscious.
    • (B) The complainant was incapacitated due to the influence of drugs, alcohol, or medication, so that the complainant could not understand the fact, nature, or extent of the sexual activity.
    • (C) The complainant was unable to communicate due to a mental or physical condition.

According to an article in the NY Times, there are major concerns about potential ambiguity in the affirmative consent – “But most male students expressed some nervousness about accidentally running afoul of consent rules, especially because drinking usually precedes a casual hookup…. Affirmative-consent policies try to address this by recognizing body language as a form of consent.”  But I was unable to find any discussion of the sort of body language that would be recognized as consent.

A fascinating column by Jonathan Chait in New York magazine titled, “California’s Radical College-Sex-Law Experiment,” points out additional concerns about the law:

  • It surely is possible to imagine that sex that comports with these new guidelines is sexy, or even more sexy than the kind most people have now. Yet one might find these ideas about reimagining sex attractive, as I do, while still having deep reservations about codifying them into law. The fact that we need to change cultural attitudes about sex itself underscores the fact that cultural attitudes about sex lie well outside the contours established by the state of California. What percentage of the last decade worth of Hollywood sex scenes, if acted out between college students in California, would technically constitute rape? A majority? Ninety percent?
  • Deprogramming and reorienting societal ideas about sex is an evolutionary process. California isn’t merely attempting to set out to nudge the culture in this direction. It is reclassifying all sex that falls outside those still-novel ideas as rape. A law premised on this sort of sweeping, wholesale change is likely to fail.

I agree with Chait’s criticism of the law, but I am not confident that the law will fail. Because the law is limited to college students, and because its penalties are limited to administrative sanctions by the college (up to expulsion), most people are insulated from its effects. Sort of like preventing adults under the age of 21 from drinking. Divide and conquer.

But I would be shocked “Yes Means Yes” becomes the law of the land for non-students.

October 18, 2014

Asian privilege

Filed under: Culture — Mike Kueber @ 12:25 am
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My previous post concluded that Jon Stewart was correct in finding the existence of white privilege in America.  As I was cycling today, however, it occurred to me that in some sense Bill O’Reilly was also correct in saying that, if there is white privilege in America, there is also Asian privilege.  In fact, I have noticed that in my kids when in high school commenting that Asian kids were generally smarter and harder-working than non-Asians.  And I’ve heard anecdotal stories about white kids being disrespected because of their color when trying to play competitive basketball or football.

These are examples of past successes from your racial/ethnic predecessors that enure to the benefits of those who come later.  Likewise, past failures of your predecessors will hold you back.  Most people would be willing to accept this concept.  It’s just that when it is phrased as “white privilege,” a conservative opponent of affirmative action will feel an urge to resist.

October 17, 2014

White privilege

Filed under: Culture — Mike Kueber @ 3:26 am
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Last night, Bill O’Reilly and Jon Stewart got into a heated discussion over the existence of white privilege in America. I’m guessing the heat was generated for the purpose of entertaining the viewers because any rational discussion of the subject would have started with a definition of the term.

Instead of starting with a definition, O’Reilly immediately responded to Stewart’s allegation by asserting that if there is white privilege in America, then there must be even more Asian privilege because, according to a variety of measures (income, education), Asians are more successful than whites. Stewart responded with a non sequitur that the recent Asian immigration experience was irrelevant because it was completely different than the historical black immigration experience.

So off they went, with each throwing out a series of talking points instead of actually responding to each other’s points. In the end, Jon asked Bill to concede that the black historical experience (slavery, Jim Crow laws) was a “factor” (pun intended) in the current sad status of blacks in general and inner-city blacks in particular. Bill conceded that point, and Jon thanked him for showing a humility that reminded him of the new pope.

If Bill or Jon had been interested in a definition as a starting point, they might have checked with the Urban Dictionary:

  • White privilege is the racist idea that simply being white benefits people in some unexplainable way, and that discriminating against white people is not only okay, but enlightened and necessary. The excuse some extremists use to justify pretty much any level of racism, as long as it is coming from people of color.

The Urban Dictionary definition, however, seems to have been written by a white guy, so I found another definition by someone more like Jon Stewart. According to the White Privilege Conference:

  • White Privilege is the other side of racism…. Privilege exists when one group has something of value thatis denied to others simply because of the groups they belong to,rather than because of anything they’ve done or failed to do. Access to privilege doesn’t determine one’s outcomes, but it is definitely an asset that makes it more likely that whatever talent, ability, and aspirations a person with privilege has will result in something positive for them. Examples of Privilege – being able to:
    • assume that most of the people you or your children study in history classes and textbooks will be of the same race, gender, or sexual orientation as you are;
    • assume that your failures will not be attributed to your race, or your gender;
    • assume that if you work hard and follow the rules, you will get what you deserve;
    • succeed without other people being surprised; and without being held to a higher standard;
    • go out in public without fear of being harassed or constantly worried about physical safety; or
    • not have to think about your race, or your gender, or your sexual orientation, or disabilities, on a daily basis…

Based on the preceding definition of white privilege, even Bill O’Reilly would concede there is white privilege in America.

The final arbiter of the disputed definition needs to be Wikipedia:

  • White privilege (or white skin privilege) is a term for societal privileges that benefit white people beyond what is commonly experienced by non-white people in the same social, political, or economic circumstances. The term denotes both obvious and less obvious unspoken advantages that white persons may not recognize they have, which distinguishes it from overt bias or prejudice. These include cultural affirmations of one’s own worth; presumed greater social status; and freedom to move, buy, work, play, and speak freely.

The Free Dictionary definition of privilege is, “a special advantage, immunity, permission, right, or benefit granted to or enjoyed by an individual, class, or caste.”

Based on these definitions, I believe Jon Stewart is correct. Black individuals in America suffer from, and are forced to overcome negative generalizations and stereotypes, whereas white individuals probably benefit from positive generalizations and stereotypes. This type of privilege exists even in the absence of racism.

October 10, 2014

No democracy; we just want Islam

Filed under: Culture,Issues,Politics,Religion — Mike Kueber @ 11:01 pm
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A Facebook friend recently posted a photo of bearded, agitated Muslims marching with a sign that reads, “No democracy, we just want Islam.” The punchline of the photo is that the Muslims weren’t marching in the Middle East, but rather in Dearborn, USA.

My first reaction to the photo was from a practical perspective – i.e., that it was another conservative attempt to create hysteria over the presence of Muslims in America, just as they often do with a warning that Muslims are attempting to impose Sharia law in America. And because the Muslims are such a small minority in America, I am confident that they will never be able to impose their views on democracy or Sharia law.

But my next reaction to the photo was from an intellectual perspective – i.e., is there anything wrong with Muslim-Americans advocating for democracy or Sharia law?  Many groups and institutions in America are run under undemocratic principles and they are able to function, some quite well. And Americans are among the most religious people in the world, and most religious organizations are highly respected despite being highly undemocratic.

So, do free people have the right to prefer a government that is more theocratic and less democratic? Yes, they do, but because of our constitution and its strong preference toward democracy and against theocracy, it seems that anyone with such an inclination would be better off living in a country with traditions and values more similar to their own.

October 9, 2014

The new normal

Filed under: Culture,Education — Mike Kueber @ 11:01 pm
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A few days ago after yoga practice, I was talking to a friend about kids, and she told me that her son had autism. When I asked about his schooling, I’m not sure how I phrased the question, but I suspect I asked whether he went to classes with normal kids, and she responded that he had special classes.

Later in our conversation, I mentioned another yoga classmate who has four kids, two of them autistic. This classmate had posted on Facebook about going postal one day at a doctor’s office because a nurse/receptionist made some comment contrasting her two autistic kids against her two “normal” kids.

My yoga friend sympathized with my other classmate and said it drove her crazy when people used the term normal to contrast them with her kids. This statement caused my head to spin because I was thinking I had used that precise term at the beginning of our conversation, and I wondered why my friend hadn’t gone postal on me.

Although my head was spinning, I asked my friend how to appropriately describe her son. She responded that autistic might be OK, but she didn’t like any term that ended in “ic,” so maybe it would be better to say, “kid with autism.”

But that didn’t really help with identifying the other kids. Instead of delving into that, I veered into the topic of political correctness, and she quickly agreed that that was a problem, with too many thin-skinned, overly sensitive people.

Thankfully, the conversation drifted in a different direction, with no apparent damage done to our friendship. But I was still uncomfortable about how to deal with this issue in the future, so I decided to check the internet for an answer.

Lucky for me, a forum on Yahoo.com had a provocative, on-point question:

  •  Should autistic kids be in the same class as normal kids?

Not surprisingly, many parents of autistic kids took umbrage at the term “normal,” primarily because it implied that their kids where abnormal. In their minds, there was no such thing as a normal kid; all kids had their idiosyncrasies, so why should their kids be the only ones labeled? The devil’s advocate in me responded that all kids may have their idiosyncrasies and “special needs,” but the special needs of autistic kids often requires a separate classroom.

Finally, though, one parent provided me with a solution when she suggested that she didn’t want her autistic child “mainstreamed.” The dictionary defines this term as, “to place (as a disabled child) in regular school classes,” and although regular may be almost as objectionable as normal, the term “mainstream” avoids both connotations, and instead suggests “nonmainstream,” which is comparable to special needs.

I’m OK with that, and hope I remember that the next time I open my mouth.

Abortion rears its ugly head on Facebook

Filed under: Culture,Facebook,Issues,Law/justice,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 12:50 am

One of my sisters-in-law posted on her Facebook wall a crude abortion-rights poster that consisted of a simple decision tree. If you are on Facebook at all, you have probably seen the thing – essentially, if you have a vagina, you are entitled to an opinion on abortion rights (euphemistically called reproductive rights); if you don’t have a vagina, shut up.

Because I find the poster to be not only crudely insulting, but also simplistically fallacious, I sometimes comment, and I did so today, with my standard response:

  • Yeah, but the next time we have a discussion about fighting a war, do we want all non-soldiers to shut up?

Usually this response ends the discussion, but my sister-in-law took a different tack by accepting my suggestion:

  • S-I-L: Might be a good idea Mike!! Each one of us should be willing to stand up and protect our individual right!!
  • Me: Unfortunately, God did not bless men with the ability to have babies; nor women with the ability to fight in war.
  • SIL: Biologically men cannot have babies. However MANY women have proved they can fight a war!!
  • Denise Whitman: You are so wrong, Mike Kueber – but you will never admit it.

Where the hell did Denise Whitman come from? You may not recall, but as I blogged previously, Denise’s sister got into a heated discussion on Facebook with Kelly and me over bossy girls who show leadership skills, and Denise interjected that Kelly and me need to get a life. Both of the women “unfriended” Kelly.

No surprisingly, Kelly mocked Denise a bit:

  • Kelly: Come on Mike Kueber you know you are wrong! Admit it:

I was mightily tempted to mock Denise, too, with a suggestion that a picture of her can be found in the dictionary alongside the term “peanut gallery” – i.e., a group of people who criticize someone, often by focusing on insignificant details.” But I bit my tongue and instead said:

  • Me: By wrong, I assume you mean that only people with vaginas should decide the abortion issue. I tried to provide an analogy that shows how silly that idea is. Obviously, I failed. I could provide you with additional analogies, but I suspect it makes more sense to stop.

By now Kelly had cooled down and tried to calm the waters:

  • Kelly: I think abortion is wrong and I think men should have the right to vote on all issues just like women were given that right about 100 years ago! It is OK to argue and not let it become personal!
  • SIL: Mike and Kelly, everyone has their own beliefs on what is right and what is wrong. I don’t want to start a family war about this. Which is the reason I don’t ever say much in person or on FB about how I feel about politics, religion, and other personal issues. There is nothing I can say or do to change the way you feel or how I do. So we should just leave it as we agree to disagree!
  • Mike: SIL, whenever Facebook friends post a political poster, I assume that they are inviting a discussion of the topic. Otherwise they should include a disclaimer to “please don’t comment unless you agree.” As Kelly has suggested, people should be able to discuss politics or religion without getting angry or judgmental. But telling all men to “shut up” is not a good way to start a rational discussion on abortion. This issue is evolving and everyone should keep an open mind.
  • SIL: I do have an open mind Mike. I have 2 brothers that are as opposite as there ever could be. I listen to both of them and feel they both have good and bad points. I know you and your brother do not share my views and that is good to. But I felt that your comments were not about the abortion issue as much as they were just slamming woman in general. We are the ones that surrender our bodies and lives in most cases. We have also fought much harder than you can believe to gain a lot of the rights that men take for granted. I also believe that at 18 all able bodied people should sign up with SS. Equality should not just be for black and white.
  • Mike: Jeez, SIL, it’s ironic that I am “slamming women in general,” while your poster has women telling all men to shut up. As they say in sports, go figure. And you are wrong to infer that I don’t share your view on abortion. Personally, I would vote for Texas to adopt the ruling of Roe v. Wade, but I think each state should have been allowed to vote on this issue instead of having the Supreme Court force it on everyone nationwide.
  • SIL: Ok Mike, I find a hung jury!! And I (my post) did not tell MEN to shut up! It says ‘IF YOU DON’T HAVE VAGINA’. Have a nice day!!

Although that last comment doesn’t seem to make sense, it did include an invitation to draw this discussion to a close, and I accepted by giving her the last word.

About a week ago, I blogged about a Facebook discussion with a woman over George Clooney’s bride wherein the woman attempted to cut her losses by suggesting that, “This isn’t worth arguing about.” I told her that I wasn’t arguing, but rather was giving my brain its daily exercise. Today’s exercise was not nearly as satisfying because I sensed a failure to communicate. Although the soldier analogy is undeniable, it was not effective. And we never touched on the essence of the abortion issue, which is when does society have an obligation or right to protect a fetus from its mother.

Another day.

October 7, 2014

Further reflections of Pride & Prejudice and From the Terrace

Filed under: Culture,Philosophy — Mike Kueber @ 7:37 pm
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I recently wrote about Pride & Prejudice and From the Terrace, but neglected to mention a common thread to these movies – i.e., the importance of marrying someone in your socio-economic class or preferably from a higher class. Pride & Prejudice was set near London around 1800 and From the Terrace was set in Philadelphia/New York immediately after WWII.

Both movies involve people near the top of society, but not at the top, and that is probably key to examining the resulting insecurities associated with climbing or falling. Although I find this subject fascinating, I confess to being totally oblivious to it during my formative or working years. Only late in life have I perceived the effect of these insecurities on different people.

But even with the benefit of my improved perception, I can’t imagine picking a life partner based on her social position. As Matthew Kelly suggests in The Rhythm of Life, a person’s principal reason for living is to be the best version of you that is possible and I don’t see how your partner’s elevated social status will help you toward your raison d’être.



Really listening

Filed under: Culture,Relationships,Self-improvement — Mike Kueber @ 1:18 am
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Last month when I was visiting with a friend in my hometown of Aneta, ND, she mentioned a high school chum who regularly returns to Aneta for its summer festival in June. This chum lives an outwardly successful life in a large urban area, yet still seems to enjoy returning to the small-town rural charm of Aneta and reconnecting with the people she grew up with. But something in their conversations has begun to bother my friend.

It seems that my friend and her chum usually bump into each other before or after Aneta’s small parade on Saturday, and invariably they have a warm and friendly chat for a few minutes before moving on. At first, these conversations were very satisfying, with the polished urban person asking appropriate questions and apparently enjoying the conversation. But lately my friend has realized that her chum asks the same questions every year, not unlike the movie Groundhog’s Day.

Although the repeated questions might not be immediately insulting, my friend has gradually become insulted because she has concluded that her chum is merely deploying her social graces in answering the appropriate questions and is not actually listening to or remembering her answers.

I think my friend is right.

One of my happy-hour friends complains that I often ask him the same question on multiple occasions, and I have to confess that this happens when I am making conversation with him instead of being hugely interested in what his answer is.

Don Imus has the same problem. Several times I’ve noticed him ask a guest something that I recalled he asked the same guest several weeks ago, and occasionally the guest will even point that out. Obviously, Don was making conversation in the earlier interview and didn’t particularly care what the guest’s response was (even though Imus takes great pride in asserting that, unlike other media interviewers, he actually listens to the answers and then lets those answers dictate the direction of the interview).

So, is this a teaching moment? I’m not sure. Obviously, it would be nice to be sincerely interested in your conversation, consistent with that old saying, “Be here now.” But sometimes a person is engaged in casual conversation that is not significant.

Do I want to waste my scarce brain cells remembering that? I vote yes, and I’m going to redouble my efforts here.

October 1, 2014

Exercising my brain over whether George Clooney married up

Filed under: Culture,Facebook,Media,Philosophy — Mike Kueber @ 5:56 pm

A Facebook friend, Ronda, recently commented favorably on an article that suggested the world’s most eligible bachelor, George Clooney, had actually married up when he won the hand of “internationally acclaimed barrister Amal Alamuddin.”

Because I was feeling a bit feisty, I decided against letting this silly suggestion pass and commented as follows:

  • Mike:  Clearly, Clooney was being self-deprecating, at least in the arena of worldly achievement. To suggest he is marrying up reminds me of people who say that a great athlete is even greater as a person. Although there is a mechanism for identifying and recognizing worldly achievement, there is no such mechanism for identifying truly great persons.
  • Ronda:  Mike, my point was that mass-consumed publications imply that he was a “catch” for her, when vice-versa is equally, if not more, true. At least in the arena of being accomplished in a particular field.
  • Mike:  Ronda, that was my point, too – Clooney was considered to be one of the most eligible bachelors in the world. Amal? Not as much. Surely, she is exceptionally accomplished, but her accomplishments are surely overshadowed by his. I am not, however, suggesting that he has lived a better, more fulfilling life. He may have married up, and that is a good thing for any newlywed to think.
  • Ronda:  We will have to disagree on this one. She is an expert on human rights issued who’s often called upon to speak to the UN. He’s an actor.
  • Mike:  Agreed, Ronda. But I don’t think you do Clooney justice by calling him merely an actor. According to Wikipedia, “He is the only person ever to be nominated for Academy Awards in six categories (writing, producing, directing, and acting) …. In 2009, he was included in Time’s annual Time 100 as one of the Most Influential People in the World. Clooney is also noted for his political activism and has served as one of the United Nations Messengers of Peace since January 31, 2008. His humanitarian work includes his advocacy of finding a resolution for the Darfur conflict, raising funds for the 2010 Haiti earthquake, 2004 Tsunami, and 9/11 victims, and creating documentaries such as Sand and Sorrow to raise awareness about international crises. He is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.”
  • Ronda:  This isn’t worth arguing about.
  • Mike:  I wasn’t arguing. I am retired and was giving my brain its daily exercise.
  • Ronda:  He IS good looking, though.
  • Mike:  In my quotation from Wikipedia, I used an ellipsis for deleting the following information – “In 2005, TV Guide ranked Clooney #1 on its”50 Sexiest Stars of All Time” list.” I didn’t think it helpful to my case to sexualize him.

Incidentally, because Ronda quickly tired of this discussion, I decided against fully elaborating on my initial comment about great athletes whom some suggest are even greater persons.  I touched on the point that greatness as a person is highly subjective, but I failed to expound on how rare great athletes are.  In most situations, being in the top 10% is special and the top 1% is wonderful.  But great athletes are actually rarer than the top 1% of the top 1%.  Based on these numbers, none of us know enough people to place some individual at the top of some huge pyramid.

That’s enough exercise for today.

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