Mike Kueber's Blog

June 7, 2014

Sunday Book Review #138 – The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Getting Ahead

Filed under: Book reviews,Culture,Philosophy — Mike Kueber @ 1:17 pm
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Several months ago, I reviewed a book by Dilbert creator, Scott Adams, titled How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big. In the book, Adams shares his accumulated wisdom for living a successful life. The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Getting Ahead by Charles Murray is a similar book.

In the introduction, Murray describes how this compendium started as a workplace, intranet guide to English grammar and usage that expanded into proper behavior in the workplace. Ultimately, the book included advice toward achieving not only success in the workplace but also success in living.

The book’s intended audience is:

  • You are in or near your twenties. You are intelligent. It’s not essential that you have a college degree, but you probably do. Many of you attended a well-known college or university; some of you attended an elite one. You are ambitious – you daydream about becoming a CEO, a high-powered lawyer, head of the World Bank, Pulitzer Prize winner, or president of the United States. Your ambitions are not confined to outward measures of success. You want to become excellent at something. You plan to marry eventually, if not already. You aspire to be a good person. You aspire to genuine happiness. To put it another way, you are me long ago.”

Murray is a 71-year-old libertarian political scientist who works for a conservative think-tank in D.C. called the American Enterprise Institute. He is the author of a controversial book titled The Bell Curve, which argued that intelligence is a better predictor of success in life than is socio-economic status or education. It also argued that some races are more intelligent than others, whether produced by genetics or environment.

Also, as suggested by the book’s title, Murray is a curmudgeon, which he initially defines as “an ill-tempered old man,” but then he tweaks that definition to better fit the group of people who generally make decisions that affect a young employees career arc:

  • “Highly successful people of both genders who are inwardly grumpy about many aspects of contemporary culture, make quick and pitiless judgments about your behavior in the workplace, and don’t hesitate to act on those judgments in deciding who gets promoted and who gets fired. Be warned that curmudgeons usually don’t give off many clues that they’re doing these things.”

Murray admits that there are some industries that are not run by curmudgeons – e.g., entertainment or information technology – but my experience in the insurance industry suggests that Murray is mistaken about the prevalence of curmudgeons at the helm of American commerce. Yes, we all have encountered curmudgeons in the workplace, but this quality does not bode well for success, except perhaps in the world of conservative think tanks.

Regardless of the prevalence of full-fledged curmudgeons, however, the insights of this curmudgeon are worthwhile in helping a fledgling college grad navigate the workplace filled with a lot of executives who have curmudgeon tendencies from time to time.

The first section of the book provides insights regarding how to present yourself in the workplace:

  1. Don’t suck up. Although I agree that a strong employee will do better without becoming a sycophant, I have seen weak employees survive by becoming sycophants.
  2. Don’t use first names of older people. I agree, even though my upbringing causes me extreme discomfort with the word “mister.”
  3. Don’t use vulgar language unless the boss uses it freely.
  4. No piercings or tattoos.
  5. Dress like your bosses.
  6. Don’t act like any work is beneath you.
  7. From the bottom, it looks like management has unlimited numbers of good people to select for advancement, but from the top, it looks like good people are hard to find. Be a good worker, and you will be noticed. I’m not persuaded by this assertion.

The second section of the book provides insights on thinking and writing well. Murray obviously sees good writing and good thinking as related – “The process of writing is your most valuable single tool for developing better ideas. The process of writing is the dominant source of intellectual creativity.” Outside of creativity, however, Murray feels most strongly about “rigor”:

  • If your major in college was anything except one of the hard sciences, you may not have experienced much demand to be rigorous up to this point in your life. How many of your teachers not only demanded that you write papers instead of taking multiple-choice tests, but handed back those papers with every error in syntax, usage, and spelling marked in red, and every error in logic pointed out? How often during class discussion have you been criticized for a sloppy argument, even though your conclusion may have been correct?…. graduates of even the most elite universities can leave school still innocent of what it means to be pushed to the limits of their intellectual potential.”

Getting a B.A. from Harvard in history and a PhD from MIT in political science may not have been rigorous for Murray, but I disagree that these studies in general aren’t as rigorous the hard sciences. (David Brooks and Tom Friedman of the NY Times had a similar disagreement a few weeks ago, and that was the subject of a blogpost.)

The third section of the book is titled, “On the Formation of Who You Are.” The first thing he suggests is that you leave home. Suffice to say that boomerang kids are not welcome, and parents who allow this are not doing their kids any favor – “Don’t argue that you can’t find a job that pays enough to support yourself. You can. You just can’t find a job that will support you in the style to which you have been accustomed. So accustom yourself to a new style. Learn to get by on little – prove to yourself how resourceful you can be. Move out. No matter what.”

Because most kids are excessively praised and pampered and encouraged, Murray thinks many kids have been stunted:

  • You probably possess two of the most important personal qualities for success – high cognitive ability and good interpersonal skills. But it is unlikely that you have already developed another important trait: resilience.”

Most modern kids are taught that being judgmental is bad. That is wrong. You must make judgments about what it means to live a good life:

  • The purpose of a human life is not just to pass the time between birth and death as pleasantly as possible, with as little trouble as possible. Life should consist of something more than leisure and transient pleasures. Can we agree on that?… For those who are still with me, the first step in thinking about what it means to live a good life is to accept that you’re going to have to make judgments – not just statements about your personal tastes and preferences, but judgments about what are the excellences that human beings should strive to realize, which in turn means judgments about what is right and wrong, good and evil.”
  • “I want to emphasize that being judgmental is not the same as being intolerant. It is appropriate to be tolerant of behaviors that you wouldn’t engage in yourself, and even ones of which you disapprove but which you also judge to fall within the range of choices that people should be free to make in a free society. But you can’t let your desire to be tolerant get in the way of your obligation to reach moral judgments. You need to think through your assessment of alternative codes of behavior, drawing upon as much accumulated human wisdom as you can about virtue and vice, and about the consequences of different behaviors for human flourishing. You not only need to do this; you must. The failure to do so doesn’t define you as nonjudgmental. It defines you as lazy.”

The preceding principle reminds me of Mike Callen’s call for the action with the preponderance of favorable outcomes. Murray’s guiding principle is, “Don’t ruin your love affair with yourself,” by which he means that you should hold yourself in high regard and that all of your action should enable this high regard to continue.

The final section of the book is titled, “On the Pursuit of Happiness.” Murray believes that lasting and justified happiness flows from four sources – family, vocation, community, and faith. Money and fame are not on the list. “An unavoidable side effect of ambition is to be gnawed by ambition about whether you’re going to succeed. You’re bound to feel it in your twenties and thirties. Put it away in your forties. By that time, you should have learned enough to recognize that fame and wealth are trivial – really, truly trivial – to a life well live.” I’m happy to report that my life followed the track that Murray suggested.

Although Murray is technically a Deist, he suggests that you take religion more seriously than you have been socialized to.

And finally, he concludes with some advice on who, not whether, to marry.

Murray’s words of wisdom mostly ring true. My youngest son is in the demographic that Murray hopes to reach, and I have strongly suggested to him that he would be well served reading this little 142-page book.


May 30, 2014

Diversity at Google

Filed under: Business,Culture,Law/justice — Mike Kueber @ 2:21 pm
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The big story in the technology world this week is that Google released its diversity numbers.  (Facebook to follow.)  The release was in response to pressure from the cottage liberals, like Jesse Jackson, who are concerned that the technology world is an exclusive club for white males.

What did the numbers show?  Well, Google’s tech employees are mostly men, and they are mostly white if you consider Asians to be white and Hispanics to be not-white:

  • American workforce – 47% women, 16% Hispanic, 12% black, and 12% Asian
  • Google techies – 17% women, 2% Hispanic, 1% black, and 34% Asian

So, what is causing this situation that is so distressful to cottage liberals?  Well, according to an article in USA Today:

  1. “At its heart, there are two reasons for the mismatch, experts say. The first is pipeline. White and Asian men are much more likely to have access and take advantage of technical schooling that leads to jobs at tech firms than historically disadvantaged minorities.”
  2. “Finally, high tech isn’t a very welcoming place if you don’t fit in.”

Aside from racial and sexual balancing, why should diversity be an objective for Google?  As explained in the USA Today article:

  • “By putting its numbers out there, Google is taking the steps necessary to bring change. Doing so isn’t about window dressing. It actually makes it a better and more profitable company, says Ed Lazowska, a professor of computer science and engineering at the University of Washington-Seattle. ‘Engineering (particularly of software) is a hugely creative endeavor. Greater diversity — more points of view — yields a better result.’”

I don’t know about you, but I think Google as presently staffed has been highly creative in software engineering, and if I were a stockholder, I wouldn’t want the company to start focusing on social engineering.

A remarkably similar article in the NY Times provided additional support for the proposition that the demographics of the Google workforce are a result of the demographics of the pipeline that provides those workers:

  • Tech companies have often blamed the lack of diverse workforces on the pipeline — they can only hire the people who apply for jobs, and those tend to be white and Asian men, they say. That is partly true. For instance, only 18.5 percent of high school students who took the Advanced Placement exam in computer science last year were girls. In eight states, no Hispanic students took the test and in 12 states, no black students took it. The problems start as early as childhood, when girls are discouraged by parents and teachers from pursuing technical pursuits.

Of course, the liberal agenda of the NY Times will not be blocked by mere statistics:

  • “Yet some of the blame also falls on tech companies. There can be a sexist culture that turns away women, as evidenced by the high attrition rate among technical women as compared to men. And women who try to start tech companies face exclusion by a venture capital network dominated by a chummy fraternity of men. This is all despite the fact that the data — which in Silicon Valley usually reigns supreme — shows that diversity on groups benefits research, development, innovation and profit.”

To sum up two liberal newspapers – (1) the tech pipeline is not turning out sufficient numbers of women, Hispanics, and blacks; (2) tech companies discriminate against women, Hispanics, and blacks, and (3) although tech companies are perhaps America’s premiere industry, it would function much better if it were forced to hire a workforce that “looks like America.”

Call me skeptical.

May 24, 2014

Mark Cuban wades into the Donald Sterling fiasco (again), and Stephen A. Smith bails him out

Filed under: Culture,Sports — Mike Kueber @ 5:08 am
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While the media first attempted to lynch Donald Sterling for the bigoted comments that he made privately to his girlfriend, the Dallas Maverick’s owner Mark Cuban tried to slow down the lynching by warning against a slippery slope:

  • But at the same time, that’s a decision I make. I think you’ve got to be very, very careful when you start making blanket statements about what people say and think, as opposed to what they do. It’s a very, very slippery slope. Again, there’s no excuse for his positions. There’s no excuse for what he said. There’s no excuse for anybody to support racism. There’s no place for it in our league, but there’s a very, very, very slippery slope.”

But Cuban quickly backed off from that position and seemed to be in favor of a forcible sale of the Mavericks until earlier this week, when Cuban created a firestorm by admitting that he, too, was prejudiced and bigoted in certain situations:

  • I know I’m prejudiced, and I know I’m bigoted in a lot of different ways. If I see a black kid in a hoodie on my side of the street, I’ll move to the other side of the street. If I see a white guy with a shaved head and tattoos, I’ll move back to the other side of the street. None of us have pure thoughts; we all live in glass houses.”

The lynch mob attacked Cuban for stigmatizing black kids in a hoodie and suggested that Cuban was laying the groundwork for cutting Donald Sterling some slack.  But Cuban received some support from an unexpected source – Stephen A. Smith (a black journalist) from ESPN’s First Take. 

Smith pointed out that Cuban, by giving both black and white examples, was not excusing racism, but rather was pointed out that “presentation matters.”  According to Smith, people are going to treat you differently based on the way that you present yourself.  Hoodies, tattoos, or pants halfway down your ass don’t give anyone a right to shoot you, but if you present yourself that way, don’t expect to be treated respectfully.  (Some wag pointed out that Patriot coach Bill Belichick wears a hoodie and expects to be treated respectfully.  I suspect that he would not generally be treated respectfully if he is not recognized as the Patriot coach.)

Cuban later apologized to the Trayvon Martin family for using the hoodie example, but other than regretting his example, he stood by his statement.  On the next edition of First Take, white guy Skip Bayless opined that the apology was necessary and appropriate, while Smith doubled down to say that the clarification was nice, but the additional context was unnecessary.

I agree with Stephen A.’s point that presentation matters.  Further, I have previously discussed how people will naturally profile.  Racial profiling, however, is a special concern, and although it is scientifically almost impossible to stop, it is something that America needs to work to minimize.

With respect to the Donald Sterling matter, it seems that Cuban’s comments militate in favor of reconsidering the draconian sanctions proposed by NBA commish Adam Silver and there is nothing wrong with that.  Reconsideration is always a good tack to take when dealing with a lynch mob.

P.S., Smith also made a distinction that I have previously made between racism and bigotry – i.e., racists feel superior while bigots strongly dislike.  Based on this definition, Smith said that blacks and whites are both bigoted, but only whites are racists.  I’m not sure that I agree that blacks can’t be racists, too, but in any event, those definitions seem to put Donald Sterling’s comments more into the bigoted category than the racist category.

May 22, 2014

The demise of the white majority in America

Filed under: Culture,Issues,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 7:54 pm

For many years, the media has been reporting on the demise of white people as the majority in America.  For example, as reported in the NY Times in 2008:

  • The census calculates that by 2042, Americans who identify themselves as Hispanic, black, Asian, American Indian, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander will together outnumber non-Hispanic whites. Four years ago, officials had projected the shift would come in 2050.”

This new coalition of minorities is often referred to as “majority minority.”  And the liberal media loves to trumpet that “demography is destiny.”  For example, the Daily Beast contains a column titled “Is Demography Destiny?” and then asks in its header, “Has the changing composition of the American electorate handed Democrats a permanent majority?”

But two articles in the New York Times this week evoke Mark Twain’s retort, “Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”  The first article reported on the revival of the GOP’s previously ridiculed strategy of getting out the white vote instead of broadening its base to include more minorities.  This strategy was characterized as similar to the GOP’s Southern Strategy, which Nixon used in the late 60’s to secure the presidency.  (Due to my sorry searching skills, I can’t find the Times article to confirm my recollections.)

The second article reported on the increasing number of Hispanics who are self-identifying as members of the white race.  Apparently, between 2000 and 2010, 1.2 million Hispanics switched from identifying themselves to the U.S. Census as whites instead of “some other race.”  (Thirteen million of 35 million Hispanics self-identify as “some other race.)  According the article:

  • The data provide new evidence consistent with the theory that Hispanics may assimilate as white Americans, like the Italians or Irish, who were not universally considered to be white…. The data also call into question whether America is destined to become a so-called minority-majority nation, where whites represent a minority of the nation’s population. Those projections assume that Hispanics aren’t white, but if Hispanics ultimately identify as white Americans, then whites will remain the majority for the foreseeable future.”
  • “White identification is not necessarily a sign that Hispanics consider themselves white. Many or even most might identify their race as ‘Hispanic’ if it were an explicit option. But white identification may still be an indicator of assimilation. White identifiers are likelier to be second- and third-generation Hispanics than foreign-born and noncitizen Hispanics. They also have higher levels of education and income…. The results are a strong sign that fears of a unique ‘Hispanic challenge,’ where Hispanics immigrants might remain as a permanent Spanish-speaking underclass, are overblown. In that regard, the census numbers are not new: There is mounting evidence that Hispanics are succeeding in American society at a pace similar to that of prior waves of European immigrants.”

Assimilation is music to my ears.





May 14, 2014

An open letter to the I-Man

Filed under: Culture,Media,People — Mike Kueber @ 6:37 pm
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Dear I-Man,

Dolly Parton was such a great guest today, not only with her singing, but also with her delightful interview.  But I’m afraid that she was so distracting that you totally screwed up your interview of Lanny Davis.

The interview started with you teasing Davis about being a crisis worm, but that doesn’t do justice to Davis’s reputation as the “lobbyist for despots.”  According to a 2010 article in the NY Times:

  • Since leaving the White House, Mr. Davis has built a client list that now includes coup supporters in Honduras, a dictator in Equatorial Guinea, for-profit colleges accused of exploiting students, and a company that dominates the manufacture of additives for infant formula. This month, he agreed to represent the Ivory Coast strongman whose claims to that country’s presidency have been condemned by the international community and may even set off a civil war.”

Despite Davis’s promiscuous resume, you allowed him to piously declare that he would not represent Donald Sterling.  According to him, Sterling has “no clue how bad he is and there is no crisis manager in the world who can help him other than a physician who would advise him mentally.”  How about pushing Davis to explain why third-world despots deserve representation, but Sterling doesn’t?

When you raised the issue of violated privacy, you actually led Lanny into excusing the violation because Sterling is not a private person, but rather owns an NBA team, “which is a public institution with a significant number of African-Americans.  He is a racist and a bigot….  He ought to just sell the team and be quiet and go off and be a bigot somewhere quietly.”  Normally, you don’t allow sanctimonious blowhards to pontificate on your show.

Immediately following his pontification, you segued to Monica Lewinsky, and Davis shockingly said that it is unfortunate to have to regurgitate this matter because “a lot of people made some very bad mistakes.  President Clinton publically owned up to his mistakes. We all have these types human weaknesses.  I just feel sorry that it’s back again.  I hope she’s able to move on with her life.”  Surely, there has never been anyone more set up to be knocked off his high horse.

In the span of a few minutes, Davis had argued that Sterling had no right to privacy because he owned an NBA team and because of the bigotry expressed in a private conversation, he should crawl into a hole and die.  By contrast, with respect to Bill Clinton, who procured oral sex from a young intern in the Oval Office, we should all forgive and forget.  Instead of blasting this bullshit out of the water, you meekly moved onto the next topic on your talking points – some crisis about an anti-gay Sultan owning a hotel in California.

We all have off days, and we can blame it on Dolly.

Here’s to better days ahead,


Mike Kueber

San Antonio

May 13, 2014

The NFL draft and an open letter to Stephen A. Smith

Filed under: Culture,Media,Sports — Mike Kueber @ 7:41 pm
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News about the NFL draft this week was dominated by two picks – Johnny Manziel dropping to #22 in the first round to the Cleveland Browns and Michael Sam dropping to #249 in the seventh round to the St. Louis Rams.

Sam’s selection was noteworthy because he is the first openly-gay athlete to become a part of the NFL, but he has drawn increased attention because of his televised kiss on the mouth of his boyfriend after learning of his draft selection.  Although an ESPN pundit suggested that the public should expect Sam to focus on trying to make the Rams’s team and not to be a gay-rights activist, Sam’s televised conduct suggests that he is more than willing to be such an activist.

The media initially reacted in support of Sam, almost with the same unanimity that it attacked Donald Sterling for his racial comments.  And the NFL solidified this political correctness when the Miami Dolphins suspended a player who questioned whether it was appropriate for ESPN to replay the male-on-male kissing scene hundreds of times a day.

Stephen A. Smith, host of ESPN’s First Take, however, suggested that the Dolphins had been heavy-handed in discouraging free speech, especially when that speech was consistent with mainstream Christian beliefs.  But he also suggested that Sam had dropped to the seventh round in the draft because NFL clubs were concerned that he would be a distraction.

Well, I think Smith was wrong and he was right, so I decided to send him some email feedback:

  • Stephen A., I thought you were dead-on accurate in your comments about the Dolphin penalty for a player expressing his displeasure for the repeated showing of the Sam kiss. You had just the right balance and tolerance. But I think you overstated the gay rationale for Sam being drafted in the 7th round. Even though Sam was the SEC co-defensive player of the year, a resume of being a great college player is no guarantee of high draft status. Ask Gino Torretta, a Heisman winner (1992) who was also drafted late in the 7th round. Or Jason White (2003), a Heisman winner who was undrafted.”

May 6, 2014

Race and political correctness

Filed under: Culture,Law/justice — Mike Kueber @ 8:56 pm

Toyota recently moved its American headquarters from California to a Dallas suburb, Plano.  According to a columnist for the Dallas Observer, Toyota ostensibly chose Plano over Dallas because Dallas schools were not good enough, but the columnist went on to suggest that there were actually other reasons that went unstated because they were politically incorrect and even racist.  The reasons were as follows:

  • We didn’t want to locate in Dallas because there are too many poor people there, and our employees don’t like being close to that many poor people.
  • We thought about Dallas, but there seem to be way too many people of color there.
  • We drove around and looked at kids on the playgrounds during recess, and we could hardly see any white kids.
  • Our employees don’t want to hear Mexican music in the parks.


  • We feel more comfortable in the shops and restaurants in Plano, because the whole scene is just so much whiter and richer, and when you do run into minorities, they’re dressed like rich white people.

Although the columnist might be correct in suggesting these underlying factors played a role in Toyota’s decision, my reaction is “so what.”

Since when is a company supposed to select a location surrounded by poverty and crime?  The city of San Antonio did that when it built its basketball/rodeo area in east San Antonio, and everyone knows how that turned into a snafu.

Since when is a company supposed to place its employees in a location where they will be a cultural and ethnic minority?  Government may extol the virtues of diversity, but as a practical, personal matter people don’t want to affirmatively act to artificially create it.

Coincidentally, the Donald Sterling issue also centers on the preference of people to associate with their own class or race.  In the recording that prompted his team being confiscated, Sterling didn’t directly disparage African-Americans; rather he instructed his girlfriend to quit bringing them to his basketball games or posting photos with them.

Obviously, America has a long ways to go before it comes to terms with racism, and political correctness hinders the progress.  Instead of political correctness, frank discussion like that from the columnist at the Dallas is helpful, even though he is terribly misguided.



May 3, 2014

Bragging on your kids

Filed under: Culture,Education,Philosophy — Mike Kueber @ 7:09 pm

Recently one of my Facebook friends posted – “I don’t brag often but when I do it’s about my kids!”  Past experience has taught me to tread carefully when dealing with a Palin-esque mama grizzly on Facebook (one unfriended my when I challenged her brag that single mothers had raised the past two Democratic presidents), but I decided to assume that this friend was not merely fishing for compliments.  The first three comments had already encouraged my friend to keep on bragging when I offered the following contrary mindset:

  • I’m not sure when that became popular; when I was growing up, that was considered undignified.”

Several hours later, my friend “liked” my comment, but this morning I woke up to a short response – “[frown] Mike.”  This response prompted me to dig a little deeper into the internet before responding as follows:

  • I’m obviously outnumbered and probably outdated, but when I googled, ‘Is it good to brag about your kids,’ the first few entries, including WebMD and Parenting, consistently opined that it was a bad idea.”

The WebMD article, titled “Dealing With Bragging Parents,” was especially informative:

  • All this child-centered bragging, despite its patent violation of the social ideals of modesty and respect for others, may be, says University of Pennsylvania sociologist Annette Lareau, PhD, an outgrowth of the hothouse style of parenting that pervades our culture. Lareau, who has studied the habits and behaviors of contemporary families, calls this approach “concerted cultivation.” She says it’s a way middle-class parents tend to see “parenting as a project,” something to be managed and organized and programmed. “There’s a way in which an activity is more intense for the mother than it is even for the child,” says Lareau. “And the competitive nature of activities is woven into the heart of the process.”
  • Focus on Child, Not Accomplishments. That’s why, says psychiatrist Alvin Rosenfeld, MD, co-author of The Over-Scheduled Child: Avoiding the Hyper-Parenting Trap, it’s important to concentrate on the whole child. “Many focus on their children’s achievements, rather than getting to know their kids as individuals,” says Rosenfeld. “The dilemma is when kids become valued only for their accomplishments — or when they live up to your fantasies of what they ought to accomplish — not for who they are as people.”


  1. Model the behavior you want your kids to develop. “If they see and hear you bragging, that’s the behavior they’ll emulate,” says Alvin Rosenfeld, MD.
  2. Remember the basics of social etiquette. Don’t be a braggart. Remember also that you don’t know about other family’s struggles and challenges. The parent you’re telling about your child’s athletic accomplishments, for example, may have a child with a physical disability.
  3. Focus on who your children are as people rather than their latest test score. “We rarely hear the simple praise, ‘He is such a good (or good-hearted) kid,'” says Rosenfeld.
  4. Restrict talk about your child’s successes and talents to the child’s other parent, grandparents, and aunts and uncles. Just like you, these people know your child is the smartest, bravest, best child on earth.

(Incidentally, a different website defines hot-house parenting as “Deadly Parenting Style 2: Incubator ‘Hothouse’ Parenting – Pushing your kids into learning earlier than appropriate for their cognitive age and developmental level.”)

My Facebook friend has not further responded, but I’m glad that she prompted me to look a little deeper and I hope she is doing the same.

May 2, 2014

Brooks and Friedman cross swords

Filed under: Culture,Education,Philosophy — Mike Kueber @ 8:55 pm
Tags: ,

Columnist David Brooks of the NY Times, a so-called thoughtful conservative, is my favorite columnist, along with Charles Krauthammer of the Washington Post.  Brooks authored a column this week titled Love Story that exemplifies why I am a fan of his.

Love Story describes a one-night, wartime encounter in 1945 between Isaiah Berlin and Anna Akhmatova.  During an all-night conversation-cum-encounter, they went from discussing their personal histories to sharing their philosophical leanings to finally revealing their innermost feelings – i.e., “baring their souls….  That night, Berlin’s life came as close as it ever did to the still perfection of art.”

The Berlin/Akhmatova encounter reminds me much of the one I described in a blogpost concerning Michael Novak and Gabriel Marcel:

  • The first night that Novak met Marcel, the philosopher generously spent much of the evening talking to Novak and even read to him extensively from a favorite play, The Funeral Pyre. At the end of the evening, Marcel said to Novak – ‘Tonight, I think we had an encounter. I think so. Don’t you?’”

The blogpost also quoted Novak on Marcel’s philosophy regarding such encounters:

  • Marcel brought new light to daily experiences, such as recognizing the ‘presence’ of other persons and ‘encounter’ with another person – in other words, not just a passing, inattentive moment with another human being, but something more. He drew attention to the difference between sitting between two people on the subway for an hour – treating them without recognition or interest or attention – and the act of having a memorable exchange of personal qualities.”

In his column, David Brooks suggests that this sort of encounter is less likely in current times:

  • Today we live in a utilitarian moment. We’re surrounded by data and fast-flowing information. ‘Our reason has become an instrumental reason,’ as Leon Wieseltier once put it, to be used to solve practical problems.”
  • “The night Berlin and Akhmatova spent together stands as the beau ideal of a different sort of communication. It’s communication between people who think that the knowledge most worth attending to is not found in data but in the great works of culture, in humanity’s inherited storehouse of moral, emotional and existential wisdom.”
  • “Berlin and Akhmatova were from a culture that assumed that, if you want to live a decent life, you have to possess a certain intellectual scope. You have to grapple with the big ideas and the big books that teach you how to experience life in all its richness and make subtle moral and emotional judgments.”
  • “Berlin and Akhmatova could experience that sort of life-altering conversation because they had done the reading. They were spiritually ambitious. They had the common language of literature, written by geniuses who understand us better than we understand ourselves.”

Coincidentally, another New York Times columnist, Thomas Friedman, recently seemed to write in favor of the “utilitarian moment” and against “people who think that the knowledge most worth attending to is not found in data but in the great works of culture, in humanity’s inherited storehouse of moral, emotional and existential wisdom.”  Friedman’s column, titled “How to Get a Job at Google” and relying heavily on an interview with a Google HR person, suggests that “the No. 1 thing we look for general cognitive ability, and it’s not I.Q. It’s learning ability. It’s the ability to process on the fly. It’s the ability to pull together disparate bits of information.

So, what is the best indicator of cognitive ability?  A follow-up Friedman column, titled “How to Get a Job at Google, Part 2,” again based on an interview with the Google HR guy, revealed the following:

  • Of course, we want an informed citizenry, where everyone has a baseline of knowledge from which to build skills. That is a social good. But, he added, don’t just go to college because you think it is the right thing to do and that any bachelor’s degree will suffice.” (I love it when someone starts a sentence with a noble statement before getting to the “but.”)
  • Once there, said Bock, make sure that you’re getting out of it not only a broadening of your knowledge but skills that will be valued in today’s workplace. Your college degree is not a proxy anymore for having the skills or traits to do any job.” (I.e., college as a training school.)
  • What are those skills or traits? One is grit, he said. Shuffling through résumés of some of Google’s 100 hires that week, Bock explained: ‘I was on campus speaking to a student who was a computer science and math double major, who was thinking of shifting to an economics major because the computer science courses were too difficult. I told that student they are much better off being a B student in computer science than an A+ student in English because it signals a rigor in your thinking and a more challenging course load. That student will be one of our interns this summer  (Friedman and Google obviously have a low opinion of English, the humanities, and the social sciences, where an A+ does not necessarily reflect any cognitive ability, but a B in computer science does.)

I believe that the primary function of college is not to prepare its students for a Google interview, but rather, as Brooks suggests, to prepare them to “grapple with the big ideas and the big books that teach you how to experience life in all its richness and make subtle moral and emotional judgments.”

I think Brooks has got this one right.

May 1, 2014

Donald Sterling

Filed under: Culture,Law/justice,Sports — Mike Kueber @ 12:01 am

Last night, I started to write about the Donald Sterling matter.  I began my post as follows:

  • The NBA announced today that Donald Sterling, because of his racist comments, would be banned from the league for life and fined $2.5 million. As a staunch opponent of political correctness, my reaction is that the punishment is too harsh.

But when I attempted to go forward with an argument, I became queasy about defending the indefensible.  So I left a bunch of verbiage on the drawing board and went to bed.  Then this morning, I awoke to my daughter-in-law posting a harsh comment on Facebook about Sterling, and that was all I needed to engage my defense-lawyer sensibilities:

Heather Townsend Kueber – Been out of the loop the last few days. I just found out about the Sterling/Clippers owner horrific statements. I’m speechless. Just speechless. How do people like this exist?

Elizabeth Fager – Between him, the idiot in Nevada making racist comments, and Phyllis Schlafly saying women shouldn’t earn as much as men because then they will have a hard time finding a husband to take care of them…..I feel like I have somehow taken a time capsule back to the 1950s!

Mike Kueber – Sterling told his girlfriend that he didn’t like her hanging out with black people in public. I suspect there are lots of people of all races who prefer to live segregated social lives.

Heather Townsend Kueber – Mike she is half black! I listened to the tape. When she told him, he didn’t even know that.  Then he proceeded to say that he gives them money for food and shelter (referring to his players). Umm…they make you money dude. They earn money. Not a hand out. And if you want to live segregated, fine. Don’t know a NBA team!!!

Mike Kueber – Lots of employers feel like they are doing their employees a favor by giving them a job.

Heather Townsend Kueber Do you think the NBA did the right thing?

Lavada Figueroa It is also surprising to me that there are people like his mistress. She knew he was a racist and still dated him. I don’t care how much money is in it, I could never kiss that man’s face. Lol

Katie Schneider Goetz I’m glad he’s being punished so harshly. Just b/c he’s old and grew up in a different era doesn’t make it okay. Discrimination of any kind based on something you can’t change (race, sexual orientation, gender, age), has no place in a country that needs people of all kinds to be successful.

Mike Kueber I agree with Mark Cuban’s initial point that this is a slippery slope when you start shifting the NBA from a collection of powerful eccentric owners into a politically-correct corporation. Old self-made men, like Red McCombs talking about UT coach Charlie Strong, are not wired to act and sound like corporate puppets. As corporate as UT has become, I’m surprised that it didn’t decide to disassociate itself from McCombs after his comments on the hiring of Strong, but I guess UT athletics is too dependent on his money and the money of other self-made eccentric men. Obviously, the NBA doesn’t need Silver, and his fellow owners have decided to cut him loose.

Mike Kueber Katie, there is a difference between discrimination in employment, housing, etc. and discrimination in your social life. Obviously, Sterling did not discriminate in hiring because almost all of his players are black and his long-time GM Elgin Baylor was black. Baylor produced two winning records in 22 years and then sued Sterling for racial discrimination when he was finally fired and Baylor lost his case 12-0 to a jury. But many people of all races in this country often choose to socialize with their same race, and I don’t think we should demonize all of them.

Katie Schneider Goetz Being old, self-made and eccentric doesn’t make it okay to be a racist and that’s what he is. Forbidding your mistress from associating w/ black people is sooooo different from just choosing to socialize w/ your same race.

Diana Patricia Pereda I too hate that he made those comments but what everyone seems to be overlooking is this “lady’s” planned recordings in his own home. THAT I don’t agree with at all. He didn’t make a public statement of his obviously ignorant views. He was speaking to someone he trusted and regardless of his stupidity it was in private. She’s an opportunist. Clear and simple and to be honest if every single one of us were to be recorded in the privacy of our own home and speaking to our spouse and/or significant other I’m sure every single one of us has said something we’re not so proud of and what if we lost our job from it? I know he’s filthy rich and that’s not going to affect his livelihood however things like this set a precedence for the future and that is something that’s not cool.

Mike Kueber I believe the tape reveals that Sterling didn’t even forbid his mistress from associating with black people. In fact, he said she could socialize with them. But he insisted that she not do it in public – i.e., Instagram photos or taking them to his basketball games.

Mike Kueber Diana, the recordings were also illegal in CA. With all of the 24/7 coverage of this matter, you’d think the media would also examine how this guy received NAACP awards. These are two scandals that have received scant attention.

Michael Arrandale Arnold I agree with you Mike because there is a little thing we were all given by our fore fathers called free speech and even though I am most people in this country (I hope) find what he said offensive, he has a right to say it. I wasn’t aware that this was a recording that his girlfriend made without his knowledge and since California requires both parties to agree to be recorded (am I interpreting what you said about that correctly Mike?) then she should be held liable for any damages she has caused him. I agree with the statements Mark Cuban made on this and feel that the NBA overstepped their boundaries by banning him for life. It would be interesting to see if they could be held liable for any monetary loses of him being banned because of a recording that could not even be admissible in court. I’m not by any means agreeing with what the man said and find it repulsive but that is beside the point here. He is an American and that gives him certain liberties that we all enjoy.

John Braswell The interesting thing to keep in mind here is that freedom of speech and freedom of association cut both ways. He is free to say what he likes, and the NBA is free to decide that they no longer want to associate with him. When people get upset at private companies for “censoring” free speech by not renewing or ending a contract they are forgetting that the first amendment only protects our right to speak freely from government restriction, not the repercussions of saying something that is dumb and going to get you in trouble.

Mike Kueber John, that was exactly my point. In the past, the NBA owners were pretty much free to run their club as they wanted; just like you running your business. If your customers (i.e., the fans) didn’t like the way you ran your business (or the way you run your mouth), they were free to take their business elsewhere. This Sterling ban signifies that these so-called owners people don’t really own a business, but rather they have an emasculated franchise that can be taken away at the whim or caprices of the commissioner or the other franchisees. If I were an owner, I wouldn’t like being emasculated, but I also wouldn’t like the discredit that Sterling brings to their Association. If I had been an owner, I would have lobbied for a less draconian penalty, something like a 5-year suspension.

Mike Kueber Michael, yes California is one of those states that prohibit secret recordings in that all parties being recorded must be aware of it. So, the girlfriend could easily be liable for incalculable damages, but obviously she will not have the resources to…See More

Heather Townsend Kueber But you know…when you own a NBA team your not really a “private” business owner. You become a public figure. If you don’t like it then go into business doing something else. Often times as a public figure you have to pay publicly for your the sins you commit in your private life. It just is. Some get run through the mud for just the fact of having a mistress.  I think the mistress/GF should be charged criminally. But I’m still glad Sterling was punished as harshly as he was. The NBA is such a huge part of American culture and our society doesn’t have to tolerate evil racism anymore.

Lavada Figueroa I’ve read in a few articles that she recorded him on many occasions, and he was aware of it. He considered her an “archivist”. Therefore, I’m not sure that she can get into any legal trouble.

Heather Townsend Kueber Interesting Lavada

John Braswell Kareem had an interesting take on the issue.

Marshall Britt I’d add that the Clippers organization is not a business on it’s own, and that the NBA is the business, and it allows the franchises to operate within it. If there were no league, the profit wouldn’t exist.. Having said that, John is entirely correct, Sterling is absolutely allowed to make those comments, and the NBA is allowed to disassociate with him (especially considering that 80% + of the league is African American.) That same freedom extends to me as a citizen when I call Donald Sterling a racist old wrinkled bastard who the world can do without, extending that statement to anyone who agrees with his sentiments, as associations SOLELY based on race are that of racist people.  On the point of her being charged, she could very simply claim she was recording it due to the domestic issues they had, and claim it was simply evidence that he was racist which is why she left.. I think if the history of the rulings out of CA has shown much, it’s that they are relatively liberal, and more than certainly will excuse her behavior.

Mike Kueber Marshall, your bigotry against old wrinkled people is disgusting. I have half a mind to publicize that. Oops, you already did.

Marshall Britt “racist old wrinkled bastard” is 4 adjectives explaining a single subject. Were I to meet anyone that fits all 4, I certainly would have no objections to telling them exactly how I felt about them. However you are correct, one can be the former without being any of the latter, so I admit that was simply for effect, I in fact love old wrinkly bastards of all kinds.. I hate racists of any kind.  Those are the kind of public declarations that we need, rather than ones of hate based on genetics.

Mike Kueber Marshall, good thing you don’t own a team because we old, wrinkled bastards would either be starting a boycott or, better yet, insisting that you be expelled from the league. Seriously, though, you just proved how someone in private can easily say something that they don’t mean. We say all sorts of things “simply for effect.” If the league wants to try this guy for racism, then do it without having a kangaroo court that seems to be based solely on the illegal recording.

Marshall Britt Meh, it’s a White guy who owns a team of Black men.. The NBA is simply another form of human ownership when you really consider it.. The large majority of the ownership is smart enough to not make racist remarks while literally having control over every aspect of player’s lives.. It’s been a common topic of discussion among my sports minded friends and I, the NFL and NBA are purchased humans who often have a ridiculously poor quality of life within 5 years of exiting the leagues. ESPN 30 for 30 “Broke” is about that particular phenomenon.  Statistically I don’t think a poor statement about wrinkled old white men would garner much attention. White people kinda had 200 years of unchecked aggression against minorities. Beyond that, I do not own any other human beings, and was speaking specifically about Donald Sterling, not “all old wrinkled bastards on instagram…” These kinds of rants are what happen when racist people get old enough to forget the brain to mouth filter. Al Davis (Late owner of the Raiders) Had a famously racist rant in the late 80’s, however the power of internet and media is far stronger now and demands immediate reaction. I see why you have issue with it Mike, but I think there are very few ways a person can defend him (or deplore the NBA’s actions) without seeming to agree with what he has said in some sense..

Mike Kueber As a lawyer, I see a major difference between defending someone against a lynch mob and agreeing with him. I wonder why no one attempted to force Red McCombs out of the UT athletic program even though his comments about Charlie Strong were arguably more racist than Sterling’s. A defendant’s popularity should not determine what sort of justice is meted out.

Marshall Britt The NBA is not a court of Law. The bylaws allow for the governors to remove an owner if 29 agree that his ownership is degrading the quality or legitimacy of the league. The bylaw was arguably meant to help prevent collusion between franchises, but in this case, the wording certainly allows for the to legally remove him from his position. Last I checked Red McCombs is money and gets to go to dinner occasionally, he does not own, and is rarely involved in any decisions, which is why he whined about Charlie Strong. He was also dismissed as a senile old racist, it’s just far more common to hear those folks run their mouths in Texas vs. Los Angeles.  This isn’t a public lynching, the NBA decided he is bad for their brand, he will alienate a large portion of their base in the largest market the NBA has.. The weighed public opinion and made a decision based on what is best for their league.. Mike I’d put it this way, if you owned a large number of McDonald’s Franchises, and publicly denounced, or insulted a racial group, McDonald’s has every right to discontinue your franchise rights.. I realize it’s not exactly the same, but the principal holds true..

Marshall Britt I think this article from bleacher report shows just how poor a decision NOT banning Sterling would have been.. The playoffs wouldn;t be on right now..


In the fine tradition of Bill O’Reilly, I think I will give Marshall the last word.

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