Mike Kueber's Blog

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.

September 30, 2014

Women in the Secret Service

Filed under: Culture,Fitness,Issues,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 7:00 pm
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Washington, D.C. is abuzz about the most recent Secret Service lapse. How could a man with a knife jump the White House fence, run 70 yards to the North Portico entrance, barge over a Secret Service agent guarding the front door, and finally run past the staircase and into the East Room before being tackled by an off-duty agent on his way home? Director Julia Pierson, a 30-year veteran of the agency and the first female director, spent the day being grilled by a House committee for this debacle.

According to an article in the NY Times:

  • In response to repeated questions about the recent intrusion, Ms. Pierson offered new details about the moments before Mr. Gonzalez was finally captured. She said he made his way through the unlocked front doors, “knocked back” an agent inside the building, and then fought with the agent as he continued through the Entrance Hall, turned left into the Cross Hall, got a few steps inside the East Room, and was finally tackled back in the Cross Hall, just outside the Green Room.

Although the incident is replete with obvious security lapses, including the unimpeded 70-yard dash and the unlocked front door, the one that no one has discussed is the fact that the agent at the front door who was “knocked back” and shoved aside was a women. The unexamined question – is it appropriate for a woman to serve in that role?

Women have been a part of the Secret Service as agents and uniformed personnel for over 40 years. More recently, women have been allowed to compete for positions in military combat units. (Read about Sage Santangelo’s unsuccessful attempt to become a Marine Corps infantry officer.)

But service by a woman in the President’s protective detail seems even more problematic, and this White House incident illuminates the problem. The man who breached the White House while brandishing a knife was eventually tackled by a man. At the Congressional hearing, according to the Times article, a congressman suggested that the intruder should have been shot before getting to the East Room:

  • Chaffetz angrily questioned Ms. Pierson about why the Secret Service had put out a statement that said its officers had exhibited “tremendous” restraint of force when the intruder breached the fence. He said that he wanted it to be “crystal clear if you dash at the White House we are going to take you down.” Mr. Chaffetz said that the Secret Service should take lethal action because even if intruders do not appear to be armed, they could be strapped with an explosive device or dirty bomb. Ms. Pierson responded that officers can only use lethal force if a person poses an imminent danger to themselves or others. She said that based on what had occurred, she believed that the officers had used proper restraint.

How the hell can Ms. Pierson say that the female agent at the front door of the White House, after being knocked aside by a knife-wielding intruder, showed proper restraint in not blasting the intruder?

More importantly, wouldn’t America and President Obama be better served by having a bulky guy guarding the front door, sort of like a barroom bouncer, or even better, like the offensive linemen that guard Peyton Manning? Those guys would be excused for tackling the intruder instead of plugging him.

September 27, 2014

The politically correct buffalo Stephen A. Smith

Filed under: Culture,Media — Mike Kueber @ 5:27 pm
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A Facebook friend recently posted a complaint about ESPN’s relatively excessive suspension of Bill Simmons:

  • Bill Simmons received a three week suspension by ESPN for criticizing Roger Goodell. That’s two weeks longer than Stephen A. Smith’s recent suspension. Apparently criticism of the NFL commissioner is worse than telling women not to provoke men if you don’t want to get hit.

I wasn’t familiar with Smith’s suspension, so I research it and learned that it was related to Ray Rice’s domestic assault on his then fiancée. Apparently, Rice’s fiancée, who eventually married him, claimed some responsibility for the assault by admitting that she provoked Rice. Smith merely elaborated on that point:

  • What I’ve tried to employ the female members of my family — some of who you all met and talked to and what have you — is that … let’s make sure we don’t do anything to provoke wrong actions, because if I come — or somebody else come, whether it’s law enforcement officials, your brother or the fellas that you know — if we come after somebody has put their hands on you, it doesn’t negate the fact that they already put their hands on you.

The politically-correct were outraged by Smith’s comment. ESPN’s Michelle Beadle led the charge against Smith by suggesting she would wear a mini-skirt to work, implying that Smith-type thinkers would feel provoked to rape her.

That’s crazy. Violence is often provoked by the ultimate victim, and Smith was merely treating women as equal to men for this character flaw. After taking heat for a few days, Smith bowed to the politically correct and apologized profusely:

  • On Friday, speaking right here on ‘First Take’ on the subject of domestic violence, I made what can only amount to the most egregious error of my career. My words came across that it is somehow a woman’s fault. This was not my intent. It is not what I was trying to say.

This case is another blatant example of the politically correct whining about “insensitive” conversation.

Emma Watson on feminism

Filed under: Culture — Mike Kueber @ 12:13 am
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A female Facebook recently posted a quote from Emma Watson on feminism, taken from a speech that Watson gave to the United Nations:

  • The more I spoke about feminism, the more I realized that fighting for women’s rights has too often become synonymous with man-hating. If there is one thing I know for certain is that this has to stop. For the record, feminism by definition is the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. It is the theory of political, economic and social equality of the sexes.” …. Both men and women should feel free to be sensitive. Both men and women should feel free to be strong. It is time that we all perceive gender on a spectrum, instead of two sets of opposing ideals.

As I further reflected on this matter, I recalled that singer Taylor Swift had taken a pro-feminist position a few weeks ago, and I decided to revisit her comments:

  • As a teenager, I didn’t understand that saying you’re a feminist is just saying that you hope women and men will have equal rights and equal opportunities. What it seemed to me, the way it was phrased in culture, society, was that you hate men. And now, I think a lot of girls have had a feminist awakening because they understand what the word means. For so long it’s been made to seem like something where you’d picket against the opposite sex, whereas it’s not about that at all.

In the parlance of politics, what we seem to have here are two talking points:

  1. Feminists want men and women to have equal rights and opportunities.
  2. Feminists don’t hate men.

But talking points seldom provide a thoughtful analysis, so after reading a text of Watson’s speech, I responded to my friend’s post as follows:

  • I agree with much of what Ms. Watson says – i.e., men and women should be free to be as sensitive or as strong as they prefer. And I agree with feminism as she defined it: “For the record, feminism by definition is the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities.” But she goes on to modify that definition by saying, “It is the theory of political, economic and social equality of the sexes.” Equal opportunity does not equate to equal results. Methinks most feminists want women to be as strong as men, and will not be satisfied until they pressure/ostracize feminine women who prefer being sensitive over being strong. And they will insist on quotas for all powerful positions.


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