Mike Kueber's Blog

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
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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.

April 20, 2014

Dan Patrick’s invasion

Filed under: Culture,Issues,Law/justice,People,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 5:29 pm
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Lite-guv candidate Dan Patrick has been criticized extensively in the media for comparing illegal immigration in America to an invasion. Before discussing the merits of that criticism, it might be helpful to ascertain the meaning on the term.

According to one of the most definitive dictionaries in America, Merriam-Webster, there are three alternatives:

  1. to enter (a place, such as a foreign country) in order to take control by military force
  2. to enter (a place) in large numbers
  3. to enter or be in (a place where you are not wanted)

How can anyone argue that definitions 2 and 3 aren’t perfectly fitting? There are an estimated 1.65 million illegal immigrants in Texas and 11-12 million illegal immigrants in America. Those are large numbers. And, despite the sentiments of liberal and conservative scofflaws, these people are living in the shadows because they are living here illegally, so it’s hard to argue that they are wanted.

Case closed.


April 16, 2014

Dan Patrick and Julian Castro debate illegal immigration

Filed under: Culture,Issues,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 6:04 pm
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Last night, Dan Patrick and Julian Castro debated illegal immigration. According to most of the pundits and experts, they debated to a draw or a slight Castro victory. I disagree, and told them so.

Local blogger Greg Brockhouse posted a lengthy analysis in his blog, and I commented as follows to his blogpost:

  • Greg, I disagree with your ‘fair and impartial’ statement that Castro won the debate. To the contrary, Patrick staked out a winning position on illegal immigration – i.e., he is not in favor of deporting the 11 million illegal immigrants, but he is also not in favor of granting them citizenship or continuing magnets for future illegal immigration. By contrast, Castro staked out a losing position – i.e., a path to citizenship and continuing the magnets. Also, I don’t know how you conclude that LVP is the Dem with the winnable statewide race. She is just another in the long line of amazingly weak candidates the Dems have placed near the top of their ticket, and her numbers reflect that. Just because SA wags and pundits may know her personally, that doesn’t provide her with statewide gravitas. Although Castro had a plethora of cringe-inducing, smarmy moments, my favorite was when he boasted that Patrick would be unable to handle LVP if he couldn’t even handle Castro. I suspect Castro thought he was being generous to LVP, but instead he revealed his smug arrogance.

Local TPR journalist David Martin Davies published a summary of the debate on Texas Public Radio website, and I commented as follows:

  • I haven’t followed Patrick until last night, so I don’t know if his position against deporting (or self-deporting) 11 million illegal immigrants is new, but it certainly takes some wind out of the sails of Dems on this issue. In its place, the Dems are left to argue in favor of amnesty and magnets like sanctuary cities.

And finally, Gilbert Garcia wrote about the debate in his column in the Express-News titled, “Castro’s boldness made Patrick cautious.” In response to the column, I suggested as follows:

  • I thought both guys defended their positions well and I would be amazed if either converted a single voter. But Patrick probably benefited most by ameliorating the common perception of him as a radical.”

I have previously written that the Castro brothers are not ready for primetime.  Based on last night’s performance, I believe Julian remains unready, but Dan Patrick surely is.  We have not heard the last of him.


April 13, 2014

Race and sports

Filed under: Culture,Sports — Mike Kueber @ 12:14 pm
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A couple of weeks ago, a 40-year-old major-league baseball (MLB) pitcher named LaTroy Hawkins authored a “Point After” column in Sports Illustrated titled “Pitching Changes.” In the column, Hawkins described changes that this seasoned player would like to see with America’s pastime.

The first change recommended by Hawkins was to send underperforming umps down to the minors. This would be analogous to my longtime suggestion to send underperforming MLB franchises down to the minors. That is the way a meritocracy is supposed to work.

The most provocative change suggested by Hawkins was for MLB to take affirmative action to correct the underrepresentation of blacks in baseball. Although most people in the mainstream are not aware of it, African-Americans comprise less than 10% of MLB rosters. This contrasts remarkably with the NBA, which is 78% African American. And most of the non-black NBA players are white non-Americans. Indeed, you can probably count on your fingers the number of white Americans that play NBA basketball.

As Vince Lombardi famously yelled, “What the hell’s going on out here?”

Talking about race and sports has been politically incorrect ever since Jimmy the Greek in 1988 was fired from his TV job for speculating on why blacks were better athletes than whites:

  • The black is a better athlete to begin with because he’s been bred to be that way, because of his high thighs and big thighs that goes up into his back, and they can jump higher and run faster because of their bigger thighs and he’s bred to be the better athlete because this goes back all the way to the Civil War when during the slave trade … the slave owner would breed his big black to his big woman so that he could have a big black kid.”

The political correctness at that time was so suffocating that Hollywood in 1992 tried to provide some fresh air with a Woody Harrelson and Wesley Snipes movie titled White Men Can’t Jump. But the movie was unable to ameliorate the self-censorship, and just a couple of weeks ago I heard the irreverent Don Imus comment on the shocking number of whites playing for the Wisconsin Badgers in the NCAA Final Four and then asking whether that was a racist comment. His black sidekick Tony Richmond absolved him of any guilt by noting that Imus was merely observing a fact and that is not racist. If only it were that simple.

Getting back to LaTroy Hawkins. Since it is apparently OK for him to bemoan the dearth of blacks in MLB baseball, I will question the dearth of American whites in NBA basketball. Why is it that there are so many white non-Americans playing in the NBA, but so few white Americans? This inquiring mind doesn’t know, but would like to know what smarter people think.

March 30, 2014

Sunday Book Review #130 – Reviving Ophelia

Filed under: Book reviews,Culture — Mike Kueber @ 7:29 am
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A few weeks ago, a hometown friend posted on her Facebook wall a poster about bossy young girls. In the poster, Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg admonished people for characterizing young girls as bossy. Instead, she suggested that we praise them for having leadership skills.

My brother Kelly and I got into a protracted exchange with three female friends from Aneta’s class of ’72 about the poster. We argued that bossy is not a sexist term, but rather is one reserved for people, male or female, who are “given to ordering people about; overly authoritative; domineering.” Who would want a daughter (or son) to be like that? Our female friends disagreed and suggested that the term was generally used by men who wanted to keep women subservient and docile. In the end, we agreed to disagree, but one friend suggested that my thinking might be changed if I read Reviving Ophelia by Mary Pipher. I promised to give it a try.

Reviving Ophelia is a 1994 book subtitled “Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls.” The author Mary Pipher is a lifelong clinical psychologist. She is six years older than me (making her 66), and she grew up in a small town America remarkably similar to mine. Her hometown had 400 people (so did mine), and “As Garrison Keillor said, ‘Nobody gets rich in a small town because everybody’s watching.’ Money and conspicuous consumption were downplayed in my community. Some people were wealthier than others, but it was bad taste to flaunt a high income.” Her mom was a doctor and her dad sold corn and raised hogs. She seemed to have the same idyllic childhood that I did.

One of Pipher’s principal points is that growing up in the 50s is a different world than growing up in the 90s, and she spends an entire chapter contrasting that difference. But her larger point is that growing up as a female in the 90s is immeasurably more difficult for girls than for boys. Whereas boys are encouraged to be all they can be, girls are pressured to suppress who they really and naturally are, and are instead channeled to become the broadly accepted model of femininity – i.e., pretty, thin, not too smart, not too assertive.  Girls do all of this for the purpose of receiving the approval of boys and men, which is  paradoxical because, according to Pipher, culture in general and boys and men in particular are often misogynists.

When I read the Wikipedia entry about Reviving Ophelia, I learned that Pipher’s larger point about the girl/boy distinction has been rejected by some:

  • However, studies, such as The Gender Similarities Hypothesis, challenge the assertion that the self-esteem of girls is more significantly reduced at the beginning of adolescence than for boys.”

Even if Pipher’s point were true in 1994, I question whether it remains valid. There has been a plethora of studies and articles in recent years showing that young girls are doing better than young boys. Most of society is rooting for girls to be all they can be (notwithstanding the numerous Neanderthals amongst us), while boys are left to wonder what is left of their masculine role.

Getting back to my three female friends, I believe Reviving Ophelia provides strong support for their thesis, especially as applied to their daughters. But it also tends to suggest that these problems weren’t as severe when they were growing up in small-town America in the 60s. And the author’s views are clearly outdated in 2014 because, I believe, boys have just as much trouble dealing with societal expectations as girls do.

Incidentally, Ophelia was a girl in Hamlet who was a happy and free young girl but in adolescence lost herself while trying to please the love of her life, Hamlet, and her father. “When Hamlet spurns her because she is an obedient daughter, she goes mad with grief. Dressed in elegant clothes that weigh her down, she drowns in a stream filled with flowers.” Pipher feels that adolescent girls of the 90s were similarly afflicted, and she often makes the contrast between the strength of pre-adolescence girls and afflicted adolescent girls.

This was a very enjoyable book, with numerous common-sense, non-academic insights (and generalizations), such as the following taken from a few pages in the first chapter:

  • Most preadolescent girls are marvelous company because they are interested in everything – sports, nature, people, music and books…. They can be androgynous, having the ability to act adaptively in any situation regardless of gender role constraints…. Girls between seven and eleven rarely come to therapy. They don’t need it…. Something dramatic happens to girls in early adolescence. Just as plane and ships disappear mysteriously into the Bermuda Triangle, so do the selves of girls go down in droves…. Girls know they are losing themselves…. Simone de Beauvoir believed adolescence is when girls realize that men have the power and that their only power comes from consenting to become submissive adored objects…. Girls become female impersonators who fit their whole selves into small, crowded spaces…. This gap between girls’ true selves and cultural prescriptions for what is properly female creates enormous problems. To paraphrase a Steven Smith poem about swimming in the sea, ‘they are not waving, they are drowning.’… Margaret Mead believed that the ideal culture is one in which there is a place for every human gift…. Stendhal wrote, ‘All geniuses born women are lost to the public good.’”

I agree with Mead’s standard, but I disagree with Stendhal. Pipher quoted Stendhal not only in the introductory chapter, but also in the last paragraph in the last chapter in the book:

  • I quoted Stendhal in Chapter One: ‘All geniuses born women are lost to the public good.’ Some ground has been gained since he said that, and some lost. Let’s work toward a culture in which there is a place for every human gift, in which children are safe and protected, women are respected, and men and women can love each other as who human beings.”

What Pipher didn’t say was when Stendhal said that. By referring to Wikipedia, I learned that Stendhal, a/k/a Marie-Henri Beyle, was a French writer who died in 1842. For Pipher to suggest that the role of women in society hasn’t improved significantly since the early 1800s is damaging to her credibility, even more than her characterization of our culture as misogynistic.






March 27, 2014

English-only ballots

Filed under: Culture,Issues,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 10:40 am
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One day I was reading about the naturalization requirements for becoming an American citizen. One of the requirements is, “Be able to read, write, and speak English and have knowledge and an understanding of U.S. history and government (civics).”

Then the following question dawned on me – if naturalized citizens must be English speaking, why is it that some election ballots are required to be multi-lingual?

My guess – the Supreme Court – turned out to be wrong. Instead this new example of government stupidity comes from the Voting Rights Act. According to a Department of Justice website,  Congress amended the Voting Rights Act in 1975 by adding Section 203, to require as follows:

  • “The law covers those localities where there are more than 10,000 or over 5 percent of the total voting age citizens in a single political subdivision who are members of a single minority language group, have depressed literacy rates, and do not speak English very well.”
  • “Determinations are based on data from the most recent Census, and the determinations are made by the Director of the Census.”

The problem with this formulation is that the first dot point refers to “citizens” while the second dot point refers to census data, which scrupulously avoids any citizenship-based data because it doesn’t want to scare off illegal immigrants. That scruple results in notorious redistricting based on number of residents instead of number of citizens. Based on section 203, it also results in Spanish ballots for residents who have no right to vote.

Only in America.

March 26, 2014

Citizens United and Americans for Prosperity

Filed under: Culture,Issues,Law/justice,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 6:53 pm
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When liberals wrung their hands over Citizens United (i.e., the Supreme Court free-speech decision that allows private groups to spend unlimited amounts of money trying to influence American politics), I initially pooh-poohed their concern in my blog, but later came to agree that this is an ominous development.  A recent article in the NY Times this week further reveals the danger of Citizens United.

The article reports on the Koch brothers’ favorite super-PAC, Americans for Prosperity. This PAC is dominating all other PACs in spending and is becoming super-sophisticated in manipulating the thinking of American voters.

On one hand, the manipulation is scary, but on the other hand it reminds me of when I was growing up there was a great concern that American consumers would soon be under the spell of Madison Avenue manipulators. (See Vance Packard’s “The Hidden Persuaders.”)

We survived Madison Avenue (I think), and maybe we will find a way to survive the Americans for Prosperity.

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