Mike Kueber's Blog

April 10, 2014

Profiling – where are we now?

Filed under: Issues,Law/justice,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 7:23 pm

According to an article in today’s NY Times, the Obama administration has finally gotten around to broadening the anti-profiling rules guidelines President Bush implemented in 2003. The Bush guidelines were directed at race and ethnicity profiling and carved out common-sense exceptions for national security and border security.

An article in the Times earlier this year explained why the common-sense exceptions had to go:

  • The move addresses a decade of criticism from civil rights groups that say federal authorities have in particular singled out Muslims in counterterrorism investigations and Latinos for immigration investigations.

The new Obama guidelines expand the coverage to religion, gender, and sexual orientation, plus eliminate most of the national security exception. Because AG Eric Holder directed this broadening, he had no authority over the border-security guidelines of Homeland Security.

So at least Homeland Security, when dealing with illegal immigrants near the Mexican border, will be able to pay attention to whether an individual appears to be Mexican, but the FBI working counter-terrorism will not be able to pay heed to a gathering of Muslims from the Middle East.

Common sense be damned.

April 9, 2014

Gender pay gap

Filed under: Economics,Issues,Law/justice,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 11:56 pm

The issue of the week in D.C. seems to be the gender-pay gap. President Obama and the Democratic Party are up in arms because women earn only 77 cents for every dollar a man makes.  As reported by the Washington Post, President Obama expressed outrage over this inequity while loudly trumpeting two amazingly feeble actions:

  • President Obama will take two executive actions Tuesday aimed at narrowing the wage gap between men and women, forcing federal contractors to let their workers discuss their earnings with one another and to disclose more information about what their employees earn.”

I always assumed that gender pay inequity meant that women made less even though they had a similar job with similar education and experience. But today I read an article by my favorite analyst, Nate Silver, examining the relationship between a state’s gender pay equity and that state’s political philosophy (pro-Obama vs. pro-Romney), and he did his analysis merely by aggregating men and women, without regard to job, education or experience.  In fact, he even suggested that those differences might cause the gap:

  • “The gender pay gap has been the subject of hundreds of academic studies. These studies seek to sort out how much of it has to do with overt or implicit discrimination against women, as opposed to labor force characteristics that are not well accounted for by aggregate statistics. For example, the gender pay gap is narrower when measured by hourly rather than annual wages; that’s because women tend to work fewer hours than men. Men also tend to be concentrated in higher-paying industries. They may have more educational and work experience, and they may have higher-ranking positions within their organizations.”

Based on this caveat from Silver, I commented to a liberal friend on Facebook:

  • I didn’t realize the gender pay gap is based on aggregate numbers. All this time, I thought they were comparing men and women in the same jobs with similar education and experience. Is the Democratic Party suggesting that women should earn as much as men even if men are more experienced and better educated and have a better job?”

My friend suggested that, although Silver used aggregate numbers, perhaps other public-policy researchers tried to compare apples to apples, not apples to oranges. To confirm this, I simply returned to the WaPo article:

  • Obama and his aides often say that women earn 77 cents for every dollar men earn, which compares the annual earnings of women working full-time jobs over the course of a year with the earnings of men working the same amount of time. Some academics argue that the gap between the sexes is smaller if you account for a number of variables, including an employee’s length of time in the workforce, specific occupation and education level. Even the most conservative estimates, however, suggest that women earn 5 to 12 percent less for doing similar jobs as men.”

As usual, WaPo is too generous to the liberal ideology. Wikipedia provides a more balanced description of this issue:

  • The most basic way to look at differences in pay between the genders is to look at the median wages of men and women. However, this comparison is of limited usefulness because men and women exhibit very different characteristics for many of the factors that affect pay. For example, men tend to choose fields with higher average pay, and tend to work more hours per week. Because of these differences in order to determine what effect discrimination has upon the wages of men and women in the workplace the differences in career choices must be accounted for. The raw median wages of men and women are often used in misleading ways to inform public policy, without explaining the reasons behind the gap.
  • A study commissioned by the United States Department of Labor, concluded that “There are observable differences in the attributes of men and women that account for most of the wage gap. Statistical analysis that includes those variables has produced results that collectively account for between 65.1 and 76.4 percent of a raw gender wage gap of 20.4 percent, and thereby leave an adjusted gender wage gap that is between 4.8 and 7.1 percent.” The study also concluded that while in principle more of the wage gap could be explained by differences between the groups, the data that would be needed to account for additional factors were not available.
  • While the conclusions of the study commissioned by the United States Department of Labor regarding the adjusted wage gap are generally in agreement with other research, there is disagreement on what factors explain the remaining 5–7%. Some studies assert that the remaining gap is due to discrimination, while some others, such as the Department of Labor study above conclude otherwise. Many researchers also believe that the differences between the choices men and women make are actually a result of discrimination or social pressures, with women being discouraged from high paying fields, and men being discouraged from making choices such as prioritizing job satisfaction over pay.

Summary – despite President Obama’s political grandstanding, which even WaPo seemed to recognize, there is nothing here that requires significant government intervention. Ironically, though, I agree with the Executive Orders.  A couple of years ago, my brother Kelly and I got into a big argument regarding whether employees should share salary information. He is old-fashioned about the subject, but I think this type of information is critical to pay equity, regardless of your sex.

April 8, 2014

Sunday Book Review #131 – Social by Matthew Lieberman

Filed under: Book reviews — Mike Kueber @ 2:33 am
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Last week, one of my yoga instructors posted on Facebook a poster showing a multitude of thoughts that typical yogis have during savasana. For you non-yogis, savasana is the 5-minute period at the end of class when the practitioners are supposed to relax flat on their backs in the so-called corpse position and clear their minds, but as the poster suggests, many minds drift toward a wide variety of mundane subjects. I commented as follows on the posting:

  • Coincidentally, I’m reading a book titled Social that argues our brain is hard-wired to immediately shift to thinking about personal relationships whenever it isn’t being required to do any more important brain work (motor, memory, visual discrimination). The author believes the brain defaults to thinking about relationships because there is nothing more important to achieving a successful life. Interesting.”

So, although the book provides some support for the poster’s position that people don’t naturally shift into an empty-headed meditative state, it suggest that most of the thoughts would not involve hard-thinking, but rather would naturally gravitate toward personal relationships.

My Facebook comment was made after reading only the introductory chapters of the book. Sadly, the remainder of the book wasn’t as interesting because Lieberman pivoted into discussing the neuroscience that supported his introductory statements. The neuroscience, much reliant on a new technique called fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging), supported three ways that the human brain is wired to be social:

  1. Connection – Maslow’s pyramid is wrong because social needs often trump physiological and safety needs.
  2. Mindreading – a person’s brain probably spends more than 10,000 hours on trying to figure out how others think before it is ten-years old, thus more than satisfying Gladwell’s standard for achieving excellence.
  3. Harmonizing – the human brain has developed a natural tendency for getting along with those we encounter.

Lieberman also refers to other scientists who have done related work, including two whom I discussed years earlier in my blog:

  • Psychologist Daniel Pink in his book Drive discusses why American business needs to move away from the carrot-and-stick approach to motivation and shift toward jobs that satisfy a person’s innate psychological need for competence, autonomy, and relatedness. (During my City Council campaign, I was often asked at forums why I wanted the job, and I used Pink’s formulation – i.e, the job would challenge my abilities, afford me two years of complete autonomy, and consist of highly important work.)
  • Nobel Prize-winning economist Daniel Kahneman in his book Thinking Fast and Slow discusses how the brain tends to think quickly and instinctually with amazing success, but sometimes this leads to serious errors. Therefore, people need to train their brain in certain situations to override the quick, instinctual thinking and instead rely on analytical, thoughtful decision-making.

In his conclusion, Lieberman tries to apply his findings in practical ways to improve our personal lives, our work lives, and our failing schools. Unfortunately, he is a scientist and practical applications are not his forte.

Social is an important book, especially as a supplement to Pink’s and Kahneman’s.

April 6, 2014

Saturday Night at the Movies #108 – Gravity, 12 Years a Slave, and Homeland (season three)

Filed under: Movie reviews — Mike Kueber @ 10:17 pm
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My cable/internet bill with Time Warner has grown so much (over $160) that I recently called to cut back, but after a few minutes with their salesman, I left with an equally expensive package, but one that included HBO and Showtime for my viewing pleasure. My first order of business with these premium channels was to watch the inaugural season of True Detective with Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, and as I noted in my blog, that was time well spent.

My next order of business was to watch season three of Homeland. I had already watched and enjoyed the first two seasons, and this would bring me up to date. Unlike True Detective, season three of Homeland was hugely disappointing.

Part of my disappointment was probably due to Dagan McDowell failing to give a spoiler alert on Imus in the Morning a few months ago when she announced that Brody died in the last episode. Nothing ruins a series more than killing a popular, leading character – a la Game of Thrones, season one.

Even without McDowell spoiling the ending, I would not have enjoyed season three because Brody (Damian Lewis) had a much reduced role and the other star (Claire Danes as bi-polar Carrie) is entirely unappealing and getting more so each season. I thought bi-polar meant a person swings back and forth from manic to depressive, but Carrie is forever unstable and erratic and neurotic. I just want to get away from her. Mandy Patinkin as Saul has a much expanded role in season three, but, although he does well, he can’t salvage the Carrie carnage.

The other annoyance in season one is Brody’s daughter, Dana (played by Morgan Saylor). Way too much time is wasted on her difficult time in dealing with having a terrorist father. Who cares? (The series 24 also had a similar problem with Jack’s daughter. When she was integral to the story, she was fine, but when she was gratuitous to the story, she annoys.)

According to press reports, season four of Homeland will show up in the fall this year (each season has earned better ratings than the previous one), and it will revolve around Carrie. Although there are rumors that Brody will do a Lazarus, most people give that little credence, and without Brody, I don’t think this series survives.

12 Years a Slave (2013) tells the true story of a free black man in antebellum days being abducted in the north and then shipped south into slavery. It stars Chiwetel Ejiofor as the noble black man and a succession of evil white people, culminating with Michael Fassbender as his final owner. Lupita Nyong’o plays Ejiofor’s plantation love interest (she won a Supporting Oscar), and Brad Pitt in a minor role plays one of the few non-evil whites. Although the movie won the Best Picture Oscar, I think it fails as a drama. It reminds me of Oscar-nominated Captain Phillips, where you get the feeling that much of the middle of the movie is merely filling space instead of creating drama. I guess that’s a problem when the viewer knows the basic story arc from the beginning. The Rotten Tomato critics loved the movie at 97%, while the audience was at 91%. I give it only two and a half stars out of four.

I was warned by a friend that Gravity was disappointing, but I watched it with an open mind because it was a Best Picture nominee, plus I’ve always like George Clooney and Sandra Bullock.

My friend was right. Although the 90-minute film is characterized as a science-fiction thriller, so much of the action was so implausible (kind of like later episodes in the Die Hard series) that the viewer has to suspend all critical thinking. And with Clooney’s early disappearance from the screen, the viewer is left with a shallow Bullock in a massively truncated version of Tom Hanks in Castaway. I would have preferred the director taking an additional 30 minutes of filming to develop the characters and the drama. The Rotten Tomato critics give it a 97% score, with the audience less giddy at 83%. I give it only two and a half stars out of four.

April 2, 2014

More on PISA

Filed under: Education — Mike Kueber @ 10:26 pm
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A few weeks ago, I blogged about a book by Amanda Ripley titled The Smartest Kids in the World. In the book, Ripley described her study of why the kids in certain countries – Poland, South Korea, and Finland – appeared to be much better educated than American kids.

Ripley selected these countries based on their PISA scores.  PISA (Program for International Students Assessment) is a test of critical-thinking skills (not curriculum-centered knowledge) that translates fairly from one country to the next. The PISA results, as do many other test results, show American students to be mediocre in science and math and fairly strong in reading. But the PISA rankings are dominated by Finland, South Korea, and fast rising Poland.

A few days later, I blogged more specifically about the PISA and concluded by warning that, while the test was promising, the prospects for American achievement were not:

  • This 61-question test is so fascinating because it is directed toward the ability to use your education in a practical manner, your ability to engage effectively in the modern world. When people can use their critical thinking, our need for a nanny government is diminished. That is why Ripley and I are both worried for America.

Well, an article earlier this week in the NY Times suggests that maybe I was too pessimistic. According to the article, the PISA was expanded in 2012 to test not only reading, math, and science, but also problem-solving skills. And problem-solving appears to be an American forte:

  • The American students who took the problem-solving tests in 2012, the first time they were administered, did better on these exams than on reading, math and science tests, suggesting that students in the United States are better able to apply knowledge to real-life situations than perform straightforward academic tasks.”

The article went to great lengths to congratulate America on its problem-solving success:

  • The types of tasks that appeared on the problem-solving tests asked students to demonstrate practical thinking. At a basic level, for example, students might be asked to identify the cheapest lines of furniture in a catalog showing different brands. At a more advanced level, students could be asked to develop a process for figuring out why a particular electronic device was not working properly. American students were best at what the test writers described as ‘interactive’ tasks, in which students were asked to discover some of the information needed to solve the problem. ‘This suggests that students in the United States are open to novelty, tolerate doubt and uncertainty, and dare to use intuition to initiate a solution,’ the O.E.C.D. said in a statement.”

But the article also noted that, although American kids seemed especially skilled at problem-solving, they were not leading the pack:

  • Fifteen-year-olds in the United States scored above the average of those in the developed world on exams assessing problem-solving skills, but they trailed several countries in Asia and Europe as well as Canada, according to international standardized tests results released on Tuesday…. including Singapore, South Korea, Japan, several provinces of China, Canada, Australia, Finland and Britain all outperformed American students.”

I choose to see the glass as half full and look on this performance as something of a success that we can build on.

April 1, 2014

Aphorism of the Week #19 – If a tree falls in the forest….

Filed under: Aphorism — Mike Kueber @ 11:05 pm

If a tree falls in the forest but nobody is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

I always thought this in an interesting question because sound waves don’t have a physical manifestation. Thus, if there is nothing to detect the sound waves, it seemed to me that there was no sound in that vacuum. But during a recent conversation with my literate leprechaun Mike Callen, he pointed out that this riddle was actually philosophical nonsense in support of the broader proposition that nothing (even physical manifestation) is real unless someone perceives it.

For further information, I referred to Wikipedia, which seemed to agree with Callen:

  • The most immediate philosophical topic that the riddle introduces involves the existence of the tree (and the sound it produces) outside of human perception. If no one is around to see, hear, touch or smell the tree, how could it be said to exist? What is it to say that it exists when such an existence is unknown?

But when I read further in Wikipedia, it eventually got to my point:

  • What is the difference between what something is, and how it appears? – e.g., “sound is the variation of pressure that propagates through matter as a wave.” Perhaps the most important topic the riddle offers is the division between perception of an object and how an object really is…. people may also say, if the tree exists outside of perception (as common sense would dictate), then it will produce sound waves. However, these sound waves will not actually sound like anything. Sound as it is mechanically understood will occur, but sound as it is understood by sensation will not occur…. This riddle illustrates John Locke’s famous distinction between primary and secondary qualities. This distinction outlines which qualities are axiomatically imbibed in an object, and which qualities are ascribed to the object. That is, a red thing is not really red (that is, ‘red’ is a secondary quality), a sweet thing is not really sweet, a sound does not actually sound like anything, but a round object is round.

What would I do without Wikipedia? Well, I might refer to the fun and interesting Urban Dictionary, which suggests that the riddle “symbolizes the ineffectiveness of unheard opinions/thoughts.” That meaning seems like a strain of Callen’s thinking, which is not surprising since Callen in an urban sort of guy.

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.






Repair or replace

Filed under: Business,Finances — Mike Kueber @ 7:18 am

I grew up in an era (the 50s and 60s) when products were unreliable and cost a lot and our standard of living was relatively low. The confluence of these factors resulted in a thriving repair industry. It made sense to put a lot of time into fixing something.

Those days are gone. Today, products are relatively cheap and amazingly reliable, and the reasonable labor rate for a repairman (around $100 an hour) makes it prohibitively expensive to repair products like phones, refrigerators, TVs, washers & driers, and laptops. About the only repair business that remains thriving is the auto business, and that brings me to my sad story.

In December, my son Jimmy came back from Ohio with his 2001 gas-guzzling F150. The truck had been in Ohio for more than a year and was in sad shape. There was a slow leak in a tire, the check-engine and ABS lights were on, the steering wheel rested at 2 o’clock, the driver’s leather seat was almost like rags, the driver’s step had been broken off, the CD player had been stolen, and the inspection and registration stickers were expired.

After Jimmy left for Austria in January, I considered selling the vehicle, but decided no one would want to buy an uninspected vehicle with check-engine and ABS lights on and a slow tire leak. So my first order of business was to get those problems fixed.

  • First step – get the slow tire leak repaired at Discount Tires. Unfortunately, they couldn’t repair the tire because there was a nail that was too near the sidewall. Therefore, I had to replace the nearly new tire with another that cost more than $200. Although I hadn’t purchased insurance on the tire, Discount Tire gave me some sort of tread allowance that reduced the cost to a mere $170.
  • Step two – inspection. Before taking it in for an inspection, I replaced the windshield wipers because Jimmy had told me that they were bad. (This is easier said than done.) Then I took the vehicle to a repair shop on Bandera Road that one of my best friends swore was competent and honest. Well, the manager/owner honestly told me that the truck was a mess (spark plugs with 180,000 miles on them will do that) – brake problems, engine computer problems ($600 new, $300 used), plus the seal in the differential was leaking and needed to be replaced. $1,300 later I had my inspection sticker. Plus, they threw in a coupon for a free oil-change.
  • Step three – get a new CD player. First, I went to a couple of stores and got quotes for a simple CD player. Jimmy’s expensive touch screen had been stolen three times, and now was the time to stop that insanity. One independent shop wanted $200 for a non-Sony and a franchise shop (Mother’s) wanted $200 for a Sony. I decided to go with Mother’s, but then noticed that there was another Mother’s franchise closer to my place, and when I called them I learned that they would put in a Sony for $170. Obviously, that’s where I went, and this chapter ended nicely.
  • Step four – get the steering aligned. I had asked the first shop to fix the steering wheel, but they didn’t have alignment capabilities and said I would have to take it to an alignment shop. I called Midas and Brake Check on IH-10 and both assured me that a steering wheel could be aligned with a simple front-wheel alignment – cost $60 at one place and $55 at the other. Then I recalled that I had seen a sign near the Bandera shop advertising an alignment for less than $50, and I decided to take it there because I suspected that a shop in a middle-class neighborhood would be less likely to try to find additional work requirements. Boy, was that a mistake. Ten minutes after the Bandera shop started working on my vehicle, the repairman called me back to show me all the damage to the various wheel-support components. He said it would cost me $1100 to enable me to drive home without the wheel falling off and $2,400 to fix everything. After I pressed him to distinguish between the safety issues and defect issues, he was able to eliminate some overlapping labor and reduce the cost to $1980 if all the work were done at once. When I asked for his best price, sensing it was negotiable, he reduced it to $1,900. I paused for a moment (I should have paused for at least one day), and told him that he could have the job for $1,800. He immediately snapped up my offer, and I immediately thought that was too quick. The repairs were supposed to be completed that day, but due to some hidden problems and some severely rusted out parts, the repairs weren’t completed until the end of the next day. As a freebee, the shop threw in fixing the door step by moving a step from a rear door to replace the broken one on the front door. They also gave me a coupon for a free oil-change. In hindsight, I should have taken my truck back to the first shop to get a 2nd bid. Even though they don’t do alignments, they could have done all of the work except for the alignment and their labor rate was only $70 or $80 compared to $90 at the second shop. More importantly, competitive bids bring out the best in every business and are the best way to avoid unnecessary repairs.

As I was driving home with Jimmy’s truck, I started thinking that a poolside friend said he knew someone who would repair the leather seat for $200 a side, and at that point, the truck would be all set. But I started noticing it was warm in the truck, so I turned on the A/C, but the air wasn’t really cold. So I turned on Max A/C, and the air still wasn’t cold.

Uff da, when is it going to end.

March 29, 2014

Saturday Night at the Movies #107

Filed under: Movie reviews — Mike Kueber @ 12:39 pm
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Revolutionary Road (2008) is a drama set in the 50s that brings together the Titanic stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, except this time they are not falling in love with each other, but rather are suburbanites falling out of love. The problem with their marriage is that they both originally wanted something different than a traditional suburbanite lifestyle, but DiCaprio’s posture was more a pretense and he eventually drifts back to suburban values of work and kids. Both stars are credible, and Michael Shannon plays a wonderful mentally-ill character who talks with a jarring frankness that exposes DiCaprio’s/Winslet’s lapses. The Rotten Tomato critics and audience are in general agreement with 68% and 71%, respectively. I liked it even better at three and a half stars out of four.

Adam (2009) is a drama about a young guy with Asperger’s syndrome, which is described in Wikipedia as follows:

  • An autism spectrum disorder (ASD) that is characterized by significant difficulties in social interaction and nonverbal communication, alongside restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior and interests. It differs from other autism spectrum disorders by its relative preservation of linguistic and cognitive development. Although not required for diagnosis, physical clumsiness and atypical (peculiar, odd) use of language are frequently reported.”

That description is accurately portrayed by Adam in this movie. Adam is a sweet, young computer guy in Manhattan who meets a sweet, young attractive woman who moves into his building, and they explore the possibility of having a relationship. Critics have accurately suggested that the plot is a bit implausible because such an attractive girl (Rose Byrne), not matter how sweet, would be unlikely to seriously consider a guy like Adam (Hugh Dancy). But they forget There’s Something About Mary, and we guys like to dream. The Rotten Tomato critics scored the movie, which was a box office flop, at 64%, while the audience liked it slightly better at 72%. I agree with the audience because, despite the simple, slightly implausible plot, the characters were likeable and the question of whether to have a relationship with an Asperger’s person is interesting. So I give it three stars out of four.

True Detective (2014) is an eight-part HBO series starring Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson. I recently subscribed to HBO and my first order of business was to binge on this highly acclaimed series for a couple of days. The plot revolves around a 17-year murder investigation in Louisiana (the home state of writer/creator Nic Pizzolatto), and it seems like the state is filled with a bunch of Jerry Springer-type people. The story starts in current time (2012), but continually refers back to an early time in the investigation, and the aging/un-aging of McConaughey (actually 45) and Harrelson (actually 52) is amazing. For the scenes set in 1995, these guys actually look like they were in their early 30s.

Although both McConaughey and Harrelson play characters with horrible flaws, they are easily the good guys who you are rooting for. Their acting and Pizzolatto’s writing are superb.  And Harrelson’s wife, well played by Michelle Monaghan, supplies a critical dimension.  The Rotten Tomato critics loved True Detective at 87%, but the audience loved it more at 98%. I agree with the critics and give it four stars out of four.

March 27, 2014


Filed under: Retirement — Mike Kueber @ 8:07 pm

As I posted on my Facebook wall this morning, “Today marks five years of retirement bliss for me. They say that people rarely regret retiring too soon, and you can add my voice to that chorus.”

A similar sentiment was expressed by NY Times columnist David Brooks a couple of years ago based on his reading a few short autobiographies written by some people for their 50-year college reunion:

  • The most common lament in this collection is from people who worked at the same company all their lives and now realize how boring they must seem. These people passively let their lives happen to them. One man described his long, uneventful career at an insurance company and concluded, ‘Wish my self-profile was more exciting, but it’s a little late now.’”

Fortunately, I was not career obsessed after the age of 40. In fact, I remember discussing with another career lawyer the relative insignificance of getting that more promotion that might result in another $20,000 of income. I argued that the additional money might enable my family to a have little bit bigger house or a little bit nicer car, but in the grand scheme of things that was not important.

His comeback, however, was a good one. He said I could sock the money away and retire earlier. That made sense then, and it makes even more sense now.

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