Mike Kueber's Blog

August 28, 2014

The New York Times on white privilege and whether we are all racists

NY Times columnist Nicholas Kristof recently wondered if everyone was a little bit racist. Prompted by the Ferguson incident, Kristof started his column, titled “Is Everyone a Little Bit Racist?,” by admitting that we really don’t what happened in Ferguson, but he went on to assert that we do know the following:

  • But here’s what evidence does strongly suggest: Young black men in America suffer from widespread racism and stereotyping, by all society — including African-Americans themselves. Research in the last couple of decades suggests that the problem is not so much overt racists. Rather, the larger problem is a broad swath of people who consider themselves enlightened, who intellectually believe in racial equality, who deplore discrimination, yet who harbor unconscious attitudes that result in discriminatory policies and behavior.

If Kristof’s train of thinking confuses you, join the club. Although he begins by asserting “widespread racism and stereotyping,” he quickly walks that back to “unconscious attitudes.” And then, when he describes the various studies that provide evidence of the unconscious attitudes, he fails to explain why these unconscious attitudes exist, such as there are a plethora of psychological studies showing that people are inherently suspicious of people different from them.

Kristof seems to think that if everyone tries to be more sensitive to the issue, it can be willed away. He concludes his column as follows:

  • Yet an uncomfortable starting point is to understand that racial stereotyping remains ubiquitous, and that the challenge is not a small number of twisted white supremacists but something infinitely more subtle and complex: People who believe in equality but who act in ways that perpetuate bias and inequality.

The problem with Kristof’s prescription is that it ignores the scientific fact and common-sense understanding that people behave based on their life experience. It is also a fact that young black males, especially those who present themselves like gangsters, are more likely to commit crimes and violence that almost any other distinguishable group. What sentient human being would not consider that fact?

When Kristof advises people to behave in a politically correct fashion, he reminds me of the Marx Brothers’ line – “Who are you going to believe – me or your lying eyes?”


Shortly after Kristof’s column, the Times published a similarly-themed column by Charles Blow titled, “Bill O’Reilly and White Privilege.”  In the column, Blow takes O’Reilly to task for arguing that the problem in the black community is internal (black behavior), not external (white privilege). O’Reilly’s argument:

  • Last night on ‘The Factor,’ Megyn Kelly and I debated the concept of white privilege whereby some believe that if you are Caucasian you have inherent advantages in America. ‘Talking Points’ does not, does not believe in white privilege. However, there is no question that African-Americans have a much harder time succeeding in our society than whites do.

O’Reilly also pointed out that Asian-Americans have achieved success despite their obstacles, which included a different language, but he also noted that the black experience was unique:

  • One caveat, the Asian-American experience historically has not been nearly as tough as the African-American experience. Slavery is unique and it has harmed black Americans to a degree that is still being felt today, but in order to succeed in our competitive society, every American has to overcome the obstacles they face.”

Blow explained away the Asians as “model immigrants” based on immigration policy, which he said resulted in high-achieving people being selected for immigration. [What an novel idea!]

Then for a solution, O’Reilly makes two points, according to Blow:

  1. In arguing that it isn’t, O’Reilly goes on to raise the seemingly obligatory “respectability” point, saying: “American children must learn not only academics but also civil behavior, right from wrong, as well as how to speak properly and how to act respectfully in public.”
  2. Then he falls back on the crux of his argument: “Instead of preaching a cultural revolution, the leadership provides excuses for failure. The race hustlers blame white privilege, an unfair society, a terrible country. So the message is, it’s not your fault if you abandon your children, if you become a substance abuser, if you are a criminal. No, it’s not your fault; it’s society’s fault. That is the big lie that is keeping some African-Americans from reaching their full potential. Until personal responsibility and a cultural change takes place, millions of African-Americans will struggle.”

Blow then turns the table on O’Reilly and seems to compare him to Al Sharpton:

  • No, Mr. O’Reilly, it is statements like this one that make you the race hustler. The underlying logic is that blacks are possessed of some form of racial pathology or self-destructive racial impulses, that personal responsibility and systemic inequity are separate issues and not intersecting ones. This is the false dichotomy that chokes to death any real accountability and honesty. Systemic anti-black bias doesn’t dictate personal behavior, but it can certainly influence and inform it. And personal behavior can reinforce people’s belief that their biases are justified. So goes the cycle. But at the root of it, we can’t expect equality of outcome while acknowledging inequality of environments. Only a man bathing in privilege would be blind to that.

Finally, something we can agree on. There is a cycle between anti-black bias and the black personal behavior. O’Reilly’s solution is for cultural change in the black community while Blow seems content to merely vent against O’Reilly. At least Kristof has a plan, albeit a Pollyannaish one for non-blacks to will away their unconscious bias.

Driving is not a right; it’s a privilege?

Filed under: Issues,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 12:46 am

Ever since I was a kid, I have heard the refrain, “Driving is not a right; it’s a privilege.” I read it today in an op-ed piece in the SA Express-News supporting a ban on talking on a cell phone while driving.  I responded to the author, conservative District 10 Councilman Mike Gallagher, by asking him who is it that grants me this privilege to drive – the City Council?  the state of Texas?

Gallagher is reportedly a conservative, and most thoughtful conservatives don’t think they are empowered by the government. Rather, thoughtful conservatives believe that people are born free and they freely empower the government to place reasonable restrictions on that freedom.

Although some might argue that this is a distinction without a difference because in either event, government has the power to prohibit cell phone usage while driving. But I think it is important for government officials to have the right mindset when they consider imposing limitations on the freedom of people.

The mindset should be that people are generally free to do what they want, but government may place a limit on that freedom if it is hurting other people. Clearly, cell-phone usage puts other people at risk, and I think that risk outweighs the damage to people’s freedom to drive and talk on their phone.  This is not much different than imposing a speed limit.


Saturday Night at the Movies #125 – Pride and Prejudice

Filed under: Movie reviews — Mike Kueber @ 12:41 am

Last Tuesday night, I came home from my regular Happy Hour around 10 pm, and stopped by the apartment mailbox to pick up my mail. One of the items I picked up was Netflix movie Pride and Prejudice (2005). Before going to bed, I slipped the movie in my DVR to get a taste, and despite my propensity for crashing around 11 pm, this movie was so good that I went stayed with it right to the end.

I love romances, and this movie based Jane Austen’s book includes four unique romances that aren’t immediately obvious, but ultimately are wonderfully satisfying. Donald Sutherland plays the father of five single young women in late 18th century England, and the lead couple is played by Keira Knightley (afflicted with prejudice) and Matthew Macfadyen (afflicted with pride). Macfadyen reminds me of the TV star of The Americans, Matthew Rhys – i.e., someone whose initial impression is not impressive or favorable, but who grows on you. The Rotten Tomato critics loved the movie at 85% and the audience was even more favorable at 90%. I agree and give it four out of four stars. In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I am planning to get the two-set DVD for the 1995 BBC TV miniseries that is supposed to be just as good.  We’ll see about that.


Sunday Book Review #145 – How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free

Filed under: Book reviews,Retirement — Mike Kueber @ 12:34 am
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How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free is subtitled, “Retirement wisdom that you won’t get from any financial advisor.” As I am halfway through my 6th year of retirement, I thought this book would be full of information or insights that might help me toward a more satisfying retirement. Sadly, it did not, but perhaps that is because my retirement is already at a good place.

A big part of Zelinski’s presentation is directed at people whose identity is tied up in their job or profession, and I agree that many, if not most, people have a hard time post-retirement with losing that identity. Fortunately, I didn’t have any trouble leaving behind the persona of an insurance lawyer; plus, I can still occasionally achieve some additional gravitas by saying I am a retired insurance attorney. For those retirees with an identity deficiency, Zelinski provides numerous ideas for developing new identities.

From a financial perspective, Zelinski’s advice is also something I already knew – i.e., the advice by so-called retirement experts that retirees need 80%-105% of their pre-retirement income is moronic.

Following a general discussion of retirement philosophy, Zelinski turns specific concerns:

  1. Chapter 4 – Health and taking care of yourself
  2. Chapter 5 – Education and continual learning
  3. Chapter 6 – Relationships and friends
  4. Chapter 7 – Travel
  5. Chapter 8 – Relocation

As I was reading those chapters, I detected a strong overlap with the four buckets from Matthew Kelly’s book, The Rhythm of Life – i.e., body, brain, relations, and spirit.    Zelinki’s book comes at it from a different, more specific perspective – that of a retiree – but from some reason it doesn’t have the same intensity as Kelly’s book.

August 26, 2014

Paul Ryan and the Ice Bucket Challenge

Filed under: Issues,People,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 9:45 pm
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Facebook is plastered with posts making fun of Paul Ryan for taking the Ice Bucket Challenge despite previously trying to eliminate federal funding of ALS research. Because Ryan and Romney are two of my favorite politicians, I decided to investigate whether the posters had a point. Not surprisingly, the facts expose the posts are inaccurate and misleading:

  • Inaccurate.  Ryan did not vote to eliminate funding of ALS research. Rather he voted to reduce federal funding for the National Institutes of Health, which resulted in federal funding for ALS research being reduced from $44 million to $39 million.
  • Misleading.  It is not hypocritical for a conservative politicians to decline spending taxpayer money on charitable/altruistic activities while privately spending their personal money on those activities. To the contrary, that is entirely consistent with their personal and political philosophy. Liberal politicians, on the other hand, are noted for their quick willingness to spend taxpayer money on good causes, but exceptionally reluctant to devote their personal assets to those causes.

The happy ending? Thanks to Paul Ryan and other participants, over $30 million has been raised by the Ice Bucket Challenge, more than enough to offset any reductions in federal spending.

p.s., as of August 28, the Challenge has raised almost $100 million.

August 25, 2014

An open letter to Time magazine about its Ferguson coverage

Filed under: Culture,Law/justice — Mike Kueber @ 10:13 pm
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Dear Time magazine:
Your coverage in this week’s magazine of the Ferguson tragedy was a disgrace.  Although a close reading of the Von Drehle/Altman cover article reveals that the critical facts of the shooting are in dispute, your cover photo depicts the version provided by Dorian Johnson, who you describe as “Brown’s friend,” while failing to note that he was also the alleged accomplice in the earlier robbery.  Perhaps most readers would apply that fact to the kid’s credibility.
Then to fan-the-flames to the “hands up” version of the narrative, you begin the story with a two-page photo of demonstrators with their hands up, and later end the story with a collage of six photos circulating at #HANDSUPDONTSHOOT.  You seem to see this protest almost like a pep rally.
For good measure, you follow-up the Von Drehle/Altman travesty with three opinion pieces from kindred spirits – Rand Paul, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Sybrina Fulton (Trayvon Martin’s mom).  Are they the best serious thinkers you could find?  Why not include someone with a mind to defend the police under assault?
Just when I was going to through my arms up in disgust with the entire magazine, I got to Joe Klein’s column.  His angle was so different than the other four that you wondered if they were looking at the different worlds.  He quickly eviscerated their version with his lead sentences in the first two paragraphs:
  1.  At first, it seemed a perfect metaphor for 400 years of oppression….
  2. But the perfection of the metaphor is soon blurred by facts.
Those points are so obvious that the obvious question is why did you publish the other four articles in support of the metaphors that are blurred by facts?
Klein’s thoughtful and balanced column concluded with a statement that I agree with totally, but which I haven’t seen elsewhere in connection with the Ferguson tragedy – “Absent a truly candid conversation about the culture that emerged from slavery and segregation, they [problems emanating from a debilitating culture of poverty among the urban underclass] won’t be solved at all.
Hear, hear.

August 24, 2014

Aphorism of the Week #20 – Tolerance – good or bad?

Filed under: Culture — Mike Kueber @ 4:43 am
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The biggest complaint about politics in Washington is that the two major parties have become polarized and that this polarization has led to incivility and an unwillingness to compromise. Of course, this is not exactly a new development because I remember my ND Senator Byron Dorgan complaining decades ago that Washington needed to learn how to disagree without being disagreeable.

As a big advocate of civility and compromise, I am fond of a quote from Robert Kennedy about tolerating the opinion of others:

  • What is objectionable, what is dangerous about extremists is not that they are extreme, but that they are intolerant. The evil is not what they say about their cause, but what they say about their opponents.”

This admonition applies equally well toward conservatives and liberals.

Last week on the Dom Imus talk show, however, I heard a guest speak about tolerance in a negative way. Former SEAL Leif Babin, whose company Echelon Front does motivational work, emphatically declared:

  • It’s not what you preach, it’s what you tolerate.”

I can’t recall if Babin was referring to civilian employment, military matters, or foreign policy, but I think he makes a good point. Although you will usually want to tolerate the opinions of others, there are other situations where you, as a leader, will not want to tolerate certain conduct.

All of which brings me to a Facebook discussion I had earlier today after a liberal friend, Ana Alicia Perez, posted her agreement with a news report titled, “St. Louis County Officer Suspended After Bigoted Video Rant.”

Not surprisingly, her mostly liberal friends quickly agreed in condemning the law officer. The following is an example:

  • Lance Stoll This is why I harp on the idea of the Christian Taliban, because that is what is wrong with this country…racism, sexism, homophobia, ethnocentricity and patriotism all wrapped up in the perverse religion of evangelical christianity..this is the fascism we should fear!

Because I thought the commenters were too quick to judgment, just like in the Ferguson shooting, I provided my two cents:

  • Mike Kueber I don’t have the time to listen to the one-hour so-called rant, but I have read the USA Today and HuffPost articles, and they are all deficient in specifying precisely what the guy said that was so inflammatory or incendiary. I didn’t read of anything remotely racist other than him thinking President Obama was from Kenya. And the only thing homophobic related to his disagreement with the Supreme Court over sodomy laws. Sexist? What am I missing? These comments make is sound like we are dealing with a Hitler-esque evil.

Not surprisingly, my post was quickly attacked:

  • Paul Sean Moreno Excuse me Mike he said gays, women, migrant, Obama is an illegal among other things that were hatred not rants. You are missing a mind! Get your head outta of your ass moron!

Some guy tried to defend me:

  • Ellis Artist Paul, should we take your intolerant words and taunting to Mike Kueber as signs that your temperament would cause problems and abuses as a policeman working with others who think differently?

But Paul Sean was of no mind to be tolerant, and instead post four consecutive rants:

  • Paul Sean Moreno Mike you are my moron of the week!
  • Paul Sean Moreno The problem is you don’t think – swallow that!
  • Paul Sean Moreno The only intolerance Ellis is accepting that Mike’s words are acceptable. They are not.
  • Paul Sean Moreno Mine may be not but they are the truth.

So, what does this have to do with tolerance? It seems to me that Paul Sean is intolerant, and I wish Ana Alicia Perez would sanction his intolerance by unfriending him.

August 22, 2014

Political correctness rears its ugly head

Filed under: Culture,Media — Mike Kueber @ 6:50 pm
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Other than Wikipedia, my favorite on-line resource is the Urban Dictionary. This resource provides not only a workable definition, but also does it with it with wit. So when I decided to post another entry in my blog about political correctness, my first step was to refer to the Urban Dictionary for a working definition:

  • Politically correct is a way that we speak in America so we don’t offend whining pussies. Ex.: only pathetically weak people that don’t have the balls to say what they feel and mean are politically correct pussies.

David Martin Davies is not especially politically correct. As a talk-show host for Texas Public Radio, he fashions himself a disinterested independent observer, but any discerning listener quickly knows that Davies is as independent as Will Rogers was (or a younger reference, Jon Stewart). Yesterday, however, he posted something on his Facebook wall that reeked of political correctness.

The background for the post was that the Washington Post had included a small item in a column called The Loop about up-and-coming, erstwhile SA mayor Julian Castro making a big splash in DC, and some copy editor had subtitled the item, “Going to need more fajitas.” Apparently, the Post quickly replaced the subtitled on its own volition and apologized to Castro, but that was not enough for hometown booster Davies. He posted the following on his Facebook wall:

  • Washington Post, sure D.C.is going to need more — whatever. Here’s the problem with the headline. It tells us that all you see is a Mexican American. WAPO, you could have written something about a rising star, maybe the next VP? You could have noted his youth. Another HUD Secretary from SA? There are lots of things they could have put in the headline of substance but instead you admitted that all you see is a Mexican American. It’s not about fajitas. It’s about the WAPO’s lack of understanding about where this country is going and which demographic will be leading the way.

Virtually all of Davies’s Facebook friends were similarly outraged by the Post’s racism and insensitivity, so I decided to give an alternative perspective:

  • Obviously, the copy editor was trying to be funny and witty, and sometimes that falls flat. Reminds me of Fuzzy Zoeller making the joke at the Masters’ dinner about Tiger Woods and fried chicken. Apparently, Castro has not indicated whether he was offended. I would be surprised if he was.

After reflecting further on Davies’s post, I realized that Davies was being hypocritical by first denying the importance of Castro’s Hispanicness and later in the same post asserting that Hispanicness is the future of America:

  • The lady doth protest too much, methinks; or being hoist by your own petard :) David Martin Davies, if Julian Castro is so much more than a Mexican American, why did you conclude your argument by pointing out that WAPO’s “lack of understanding about where this country is going and which demographic will be leading the way.” I assume the demographic you are referring to is the exploding number of Mexicans in America. Most reasonable people know that Julian’s claim to fame is his Mexican-American heritage. Furthermore, I don’t think most Mexican-Americans are ashamed to be associated with fajitas, but I could be wrong.

I probably should have stopped with that follow-up comment, but later I got sucked into an attenuated discussion with Vanessa Martinez Campos:

  • Vanessa Martinez Campos – So we can go back to associating black people with foods? How would that play out?
  • Me – Vanessa, every ethnicity is associated with particular foods. As a Norwegian, I am often teased about lefse and lutefisk. As a German, I am often teased about sauerkraut. The problem arises when someone uses that association to “put you in your place.” Arguably, Fuzzy Zoeller did that when he suggested Tiger Woods would be putting fried chicken on the menu for the formal Masters Championship dinner. I don’t think the Washington Post was out-of-line in joking that DC people who want to suck up to the new kid in town should stock up on fajitas.
  • Vanessa Martinez Campos – I took 7 years of German culture, and not once in my life have I ever thought to tease any German about sauerkraut or bratwurst. But, I’m of a race and culture that gets thought less of, stereotyped negatively, and thus knows better than to do that to others.
  • Me - So you think the Washington Post guy was trying to stereotype negatively Julian Castro? I don’t. You seem to think that it is always inappropriate to crack wise about someone being Mexican-American. I think context is important and this brouhaha is an excellent example of being politically correct, with the charge of racism bandied about too casually.

Incidentally, before I used the term, “crack wise,” I turned to the old reliable Urban Dictionary:

  • Crack wise – To be sarcastic and/or engage in witty banter, for the purpose of creating a humorous moment — in particular with mates or friends.

In the politically correct world, where no one is your mate or friend, it is hazardous to crack wise.

August 21, 2014

White cops in black cities

Filed under: Culture,Law/justice — Mike Kueber @ 6:53 pm
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FiveThirtyEight.com is the name of a website created by Nate Silver. Nate is perhaps the pre-eminent statistics-based analyst in America, and the name of his website is taken from the number of federal legislators (senators and representatives combined).

Yesterday, Nate posted an article related to Ferguson, with its white cops and black population. (The population is almost 70% black, but the cops are only 11% black).  The 538 article described how common it was for large cities to be protected and served by policemen who don’t live in the city, but this was especially the status for white cops and not as much for black or Hispanic cops. For example, in NYC 77% of the black cops and 76% of the Hispanic cops live in the city, but only 45% of the white cops do. In San Antonio, 74% of the Hispanic cops and 57% of the black cops live in the city, but only 44% of the white cops do. According to Silver, cities with largely black populations have the greatest disparity in white cops and non-white cops living in the city they police.

Attorney General Eric Holder, upon his arrival in Ferguson, hinted at this disparity. According to an article in the NY Times:

  • Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said on Thursday that the unrest the country has witnessed here over the past two weeks was emblematic of deeper problems that exist across the nation, where a corrosive mistrust exists in certain places between the police and the people they are meant to serve.

Common sense says that being policed by out-of-town cops might facilitate mistrust, and the 538 article noted that many cities require their cops to live in town. But such a requirement might be a great, undue burden on our cops. Further, no cop wants to live in a poor part of town, so it seems almost inevitable that cops will be viewed as outsiders when policing in a poor, inner-city area.

But what is the solution?

The San Antonio Express-News recently published an editorial critical of policing in Ferguson and elsewhere:

  • For young black men in particular, encounters with the law seem to be more fraught with peril. Driving or walking while black — or in some parts of the country, Hispanic — is not a myth. And neither is the disproportionate number of young black men arrested, convicted and sentenced to prison. And disproportionately killed by police — four young black men in the last month alone. Ferguson, predominantly black but whose power structure is dominantly white, is just our latest lesson that we are far from post-racial nirvana. Case in point. On Friday, the Ferguson police chief released the name of the officer who shot and killed the unarmed Michael Brown, 18. In the same press conference, he said that Brown was a suspect in a “strong-arm” robbery at a convenience story. One had and has nothing to do with the other.

I commented as follows to the editorial:

  • One (the robbery) had and has nothing to do with the other (the shooting).” How can you say that? Most reasonable people would believe that a person who has committed a strong-arm robbery in the preceding hour would be more likely to act in a way toward a policeman that would justify self-defense. Most of this editorial seems intent on rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. The problem isn’t the police or the Ferguson power structure. If you don’t believe me, ask Detroit, DC, or other urban areas with a black power structure. The problem is the decaying inner city and its residents. You should be focused on ways to fix that.

Incidentally, another article in the NY Times a few days ago partially explained why there were so few black cops in Ferguson – i.e., the city until recently was predominantly white, and it takes time for the changing population to be reflected in long-career positions like law enforcement:

  • Ferguson’s demographics have shifted rapidly: in 1990, it was 74 percent white and 25 percent black; in 2000, 52 percent black and 45 percent white; by 2010, 67 percent black and 29 percent white.


The Triple Package, The Bucket List, and Me

Filed under: Philosophy — Mike Kueber @ 12:05 am
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While on my bike ride this afternoon, it dawned on me that the lessons of The Triple Package (Amy Chua’s book) might have some strong applicability to me. As you may recall, the triple package comprises three character traits that, when combined, tend to produce individuals who succeed in America. Those traits – a superiority complex, insecurity, and impulse control. As I pondered the list, it occurred to me that in my youth, I could have been a poster child for the triple package:

  1. A superiority complex. During my freshman year in college, for a reason I no longer remember I was talking with a high school classmate about me, and she said in high school I had been self-centered or conceited. I don’t recall which term she used. I responded with disbelief and asked why the School Paper’s personality poll had listed a classmate instead of me as the most conceited in high school. She responded sensibly that just because he had been the worst didn’t mean I wasn’t bad, too.
  2. Insecurity. During my high school years, I hated the way I looked and sincerely thought I was one of the two or three ugliest guys in high school. Imagine my surprise when the aforementioned School Paper personality poll listed me as the most handsome guy in high school.
  3. Impulse control. I never had an allowance during high school. My brothers and I were given a calf to sell in the fall and the proceeds had to last us until the next fall. That will inculcate impulse control.

With those three traits engrained in me, you might think I was destined for great things. What the hell happened? Why did I underachieve?

The authors of The Triple Package provide an explanation for my underachievement that I like. According to them, success can be defined in numerous ways, including goodness, religiosity, or self-awareness, but for purposes of the book, they subscribed to Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., suggestion that success “in its vulgar sense” means “the gaining of money and position.”

Well, I like to think that, as a child of the 60s, I declined to pursue success in its vulgar sense. I distinctly recall on multiple occasions while early career and mid-career advocating against a full-throated quest for money and position. Instead I attempted to create a life that is more consistent with the philosophy described in another book that I recently read – The Rhythm of Life by Matthew Kelly.  As you may recall, Kelly suggested that, for a life to flourish, a person needs to develop four critical facets – body, relationships, intellect, and spirit. Money or position are not on that list.

Looking back, I am satisfied with my work in each of the four items in the bucket, with one glaring exception – my failed marriage. Otherwise, I like where my body, heart, brain, and soul have been.

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