Mike Kueber's Blog

September 30, 2012

The myth of male decline

Filed under: Culture — Mike Kueber @ 11:33 pm

I have blogged several times in recent months about the supposed decline of men and the ascendancy of women.  According to several authors, this change is resulting primarily from a new economy that rewards skills that women tend to acquire (knowledge and sensitivity) and has little need for the skills that men have (brawn and bravura).  I have rejected the conventional wisdom because there is nothing in a man’s DNA that will prevent him from evolving to thrive in the new economy.  An op-ed piece in today’s New York Times comes to the same conclusion as me.  It is titled “The Myth of Male Decline,” and it suggests that women will continue to be confronted by significant obstacles to equality and that men will continue to benefit from a form of affirmative action. 

Clearly, sex roles are changing, but don’t expect things to turn topsy-turvy.     


Sociopaths and psychopaths in our midst

Filed under: Medical — Mike Kueber @ 11:07 pm

A few days ago, a Facebook friend made a point about rapists, murderers, and people who have no empathy.  The people with no empathy were conservatives, like Paul Ryan and Ayn Rand.  In her book, the people with no empathy were worse than rapists and murderers. 

When I challenged her on that shocking position, she responded coolly that people with no empathy are accurately called sociopaths, and nothing can be worse than sociopaths.  At that point, I backed off the discussion because we were getting into psychiatric diagnoses that I did not have a working knowledge of.

For my future reference, I learned that dictionaries define a sociopath is a person with a psychopathic personality whose behavior is antisocial, often criminal, and who lacks a sense of moral responsibility or social conscience.  People often conflate sociopathy and psychopathy, which dictionaries define as a personality disorder that can be characterized by shallow emotions (in particular reduced fear), stress tolerance, lacking empathy, cold-heartedness, lacking guilt, egocentricity, superficial charm, manipulativeness, irresponsibility, impulsivity and antisocial behaviors such as parasitic lifestyle and criminality.

One pundit suggested that the term sociopathy may be preferred by sociologists that see the causes as due to social factors. The term psychopathy may be preferred by psychologists who see the causes as due to a combination of psychological, genetic, and environmental factors.

According to the WiseGeek.com, both a psychopath and a sociopath have a complete disregard for the feelings and rights of others. This often surfaces by age 15 and may be accompanied by cruelty to animals. These traits are distinct and repetitive, creating a pattern of misbehavior that goes beyond normal adolescent mischief. Both fail to feel remorse or guilt. They appear to lack a conscience and are completely self-serving. They routinely disregard rules, social mores and laws, and don’t care about putting themselves or others at risk 

Wiki.answers.com agrees that the terms are generally synonymous, but also suggests a possible distinction:   

  • Those psychologists who make a distinction between the two usually do so on the basis of organization. Sociopaths are seen as disorganized and rash, making extreme responses to normal situations. They lack impulse control. Psychopaths, by contrast, are highly organized, often secretly planning out and fantasizing about their acts in great detail before actually committing them, and sometimes manipulating people around them.  

Suffice to say, Ayn Rand and Paul Ryan are neither sociopaths nor psychopaths, and any attempt to demonize them as such is no helpful to a healthy debate over whether America’s safety net is too generous.

Sunday Book Review #84 – The Amateur by Edward Klein

Filed under: Book reviews — Mike Kueber @ 1:18 am

I have read probably a dozen books that attempt to eviscerate Barack Obama and his administration.  Invariably, however, the authors are too emotional to be persuasive.  The books read like transcriptions of the nightly talk shows on FOX News, rehashing the same talking points.  Edward Klein’s book, The Amateur, is different.  Although Klein clearly believes that Barack Obama is not qualified, either temperamentally or substantively, to be president of the United States, he makes his argument in a logical, dispassionate manner that is consistent with the FOX bromide, “We report, you decide.”

The Amateur comprises five parts:

  1. Chicago, That Toddlin’ Town.
  2. Amateur Hours at the White House
  3. With Friends Like These
  4. The Obama Doctrine
  5. A One-Term Proposition

Part One exposes as fraudulent the David Axelrod narrative of Barack Obama as Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.  Instead of seeing Obama as an earnest idealist, Klein reveals him to be an unprincipled Chicago politician who was heavily influenced by Reverend Jeremiah Wright. 

Part Two provides a litany of unforced errors committed by President Obama that Klein attributes to his utter lack of experience or skill in managing or administering government.  Even worse, unlike a similarly unqualified President Kennedy, Obama has not displayed any capacity to learn from his numerous mistakes.

Part Three describes several situations where Obama has deserted allies who are no longer needed (e.g., Oprah, Caroline Kennedy).

Part Four focuses on foreign policy, or actually the absence of any consistent foreign policy.  National Security Chief General James Jones is portrayed as an excellent advisor who was mistreated by President Obama before being supplanted by three know-nothings – Samantha Power, Susan Rice, and Tom Donilon.

And finally in Part Five, Klein argues that, unlike other so-called transformational elections, the 2012 election is truly transformational because America will be deciding whether to reject or accept the past four-year lurch toward big government and redistribution of wealth. 

I disagree with Klein’s assessment because, if Obama is re-elected and the economy continues to flounder, America will still be able to reverse its course in 2016, albeit with a much bigger debt to service.

Excellent book.

September 29, 2012

Saturday Night at the Movies #46 – Come Undone, Showgirls, and Mr. Death

Filed under: Movie reviews — Mike Kueber @ 3:12 pm

Come Undone is a 2010 Italian romantic drama about two happily married people who meet at an office party and decide to have a fling.  Not surprisingly, the fling complicates their lives, especially when the great sex results in a strong emotional connection.  Excellent script and acting.  Rotten Tomato critics give it an 86% (only 6 out of 7); the audience gives it only 40% (only 281).  I agree with the critics and give it three and a half stars out of four.

Showgirls is a 1995 movie about young woman who arrives in Vegas seeking fame as a dancer.  Although our protagonist (Elizabeth Berkley) is erratic and irresponsible, her naiveté makes her relatively sympathetic when contrasted with all the other jaded denizens of dissolute Vegas.  The Netflix DVD jacket notes that the movie initially bombed, but later became a camp classic.  That doesn’t surprise me because, inexplicably, the movie reminded me of a camp classic from my law school days in Austin – The Rocky Horror Picture Show.  The Rotten Tomato critics scored the movie abysmally at 14% and the audience score wasn’t much better at 35%.  I agree with those revisionists who call Showgirls as a camp classic and give it three stars out of four.

Mr. Death is a 1999 Oscar-winning documentary about a guy, Fred A. Leuchter, Jr., who achieved a moderately success career in the 1980s by making technical improvements to the electric chair and other forms of execution.  This career vanished, however, when he was hired by a Holocaust denier to testify that the Auschwitz gas chambers, because of technical deficiencies, were technically incapable of being gas chambers.  His testimony riled the political establishment and subjected him to all sorts of harassment in his executioner career.   Leuchter comes across as a nerdy, unqualified iconoclast who is attracted to unpopular causes as a means to gain attention.  The Rotten Tomato critics (39 of them) give it a 100% rating and its audience scored it 84%.  Because I share Leuchter’s iconoclastic tendencies, I felt some sympathy for him and enjoyed the documentary.  I give it three stars out of four.

September 28, 2012

Report on my week in NYC

Filed under: Culture,Entertainment — Mike Kueber @ 12:55 pm

My recent sojourn to NYC was my longest – seven nights.  How did I decide on seven nights?  I left San Antonio on Wednesday, the 19th day of September, because Southwest Airlines has its cheapest departures from San Antonio on that day.  I wanted to stay at least through the weekend, and then I learned that Southwest Airlines had its cheapest LaGuardia departures on Wednesday, the 26th day of September.  Case closed.  

In searching the internet for my residence of choice – hostels – I learned that one of the largest hostels in NYC has private rooms for only $80 (taxes included).  Although this is twice as expensive as typical dormitory-style rooms in hostels, I decided to splurge because I wanted the luxury of some privacy – day or night.  Plus, the stock market’s been surging, so I felt richer. 

The Chelsea International hostel is located near 8th Avenue and 20th Street (Chelsea neighborhood).  It is reasonably close to the subway – the A, C, and E train can be caught at 8th and 23rd Street.  In addition to being reasonably clean, it has upscale international residents (passport required) and provides a free continental breakfast along with an indoor/outdoor common area with WiFi but no TV. 

In addition to arranging my flight and accommodations, the other three items of trip infrastructure were the purchase of a seven-day subway pass ($27), a seven-day membership in a local gym ($75 – David Barton Gym at Astoria), and a seven-day New York Pass ($180).

Each of these seven-day passes is an outstanding bargain in its own way.  I am continually on the move, yet my total cost of transportation was a mere $27, much less than $1 a trip.  I go to the up-scale gym at least once a day for yoga and some light weights.  That amounts to less than $10 a session and has the fringe benefit of exposing me to a genuine, non-touristy NYC experience. 

Last, but not least, is my New York Pass, which entitles me to see 70 NYC attractions.  Because a person can’t come close to doing 70 attractions in a week, especially when I blocked out time for two Yankees’ games, daily yoga, Chinatown, the Brooklyn Bridge, and Coney Island, I picked only 20 attractions:

  1. The Beast – a 45-mph speed boat that does some hot-rodding in the Harbor (by selecting The Beast, I had to pass on the 3-hour slow cruise around Manhattan)
  2. Intrepid – battleship and museum
  3. Blazing Saddles – a 24-hour bike rental
  4. Central Park bike rental –three-hour bike rental
  5. Bike and Roll – four-hour bike rental
  6. New York Water Taxi – a harbor cruise to multiple locations that allows you to get off and on.
  7. CitySightseeing Cruise – 90-minute cruise into the Harbor
  8. Manhattan by Sail 
  9. Clipper City Tall Ship Cruises
  10. Ripley’s Believe It or Not (surprisingly lame)
  11. Madame Tussaud’s (surprisingly enjoyable, especially because it is next door to the boring Ripley’s exhibit)
  12. Yankee Stadium tour (not much to see and out-of-the-way, but good quality)
  13. NBC Tour
  14. Top of the Rock (my first time)
  15. Empire State Building (been here before; nostalgic)
  16. New York Skyride (got me a bit nauseous; too early in the morning, perhaps)
  17. Museum of Modern Art (gotta love MoMA)
  18. Metropolitan Museum of Art
  19. Whitney Museum of American Art
  20. Guggenheim Museum

Ultimately, I found time to see all of the attractions except two – the CitySightseeing Cruise and the Whitney Museum. 

In addition to the New York Pass, the greatest surprise from this trip was to learn how bicycle-friendly NYC has become.  On my first bike rental, I went from Battery Park on the southern tip of Manhattan to the George Washington Bridge on the northern end – about 20 miles along the Hudson River with virtually no interference with vehicular traffic.  During that ride, I also made a side-trip to my gym near NYU and was amazed at how easily I was able to cover the mile.  Bike lanes were easy to find, and cross-town traffic has few intersections.  What seemed like a long-haul on foot is an easy jaunt on bike.

Action-oriented vacations are totally dependent on your health, and I would be remiss if I failed to mention that my artificial knee was wonderful.  Despite my repeated use of the subway, there is an unbelievable amount of walking getting to the subway.  Halfway through the week, I suddenly realized that I was walking unbelievable distances, and the only side-effect was some sore feet.  I hadn’t noticed my new knee because it was working perfectly.  Although my feet were sore, I was able to ameliorate that by shifting from boat shoes to tennis shoes to flip-flops.  I don’t care if only two other males in NYC are wearing flips; my feet need to breathe from time to time. 

In hindsight, I’m happy with the way the week played out.  Next time, I will probably add a Broadway show if I am a little richer.  And if I read a bit more about art, perhaps I will be able to get more enjoyment from the City’s museums.





President Obama’s economic patriotism

Filed under: Economics,Issues,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 2:18 am

The Obama campaign launched a new theme today called “economic patriotism,” using the term in a Virginia speech and new political ads.  The term has a nice sound to it – what could be wrong with calling for some patriotism? – and is reminiscent of the war bonds sold during WWI and WWII.

But there is plenty wrong with President Obama’s economic patriotism because it is merely a euphemism for enlarging government and raising the taxes on the rich.  Since when is patriotism – i.e., the willingness to sacrifice for one’s country – something that is directed only at the rich?

More troubling is the possibility that President Obama will expand the concept of economic patriotism to stifle the free market.  In his Virginia speech and the new political ads, he refers to the importance of an expanded middle class.  Well, that is something that everybody agrees on; the question is how to achieve that without severely damaging the economy.  Socialistic redistribution may enlarge the middle class, but it will also ensure that the economic pie to be shared becomes smaller and smaller.

One blogger has suggested that the term “economic patriotism” is Orwellian.  This suggestion is based on George Orwell’s 1949 dystopian novel titled Nineteen Eighty-Four about a totalitarian government called Big Brother, a Ministry of Plenty that oversees shortages and famine, and a Ministry of Peace that oversees wars.  Yes, I agree that there is Orwellian satire in Obama describing increased taxes as a form of patriotism.          

Personally, my initial reaction upon hearing the term economic patriotism was to think about Ayn Rand’s 1957 dystopian novel titled Atlas Shrugged.  The federal government in Atlas Shrugged interfered extensively with business, ostensibly in the public interest, but actually in the service of special interests.  Eventually, this interference destroyed laissez-faire capitalism and the economy foundered.  Among the Orwellian terms coined by Rand’s federal government were “The Anti-Dog-Eat-Dog Rule” (to protect the Chryslers and GMs of that time), “The Equalization of Opportunity Bill” (to prevent successful companies from expanding into other lines of business), and “The Anti-Greed Act” (to redistribute income).  The result was the erosion of capital and the proliferation of looters, moochers, and parasites.

In one of his new political ads, President Obama talks about the shared American values of hard work, personal responsibility, and helping your neighbor.  The problem is that his energy seems directed at taking from the hard-working, responsible Americans and giving to his special interests. 

That is socialism, not patriotism.  You can’t turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse.

September 19, 2012

Political correctness

Filed under: Culture,Media — Mike Kueber @ 4:52 am

According to Sport Illustrated and CNN, Toronto shortstop Yunel Escobar was suspended for writing a homophobic slur in Spanish in his eye-black.  Unfortunately, the slur was not included in the article, but if you read the caption to a photo, you would detect that the slur was, “Tu ere maricon.”  According to Google Translate, that means you are a faggot. 

Obviously, the writing was a slur.  The question is why wouldn’t Sports Illustrated and CNN include the clause in the article and, more importantly, why did they force me to refer to Google Translate to learn what it means? 

This sort of daintiness is a sign of the times that needs to be put in our rearview mirror.

September 18, 2012

More on the 47%

Filed under: Issues,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 9:48 pm
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Mitt Romney’s informal comments about the 47% of American households that are not paying any federal income tax have taken over the 24-hour news cycle.  Some pundits think the comments have torpedoed Romney’s electoral prospects; others think it will bring the focus of the campaign back to this nation’s dismal economy.

As with any other topic that dominates the 24-hour news cycle, this one is approached from a number of different angles.  An angle that I found particularly interesting was discussed in Ezra Klein’s blog in the Washington Post.   This informative piece, which was actually posted by Brad Plumer, makes eight points about the 47% figure, the first of which is supportive of Romney and the other seven attempt to portray the number as misleading.

  1. The 47% figure is accurate.  [Actually, 46.4% of all America households don’t pay federal income tax.  Some news reports incorrectly apply the percentage to individual Americans, not households.]
  2. The number is abnormally high due to the recession and tepid recovery.  [As our president, Barack Obama deserves a lion’s share of responsibility for the tepid recovery.]
  3. The vast majority of non-payers are either elderly or paying Social Security taxes.  [Contributing toward your Social Security pension is totally different than contributing toward the operation of our nation.]
  4. Many non-payers achieved that status due to Republican-endorsed tax-reduction initiatives, primarily the Social Security exemption for the elderly and the earned-income tax credit (EITC) for parents.  [No one is arguing that Republicans have not contributed to the current distressing situation.]
  5. Many non-payers achieved that status due to the Republicans’ across-the-board tax cuts – i.e., Reagan’s and Bush’s.  [No one is arguing that Republicans have not contributed to the current distressing situation.]    
  6. The majority of non-payers who receive the EITC become tax-payers within a year or two.  [So what?  Some go off the dole; some others come on.  All while the 47% figure continues higher.]
  7. The vast majority of non-payers will pay in the future or have paid in the past.  [So what?  Some go off the dole; some others come on.  All while the 47% figure continues higher.]
  8. Most non-payers pay state and local taxes that are typically regressive.  [So what?  Romney’s point is that almost half of American households have “no skin in the game” when it comes to maintaining our federal government.]

If Klein and Plumer had hoped to persuade us that having 47% of American households paying nothing for the operation of the federal government is OK, they failed.

The infamous 47% and a poll tax

Filed under: Issues,Law/justice,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 1:41 pm
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Mitt Romney is catching flak for expressing concern at a California fundraiser about the 47% of Americans who pay no federal income tax.  Pundits are expressing shock and disdain that Romney would speak so carelessly at a fundraiser after what happened four years ago when President Obama at a San Francisco fundraiser dissed rural people who cling to their guns or religion.   

There is a significant difference, however, between their comments.  Obama’s comments went way beyond the pale by disparaging guns and religion, something that should be suicide for an American politician.  By contrast, Romney denigrated dependency on government, something that is in the mainstream of conservative thought.  In fact, anyone of listens to conservative talk radio knows the hosts routinely warn that America, with 47% dependency, will soon be at a critical tipping point when there are more takers from, than contributors to, government.  JFK’s “ask not” admonition seems to be an anachronism in modern Democratic politics.

While discussing the Romney brouhaha with an ultra-liberal friend last night, I suggested that President Obama, as a proponent of government largesse, undoubtedly has broad support from those who take from government while Mitt Romney has the broad support of those who contribute to government.  My friend then suggested that maybe conservatives should implement a poll tax to ensure that the right people vote.  Not a bad idea, I halfway seriously responded.

What would be wrong with a poll tax (other than violating the 24th Amendment)?  Historically, it was devised to prevent African-Americans from voting, sometimes by including a grandfather clause for white voters.  But if it were administered even-handedly, doesn’t it make sense that the quality of voting would improve if voters were motivated enough to be willing to pay a modest amount and responsible enough to be able to pay a modest amount. 

A Supreme Court decision that struck down a poll tax in the ‘60s said that affluence is not a voter qualification, but a $2 to $3 poll tax in the ‘60s would be equivalent to a $20 poll tax today.  There is nothing affluent about $20.        

A literacy test is another technique that would improve the quality of voting, but because of its use in the South to discriminate against African-Americans, it has been consigned to the dustbin of history.  

Yes, we want everyone to participate in elections, but not by dumbing-down the process.  As with home ownership under Clinton and Bush, we want to increase the numbers, but not by enlisting unqualified people.  Our first step needs to be increasing the number of qualified people (qualified should mean more than having a heartbeat), and then getting those qualified people into a home or a voting booth. 

There’s an old adage that the voters get the politicians they deserve; perhaps if we had better voters, we would have better politicians.

September 17, 2012

Bomb threat on campus – prank call or credible threat

Filed under: Law/justice — Mike Kueber @ 8:42 pm
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Stop the presses – yesterday, I drafted the following blog post about the prank calls to UND and NDSU that caused the campuses to be evacuated.  Just as I was about to post the draft, the media is reporting an evacuation at LSU.  The names have changed, but the issue is the same – i.e., why are the campuses being evacuated on the basis of a prank call?  If these prank calls continue, the college administrators will be forced to come to their (common) senses.   

Last week, on the same day, North Dakota State University and the University of Texas received bomb threats that resulted in the campuses being evacuated.  While discussing the evacuations with my son earlier today, I suggested that the evacuations would not have been ordered on the basis of a simple crank call – i.e., there must have been something that elevated the call to a “credible threat.”  My son disagreed.  He argued that a mere crank call would force a university to order an evacuation.  Because we don’t believe in gambling, we agreed to a gentleman’s bet.

Unfortunately, I have not been able to find any news reports that indicate either university received anything more than a crank call.  UT said that their caller had a Middle Eastern accent, but I don’t think that elevates a crank call to a credible threat.  UT President Bill Powers also advised that UT waited for an hour to call for the evacuation because it had that amount of time to evaluate the threat, but he failed to say what factors they considered other than admitting that the current global unrest was taken into account.  According to the Daily Texan, UT received several bomb threats a semester, but failed to report whether those other threats resulted in evacuations.

Independent from the UT and NDSU incidents, I did find an internet article that provided guidance to school administrators when confronted with a bomb threat:

  • All bomb threats must be taken seriously and carefully analyzed. The bomb report should be treated as genuine until investigated and until a search of the school has been completed. Begin your decision-making process by gathering as much information about the bomb report as possible. Factors you will be considering include:
    • Have there been national bomb incidents lately?
    • Have there been other hoaxes lately?
    • Has a hostile student been suspended recently?
    • Are there exams scheduled for today?
    • Is it senior skip day?
    • Any unexplained student unrest?
    • Any rumors circulating about a student threatening to harm others?
    • How much information did the caller provide? (You can generally get more information out of a caller when it is not a hoax.)
    • Consider the seriousness in the voice of the caller?
    • Were any specific details given?
    • Any missing chemicals?
    • Did the caller have knowledge of the design of the school?
    • Any recent break-ins? (Look for evidence of illegal entry.)
    • Did the caller give repeated warnings? This seriously escalates the degree of danger.
    • Check your surveillance tapes.
    • Large-scale bomb incidents, such as Oklahoma and the embassy building in New York received no warnings.
    • Once you have gathered the information, subjective judgement must be made regarding the degree of credibility or dependence that can be placed upon it. Trust your intuitions and experience.
    • School administrators are faced with at least five possible alternatives: 1. Conduct a low profile search of the exterior grounds and public areas of the building. 2. Conduct a comprehensive search having all staff search their work area, in addition to the grounds and public areas so the entire building is covered. 3. Search with partial evacuation. 4. Evacuate after searching or 5. Evacuate immediately.
    • Evacuating immediately is an alternative that on face value appears to be the preferred approach, however, under certain circumstances evacuating personnel may increase rather than decrease the risk of injury. Bombs are three times more likely to be planted outside buildings than inside. A bomber wishing to cause personal injuries could place a bomb in the shrubbery near an exit. Public areas inside the school are the second most frequent place devices are located. Any evacuation that requires students and staff to move through public areas such as halls, public restrooms, lobbies, parking lots, playgrounds, might increase the risk of injury during any detonation.
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