Mike Kueber's Blog

October 31, 2013

Political correctness taken to a ridiculous extreme

Filed under: Culture,Law/justice — Mike Kueber @ 7:44 pm
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An article in today’s SAEN reported that a university executive in San Antonio had apologized for “unprofessional and inappropriate” language that he used in a private meeting.  The language was made public by an individual who surreptitiously and illegally taped the meeting and published it on You Tube.

According to the article, the OLLU miscreant uttered the following phrases:

  • In one recording, Bisking refers to a student as “the angry black woman.” In another, he refers to an employee, saying, “I’m having the brand-new African-American dean and Latino department chair tell the minority female, ‘You ain’t worth a (expletive).’”  He later adds, “I’m hoping she’ll quit.”

I provided the SAEN with the following online comment about the article:

  • What was the race-related comment – “angry black female” or “minority woman”?  Whichever, it could have just as easily been described as a race and gender-related comment.  Is it wrong to describe an individual as black or minority?  If so, then perhaps an individual shouldn’t be described as a man or woman, either.  This is an example of political correctness taken to a ridiculous extreme. 

P.S. The next day, this administrator resigned his administrative positions, while retaining his faculty position.

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October 30, 2013

Sunday Book Review #108 – Killing Jesus by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard

Filed under: Book reviews,Religion — Mike Kueber @ 8:29 pm
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Killing Jesus is Bill O’Reilly’s follow-up to bestsellers Killing Lincoln and Killing Kennedy.  Both of those books were excellent; Killing Jesus not so much.

Coincidentally, I recently read Reza Aslin’s bestseller, The Zealot, and O’Reilly’s book pales in comparison.    Aslin’s book is about historical Jesus, and although it relies heavily on the Gospels, the book is quick to reject passages in the Gospels that don’t jibe with their in-depth historical context.  By contrast, O’Reilly’s book, which is self-described as “a history,” is not much more than a narrative consolidation of the Gospels put in a superficial historical context.

An example of the different approaches of Aslin and O’Reilly concerns the birthplace of Jesus.  O’Reilly assumes the birthplace was Bethlehem because that is what the Gospels say.  Aslin, however, based on a variety of factual issues, concludes that Jesus was actually born in Nazareth.  He suggests that the Gospels misstated this fact so that the location of birth conformed to some earlier biblical prophecies.

O’Reilly recently wrote an illustrated children’s version of Killing KennedyKilling Jesus already fits that mold, with light, popular reading, but it provides almost nothing in terms of in-depth thinking or insights.

The GOP war on the poor

Filed under: Issues,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 4:38 am
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The NY Times, like most in the mainstream media, likes to seed discord amongst the ranks of the Republican Party.  Consistent with this predilection, the Times recently published an article titled, Ohio Governor Defies G.O.P. with Defense of Social Safety Net.”  The article leads with the following quote from Ohio Governor John Kasich:

  • I’m concerned about the fact there seems to be a war on the poor.  That if you’re poor, somehow you’re shiftless and lazy.

I’m a longtime fan of Kasich, ever since he was chairman of the House Budget Committee that balanced the federal budget in the late 90s.  He’s always been a free-thinking maverick/iconoclast, so this recent policy position is not surprising.  But as a conservative who is not trying to win an election, I wonder about the soundness of the position.

My most recent entry in my blog concerned the movie titled, “Waiting Room,” and it portrayed the experience of those waiting to be seen by a doctor in a county hospital.  Those people were poor and could be generally described as “shiftless and lazy” – i.e., no ambition and no energy.

A social safety net is described by Wikipedia as programs designed to prevent “the poor or those vulnerable to shocks and poverty from falling below a certain poverty level.”  The challenge to America’s safety net is to distinguish between those who need help because of a shock or an incapacity to participate in our modern economy.

Kasich will, of course, say things for popular consumption, but he needs to recognize that one size does not fit all.  Some people will respond to opportunity; others are basket cases.

October 29, 2013

Saturday Night at the Movies #85 – The Waiting Room

Filed under: Movie reviews — Mike Kueber @ 3:44 am
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The Waiting Room is a 2012 documentary about life in a hospital emergency room in Oakland, CA.  The situs of this emergency room is Oakland’s Highland Hospital, which Wikipedia calls a safety-net hospital, i.e., the place where uninsured people go to receive free medical care – a/k/a county or public hospitals.  If ObamaCare succeeds (with everyone becoming insured), these hospitals should become more like other hospitals because virtually everyone will be insured.

The film was exceedingly well received by critics, with 100% of the 32 critics on Rotten Tomatoes liking it.  The audience reception was a bit less, at 76%.  I agree with the critics because the movie was surprisingly balanced.  There are no heroes and no villains.  The customers are real and not particularly sympathetic.  The employees are neither jaded nor Pollyannaish; instead, they are trying to do the best they can with what they have.

Even though there is nothing overtly political about The Waiting Room, the unavoidable conclusion that most viewers will come to is that something needs to be done to ensure that the uninsured are treated more efficiently and humanely in America.  But, as Libertarian John Stossel has warned, most people have a troubling tendency to respond to any bad situation with the comment, “government needs to do something about that.”  Well, government can’t prevent all bad situations if it intends to protect an individual’s right to be self-reliant.  County hospitals seem to create the right balance between individual self-reliance and societal safety-net.

So, ultimately, my position on self-reliance vis-à-vis government beneficence is unchanged, but now I have some faces in mind along with abstract concepts.

October 28, 2013

Visiting northwest North Dakota

Filed under: Entertainment — Mike Kueber @ 12:17 am
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A friend of mine from the Philippines is visiting northwest North Dakota with her new boyfriend, and she asked me for suggestions on things to do.  Although I grew up in northeast North Dakota and have been GTT (“gone to Texas”) for almost 30 years, I agreed to give it a try.

The couple are driving to Minot on Highway 83 from Canada.  The highway goes directly past Minot Air Force Base (with bombers and missiles) a few miles north of town, and that might have been interesting to tour, but according to a base website, tours have been severely limited due to fiscal challenges and the infamous sequestration.

Day One – The city of Minot is unquestionably the crown jewel of northwest North Dakota and deserves as day of recreation.  With more than 40,000 people, it far exceeds all surrounding cities in population and thereby is the retail center for the area.  My friend likes to shop, so she will probably enjoy a few hours at the Dakota Square Mall, which is on the south edge of town, at the intersection of the city’s two major highways – north/south Highway 83 and east/west Highway 2.

The most beautiful feature of Minot is the Souris River, which flows through the middle of town.  Since I left town, the city apparently developed a 2½ mile walk/bikeway along the river and that seems like a perfect activity in fall weather.  There is also a Roosevelt Park and Zoo that deserves a look, plus a couple of museums – Taube Museum of Art and Dakota Territory Air Museum.

For Days Two and Three, I suggest a driving tour of the ranch & oil country west of Minot.  Day Two would consist of a 1½ hour drive to the Four Bears Casino & Lodge (via Highway 83 south of town and then Highway 23 west into an Indian Reservation).  The Lodge, which has received spotty on-line ratings, is on the mighty Missouri River about four miles east of New Town, and the scenery is as good as it gets for North Dakota.  New Town was founded in 1953 to replace the cities of Sanish and Van Hook, which were inundated by the creation of Lake Sakakawea by damming the Missouri River.

Day Three would consist of continuing to drive west of New Town to Watford City and then Williston, before circling back on Highway 2 to Tioga. These three cities are in the heart of the Bakken Shale oil explosion, and I can only imagine how much they have changed since I was adjusting insurance claims in those towns in the 80s.  (Bakken is the name of a Tioga farmer on whose land the shale was discovered.)  Tioga and Watford City have only a couple of thousand people, while Williston has almost 20,000, so budget your time appropriately.  Then, back home.

I used to drive the entire Minot, New Town, Watford City, Williston, and Tioga route every Tuesday while working for State Farm Auto Insurance, so you should be able to adjust this itinerary to match the time you have available.  Maybe you want to start by driving directly to Four Bears and then stopping in Minot on the way back.  That probably makes more sense.

Hope you have fun and I look forward to learning about your experiences.

October 25, 2013

Pell grants and means testing revisited

Filed under: Education,Issues,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 6:49 pm
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I have previously written about government means testing in general and Pell grants in specific.

The essence of my post on college-related Pell grants was as follows:

  • According to an article provided by U.S. News – “Those with EFCs (expected family contributions) above $4,041 will be disqualified for Pell grants. Almost all Pell grants go to students whose families have incomes of less than $50,000 a year.”
  • Presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney has suggested that the federal government seems to be concerned only about the rich (cared for by the GOP) and the poor (cared for by the Dems), whereas the middle class is neglected.
  • Although I think Romney is right, I am also willing to make an exception in this case because there are few things as important in this country as encouraging motivated poor kids to go to college.  And because the federal government doesn’t have unlimited amounts of money (in fact, it has no money), a cut-off for Pell Grants has to be somewhere, and perhaps $50k is the appropriate cut-off.  Personally, I think the cut-off is a bit low, and if I were in Congress, I would push for Pell Grants to kids with parents making up to $100k a year.

The essence of my post on means testing was as follows:

  • When digging deeper into the federal government’s calculation of expected family contribution (EFC), I learned that (1) the government considers “resources” to be not just income, but also assets; and (2) assets do not include home equity or retirement accounts.
  • Calculations that consider assets in addition to income unfairly penalize someone (like me) for being thrifty.
  • Calculations that exclude home equity from assets unfairly penalize someone (like me) who chooses to live in a rental.

Obtaining access to the precise formula used by the federal government in calculating financial aid is extremely difficult.  In fact, for several months the government website has been saying that the 2013-14 formula is “coming soon.  Based on the ObamaCare roll-out, I am not holding my breath.  But I have been able to find the formula that was used last year, and although it is extremely difficult to understand, I believe it provides the following:

  • Each year, parents are expected to contribute a percentage of their income over $17k.  The sliding-scale contribution amounts to an $8k contribution on the next $30k of income, and 47% of any income over that.  It’s easy to see why this government formula results in people with incomes over $50k “being on your own.”
  • Each year, parents are expected to contribute 12% of their non-home assets toward their child’s college education.  That means that almost half of your lifetime savings will be depleted even if your kid is able to graduate in four years.  The government allows you to not count your first $20k of assets.

Looks like I’m on my own unless I park my savings into some sort of home equity or retirement account.

Saturday Night at the Movies #84 – Before Midnight

Filed under: Movie reviews — Mike Kueber @ 1:05 am
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Two of my favorite movies in the past few years were Before Sunrise (1995) and Before Sunset (2004), so you can imagine how excited I was to learn that Before Midnight was coming out in 2013.  Because its visit to the Bijou Theatre in San Antonio was so brief, I missed it, but this week it was released by Netflix by DVD, and it was worth the wait.

Before Sunrise was about a young American guy (Ethan Hawke) who met a young French girl (Julie Delphy) on train from Hungary to France.  The entire movie consists of their talking about life while on the train for a few hours and then during a one-night layover in Vienna.  When they part in Vienna the next day, they make some vague plans for a shared future.

Before Sunset picks up the story nine years later, and the entire movie consists of these two characters for 90 minutes catching up with each other and resuming their philosophical conversation.  The movie ends with us not knowing whether the characters would part like they did in Before Sunrise or stay together.

Before Midnight (2013) picks up the story nine years later.  The first part of the movie starts like the other two, with Hawke and Delphy having the same sort of philosophical conversation, but it doesn’t ring true because, as we quickly learn, they’ve been together since Before Sunset, and old couples shouldn’t sound so freshly interested in each other’s thoughts.  In the middle part of the movie, some additional characters are allowed into the conversation, and their conversation sounds pretentious and almost too articulate (sort of like Aaron Sorkin writing West Wing) until you learn that the additions are literary types.

But the end of the movie saves everything.  Instead of making eloquent speeches about the meaning of life, Hawke and Delphy engage in a real conversation about their marriage and the concomitant accommodations.  From my perspective, Hawke sounds so much like me and Delphy communicates like several women I have been close to.  Mars and Venus.

Before Midnight was a low-budget movie made in 15 days for $3 million, and grossed $20 million.  As with its two predecessors, the Rotten Tomato critics loved it (98%); the audience not as much (87%).  As with its two predecessors, I give it four stars out of four.  And when the year 2022 approaches, I will be hounding Austin filmmaker Richard Linklater, Hawke, and Delphy for another movie.

October 24, 2013

Facebook chatter – Wendy Davis v. Ted Cruz, or comrades in arms

Filed under: Culture,Issues,People,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 7:06 pm
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The government shut-down resulted in Ted Cruz being characterized as a radical more akin to a terrorist than a patriot.  In a variety of forums, liberals spewed their venom on Cruz.  On Facebook, some liberals merely primed their readers with matter-of-fact comments, and then waited for their low-information, progressive commenters to vent.  As an example, public radio’s David Martin Davies posted the following:

  • Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), who staged a 21-hour filibuster earlier in the process and had swore that he would do anything to stop Obamacare, now says he will not stand in the way of a last minute deal to re-open the government and avoid busting the debt.  “Of course not, never had any intention to delay this vote,” he told reporters as he exited the meeting. “Delaying this vote would not accomplish anything.”

Among the reader comments to this entry:

  • Carmela Garcia – Idiot!
  • Suzy Bianchi-Barrett – Everything I want to say would get me permanently banned.

After I read the entry, it occurred to me that Cruz was being vilified for employing tactics that just a few weeks earlier Wendy Davis had used to rise to folk-hero status.  So I posted the following comment:

  • Michael Alyn Kueber – That is an interesting quote – “Delaying this vote would not accomplish anything.” Democratic folk hero Wendy Davis apparently felt otherwise with her battle.

My comment elicited a response for David Martin Davies, and the back-and-forth chatter was on:

  • David Martin Davies – Michael Alyn Kueber, do you have some sort of off-the-rightwing-wall-nonsense-quote-generator app for your Facebook account? It coughs up comments that mean nothing and aren’t even related to what the topic is.
  • Michael Alyn Kueber – David Martin Davies, the point is that the liberal media lionized Wendy Davis for waging a quixotic battle in favor of abortion rights while demonizing Ted Cruz for waging a losing battle against ObamaCare.
  • David McLemore – Except that Sen. Davis’ filibuster came close to killing a pointless bill, was a real filibuster and Cruz’ long speech was a sham that did nothing. Context is king.
  • David Martin Davies – Michael Alyn Kueber, that’s not a direct point – that’s a lot of unpacking to get from point A to point B.  Y R U bringing that up?
  • Michael Alyn Kueber – I assume that the point of your post was to ridicule Cruz, and I don’t recall any such ridicule directed toward Davis after the Texas legislature ultimately passed the anti-abortion bill. Seems like a double standard. Although forcing a special session was not as damaging as shutting down the government, the two strategies have some similarities. Yet, according to the media, one created a lion and the other created a devil. Contrary to David’s comment above, I don’t recall anyone thinking that Davis’s filibuster would do anything other than force a special session. And I certainly don’t recall anyone characterizing the anti-abortion bill as pointless.
  • David McLemore – Perhaps I was too kind to call the Texas anti-abortion bill ‘pointless.’ Closing down Planned Parenthood clinics across the state, cutting out needful non-abortion health services for women in poor and rural areas is not pointless. Nice catch.
  • David Martin Davies – The post was reporting the facts – there was no ridicule – Cruz wasn’t called a hero or a cry baby. But it seemed to have hit a raw nerve with you. You don’t have to be so defensive. I understand that it’s tough having to stick up for Cruz after all the damage that he’s done to the country and to the Republican party. And I know it would have been better for the GOP had he not done his talkathon since it took away from the messed up rollout of the ACA, drove up Obama’s poll numbers, distracted the public from Syria, united the Dems and could cost the GOP the House. But look on the bright side – I don’t know what the bright side is for the GOP – but it’s there somewhere.
  • Michael Alyn Kueber – Not to go off on a tangent, but since you mentioned Obama’s rising poll numbers, Rush Limbaugh did a segment last week where he pointed out the Wolf Blitzer of CNN had gone apoplectic a few years ago when Bush’43’s approval rate dropped to 36%, yet last week when Obama’s approval numbers dropped to a record low of 37% in an AP poll, there was hardly a peep in the mainstream press. According to Rush, this was further evidence of the media’s double standard.
  • David Martin Davies – I heard that segment on Rush – and the way that he presented it one would get that impression. And I found it to be a great example of how Rush will cherry pick facts to support his argument with him expecting that most of his listeners will not look any deeper into the facts. So when GWBush hit rock bottom numbers 36% that was news because it was the first time that a president had such low numbers. And when Obama hit 37% there wasn’t much said in the media. Lots of reasons for that – the main reason is that GOP popularity numbers are about 25%. They wish they had Obama’s 37% – which has gone up about 10% since that poll. I would tell anyone listening to Rush to think for yourself.
  • Conni Brenner – “do you have some sort of off-the-rightwing-wall-nonsense-quote-generator app for your Facebook account?” Hilarious! Would make a great meme.
  • Judy Greenberg – Sorry but my first thought was “Asshole!”
  • Marianne Kestenbaum – While Michael Alyn Kueber and I have strongly disagreed many times in the past in workplace committees or task forces, I never found him to be a knee-jerk opponent or proponent of anything–just someone who also held strong beliefs that often were more nuanced, less simplistic, and more worthy of thoughtful analysis than I originally felt, once I fairly considered them. In the same light, I felt he always respectfully listened to me, and the outcome of the discussion that of course involved more than the two of us was decided in the marketplace of ideas in the committee, even though he actually chaired one of those committees, I believe. The points being, first and foremost, as with all of us who stick our necks out in forums where it’s quite possible we represent a minority perspective, he deserves not to be labeled, and second, opposing ideas can build a larger umbrella and perhaps a broader perspective in which the two ideas can actually be compatible and lead to solutions and learning. So now it is time for me to take some time to analyze his remarks and validate for myself that my intense initial response that Davis’s and Cruz’s tactics were indeed dramatically different from one another, or look at things from a different angle that might accommodate both perspectives, though I don’t want to cause Michael too much discomfort in doing so.
  • Michael Alyn Kueber – Thanks for the testimonial, Marianne Kestenbaum. I look forward to your analysis.

Unfortunately, Marianne never disclosed her analysis, so I will formalize mine:

  • As I stated in my earlier comment, I agree that forcing a government shut-down is more significant that forcing a special session of the legislature, but neither is an earth-shattering event.  Although liberals/progressives were primed to blame all subsequent negative economic developments on the shut-down, there have been no such developments thus far.  In fact, the stock market has rebounded to new record highs, which is the best indicator that no significant damage was done.  Also, as I said earlier, both Cruz and Davis waged a partisan battle that was doomed to fail, but that energized their partisan base.  Unless someone can provide me with something significant that distinguishes these gambits, I will continue to believe Cruz and Davis used the same playbook.

With respect to David’s initial charge – As someone who has been a burr in the saddle of a bunch of leftwing, nonsense quote generators on Facebook, I can attest to the fact that the rightwing does not have a monopoly on low-information, non-thinking partisans.

ObamaCare – temporary glitch or systemic failure

Filed under: Economics,Issues,Medical,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 1:41 pm
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There has been much talk the past few days about the problems associated with the federal government’s ObamaCare exchanges.  This publicity suggests that public radio’s David Martin Davies was correct last week when he suggested that the TEA Party was shooting itself in the foot with its shut-down of the federal government.  According to Davis, the shut-down was distracting the public from ObamaCare’s embarrassing crash.  Now, with the shut-down over, there is no bigger story in America than the ObamaCare exchanges.

The initial debate seemed to have conservatives arguing in a knee-jerk fashion that the implementation failure was only an example of all that was wrong with ObamaCare, while the liberals countered that the problems with on-line implementation had nothing to do with the substance of the law.  Eventually, though, the debate has gravitated toward the real issue, which was the title of a pro-con op-ed piece in today’s SAEN:

On the side of temporary glitch is NY Times columnist Paul Krugman.  On the side of systemic failure is Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson.  Both Krugman’s and Gerson’s columns tend toward picking straw man arguments and then debunking them.  Near the end of Gerson’s column, however, he makes a broader point that resonates with me.  He refers to Friedrich Hayek’s point about a fundamental flaw of central planning, which is the inability to consider all of the relevant information.  By contrast, the free market has the marvelous ability to do just that.

And that is why ObamaCare needs to go away.

Saturday Night at the Movies #83 – Mad Men (TV show), Amour, The Lucky One, and 10 Years

Filed under: Movie reviews — Mike Kueber @ 3:41 am

Mad Men is one of the four principal series chronicled in the book titled Difficult Men.  I recently noted the following about Mad Men on my Facebook wall:

  • Just finished Netflix binging on five seasons and 64 episodes of Mad Men. Although Manhattan in the 60s was not the best place/time for women, it is fascinating and alluring to someone like me who was a kid growing up on a farm in North Dakota at that time. And, with two exceptions, the characters are deeply flawed yet totally winsome – Pete Campbell, Betty Draper/Francis, Roger Sterling, and especially Don Draper. The exceptions are Peggy Olson and Joan Holloway, who to this erstwhile male chauvinist seem to belong on a pedestal. Season Six is available only by DVD (no binging), which Netflix will begin sending to me next week, and then the series-ending Season Seven will start on AMC in 2014.”

I loved Mad Men and rank it right alongside 24, Friday Night Lights, and Felicity, and better than Breaking Bad.  Compared to Mad Men, Amour (2012) is an utterly jolting change.  Mad Men is about energetic people in an invigorating city.  By contrast, Amour is a French movie about the drudgery of two tired old people slowly living out the end of their days.  Johnny Carson used to tell a joke about watching paint dry; well, Amour is often like that.  But it is effective.  I generally prefer movies that make me think, and Amour certainly causes one to appreciate what many old people have to go through, so I’m going to have to give the movie three and a half stars.  The Rotten Tomato critics agree at 93%, and I’m not surprised that the audience was a bit less at 82%.  Incidentally, Amour was nominated for Best Picture and won for Best Foreign Picture.

The Lucky One (2012) might be an enjoyable romantic drama for some (67% of the Rotten Tomato audience liked it), but I didn’t like it because the protagonist played by Zac Efron was a jerk, and he didn’t deserve Taylor Schilling.  I agree with the Rotten Tomato critics, who approved the movie at only 20%.  One star out of four.

10 Years (2012) is a romantic comedy about a 10-year high school reunion.  There are some decent scenes and some decent characters, but overall it is disappointing.  The Rotten Tomato critics like it at 60%, but the audience is only at 40%.  I give it one and a half stars out of four.

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