Mike Kueber's Blog

November 30, 2013

She Said “No.”

Filed under: Relationships — Mike Kueber @ 5:16 am
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There is a country song titled, “She Said Yes” by Chad Brock.  It’s about a guy who meets a girl at his old apartment, and after a brief visit, he asks if he can see her again – “She said yes; I said wow!”  Later in the song, he pops the question and, “She said yes; I said wow!”  Well, a few days ago I asked a girl if I could see her again, and although her response didn’t include the word “no,” it wasn’t yes.

So how do I feel?

For the past few months I haven’t been interested in dating, and I’ve had a few friends tell me that I need to get back into the game.  They feel that a man without a woman is incomplete.  One even referred me to a biblical quotation for support.

I’m not so sure.  Many years ago I noticed that my favorite movies invariably had the man losing the woman – Casablanca, Liberty Valence, Gone with the Wind, and Shane.  So maybe there’s something in me that prefers being the person who loses the woman and leaves to someone else the work needed to maintain a relationship.

Despite my reservations about attempting to maintain a relationship, I feel the peer pressure to try, especially if the potential mate is a really exceptional person.  Based on a consensus developed at the Mira Vista pool this summer, “exceptional” means someone who is attractive, intelligent, personable, and warm.

In the past few weeks, I have gotten to know two exceptional women, and one of them appeared to be available, so I decided to apply the old saying that you will often regret things you didn’t try, but you will rarely regret things that you did try.  So I asked this person out, even though I thought that the chances of a positive response were in the 30%-40% range.

In hindsight, I’m glad I did, but I’m also not very disappointed that she didn’t say yes.  I don’t mind being in the company of Rick Blaine, Tom Doniphon, Rhett Butler, and Shane.

November 27, 2013

Sunday Book Review #113 – Yoga Sequencing by Mark Stephens

Filed under: Book reviews,Fitness — Mike Kueber @ 8:04 pm
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As a yoga aficionado who is interested in going beyond my rote participation in a daily 60-minute practice, I have checked out several yoga books from the local library.  Unfortunately, most of those books focus on the spiritual aspect of yoga, which is mostly beyond my current capability to enjoy.  Instead, I am interested in learning more about the physical practice, which consists of a series of poses (asanas).  Yoga Sequencing by Mark Stephens is exactly what I was looking for.

The genesis of yoga goes back almost 5,000 years, and it has evolved in an informal way.  A foundational text of 196 sutras (aphorisms) was written by Patañjali a couple of centuries B.C., but he was not the first to write about yoga and he used others’ writings in his work.  Those 196 sutras create the so-called eight limbs of yoga:

  1.  Yama refers to the five abstentions vis-à-vis the external world.
  2.  Niyama refers to the five observances: how we relate to ourselves, the inner world.
  3. Asana: discipline of the body.
  4. Pranayama consists of breathing exercises.
  5. Pratyahara: withdrawal of senses from their external objects.
  6. Dharana: concentration on a physical object.
  7. Dhyana: steadfast meditation.
  8. Samadhi: oneness with the object of meditation.

Yoga classes consist almost entirely of the third limb – asanas – although some practices touch on the breathing techniques in the fourth limb – pranayama.  Yoga Sequencing is subtitled “Designing Transformative Yoga Classes,” and its objective is to explain how the variety of asanas (or poses) can be fitted together to create an effective class.  The first concept to accomplish this is the Yoga Class Arc Structure.  According to Stephens, an effective class has five parts:

  1. Initiating the yogic process;
  2. Warming the body;
  3. Pathway to the peak;
  4. Peak exploration; and
  5. Integration and savasana.

These parts are really common sense and intuitive.  I remember a few weeks ago sending a note complimenting my instructor (whose name happens to be the 7th limb of yoga or Dhyana) about the great pace of her class that day:

  • Great ashtanga practice today.  Let me count the ways – (1) quick, solid warm-up without getting frenetic; (2) deceptively difficult standing poses that had the entire room sweating like pigs; and (3) yin poses that managed to keep the fire going all the way to savasana. Bravo!

The 60-minute yoga classes at Lifetime Fitness are Single Peak Class.  The book describes three other possibilities – Two Peak Class, Multiple Peak Class, and Gradual Arc Class – but I assume those classes are feasible only where the classes last 90 or 120 minutes.

After determining the desired pace, the next step for a teacher is to arrange the asanas in a sequence to accomplish that.  The yogic process is often initiated with sitting poses that help “establish your intentions” for that practice. It might also include some breathing exercises (pranayama).  The body is warmed usually with one of three sun salutations (namaskaras) – classical, A, or B.  The pathway to the peak includes two or three asana sequences of increasing energy, climaxing with the peak, followed by some calming down with some asanas on your yoga mat.

The author warns, “The peak should not be confused or conflated with the point of maximum internal heat generated through prior actions and poses; it is not so much about peak heat as peak openness.”  He also warns that “poses” suggest something superficial, but that actually they are essentially internal.  (As I noted in the opening, this mental component is beyond my current capability, so I think of peak as the time when the sweat is flowing liberally and I think of the asanas as physical poses.)

The book contains an abundance of guidance in selecting pose-by-pose sequencing, with the objective shifting from some times wanting complementary poses of increased or decreased challenge to other times wanting counter poses to balance what came earlier.

To assist teachers in cueing the various poses, the author provides an assortment of sequencing cues.  Because breathing is an important component, there are separate cues for the inhale and the exhale.  For example:

  1. Inhale – reach the arms out and up from Samasthihi to Urdhva Hastasana;
  2. Exhale – fold forward and down into Uttanasan;
  3. Inhale – extend the spine and heart center forward into Ardha Uttanasan;
  4. Exhale – step the right foot back, knee down to the floor, toes back;
  5. Inhale – draw the torso and arms up into Anjaneyasana;
  6. Exhale – swan dive the palms to the floor;
  7. Inhale – step back to Phalakasana;
  8. ….

In addition to providing sequencing for beginner classes, the author provides specialized sequences for intermediate and advanced classes, plus life-cycle sequences – kids, seniors, and special conditions of women (pregnant, menstruation, menopause).  There are also sequences with an emphasis on standing asanas, core awakening, arm balances, back bends, twists, forward bends, hip openers, and inversions.  Appendix B contains 96 pages with pictures and descriptions of countless asanas.

From the wealth of information contained in this book, I feel confident that my yoga instructors at Lifetime Fitness are highly competent and know what they are doing.  They create a class that is “assessable, sustainable, and transforming.”  Their asana sequencing results in a wonderful arc structure, all based on a foundation of clear cueing.

As I previous told Dhyana, bravo.

 

Saturday Night at the Movies #90 – In a Better World

Filed under: Movie reviews — Mike Kueber @ 7:52 pm
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In a Better World found its way to my viewing queue because it won an Oscar in 2011 for Best Foreign Language film (Danish).  The award was well-deserved, with an excellent story dealing with several absorbing issues, most especially bullying.  The middle-school bullying is rather typical, but the bullying of his dad goes to another level, with the dad being a strong, self-confident, do-gooder guy who believes in turning the other cheek.  It’s interesting seeing a seemingly perfect guy being unable to help his kid deal with the bullying problem.  A secondary, less interesting storyline involves a second middle-schooler who has anger issues because is unable to deal with the cancerous death of his mother.  And finally, a tertiary storyline involves the do-gooder trying to reconcile with his estranged wife following his inexplicable cheating.

Put these two kids and their three parents together, and you have an excellent movie.  The Rotten Tomato critics are 77% favorable, and the audience is even better at 86%.  I agree with the audience and give it three and a half stars out of four.

Street-corner panhandlers

Filed under: Culture,Philosophy — Mike Kueber @ 7:27 pm
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I’m one of those guys who never give money to street-corner panhandlers.  Although there are numerous pros and cons to deciding whether to donate (as discussed on numerous websites), I’ve generally come down on the side of the cons.

But today as I drove by another of these ubiquitous characters in San Antonio, a new rationale for donating occurred to me – efficiency.  Assuming that these characters are truly in dire straits, and further assuming that you believe in charitable giving to those in dire straits, then giving directly to the street-corner panhandler is amazingly efficient – i.e., 100% goes directly to the person in need.  By contrast, contributions to charitable organizations will often result in 20% to 80% going to administrative expenses.

Based on this new rationale, I’m going to be more likely to dig into my wallet at street corners in my future.

November 26, 2013

The trouble with boys

Filed under: Culture,Media — Mike Kueber @ 8:56 pm
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When I read my weekly issue of Time magazine, I usually start at the beginning.  The beginning of Time magazine is a column titled “Editor’s Desk,” by managing editor Nancy Gibbs.  As I was reading her column this week, I was struck by the following statement from Gibbs:

  • Also in this issue is a remarkable report on the hearts and minds of young men. Every few years, the spotlight tends to swing from girls to boys and back again: Who’s racing ahead, who’s falling behind, who suffers more from a hookup culture whose actual virulence is often exaggerated.”

Huh?  If there has ever been a spotlight revealing any concern for the status of boys vis-à-vis the girls during my lifetime, I missed it.  As a staunch opponent of affirmative action, I have always been concerned that boys are bound to suffer whenever society (the establishment, especially the media) seems to be rooting unabashedly for one over the other, especially in a zero-sum game.

Notwithstanding the misleading nature of Gibbs’ statement, her column does refer the reader to a major article in this week’s issue relating to boys – “What Boys Want.”  Although the principal focus of the article is the fact that boys seem to be having more trouble dealing emotionally with the new hookup culture, it also examines how boys have broadly fallen behind girls in life in general – e.g., in 1970, 58% of college students were men, while in 2010, 57% of college students were women.

All of this reminds me of the old saying that the grass is not greener on the other side of the street; it’s greener where you water it.

I hope this article is a sign of things to come, a time when boys and girls receive the attention they deserve.

November 25, 2013

Diversity in Fort Bend, Texas

Filed under: Culture,Issues,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 5:50 pm
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An article in the Texas Tribune reports that Fort Bend, Texas, the home of disgraced former conservative Congressman Tom Delay, has become famous as the most ethnically diverse county in America.    This assertion by a Rice professor is based on his definition of “most diverse” as the county that “comes closer than any other county in the United States to having an equal division among the nation’s four major ethnic communities — Asian, black, Latino and white residents.”

Fort Bend comprises 19% Asians, 24% Hispanics, 21% black, and 36% white, so it is not surprising that no other county is as close to 25% each.  But I have rarely seen “most diverse” defined in such a way.  Typically diversity is defined as the extent to which the composition of a subgroup reflects the composition of a larger group.  San Antonio recently addressed this issue in its SA2020 plan to diversity the composition of government boards.  Although the city didn’t initially define the term in the abstract, it was ultimately forced to establish numerical objectives and those objectives were for the composition of the boards to reflect the composition of the city, not to achieve 25%-25%-25%-25% split.

Based on this more practical definition of diversity – i.e., racial/ethnic balancing – Fort Bend is not ethnically diverse.  Rather, it is hugely over-represented by minorities, many of whom are new to America, and that goes a long way to explain why an observer in the Tribune article noted that the American melting pot no longer functions in Fort Bend, and it has been replaced by a multicultural community.

Let’s hope that is not the new America.

Saturday Night at the Movies #89 – The Great Gatsby

Filed under: Movie reviews — Mike Kueber @ 3:59 am
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As someone who has dreamed of being a writer, I have been fascinated by the term, The Great American Novel.  Wikipedia defines this as “a novel that is distinguished in both craft and theme as being the most accurate representation of the spirit of the age in the United States at the time of its writing or in the time it is set. It is presumed to be written by an American author who is knowledgeable about the state, culture, and perspective of the common American citizen.”  According to legend, there has never been a great American novel, so why not me.  Just kidding.

Although there has never been a great American novel, there have been several near misses.  Among the pretenders are Moby Dick, Huckleberry Finn, The Grapes of Wrath, To Kill a Mockingbird, and The Great GatsbyGatsby was written in 1925 by F. Scott Fitzgerald.  Even though being a great novel doesn’t necessarily predict a great movie (see Bonfire of the Vanities or Eat, Pray, Love), I decided to give a gander to two movie versions of The Great Gatsby.

The Great Gatsby that I first watched many years ago was the 1974 version starring Robert Redford, Sam Waterston, and Mia Farrow.  The most recent version of The Great Gatsby came out this year and starred Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, and Carey Mulligan.  Redford’s film was not successful commercially or critically (37% in Rotten Tomatoes), and although DiCaprio’s movie did not impress the critics (49% in Rotten Tomatoes), it was a commercial success with almost $350 million in worldwide receipts.

My biggest disappointment with both movies was their subject matter – it seemed too frivolous for a great American novel.  Who cares of the lifestyles of the rich and famous in the roaring 20s?  My biggest surprise was that the screenplays seemed so similar.  What were the chances that 2013 screenwriter Baz Luhrmann would glean the same scenes from the novel as did 1974 screenwriter Francis Ford Coppola?  The casting in both movies is fine, with Redford/DiCaprio playing a mysterious protagonist Gatsby who reminds me of Charles Foster Kane from Citizen Kane.

I give both movies two and a half stars out of four.

Sunday Book Review #112 – The Art of Thinking Clearly by Rolf Dobelli

Filed under: Book reviews — Mike Kueber @ 2:23 am
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I stumbled across The Art of Thinking Clearly while recently browsing the New Book section at the Igo Branch Library.  The title seemed like something that has greatly interested me since reading Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow, a book that analyzes decision-making (both intuitive and rational) and suggests ways to improve it.  I was so impressed by Kahneman’s book that I wrote an open letter to a State Education Board member suggesting that it be incorporated into the standard high school curriculum in Texas.

When I reviewed Kahneman’s book, I noted that it was similar to popular writer Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink:

  • “… but it is much more in-depth and comprehensive.  Gladwell is relatively a subject-matter dilettante compared to Kahneman, who has won a Nobel Prize in Economics and has been studying this subject (decision-making) his entire life.  Kahneman does an especially good job in describing how fast and efficient intuition is, which he calls it System 1.  But he also vividly describes the slower, lazy System 2, which monitors the functioning of System 1 and overrules it where necessary.  This overruling of System 1 by System 2 is necessary because, although System 1 is generally accurate, it makes lots of fundamental mistakes.”

If Gladwell is a dilettante compared to Kahneman, so is Rolf Dobelli.  His 306-page book consists of 99 of Dobelli’s insights into clear thinking, with each insight neatly described in 3 pages of print.  Although the insights are accurate, they are generally things that are readily apparent to thinking people.  And if you aren’t a thinking person, then you probably won’t take the time to plow through 306 pages.

But it might work as a textbook for high school students.

 

 

 

November 24, 2013

R is the new L word

Several months ago, I blogged about the difference between a liberal and a progressive.   As I noted in the blog post, there is arguably a distinction, but many people consider a progressive to be a liberal who simply refuses to be associated with a term that has been thoroughly discredited.

Apparently, the same thing can be said about the term “redistribution.”  According to a column in yesterday’s NY Times, titled “Don’t Dare Call the Health Law ‘Redistribution,’” the White House is so averse to the term that President Obama hasn’t uttered it for 18 months.    His last use of the term then was the following during an Ohio campaign speech:

  • Understand this is not a redistribution argument.  This is not about taking from rich people to give to poor people. This is about us together making investments in our country so everybody’s got a fair shot.”

The Times’ column also described an important presidential appointment that wasn’t made because a prospective appointee has said the following almost 20 years earlier:

  • A commitment to economic justice necessarily implies a commitment to the redistribution of economic resources, so that the poor and the dispossessed are more fully included in the economic system.”

Surely, that sentiment is shared by most progressives and liberals in America, but it is also untenable in politics.  That reflects the fact that America, even in the age of Obama, remains a center-right electorate.  Ironically, political correctness typically restrains conservatives, but in this instance it restrains liberals and progressives.

Coincidentally, Time magazine columnist Joel Stein authored a humorous column this week that also examined redistribution.    The column, titled “My 3% Problem,” made fun of the fact that the top 1% (or in Stein’s case, the top 3%) “feel bad for the 97%… but not enough to give my money away….  I want them to know that I vote for candidates who will raise my taxes because I want a more just society and not because I’ve noticed that even when they win, they never succeed in raising taxes.”  This guy is sometimes Jon Stewart funny.

Where do I stand on income redistribution?  Like most conservatives, I abhor the thought of income redistribution because, instead of increasing the size of the economic pie, it simply re-divides it and likely results in a smaller pie.  But like Joel Stein, I also abhor the income inequality in America.  Instead of being motivated by Obama’s refrain of “spread the wealth around,” I think America needs to develop policies that help the underprivileged to rise up in the modern world economy.  And I think taxing policies should be carefully crafted to reflect one’s ability to pay.  Finally, the estate tax should be utilized to reduce the extent of intergenerational transfers of Rockefeller-esque wealth.

November 21, 2013

Sunday Book Review #111 – The Secret Race by Tyler Hamilton

Filed under: Book reviews,Sports — Mike Kueber @ 10:12 pm
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I have a Facebook friend who grew up in a neighboring town, and although we played basketball against each other, I don’t recall ever meeting him in person.  Like me, he became a lawyer, and unlike me, he became a world traveler.  Along with being a competitive water skiing, he is an avid cyclist and recently posted about a couple of excellent cycling books – Wheelmen and The Secret Race.  After reading The Secret Race, I posted the following comment to the guy’s recommendation:

  • Also just finished “The Secret Race.” Hamilton’s life story is amazing, but I don’t think he puts Lance in such a bad light. Lance’s morality seems no better and no worse than the other professional riders. But for those of us who idolized Lance, we have to concede that instead of being the best rider ever, he was actually only the best drugged-up rider of his drugged-up generation. Akin to Barry Bonds.

My friend responded:

  • In my opinion the main thing that made Lance worse than the others was the way he threatened and attacked anyone who may have threatened to expose any of his lies, and also the degree to which he encouraged his image of “the clean and holy idol of cycling.” I think it’s one thing to lie about drug use in cycling–really don’t think any professional cyclist had much of a choice in the matter if they wanted to stay in the sport, but to use the lies to promote a hero image and the LANCE brand, aka Michael Jordan, takes it to a whole other level of immorality.  Also Lance continues to lie about his Drug use.

The book is excellent.  I can’t remember the last time it was so easy to read almost 300 pages.  In addition to the drugging insights that might help me once again break 20 miles in an hour on my bike (EPO, testosterone, and blood bags), there is a smattering of technical cycling insights related to training and competing.  But the best aspect of the book is getting to know Tyler Hamilton, a good, interesting man.

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