Mike Kueber's Blog

February 27, 2014

Road rage

Filed under: Culture,Philosophy,Science — Mike Kueber @ 6:41 pm
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With various questionnaires, surveys, and profiles, I’ve admitted to having a problem with road rage.  But I also claimed that I’m making progress in controlling the rage.  Today, while returning home from the gym, I suffered a relapse.

I was driving about 70 mph in the left lane of Loop 1604, closely following another car going the same speed.  A pickup pulled slightly ahead of me in the right lane and suddenly turned on his blinkers and squeezed into the four or five car lengths between me and the car in front of me.  After his move, he was about one car-length behind the car in front of me and about two car lengths in front of me.

By necessity, I backed off to four or five car lengths again, and a minute or two later, another vehicle pulled the same maneuver.

When the first vehicle cut me off, my immediate instinctual reaction was consistent with “fight or flight,” and it wasn’t flight.  My blood pressure or adrenaline or something went through the roof, and I so felt like ramming the truck.  Instead I just blasted my horn for about 5 seconds.

Inexplicably, by the time the second vehicle did the same thing, I had calmed and controlled myself, and didn’t make a peep.

So, obviously, I still have a problem.  But as I continued my drive home, I wondered how most people would react if they were standing in line at a movie theater and some bully pushed him aside and jumped the line.  I think most men would immediately instinctually reclaim their position.

It’s in our DNA.

February 24, 2014

Walter E. Williams and a Thousand Points of Light

Filed under: Issues,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 9:31 pm
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My friend Bob Bevard recently posted an interesting question on his Facebook wall – Should you be forced to help your neighbor? Is that ethically OK?

Because I am a conservative/libertarian, I didn’t need long to conclude the answer is “no.”  If my neighbor’s barn burns down or his crop gets hailed out, I should not be forced to help him get back on his feet.  Although Americans have a long tradition of helping neighbors, especially in times of disaster like these, this help has always been voluntary, never coerced.  Surely, Americans wouldn’t stand for being told to help someone.

Later in his Facebook post, however, Bevard pointed out that American government accomplishes the same sort of intrusiveness and imperiousness through taxation.  And he referred his friends to a column titled Concealing Evil by pundit Walter E. Williams, who attempts to expose this scheme:

  • Evil acts are given an aura of moral legitimacy by noble-sounding socialistic expressions, such as spreading the wealth, income redistribution, caring for the less fortunate, and the will of the majority.”
  • “This is why socialism is evil. It employs evil means, confiscation and intimidation, to accomplish what are often seen as noble goals — namely, helping one’s fellow man. Helping one’s fellow man in need by reaching into one’s own pockets to do so is laudable and praiseworthy. Helping one’s fellow man through coercion and reaching into another’s pockets is evil and worthy of condemnation. Tragically, most teachings, from the church on down, support government use of one person to serve the purposes of another; the advocates cringe from calling it such and prefer to call it charity or duty.”
  • “Some might argue that we are a democracy, in which the majority rules. But does a majority consensus make moral acts that would otherwise be deemed immoral?”
  • “The bottom line is that we’ve betrayed much of the moral vision of our Founding Fathers. In 1794, when Congress appropriated $15,000 for relief of French refugees who had fled from insurrection in San Domingo to Baltimore and Philadelphia, James Madison rose on the floor of the House of Representatives to object, saying, “I cannot undertake to lay my finger on that article of the Constitution which granted a right to Congress of expending, on objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents.” Tragically, today’s Americans — Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative — would hold such a position in contempt and run a politician like Madison out of town on a rail.”

Clearly, Williams is correct in concluding that both political parties have accepted government’s role in dispensing charity.  Bush-41 tried to reverse the trend by pushing his Thousand Points of Light concept, but all indications are that government largesse will continue because people are so much more generous when spending other people’s money.  To which Williams would say, that doesn’t make it right.

Sunday Book Review #126 – Compelling People by John Neffinger and Matthew Kohut

Filed under: Book reviews — Mike Kueber @ 3:32 am
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This book reads like a written version of a company seminar designed to effect some change the company’s corporate culture or to enhance the personal skills of its employees.  And then when I read about the authors, I learned that is precisely what they do for a living.  According to the book’s jacket, Neffinger and Kohut specialize in “preparing speakers for high-stakes audiences.”

The book’s subtitle is “The Hidden Qualities That Make Us Influential.”  At a high level, according to the authors, individuals maximize their potential influence by displaying strength and warmth:

  • Strength is a person’s capacity to make things happen with abilities and force of will.
  • Warmth is the sense that a person shares our feelings, interests, and view of the world.

The book describes a variety of factors that affect how people perceive your strength and warmth.  Unfortunately, some factors are not in your control, and the authors characterizes them as “the hand you were dealt.”  These factors include gender, ethnicity, age, looks, body type, and disability.  Even though these factors are not in your control, the first part of the book suggests ways to better manage them.

The second part of book is characterized as “playing the hand.”  In this section, the book describes a wide assortment of psychological insights that affect a person’s reaction to you.  Among them:

  • “Warmth operates under something we call the tomato rule: Just as one freezing night can ruin a garden full of tomatoes, one cold incident – in which you show clearly that you do not share another person’s interests or care how they feel – can make it very difficult to reestablish warmth between you later.”
  • “The circle” is a speech-making concept that requires the speaker to first establish an emotional connection with the audience before trying to persuade it.  “There is a hard-won pearl of wisdom about seeking support for a project: ‘Ask for money, get advice.  Ask for advice, get money.’  This seems counterintuitive, but circle logic explains why it makes perfect sense.  When you ask someone for their money, you divide your interests from theirs….  By contrast, when you ask for advice on achieving your goals, you get in your audience’s circle by validating their view of themselves as wise and worth listening to, and they reciprocate by looking at your interests as their own.”

Dilbert creator Scott Adams in his new book recommended that people are more likely to achieve success if they acquire a working knowledge of 13 subjects.  One of those subjects is psychology, and Compelling People is exactly what Adams had in mind.

February 23, 2014

Greg Brockhouse and police/fire compensation

Filed under: Issues,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 5:47 pm
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Last year, Greg Brockhouse ran for the San Antonio City Council in District 6.  I was unfamiliar with him until our paths crossed at a Chamber of Commerce forum.  After hearing his stump speech, with its strongly conservative perspective and highly articulate delivery, I told him that he spoke like I wished I could.

Although Greg had solid political and business credentials and ran a professional campaign, he was soundly defeated by the incumbent establishment candidate.  Another factor – he was an Anglo running in a district that was predominantly Hispanic.

Since his losing campaign, Greg has been co-writing a blog with a well-known local liberal pundit Randy Bear.  They call their blog Bexar Left and Right.  Think of it like the San Antonio version of Hannity & Colmes except that neither Greg nor Randy is as predictable as the TV guys.  For example, Randy recently has become one of the most vocal critics of San Antonio’s liberal boondoggle – its downtown streetcar project.

Last week, Greg decided to return the favor by another of San Antonio’s liberal boondoggles – extravagant compensation to members of the police and fire unions.  According to Greg, the city needs to continue its commitment to public safety, although he agrees with the unions that the commitment shouldn’t be allowed to bankrupt the city into Detroit-like status.  They suggest that perhaps the city should cut other services or increase revenues.

I have suggested to Greg that the city’s commitment to public safety and its compensation for police/fire are two separate issues.  He disagrees and believes that compensation is critical to recruitment and retention of personnel.

Huh?  When was the last time you heard of a shortage of police/fire applicants?  When have you ever heard of a mass exodus from the police/fire profession, except when their incredibly generous retirement benefits become available to people who are barely middle-aged?

Greg compares police/fire service to military service.  I disagree.  The military often has recruitment problems that result in hiring people who don’t even have a high school diploma.  By contrast, more favorable police/fire compensation and working conditions result in so many candidates that cities could require at least a college degree, but that would exclude less-deserving candidates that the political establishment wants to give these lucrative jobs to.

Teaching is probably a better comparison than military service.  Although teachers don’t risk their lives, they have a calling to serve the public.  And because of this calling, they are willing to do difficult, stressful work without generous compensation.  Teacher compensation is set by the market, and that means America sometimes has too many teachers and sometimes not enough, and compensation is adjusted accordingly.  That’s the market working like it is supposed to.

So, getting back to my original point, when was the last time San Antonio or any other city wasn’t paying enough to recruit or retain police/fire.

Case closed.

Saturday Night at the Movies #102 – Tully and The Spectacular Now

Filed under: Movie reviews — Mike Kueber @ 12:09 pm

Tully (2002) and The Spectacular Now (2013) are both wonderful coming-of-age movies that on the surface are terribly dissimilar, but underneath are remarkably similar.  Broadly, both star an outgoing, charismatic guy who is emotionally unavailable until he meets the reserved, substantive girl next door.

Tully stars Anson Mount and Julianne Nicholson (a dead ringer for Isabel Glaser’s Harley in Pure Country), and the movie is set on a farm in Nebraska.  Rotten Tomato critics liked it a lot at 81%, while the audience mostly liked it at 75%.  Because of my affinity for life in rural America, I agree with the critics and give the movie three and a half stars out of four.

The Spectacular Now stars Miles Teller and Shaileen Woodley and is set in suburbia.  Rotten Tomato critics loved it at 92%, while the audience liked it a lot at 80%.  Because of my luke-warmness toward suburbia, I agree with the audience and give it three stars out of four.

Aphorism of the Week #17 – Don’t Be a Stranger

Filed under: Aphorism — Mike Kueber @ 11:53 am

This past week, I was invited to a female friend’s formal 60th birthday party.  Her husband alerted me that in attendance would be a couple of her attractive, available shirttail relatives who lived in San Antonio, but rarely attended his numerous parties.  Thanks for the heads-up, I told him.

My friend proved to be accurate.  The shirttail relatives attended and were exceedingly attractive.  Late in the evening, just as life’s social lubricant started working (it had arrived late), my friend’s daughter and son-in-law introduced me to the relatives, and we had a brief conversation.  A few minutes later, they stopped by as they were leaving, and I told them, “Don’t be a stranger.”

I felt good about the progress I had made with the relatives, but my friend’s daughter and son-in-law quickly disabused me of that notion.  She said, “lame,” and he said, “we need to work on your lines.”

Huh?  I had used that line a few months ago when I bumped into a yoga classmate who hadn’t been to class in a while, and it worked – i.e., she started attending more regularly, and we started talking more.  Back in North Dakota, I was taught that this aphorism is perfectly appropriate when saying good-bye to someone who you have not seen for a while.  Its double-edged meaning is (1) you wish there were more visits, and (2) the other person was at fault for the shortage of visits.

I wonder if maybe there is a generational thing in play here.  Although there aren’t many internet references to the term, I did find a definition in the hip dictionary of our time – the Urban Dictionary says, “usually used as a farewell, inviting one to visit again or communicate more often.”

I rest my case, but the proof will be in the pudding.

Sunday Book Review #125 – How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big

Filed under: Book reviews — Mike Kueber @ 1:01 am

Scott Adams is the cartoonist responsible for my favorite comic strip, Dilbert.  I have been reading Dilbert daily for more than 20 years and have a couple of Adams’s books from the 90s in my library – The Dilbert Principle and The Joy of Work.

Adams’s newest book is subtitled, “Kind of the Story of My Life,” but that is misleading.  The book is actually about Adams’s philosophy and strategies for living a successful life.  And by success, Adams is not talking about a mere career, but rather, as he succinctly states, “Happiness is the only useful goal in life….  My definition of happiness is that it’s a feeling you get when your body chemistry is producing pleasant sensations in your mind.”  So far, this makes sense.

According to Adams, the key components of happiness are:

  • Schedule flexibility (definitely not a 9 to 5 job)
  • Imagination (the ability to think of a better life)
  • Sleep
  • Diet
  • Exercise

Although Adams’s ultimate objective is happiness, he also realizes that success in the material world can better position an individual to be happy.  Material success is much more likely if an individual has a working knowledge of:

  • Public speaking
  • Psychology
  • Business writing
  • Accounting
  • Design – “If you’re like me, you were born with no design skills whatsoever.  I was amazed to learn, well into my adult years, that design is actually rules based.  One need not have an ‘eye’ for design; knowing the rules is good enough for civilians.  For example, landscape designers will tell you that it’s better to put three of the same kind of bush in your yard, not two and not four.  Odd numbers just look better in that context….  I also learned that art composition for anything from a magazine cover to an oil painting to a PowerPoint slide should conform to a few basic templates.  The most common is the L-shaped layout.  You imagine a giant letter L on the page and  fill in the dense stuff along its shape, leaving less clutter in one of the four open quadrants.”
  • Conversation
  • Overcoming shyness
  • Second language
  • Golf
  • Proper grammar
  • Persuasion
  • Technology (hobby level)
  • Proper voice technique

This book is replete with common-sense insights (e.g., developing and maintaining personal energy) and idiosyncrasies (e.g., affirmations or an offshoot of chanting).  It is well-worth reading.

Working forever

Filed under: Retirement — Mike Kueber @ 12:55 am

Many years ago, I worked with a guy who died on the job.  My co-workers were shocked when they learned that the guy was old enough for, not only the company pension, but also social security.  What the hell was he thinking still working?  The only thing we could think was (a) he had an easy, nonstressful job and (b) he enjoyed the camaraderie with co-workers that his job allowed.  Also, the four-day workweeks and generous vacation benefits enabled him to engage in as much leisure as he desired.  So, in a way, it all made sense.

Today, however, most people who talk about working forever don’t have a nonstressful, fun job with generous benefits.  Rather, they are recognizing the fact that they haven’t saved enough (pensions, social security, 401k) to live comfortably the rest of their lives.  Unfortunately, that makes sense, too.

But what about the people who can afford to retire, yet choose not to?  A fellow retiree recently suggested various rationales for such a decision.  Although he was comfortable with his decision, he wanted to consider what other people might be thinking.  Among the rationales that he generated:

  • A bad, unattractive home life (a disagreeable family)
  • An empty home life (no outside interests)
  • A self-image that will shrink because it is based on job status
  • A protestant work ethic that wants to remain productive
  • A job that involves doing good works

In the end, each individual is the best judge on how to maximize happiness, and that is why there is no right answer.  Just consider yourself lucky to have a choice.


February 21, 2014

Bitches and a-holes and Facebook

Filed under: Culture,Media,Philosophy — Mike Kueber @ 2:58 pm

A female friend Patrice recently posted on her Facebook wall a witticism from Sheryl Sandberg – “I want every little girl who is told she is bossy to be told she has leadership skills.”  Sandberg is Facebook’s COO and recently authored a book titled “Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead.”  Sensing an opportunity to refute some misguided feminism, I commented as follows:

  • I actually think there is a difference between being bossy and showing leadership skills.”

My friend responded, “As a male, you wouldn’t understand.”  And one of her female friends Carol piled on – “It is merely referring to empowerment, and I like it.”

Two guys came to my defense.  First my brother Kelly said, “It’s over my head, too; like being bossy is a good thing.”  And Aneta friend Eddie added – “I have a 6 year old granddaughter that is real bossy, she tells me do it now, don’t wait.  I tell her she will make somebody a good wife one day.  From now on I will tell her she has leadership skills.

I thought I applied the coup de grace to Carol as follows:

  • Empowered to boss others around?  Some people claim this issue is sexist because boys/men are taught to feel perfectly fine when they impose their will on others.  I disagree, at least as applied to growing up in ND.  Yes, bossy women are sometimes labeled as a b—-, but there is a term for bossy men, too, and it is a–hole.  Both are arrogant and self-centered and disliked.”

My friend Patrice decided I needed enlightening – “Mike Kueber, let me enlighten you. Often, when women lead, others denigrate her by calling her bossy. As in, ‘Why should I listen to that bossy bitch?’ Well, maybe because she IS your boss, or is in a position of leadership. As I said, you are the wrong gender to understand this. A woman can be a leader without being called names. Or so we hope.”

Brother Kelly – “Well maybe they are bossy!”

Patrice – “Go watch your Mad Men reruns.”

Patrice’s sister Denise joins the fray – “Michael and Kelly – get a life.”

I couldn’t let Patrice’s Mad Men reference go without whacking it out of the park (I thought):

  • Patrice, I just finished binge-viewing Mad Men on Netflix.  If your personal philosophy is informed by a TV show about Madison Avenue advertising people in the early 60s, that explains a lot.  Most reasonable people would agree that the sexual and racial views depicted in that show no longer exist.  Getting back to your original post, it does not refer to a woman who is your boss or in a leadership position (and I agree your concerns are valid there).  Rather, it refers to a little girl who is bossy.  We can agree to disagree whether that is a trait that should be encouraged in the little girl.”

Patrice decided to close her case by circling back to an argument she has used before when we debated abortion:

  • As I said originally, Mike Kueber, as a male, you can’t possibly understand. The end. No hard feelings.”

Refusing to give Patrice the last word, I responded amicably:

  • Incidentally, they say that parenting (and spending) decisions are at the root of most marital breakups. These are things that most of us feel pretty passionate about. Not only am I a male, but I never had the opportunity to parent a girl.”

Carol also rejoined the fray by taking a conciliatory stance:

  • Michael…as I said way back there…I agree…not necessarily to teaching our little girls to be bossy, but teach them to be strong….some may interpret it to be bossy, others may say it is merely a form of strength…That was all that I meant by my comment…everyone has an opinion and that is mine! I have a daughter…she is a strong woman…which I am very proud of!”

I responded:

  • Carol Bland, we agree completely. Coincidentally, I’m just starting on a book titled “Compelling People, the hidden qualities that make us influential.” According to the book jacket, the exceedingly rare combination that makes us influential is “strength (the root of respect) and warmth (the root of affection).” It sounds like your daughter is on the right path.”

Another female friend from Aneta, Elsie, joined to take a humorous tack, much like Eddie, except from a female perspective:

  • A team effort is a lot of people doing what I say.  My motto.  Oh and did I tell you, my girls call me ‘Bossy Elsie’? How else will things get done the way I want it done?”

I responded, “Elsie Sandeen Davidson, seems like you have captured that elusive mix of strength and warmth. Incidentally, my aforementioned book defines strength as the capacity to make things happen with abilities and force of will. Warmth is the sense that a person shares our feelings, interests, and view of the world.”

Gotta love Facebook chats, but I wonder why Patrice said “no hard feelings.”  That should go without saying.


9/26/14 update – a few months ago, without fanfare, Patrice “unfriended” Kelly and me from her Facebook.  For good measure, her sister, who was not a friend of mine, “unfriended” Kelly, too.

February 19, 2014

50,000 watts of common thread

Filed under: Culture,Entertainment — Mike Kueber @ 11:55 am
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I recently bought Rosanne Cash’s wonderful new album, The River and the Thread.  As I was listening to one of the catchiest tunes, I heard her sing, “50,000 watts of common thread.”  What an interesting insight!  I assumed she was referring to the bond created by millions of listeners hearing country music or talk radio on one of America’s legendary 50,000-watt radio stations.

I’ve given some thought lately to the things that bind America together.  Of course, the most important ties are our nation’s history of achievement and our shared values.  But some of those shared values seem to be getting diluted, and I wonder if TV is partially responsible.  Because of cable TV, Americans no longer watch the same TV shows.  Further, the shows that are on TV are designed to attract narrow niches instead of the broad mainstream.

Other ties, however, remain strong, and an example of that is the English language.  Although multiple languages are beneficial to society, it is also great to have a single language that we all share (albeit with region-influenced dialects).  I think it is especially neat when a person of color speaks American without any trace of being an immigrant.  That reflects a country that is the ultimate melting pot.

Because I’m not good at hearing lyrics, I eventually read the Cash album jacket to learn a bit more about what Rosanne was writing.  Boy, was I surprised to learn the song is titled, “50,000 watts of Common Prayer.”  Oh, well, it was food for thought.

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