Mike Kueber's Blog

June 29, 2015

A very important person

Filed under: Culture,Philosophy — Mike Kueber @ 2:16 am
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A liberal Facebook friend, Cary Clack (former E-N columnist), recently posted some thought-provoking comments about the prevalence and pretentiousness of the term VIP.  Inexplicably, the term has become ubiquitous and acceptable in a nation of supposed democratic egalitarians.  Indeed, while watching Downton Abbey, the early 1900’s period piece on the British aristocracy, I am continually jarred when I see the train cars labeled first class and third class, but Clack’s comments jolted me into realizing that our progressive society has not progressed as much as I assumed.

Kids growing up in the 60s and 70s thoroughly rejected that sort of classism and elitism, but they seem to be making a surreptitious revival.

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June 25, 2015

While I was on vacation – Confederacy and ObamaCare

Filed under: Law/justice,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 10:32 pm
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While I was on vacation in North Dakota (totally off my computer and non-ESPN television), two significant events broke, and I am only now catching up on them.

The first event concerned a murder in South Carolina of nine black churchgoers by a white supremacist, and the ensuing public reaction.  Inexplicably, the murder caused a mass movement to ostracize anything related to the antebellum South, especially the display of the Confederate flag.

Today the movement spread to San Antonio, where our leading politician, Julian Castro, boldly asked that Robert E. Lee high school be renamed.  I am not being facetious in using the term “boldly” because Castro doesn’t typically act precipitously before checking on the direction of the wind, and there has been a lot of backlash to his suggestion.  I suspect his action is directed more for nationwide approval, and he doesn’t have to worry about aggravating the piddling number of local alumni of Robert E. Lee HS.

Personally, I have always been torn by my affection for the Confederacy as a symbol of states’ rights and my deference to black people who resent it as a symbol of slavery.  Because of that conflict, I don’t think governments should memorialize the cause, but we should be able to memorialize valiant conduct of individuals like Lee.  Hell, we Americans seem to have reasonable opinion of Patton’s WWII adversary Rommel, the Desert Fox.

The second event was the Supreme Court rejection of an argument that federal exchanges for ObamaCare should not be allowed to give subsidies.  Although the argument seemed strong to me (Scalia thinks the name ObamaCare should be changed to ScotusCare because the Supreme Court has twice saved it), the NT Times confidently declared that the argument was preposterous. I’ve long been in the camp of those wanting to end ObamaCare, but admit that the GOP has not suggested what should replace it.  All Americans are entitled to healthcare, and it doesn’t make sense to route so many people to an emergency room with nonthreatening problems.

An aspect of this matter, however, that has not received much attention is that the premium subsidy that is provided to millions of Americans is really welfare – i.e., needed-based government expenditures.  Romney referred to the 47% of Americans who live off government benefits, but that includes Social Security.  It would have been more interesting to focus on needs-based benefits – welfare – because America might be reaching a critical mass of those people, too, and then America will begin to resemble a socialist country – i.e., from each according to their ability, and to each according to their needs.

June 11, 2015

Bicyclists and stop signs

Filed under: Fitness — Mike Kueber @ 5:36 pm
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A popular poster circulating on Facebook reports, “Cops pull over and ticket 26 bicyclists at once for running a stop sign.”  Readers are encouraged to share if they agree with the cops.  I responded:

  • “I think we should all put bicyclists on a pedestal and appreciate them. We should treat them just like a deer because they are a pleasant and enjoyable sight that we want to encourage more of.”

Doing some additional research, I learned the following from the Prairie Village (KS) post:

  • “Police pulled over a total of 26 bicyclists Thursday around 7:30 p.m. after the group rode through the intersection of 69th Street and Oxford Road without stopping at a stop sign.  Thursdays are a popular evening for group bike rides in northeast Johnson County, with the ‘Prairie Village Yacht Club’ having met each week in the parking lot outside the Blue Moose Bar & Grill for years. Police Captain Wes Lovett said the department had received a prior complaint about riders’ behavior in the area, which appears to be the motivation behind last night’s intervention.”

I suspect the police in Prairie Village have nothing better to do.

Donating a kidney – 4

Filed under: Kidney donation — Mike Kueber @ 12:54 am
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My kidney-donation process officially ended today with a telephone call from the program coordinator.  He reported that the review committee had considered my application on Monday and concluded that I was not a satisfactory candidate.  The primary reason for this conclusion was my indication to the psychologist that I would be reluctant to abide by their recommendation to reduce alcohol consumption to one or two alcoholic drinks a week.  A secondary reason was my self-reporting that, after my knee-replacement surgery a few years ago, I had experienced some minor depression, apparently due to 4-6 weeks of forced inactivity and my weaning from pain medication.

I was a bit surprised by the phone call because I thought they were waiting on me to decide whether I would go through with the donation despite their alcohol warning.  They took the decision out of my hands, but I had pretty much decided against the donation unless I was able to find solid evidence that one kidney can be expected to handle as much alcohol as two.

I’m a little relieved because the donation was not going to be a picnic, but I’m similarly disappointed because a chain donation would have time well-spent.

June 9, 2015

One person, one vote – San Antonio

Filed under: Law/justice,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 1:49 am
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When I was running for the San Antonio city council a couple of years ago, I discovered that the city had apparently violated the one-person, one-vote requirement in its Charter to the detriment of the Northside citizens when it redistricted following the 2010 census.  During the campaign I tried to make this a big issue because it exemplified how (a) minorities in San Antonio (Anglo northsiders) were being shortchanged by the majority (Hispanic south and westsiders), and (b) the city was becoming like a banana republic in its disregard for Charter constraints.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have the resources to create a “big issue,” and the media was not interested.

After the election, I tried to get city officials to fix the redistricting, but the mayor and my councilman ignored me, and although the asst. city attorney admitted that the redistricting was problematic, she refused to do anything about it.  That left my only recourse a lawsuit.

For months, I procrastinated about filing the suit myself, but I wasn’t confident of my litigation skills, so I found a lawyer at my gym who was willing to take on the matter for a discounted fee.  I gave him the money a year ago, but because of numerous distractions he didn’t get around to filing the lawsuit in state court until a couple of months ago.  Then, just as we were preparing to filing a Motion for Summary Judgment, the City removed the lawsuit to federal court, probably because the vast majority of Bexar County judges are Republicans based in and sympathetic to the Northside.  The City might have also been concerned that a Republican judge would halt the current council/mayoral election.

In any event, we are now litigating to return the lawsuit to state court.  In my opinion, the city’s attempt to make a federal case out of this lawsuit is not only wrong, but also frivolous.

Time will tell.

June 8, 2015

Donating a kidney – 3

Filed under: Kidney donation — Mike Kueber @ 4:05 am
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Last week, I had several interviews with members of the kidney-transplant team, including a doctor, an advocate, and a clinical psychologist.  Everything seemed fine until the clinical psychologist learned that I typically drink alcohol at a rate of 3-4 drinks 3-4 times a week.  She noted that they recommend that people with a single kidney drink no more than 1-2 drinks a week.  That would be problematic, I told her.

A couple of days later, the psychologist called me back to confirm that, although their guideline was conservative, she had confirmed that any drinking of alcohol in excess of that would be risky.  She suggested that, because my donation was entirely elective, and because my health currently was in such a good place, I should seriously consider whether I would want to do anything to potentially throw my life out of balance.

As I’ve thought about the matter this weekend (and done a lot of internet research on the subject), I am learning against the donation.  The 4-6 weeks of post-surgery disability is concerning enough, but permanently and dramatically curtailing my drinking is probably too much.  Drinking 3-4 times a week is an important part of my social life.  If I had to choose between giving up drinking and giving up yoga, I’m not sure which I would do.  Fortunately, I don’t have to give up either.

More time to think.

Sunday Book Review #162 – Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids by Meghan Daum

Filed under: Book reviews — Mike Kueber @ 3:49 am

A couple of years ago I blogged about a subject discussed in Time magazine and the LA Times – a childfree life.    The LA Times column was written by Meghan Daum, and I was not persuaded:

  • Call me cynical, but I think Daum is rationalizing. Someone with the discipline to become a great writer surely has what it takes to become a good parent. Yes, some people are naturally great parents, but the vast majority of people can be good parents. Unlike Daum, I think these unborn kids deserve the opportunity to experience what we have been given. Furthermore, from a purely private perspective, Daum should consider that virtually all parents, regardless of whether they were natural-born parents or parents because of societal pressure, will declare with unabashed certainty that parenting was the most satisfying experience of their lives.”

Well, Daum’s column proved to be so provocative that she decided to produce a book on the subject.  As suggested by the book’s title, Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids, the book comprises sixteen explanations for not having kids, plus an introduction by Daum.

In the introduction, Daum points out that childfree people are not a monolithic group.  Indeed, “the common theme is that there is no common theme.”

I beg to differ.  Beyond the obvious fact that all of these sixteen people are artsy writers devoted to their craft despite its financial and professional insecurities, they also tend to share many other significant characteristics, like being an only child, abandoned, having a horrible relationship with a parent, or needing mental therapy.  As Daum initially noted in her LA Times column, some of the childfree writers claimed to lack the necessary skills to be good parents.  Others, however, felt they had both the skills and human warmth to parent, but merely lacked the inclination.

After reading 270 pages of explanations for choosing to go childfree, I agree that the precise journey that each writer took to reach their common destination is unique.  To some, it was an easy journey, with little or no doubt, as they march to the beat of their own drum.  Others, however, have vacillated for years with uncertainty coming from either their own soul or from societal pressure.

I don’t think society is wrong to apply some slight pressure in favor of parenting, just as there is slight pressure to help your neighbor or to enlist in the military. As John Kennedy said, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country. Some developed parts of the world (including white America) are experiencing negative population growth because so many of their people are going childless, so this trend does not bode well for America’s future.

America’s future is something that more than a few of the writers don’t care about.  They care only about their lifetime, without thinking about how to make the world a better place in the future.  For most of us, that means raising kids to be better than us.  And some of the writers act as if kids are fungible things, easily replaced by someone else having kids, while failing to recognize that their kids could have been special.

In my initial blogpost, I suggested that Daum was rationalizing her decision to go childless.  In her book, some of her writers suggest that parents often rationalize their decision to have children, and that may be true.  Upon further reflection, maybe we should accept, without recrimination, that each person should be able to decide for themselves how to spend their limited time on Planet Earth.

June 1, 2015

Sunday Book Review #161 – The Wright Brothers by David McCullough and One-Page Financial Plan by Carl Richards

Filed under: Book reviews — Mike Kueber @ 2:09 am
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Many years ago, I read David McCullough’s book, The Great Bridge, which describes construction of the Brooklyn Bridge from 1869 to 1883 by the Roeblings, father and son.  Although the subject was interesting, I was most drawn to the book because it provided a fascinating perspective on living and working more than a hundred years ago in my favorite town, New York City.

McCullough’s most recent book, The Wright Brothers, provides a similar historical perspective, although Dayton, Ohio in the first years of the 20th century is not quite so bewitching as NYC.  Further, The Great Bridge is about the City, not the Roeblings, while The Wright Brothers is not about Dayton, OH, but rather about the Wright Brothers. And they are impressive brothers.

Two quotes from Wilbur Wright are especially impressive:

  1. If I were giving a young man advice as to how he might succeed in life, I would say to him, pick out a good father and mother, and begin life in Ohio.”  As someone born and bred in the Midwest, I appreciate someone who appreciates how lucky we were.
  2. “I do not think I am especially fitted for success in any commercial pursuit even if I had proper personal and businesses influences to assist me.  I might make a living, but I doubt I would ever do much more than this.  Intellectual effort is a pleasure to me and I think I would be better fitted for reasonable success in some of the professions than in business. In business it is the aggressive man, who continually has his eye on his own interest, who succeeds.  Business is merely a form of warfare in which each combatant strives to get the business away from his competitors and at the same time keep them from getting what he already has.  No man has ever been successful in business who was not aggressive, self-assertive and even a little bit selfish perhaps.  There is nothing reprehensible in an aggressive disposition, so long as it is not carried to excess, for such men make the world and its affairs move….  I entirely agree that the boys of the Wright family are all lacking in determination and push.  That is the very reason that none of us have been or will be more than ordinary businessmen.”  As someone born and bred in the Midwest, I appreciate the humility that is so common there, even with those who are gifted & talented.  Regarding their talent, the Wrights remind me of the Oracle from Omaha, Warren Buffett, who attributes his success to luckily having a skill that is especially marketable in the current economy.

Of course, all of this common sense and good judgment didn’t fall out of a tree.  Their father, who was a Methodist minister, taught his kids, “All the money anyone needs is just enough to prevent one from being a burden to others.”   The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, and although neither of the boys were business geniuses, their world-changing invention enabled them to become wealthy.  More importantly, they lived the life they were intended to live.

The One-Page Financial Plan by Carl Richards doesn’t contain a plethora of insights.  Rather, it is filled with guidance that most financially competent people already know – investing, borrowing & spending, budgeting, saving as much as you reasonably can, and determining where you are and where you want to go.  There was, however, one very useful insight.  Author Richards suggests the following as the most important threshold question before you can do any financial planning – i.e., why is money important to you?

Many years ago I remember questioning why I should be strongly motivated to make an additional $20k a year when I already had enough money to buy everything important to me.  A co-worker suggested that with the additional $20k, I could retire earlier, and that made sense to me.

So money was important to me because it would enable me to quit working and do what I want.  Or, as described by author Carl Richards, “It’s about giving you the time to do what matters most.”  Now that I’m retired, I have the luxury of deciding what matters most.