Mike Kueber's Blog

November 7, 2016

78258 and walking the walk

Filed under: Aphorism,Issues,Philosophy,Politics,Uncategorized — Mike Kueber @ 5:15 am
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One day after yoga practice at Lifetime Fitness I was talking to a couple of progressives about diversity.  One was Anglo, the other Asian/Mexican.  As progressives, they were very proud of San Antonio’s diversity.  I mentioned to them that San Antonio may be diverse, but it was also one of the most socio-economically segregated cities in America.

Although my statement surprised them, they seemed to accept it, and we moved on.  But when I got home, I decided to confirm my accuracy.  A quick google search took me to the news item that I had based my statement on.  According to a March 2016 editorial in the San Antonio Express-News:

  • Overall, San Antonio is middle of the road for big cities when it comes to prosperity and distress. But where we stand out is in our segregation and inequality. We lead the nation when it comes to the extreme differences between our more prosperous neighborhoods and our most distressed neighborhoods. Put another way, our prosperity is not at all shared among the city’s residents. We are the least equal city in the country.
  • Case in point: ZIP code 78207, our poorest. The index highlights this ZIP code and compares it with 78258, on the North Side, and our most prosperous ZIP code. In 78207, nearly half of the adults don’t have a high school diploma. Nearly 60 percent of adults are not working. Unemployment is up. Income is far below the state’s median level. The poverty rate is stuck at 42 percent.
  • In 78258, only 2 percent of residents don’t have a high school diploma. Two-thirds of adults are working. Incomes are way above the state’s median income level. Employment is zooming. The poverty rate is 4 percent.  “These communities look like two different countries,” said Steve Glickman of the Economic Innovation Group.

I forwarded the editorial to my two friends and then pointed out the ultimate irony – they both lived in 78258.  So, although they advocate for diversity and integration, they live lives of homogeneity and segregation.  Sort of like public-school advocates who send their children to private schools.  Or carbon-fuel opponents who consume prodigious amounts of fuel.  And it’s not just progressives.  There are all sorts of conservatives who don’t walk the walk.

This reminds me of another yoga teaching about changing myself and that will change the world. Or as Gandhi said, “You must be the change you want to see in the world… As human beings, our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world – that is the myth of the atomic age – as in being able to remake ourselves.”

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December 19, 2014

Aphorism of the Week #23 – Youth is wasted on the young

Filed under: Aphorism,Sports — Mike Kueber @ 3:02 pm
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Earlier this week there was a shocking report on an NFL football player, Chris Conte, who opined that he would accept a shortened lifespan in return for a career in the NFL. He loved NFL football that much.   I fully expected Conte’s sentiment to be quickly repudiated by the politically-correct ESPN, but instead ESPN interviewed two thoughtful, former NFL players – Mark Schlereth and Herm Edwards – both of whom agreed with Conte.  Both suggested that the quality of their lives was more important than the quantity.

Amazingly, this story has developed little further controversy. No one is questioning Conte’s sanity. And no one is suggesting Conte shouldn’t have the right to make this decision.

But this morning’s SA Express-News contained a Roy Bragg column that attacked the issue from a different angle – i.e., instead of criticizing Conte, the column criticized the American public for idolizing sports and its heroes. Indeed, Bragg compared sports fans to drug addicts:

  • Comparing sports fans to substance abusers might seem ham-fisted, but there are some similarities to consider. Addicts want to get high or drunk right now, and damn the consequences. They want to get high all of the time, and damn the consequences. We, by the same token, want sports all of the time, damn the consequences. Our addiction has created a juggernaut sports economy that feeds off our addiction. Hence the proliferation of sports platforms — paper, online, broadcast, cable — reporting the same trades and injuries and arrests, over and over, 24 hours a day. Occasionally, as a bonus, they mix in some scores and highlights.”

I disagreed with Bragg and left him the following on-line comment:

  • Roy, at least you take an unexpected tack by blaming us instead of blaming Chris. But I think you are wrong because your assertion is based on a hyperbolic exaggeration of America’s love of sports in general and football in specific. I know lots of sports fans and none of them is consumed by their love of the game.”

Regarding Conte’s thought-process and analysis, I expect most young athletes would come to the same conclusion about an NFL career. Giving up some vague future is easier to do than giving up the glorious present. And although I would be disappointed if any of my four sons felt so strongly about an NFL career, I suspect that my only son who played high school football would make Conte’s decision in a New York minute.

As George Bernard Shaw said – “Youth is wasted on the young.”

December 3, 2014

Aphorism of the Week #22 – How they made you feel

Filed under: Aphorism,Sports — Mike Kueber @ 12:50 pm
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While walking into yoga practice a couple of days ago, my yogi asked me how my Thanksgiving went. Because I tend to respond accurately instead of rotely to such question, I gave her an ambiguous response because that was my immediate feeling. Later, during practice, I questioned and reflected on why I felt ambiguous about my Thanksgiving.

My Thanksgiving consisted of having a nice breakfast in my apartment and then picking up my son Tommy for an enjoyable drive to Austin (Hutto) for a Thanksgiving dinner at another son’s house – Bobby. Bobby’s wife Heather made us a fine feast while we were able to play with Bobby’s three young kids, mostly inside although the weather outside was perfect. We were joined for the feast by another son, Mikey, and his new girlfriend, Alex, plus Heather’s grandparents, her brother, and his Army friend.

Everything sounds perfect, and it was, although Mikey and Alex had to leave in the early afternoon to join her family’s feast in Boerne. Then at 3:25 Tommy and I started watching the Dallas Cowboys play, and the game went horribly, with the Boys being blown out by the Eagles.

At the end of the Dallas game, Tommy and I headed for home and as we drove home past DKR-Memorial Stadium we tuned in the game on the radio and learned the Horns were already down 13-0. I was able to watch the end of the blowout at my apartment.

So, now back in yoga practice, it dawned on me why my Thanksgiving felt ambiguous – at Lifetime Fitness, the yogis like to remind us of a Maya Angelou quote:

  • People will forget what you said; people will forget what you did; but people will never forget how you made them feel.

That explains my immediate response of ambiguity about Thanksgiving this year. Although my brain tells me that it was a wonderful day, couldn’t be much better, my heart was invested in the Cowboys and Longhorns that day and their devastating defeats put a damper on my feelings.

November 3, 2014

Aphorism of the Week #21 – America, love it or leave it

Filed under: Aphorism,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 11:55 pm
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“Love it or leave it” is an idiomatic expression that I first encountered 60s as a pro-war political slogan. It has been described, rightly, as an example of an “either/or fallacy” or a false dilemma, but I think it is worth considering. .

Back in Vietnam days, my thought about the expression was that those who opposed the war might have just as much love for America as those who supported the war. Of course, such a discussion would turn on the definition of patriotism, and that is not the subject of this post.

In current days, the expression is often used by people in the majority when their political philosophy – whether liberal or conservative – comes under attack by a minority. Conversely, it’s not unusual for highly partisan minorities to vaguely ruminate about leaving America when the majority disrespects or dismisses their values and concerns. Indeed, that thought once wandered across my brain for an instant, but quickly dissipated when I realized that, despite the growth of government in America, we still had the most government-free developed nation in the world. By contrast, those liberals who looks so favorably on the welfare state in Western Europe have numerous location options that seem more amenable to their political philosophy.

I wonder what those progressive lovers of more government find to love about America. Do they think America is exceptional?

America’s most famous progressive, President Obama, famously down-played the concept of American exceptionalism in 2009 shortly after taking office when he was asked at a press conference in France – “… could I ask you whether you subscribe, as many of your predecessors have, to the school of American exceptionalism that sees America as uniquely qualified to lead the world, or do you have a slightly different philosophy?”

President Obama’s famous response:

  • “I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism. I’m enormously proud of my country and its role and history in the world…. And if you think of our current situation, the United States remains the largest economy in the world. We have unmatched military capability. And I think that we have a core set of values that are enshrined in our Constitution, in our body of law, in our democratic practices, in our belief in free speech and equality, that, though imperfect, are exceptional.”

More recently, President Obama took another crack at better expounding on American exceptionalism, on May 28, 2014 at a commencement address at West Point:

  • “I believe in American exceptionalism with every fiber of my being. But what makes us exceptional is not our ability to flout international norms and the rule of law; it is our willingness to affirm them through our actions. And that’s why I will continue to push to close Gitmo — because American values and legal traditions do not permit the indefinite detention of people beyond our borders. That’s why we’re putting in place new restrictions on how America collects and uses intelligence — because we will have fewer partners and be less effective if a perception takes hold that we’re conducting surveillance against ordinary citizens.”

President Obama just doesn’t get it. Who else would describe American exceptionalism by listing examples of American miscues? He would be better served by relying on a description of American exceptionalism by a leading authority on the subject, Seymour Martin Lipset:

  • America’s unique ideology “can be described in five words: liberty, egalitarianism, individualism, populism, and laissez faire.”

Lipset’s terms can be defined as follows:

  • Liberty – the state of being free within society from oppressive restrictions imposed by authority on one’s way of life, behavior, or political views.
  • Egalitarianism – a philosophical thought system that emphasizes equality and equal treatment across gender, religion, economic status and political beliefs. One of the major tenets of egalitarianism is that all people are fundamentally equal.
  • Individualism – the habit or principle of being independent and self-reliant; a social theory favoring freedom of action for individuals over collective or state control.
  • Populism – a political doctrine that appeals to the interests and conceptions (such as fears) of the general people, especially contrasting those interests with the interests of the elite.
  • Laissez faire – abstention by governments from interfering in the workings of the free market.

Clearly, conservatives have a stronger predilection toward individualism and laissez faire, but their historical preference toward liberty has probably been compromised by the Religious Right. And arguably progressives have a stronger predilection toward egalitarianism and populism.

So, with conservatives and progressives equally tied to American exceptionalism, why do conservatives give full-throated allegiance to the concept while progressives tend to shy away?

My guess – the values of individualism and laissez faire are becoming more dominant in America over the values of populism and egalitarianism.

July 4, 2014

Foxholes and assorted standards

Filed under: Aphorism — Mike Kueber @ 12:38 pm

“He’s the guy you want in the foxhole with you.” That statement has long served as an assurance that an individual was loyal and dependable, even under severe pressure. A similar statement is, “He’s the kind of guy you’d want to have a beer with.” This guy is personable. “She the kind of girl you take home to meet Mom.” This girl is a keeper. A few years ago, I described an individual as someone I would like to see running my family’s business. That person would have brains, common sense, good judgment, and integrity.

That’s my kind of guy.  But I’m not sure I want to have a beer with him.

April 1, 2014

Aphorism of the Week #19 – If a tree falls in the forest….

Filed under: Aphorism — Mike Kueber @ 11:05 pm
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If a tree falls in the forest but nobody is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

I always thought this in an interesting question because sound waves don’t have a physical manifestation. Thus, if there is nothing to detect the sound waves, it seemed to me that there was no sound in that vacuum. But during a recent conversation with my literate leprechaun Mike Callen, he pointed out that this riddle was actually philosophical nonsense in support of the broader proposition that nothing (even physical manifestation) is real unless someone perceives it.

For further information, I referred to Wikipedia, which seemed to agree with Callen:

  • The most immediate philosophical topic that the riddle introduces involves the existence of the tree (and the sound it produces) outside of human perception. If no one is around to see, hear, touch or smell the tree, how could it be said to exist? What is it to say that it exists when such an existence is unknown?

But when I read further in Wikipedia, it eventually got to my point:

  • What is the difference between what something is, and how it appears? – e.g., “sound is the variation of pressure that propagates through matter as a wave.” Perhaps the most important topic the riddle offers is the division between perception of an object and how an object really is…. people may also say, if the tree exists outside of perception (as common sense would dictate), then it will produce sound waves. However, these sound waves will not actually sound like anything. Sound as it is mechanically understood will occur, but sound as it is understood by sensation will not occur…. This riddle illustrates John Locke’s famous distinction between primary and secondary qualities. This distinction outlines which qualities are axiomatically imbibed in an object, and which qualities are ascribed to the object. That is, a red thing is not really red (that is, ‘red’ is a secondary quality), a sweet thing is not really sweet, a sound does not actually sound like anything, but a round object is round.

What would I do without Wikipedia? Well, I might refer to the fun and interesting Urban Dictionary, which suggests that the riddle “symbolizes the ineffectiveness of unheard opinions/thoughts.” That meaning seems like a strain of Callen’s thinking, which is not surprising since Callen in an urban sort of guy.

March 22, 2014

Aphorism of the Week #18 – Your right to swing your arm ends just where the other man’s nose begins

Filed under: Aphorism — Mike Kueber @ 1:32 pm
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Last week, after yoga class, I had a philosophical discussion with a classmate about a friend who seems excessively judgmental about other people.  Ironically, both my classmate and my friend are Jesuit schooled.

During the discussion, my classmate pointed out that we all find certain characters and conversation to be intolerable and disgusting (e.g., racist rants), but I countered that I was generally able to engage in civil conversation with anyone without being repulsed (even a tree-hugger or silk-stocking liberal).  That is why I so readily and frequently ignore the proscription against discussing politics or religion.

Upon further reflection, however, I told my classmate that I am repulsed by elitist snobs, and that fact forced me to climb down from my high horse.

In a similar vein, this week there has been a lot of chatter on Facebook about the death of Fred Phelps, a hateful anti-gay radical whose death seemed paradoxically to bring out joy and bitterness from the same people at the same time.  Their vituperative venom prompted me to climb back up on my horse with the following comment:

  • A Supreme Court justice once said, ‘Your right to swing your arms ends just where the other man’s nose begins.’  I find it easier to accept people who have screwed up beliefs than it is to accept people who act on those beliefs.  I haven’t followed the career of this guy, but if his actions are limited to preaching within the law, then I will not waste any bitterness on him.  I will save my bitterness for those who physically violate others.”

February 23, 2014

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

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

July 16, 2013

Aphorism of the Week #16 – You come into the world alone and go out of the world alone

Filed under: Aphorism — Mike Kueber @ 6:51 pm
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A few days ago, I made a passing comment about the contrast between having a soulmate and the aphorism that, “You come into the world alone and you go out of the world alone.”  Although the aphorism seems self-explanatory, I decided to explore it on the internet to learn its story.  During that exploration, I was surprised to learn that aphorism had an unquestioned author – Emily Carr – and that it was a significant abridgement of Carr’s original statement:

  • “I wonder will death be much lonelier than life. Life’s an awfully lonesome affair. You can live close against other people yet your lives never touch. You come into the world alone and you go out of the world alone yet it seems to me you are more alone while living than even coming and going.”

All this time, I’ve considered the aphorism to refer to the loneliness of death while actually it is referring to the loneliness of life.

A similar misconstruction has occurred with Ralph Waldo Emerson’s aphorism, “Consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds.”  This aphorism also seems self-explanatory – i.e., dumb people struggle to avoid inconsistency.  But the actual aphorism is much longer:

  • A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words, and tomorrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradicts everything you said today.”

Instead of scolding minds for faulty logic or memory, Emerson is encouraging people to do more than calculate.

The popular abridgment of these aphorisms reminds me of a previous job I had that involved digesting a huge amount of information in a short time.  The most productive employees at this job learned to “top sheet,” which is a term for relying on only the tip of the iceberg in making a decision.  In life, however, top sheeting is not the best way to get to where we want to go.

November 24, 2012

Aphorism of the Week #15 – What I spent, I had; what I kept, I lost; what I gave, I have.

Filed under: Aphorism — Mike Kueber @ 6:36 pm
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On Wednesday afternoon, I met an eHarmony woman for some get-acquainted drinks.  Because the day was gorgeous, we decided to meet at some place with a patio – Stone Werks at the Rim.  A few drinks later, a bite to eat, and a generous tip – $96.  That amount might be acceptable to many middle-class consumers, but it isn’t to me.

As I have reflected on the incident since Wednesday, I have concluded that I am currently independently wealthy only because I am willing to live like a poor man.  Henry David Thoreau once said something similar, although much deeper – “A man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to let alone.”

Although my frugality might be accentuated now that I am living off my nest egg instead of earning any money, my friends will testify that this has been a lifetime trait.  Early in my career, I had the opportunity to supplement my salary by teaching some continuing education courses, but the lure of a few hundred extra dollars was never enough incentive to take on the extra work.  If I had something extra that I wanted to buy, I would scrimp on other things instead of trying to find another source of income.  That’s just the way my brain is wired.

The habit of living off a nest egg is also something that started early in my life.  As a kid on a farm, I didn’t receive an allowance that I was free to spend and then wait for the next one.  Instead, I usually was given a farm animal to raise and then sell in the fall for a quasi-nest egg, which I had to live on until the next fall.  Living like that hard-wires your brain to defer/avoid consumption.

My mom and dad grew up in the Great Depression, and I’m sure that some of their experience rubbed off on me and became my economic imperative.  But my parents weren’t as cheap as me.  Their attitude was better reflected in a quote that I heard a few days ago during a Darrel Royal tribute on TV – What I spent, I had. What I kept, I lost. What I gave, I have. 

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