Mike Kueber's Blog

March 6, 2015

Saturday Night at the Movies #143 – A Love Song for Bobby Long

A few days ago, John Travolta was widely mocked for planting an “awkward” kiss on Scarlett Johansson on the Academy Award’s red carpet.  The implication was that the 61-year-old actor was a Biden-esque groper inflicting unwelcome attention on a much younger beauty. The situation seemed similar to the even-older sportscaster Brent Musburger once talking about the beauty of an Alabama quarterback’s girlfriend.

The responses of the women in both situations was essentially the same. The quarterback’s girlfriend, Katherine Webb, immediately came to Musburger’s defense:

  • “I think the media has been really unfair to (Musburger). I think if he had said something along the line if we were hot or sexy, I think that would be a little bit different. The fact that he said we were beautiful and gorgeous, I don’t think any woman wouldn’t be flattered by that. I appreciate it, but at the same time I don’t think I needed an apology.”

Similarly, Scarlett Johansson came to Travolta’s defense:

  • The image that is circulating is an unfortunate still-frame from a live-action encounter that was very sweet and totally welcome. That still photo does not reflect what preceded and followed if you see the moment live. Yet another way we are misguided, misinformed and sensationalized by the 24-hour news cycle. I haven’t seen John in some years and it is always a pleasure to be greeted by him. There is nothing strange, creepy or inappropriate about John Travolta.”

While reading about the Oscar’s incident, I learned that Johansson and Travolta had starred in a 2004 movie, A Love Song for Bobby Long,” and I decided to take a chance on it. After watching the movie, I am not the slightest surprised that Johansson took umbrage at the media making fun of Travolta over the kiss. Not only did they co-star in the movie, which makes his familiarity with her reasonable, but also they had great chemistry in the movie as father-daughter.

Although the Rotten Tomato critics panned the movie (43%), the audience loved it (80%), and I agree with the audience. The movie is about a couple of Southern literate guys who have gone bohemian, and I can’t imagine a better place than New Orleans (maybe NYC or Austin) to go that route. The duo becomes a trio when Johansson arrives from Florida to take the place of her recently-deceased singer-mom. All three characters are interesting and worth rooting for.

I give the movie three and a half stars out of four.  And I say, quit picking on us old geezers who, like Augustus McCrae, have a little sport left in them.

February 23, 2015

Kristof softens his approach to white-man privilege

Filed under: Culture — Mike Kueber @ 9:57 pm
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NY Times columnist Nicholas Kristof has written ad nauseam about white privilege. Yesterday’s column expanded the topic to white-man privilege.  But Kristof’s tone appears to be softening. Instead of characterizing white men as evil, he know considers the possibility that they are merely stupid:

  • White men sometimes feel besieged and baffled by these suggestions of systematic advantage. When I wrote a series last year, ‘When Whites Just Don’t Get It,’ the reaction from white men was often indignant: It’s an equal playing field now! Get off our case! Yet the evidence is overwhelming that unconscious bias remains widespread in ways that systematically benefit both whites and men. So white men get a double dividend, a payoff from both racial and gender biases. It’s not that we white men are intentionally doing anything wrong, but we do have a penchant for obliviousness about the way we are beneficiaries of systematic unfairness. Maybe that’s because in a race, it’s easy not to notice a tailwind, and white men often go through life with a tailwind, while women and people of color must push against a headwind.”

A few months ago, I used the headwind/tailwind analogy with a friend during a white-privilege discussion on Facebook, and thought perhaps I had invented it. Now I’m thinking that if Kristof and I both thought of it, someone else probably thought of it before us. You think?

Regarding unconscious bias, who can argue against that? I’ve blogged often about the plethora of studies showing that our brains operate in a certain way, without regard to higher-level thinking. Even Kristof admits there’s not a lot you can do about it beyond being aware of it:

  • So, come on, white men! Let’s just acknowledge that we’re all flawed, biased and sometimes irrational, and that we can do more to resist unconscious bias. That means trying not to hire people just because they look like us, avoiding telling a young girl she’s ‘beautiful’ while her brother is ‘smart.’ It means acknowledging systematic bias as a step toward correcting it.”

Incidentally, a friend told me this weekend that he was recently involved in a road-rage incident in which the tough guy followed him into an HEB parking lot. My friend nonchalantly got out of his car without worry after noticing that the guy was driving a late-model Mercedes. Based on that information, he correctly presumed the guy was not going to assault him.

If the guy had been driving a beat-up car, my friend would probably still be driving.

February 21, 2015

Does President Obama love America?

Filed under: Culture,People,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 2:21 pm
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Rudy Giuliani is catching a lot of liberal flack for suggesting that President Obama doesn’t love America. According to a Politico story, Giuliani said the following at a private fundraiser in NYC for Wisc. Governor Scott Walker:

  • I do not believe, and I know this is a horrible thing to say, but I do not believe that the president loves America. He doesn’t love you. And he doesn’t love me. He wasn’t brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up through love of this country.”

(Incidentally, private fundraisers are proving to be a boon for political journalism. That is where Romney talked about the 47% and Obama talked about people clinging to their guns and religion.)

Of course, Giuliani is not especially relevant nowadays, so the liberal media are using his comments to attack the candidacy of Governor Walker, who, according to the Washington Post, sat spinelessly at the fundraiser where the calumny was spoken.

The NY Times in a follow-up interview had Giuliani respond to charges that he was prejudiced:

  • Some people thought it was racist — I thought that was a joke, since he was brought up by a white mother, a white grandfather, went to white schools, and most of this he learned from white people. This isn’t racism. This is socialism or possibly anti-colonialism.”

(The Times outrageously titled this article, “Giuliani: Obama Had a White Mother, So I’m Not a Racist.”  Talk about taking something out of context.)

Giuliani also challenged reporters to find examples of Mr. Obama expressing love for his country:

  • I’m happy for him to give a speech where he talks about what’s good about America and doesn’t include all the criticism…. I want an American president to raise our spirits again, like a Ronald Reagan…. What I don’t find with Obama — this will get me in more trouble again — is a really deep knowledge of history. I think it’s a dilettante’s knowledge of history.”

Not surprisingly, this challenge has gone unanswered.

It’s impossible to know what is in someone’s heart, and Christians are frequently enjoined from judging others (judge not, lest ye be judged), but I think politics are different. Voters must make judgments in choosing who to follow.

I blogged previously about President Obama, American exceptionalism, and patriotism, and I believe Giuliana’s charge is essentially the same thing as those earlier charges that President Obama didn’t believe in American exceptionalism, or that he wasn’t patriotic because he refused to wear a flag in his lapel, or that Michelle Obama in 2008 responded to her husband’s electoral success by saying, “For the first time in my adult lifetime, I’m really proud of my country, and not just because Barack has done well, but because I think people are hungry for change.”

Patriotism or love of country are not “all or nothing” things. Rather, they are continuums. I believe that cosmopolitan progressives are generally not as far on the continuum of patriotic love as are provincial conservatives. And President Obama is by far the most cosmopolitan progressive ever elected president of the United States.

Rudy is probably thinking, “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”

February 20, 2015

Evaluating art

Filed under: Culture,Entertainment — Mike Kueber @ 4:59 pm
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When I was a kid, George C. Scott refused to accept an Oscar for his role in Patton. Marlon Brando did something similar a couple of years later for his role in The Godfather. Both men refused to treat acting like a sporting contest, with winners and losers.

Today I was reminded of that issue when I read an article in the NY Times regarding the prospects of American Sniper winning the best-picture Oscar.  According to the article, a huge plurality of Americans (42%) think the movie should be awarded the Oscar, with the next highest movie at only 12%. This dominance of American Sniper was also reflected at the box office, where it had grossed more than the combined gross of the other seven nominated film. Despite this support, the article pointed out that sophisticated betting prognosticators give American Sniper less than a 1% chance of winning the best-picture Oscar.

So, how can the American people evaluate a movie so dramatically different than those in the movie industry, i.e., the Oscar voters?

The same sort of issue arose last week when Kanye West voiced his disappointment that the best-album Grammy went to Beck instead of Kanye’s favorite, Beyoncé. According to West, “Beck needs to respect artistry and he should’ve given his award to Beyoncé.”

When I first heard Kanye’s comment, I thought that it was silly to suggest that one person’s music is objectively better than someone else’s, especially when you are dealing with different genres. But that is essentially what an Academy Award does.

Art is defined as “the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.” But does one person’s perception of beauty or emotion power mean more than another’s?

Americans, it seems, are inclined to grant outsize authority to Academy or Grammy voters, with their elitism/expert background seen as a good thing. That is probably why the People’s Choice awards, based on mass popularity, have never caught on.

But one of the greatest singers of all-time, Elvis Presley, never won a major Grammy, which is no doubt a travesty, and the appropriate response is to refer to the title of Elvis’s 1959 album, “50,000,000 Elvis fans can’t be wrong.”

January 30, 2015

Two questions for the candidates

Filed under: Culture,Law/justice,Religion — Mike Kueber @ 3:30 am
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Assuming Hillary and Mitt face-off in the 2016 presidential election, and if I were the journalist assigned to ask them questions in a debate, I would ask the following:

  1. Mitt: How would your philosophy, values, and objectives change if you were presented irrefutable, incontrovertible evidence that Jesus never existed and that the Bible was an elaborate hoax? I have asked my Christian friends this, and they struggle with accepting the premise. Ultimately, I think most people would not have a different mindset even if their specific God disappeared.
  2. Hillary: You often complain that women in America are treated as second-class people who are denied full participation in life, but if, in 1947, you were given the choice of being born man or woman, which gender do you think provided the greatest opportunity for a fulfilling life? A friend prompted this question by always complaining about how easy women have it with dating. He was flummoxed when I asked him if he would prefer playing the feminine role in dating. Ultimately, I think both sexes would decline the opportunity to live their life as the opposite sex.

January 27, 2015

Benedict Cumberbatch steps on a verbal landmine

Filed under: Culture — Mike Kueber @ 8:31 pm
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The internet is flooded with reports of Oscar-nominated actor Benedict Cumberbatch calling for more diversity in the ranks of UK actors. Unfortunately, while making his pitch, Cumberbatch stepped on a verbal landmine by using an offensive and outdated term.  His comment:

  • I think as far as colored actors go, it gets really difficult in the U.K., and a lot of my friends have had more opportunities (in the U.S.) than in the U.K. and that’s something that needs to change,” the Oscar-nominee said in an interview last week.

To correct himself, Cumberbatch issued the following apology:

  • I’m devastated to have caused offence by using this outmoded terminology. I offer my sincere apologies. I make no excuse for my being an idiot and know the damage is done. I can only hope this incident will highlight the need for correct usage of terminology that is accurate and inoffensive

Many, if not most, of the media reports include an explanation by Show Racism the Red Card on why Cumberbatch committed a faux pas:

  • [Cumberbatch] has also inadvertently highlighted the issue of appropriate terminology and the evolution of language. Show Racism the Red Card feel that the term ‘coloured’ is now outdated and has the potential to cause offence due to the connotations associated with the term and its historical usage. Appropriate terminology differs from country to country; for example, we know that in some countries the term ‘coloured’ is still widely used, and that in the US the term “people of colour” is quite common.

The casual observer might wonder if there is a substantive difference between “colored” and “people of color,” and actually there is a significant one. “Colored,” like the term “negro” refers to black people, and both terms are no longer acceptable to evolved people.  Instead they use the term “black.” By contrast, “people of color” refers to all non-white people (or those with non-European heritage) and remains acceptable.

Sometimes it seems that keeping up with the latest terminology is akin to knowing the current way of shaking hands.  The older you get, the less likely you are to keep up.

And, of course, someone needs to tell the NAACP that the name on their organization is offensive.

January 19, 2015

Ivy Taylor and the Oscars under attack

This past weekend, a progressive female Facebook friend posted an article on SA’s black mayor, Ivy Taylor, and blasted her with, “I really can’t stand her. At all.” The article was titled, “Mayor Taylor says political correctness is ‘frustrating.’”

You can imagine my surprise at my friend’s antipathy toward our mayor because I thought progressive females would be highly partial toward a female who was the city’s first black mayor. After reading the article, however, I understood her displeasure. Namely, Mayor Taylor, when serving on the City Council last year, had voted against a gay-rights ordinance, which was one of my friend’s pet issues. (Her kids’ father has become a woman, and she fully supports him.)

In the article, Mayor Taylor defended (inarticulately, according to the article) her opposition to the ordinance and talked of abhorring political correctness. I have often taken a similar position in this blog re: political correctness in a wide assortment of contexts, and I was thinking of collecting them for a single post, but as I was doing some research, I stumbled on a new example in the NY Times today.

The paper’s media critic, David Carr, complained in an article headlined, “Why the Oscars omission of ‘Selma’ matters.” I initially was confused by the headline because I thought Selma had been nominated, but as I read the article I learned that Carr was upset because, although Selma had been nominated, the lead actor and director hadn’t. Carr then proceeded to criticize these omissions, not based on their merits, but rather because:

  • But yes, it still matters. The news continues to be full of all manner of pathology and victimization involving black Americans, and when a moment comes to celebrate both a historical giant and a pure creative achievement, it merits significant and broad recognition.”

According to Carr, it wasn’t enough that a black film – Twelve Years a Slave – won Best Movie last year. Unless the Academy continues to recognize black films, it will appear that it is merely “ticking off boxes.” Under that rationale, America will need to follow up President Obama’s election with another black president just to show it wasn’t merely ticking off a box.

Carr’s comment that most agitated me was as follows:

  • And no club in the United States — over the last several years, the academy has been around 93 percent white, 76 percent male and an average of 63 years old — is in more need of new blood than Hollywood.”

That reminds me of the current efforts of Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton to force “diversity” into the Silicon Valley. According to them, the tech industry will be vastly improved if it had fewer whites and Asians, and more women, Hispanics, and African-Americans.

But when you consider which industries in America are vibrant world leaders, the first that come to mind are the movie industry and technology. I suggest that those are the last places we want to see increased progressive-government meddling.

December 17, 2014

Bill Clinton on race relations post-Ferguson and post-Staten Island

Bill Clinton was recently interviewed by the modern Walter Cronkite, Jorge Ramos of Fusion TV (a network directed at millennials and Hispanics). During the interview, Clinton weighed-in on race relations in America in the aftermath of the Ferguson and Staten Island killings.  When asked if race relations in America were getting better, Clinton said “yes and no.”

  • Yes, there are more opportunities for blacks in business and the professions.
  • No, there is an on-going problem with the American majority acting out of fear because of preconceived notions based on race and socio-economic groups that don’t share the majority’s values and lifestyle, which results in arrest rates, with a wild racial disparity.

Clinton suggested that this on-going problem was manifested in the Eric Garner killing in Staten Island. While noting that Garner had six children, was overweight and afflicted by heart and lung problems, and was trying to supplement his income by illegally selling untaxed cigarettes, Clinton declared, “he didn’t deserve to die.”

The injustice to Garner prompted Clinton to comment on the Michael Brown killing in Ferguson. According to Clinton, even if the grand jury was right, with Brown “being super-aggressive and all that,” it is undeniable that Brown was chased down, unarmed, and shot.

Based on these two incidents, Clinton concludes that there is a huge problem because of the divide between the community and police. Further, this divide is caused (a) by preconceptions that are triggered in scared people, and (b) the fear of minorities in these communities that they are disposable and not important.

I find several flaws with Clinton’s position:

  1. As a factual matter, Brown was not chased down and shot. According to Grand Jury evidence, he was a fleeing felon who was pursued, but he wasn’t shot at until he turned and charged Officer Wilson. Are police not supposed to pursue fleeing felons? Are they not to shoot a charging felon who has already tried to take your gun?
  2. Clinton implies that the wide disparity with African-American arrest rate is based on more on racial discrimination than on actual criminal activity. What support is there for that suggestion?
  3. Clinton is using a straw-man argument in declaring that Garner didn’t deserve to die. Who has said that Garner deserved to die? His death was an accident precipitated by a sickly 350-pound guy resisting arrest.
  4. Clinton complains that the majority has a preconception (as well as a pre-wired DNA) to fear minorities from a lower socio-economic level, the same people who are arrested and incarcerated at alarming rates. It seems Pollyannaish for Clinton to think that people should ignore their common sense. He might be more effective if he focused on reducing criminal activity in those communities.

I think Charles Barkley has provided better insights on this issue.   He points out that the police are not the bad guys in these situations. Rather, they are the only people who are preventing these communities from devolving into the Wild West, much like northern Mexico. Instead of focusing on the police, Clinton should be focusing on how to transform these communities so that they share mainstream American values.

Ironically, Clinton ended his interview by lamenting about black parents with good values having to explain to their kids about the death of these two unarmed black men. That explanation doesn’t seem difficult to me. Both deceased men were criminals who resisted arrest. The one who acted in a “super-aggressive” fashion was shot in self-defense by a police officer; the other was a Goliath who was accidentally killed while being subdued.

This sort of explanation is far easier than trying to re-wire people to ignore the obvious.

December 12, 2014

Racially insensitive?

Filed under: Culture,Law/justice,Media — Mike Kueber @ 10:53 am
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This morning I woke up to an article in USA Today charging two Hollywood types with “racially insensitive emails about President Obama” that were hacked and then published by Buzzfeed.  According to the article, producer Pascal was planning to attend an Obama fundraiser, and she joked in an email exchange with fellow producer Rudin about asking Obama at the fundraiser whether he enjoyed a particular movie, and they exchanged suggestions for various black-themed movies – Django Unchained, 12 Years a Slave, The Butler, Ride Along, and Think Like a Man.

The joking (some articles called is mocking) seems benign to me. Although it has some similarity to Fuzzy Zoeller’s infamous comment in 1997 about the prospect of Tiger Woods designating fried chicken as the main course for next year’s Masters’ Champion’s Dinner, there is a big difference between (a) associating a person with low-brow fare (the Washington Post recently apologized for jokingly connecting Julian Castro with fajitas) and (b) suggesting that a black president might be inclined to be interested in black-themed movies.

And it seems totally inaccurate to characterize this joking as racist, as the NY Daily News did. The NY Times probably got in right in calling the emails, “Embarrassing, racially tinged.”

Of course, this story wouldn’t be complete until we have heard from the so-called race hustlers. (As defined by Urban Dictionary, race hustler is “a term coined to describe those individuals of a particular race who project themselves into the media spotlight as spokespersons whenever there is an alleged racial incident which involves their race. The use of the word implies that these individuals exploit a racial situation to serve their own interests.” The Times concluded its article with the following:

  • Also on Thursday, the Rev. Al Sharpton, in a statement, condemned the exchange between Ms. Pascal and Mr. Rudin as “offensive, insulting” and took further aim at Ms. Pascal, saying her comments reflected a “troubling” lack of diversity at her studio and others.

Sounds like Pascal and Rudin can buy their peace with Sharpton by spending some money on affirmative action for African-Americans. Kind of reminds me of medieval Catholics and indulgences.

Sharpton’s full statement reads as follows:

The statements in the leaked emails by Sony Pictures Co-Chairman Amy Pascal to producer Scott Rudin are offensive, insulting and should be denounced in the harshest terms.

 What is most troubling about these statements is that they reflect a continued lack of diversity in positions of power in major Hollywood studios. The statements clearly show how comfortable major studio powers are with racial language and marginalization. Her apology is not enough there must be moves by her studio and others to respect the African American community and reflect that respect in their hiring and business practices.

She should meet with Black leaders immediately to deal with the gravity of her statements as well as the inequality of how they do business. I have asked Rev. KW Tulloss of National Action Network’s Los Angeles Chapter to convene an emergency meeting to weigh further actions in this area.

These emails nominate Amy Pascal to be considered by some of us in the same light that we concluded and moved on the ownership of Donald Sterling of the L.A. Clippers.”

-Reverend Al Sharpton, President, National Action Network

 

December 8, 2014

Yoga doesn’t care….

Filed under: Culture,Fitness,Philosophy — Mike Kueber @ 9:56 pm
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This morning, as I was sitting with a good friend at the back of the yoga studio waiting for practice to begin, I started talking about some of our classmates. Although the term “catty” may be associated with the fairer sex, I take a back seat to no one when it comes to being catty.  The targets of my cattiness today were people who seemed to be excessively proud of their appearance. I mentioned to my friend that back in high school we used to call these people “stuck up.”

My reference to life in high school reminded me of how much yoga practice resembles high school, one of the most egalitarian places in America. In high school, at least at my high school, you were judged mostly on your personality and your character (the way you treated other people). It didn’t matter how much money your parents had or whether you were a great intellect or possessed a strong work ethic or had some special skill (music, athletics).

After high school and college, however, things change. Socio-economic status becomes more pervasive and invasive. Relationships often involve either networking or deferring to those with higher socio-economic status.

But yoga is different. It harkens back to the egalitarian days of high school. Students dress mostly the same and people aren’t treated better just because they are more skillful with the various asanas. Your relationships with your classmates depend on your personality and character, not on whether you are “successful” in a socio-economic way.

Coincidentally, at today’s yoga practice, my yogi read a poem (from Elephant Journal) that relates exactly to what I was already thinking. The following are some excerpts:

  • Yoga isn’t about our lifestyle, our beliefs, our weight, our diet, our flexibility, how spiritual or enlightened we are—yoga is just about showing up and doing our dance on our mats.
  • Yoga doesn’t care if you wear Lululemon or Spiritual Gangster.
  • Yoga doesn’t care if you are vegetarian, if you eat meat or know what Kombucha is.
  • Yoga doesn’t care what kind of mat you have, brand new or eating away at itself.
  • Yoga doesn’t care what religion you believe in.
  • Yoga doesn’t care what color your skin is or what gender you choose to love.
  • Yoga doesn’t care how much money you have, what house you live in, what car you drive.
  • Yoga doesn’t care if you fall over in Trikonasana.
  • Yoga doesn’t care if you ever make it into head stand.
  • Yoga doesn’t care if you smoke cigarettes and drink whisky.
  • Yoga doesn’t care what political party you vote for.
  • Yoga doesn’t care if you are single or divorced.
  • Yoga doesn’t care if you shop at whole foods.

Yoga is just happy you show up.

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