Mike Kueber's Blog

October 22, 2017

A double standard

John Hagee, a minister in San Antonio, is often criticized as a hypocrite and fraud for living in a Dominion mansion while preaching so-called prosperity theology. Yet Gregg Popovich, a San Antonio coaching icon, is revered as a great man for preaching justice and equality while also living in a Dominion mansion. Why the double standard?

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.”

August 1, 2015

Conversation and missed encounters

Filed under: Culture,Philosophy — Mike Kueber @ 3:10 am
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A couple of days ago at Lifetime Fitness I attended a special Yoga under the Stars.  As I was leaving, I noticed an acquaintance whom I hadn’t seen for a couple of months.  I swung in his direction, said hi, and bumped fists with him before continuing on my way to the locker room.  After I got to the locker room, I regretted not stopping and catching up with the guy, so I went looking for him, but he was already gone.

Why didn’t I stop in the first place?  I wasn’t in a conversational mood and had only an instant to decide whether to stop and, if I did, what to say.  So I took the easy way out, and afterward was disappointed.

This incident brought to mind two concepts:

  • Encounters.  Last year, I blogged about the recommendation of French philosopher Gabriel Marcel that people should pay more attention and energy to their day-to-day encounters.  Author Michael Novak described this philosophy as follows: “Marcel brought new light to daily experiences, such as recognizing the ‘presence’ of other persons and ‘encounter’ with another person – in other words, not just a passing, inattentive moment with another human being, but something more.  He drew attention to the difference between sitting between two people on the subway for an hour – treating them without recognition or interest or attention – and the act of having a memorable exchange of personal qualities.”
  • Conversation.  A few weeks ago, I blogged about the art of conversation in the context of cocktail parties and how this art can enhance encounters.  Indeed, several episodes of Downton Abbey include situations where conversation is treated as an art to be learned and practiced.

In hindsight, I kick myself over the missed opportunity after Yoga under the Stars.  Next time, I will be ready.

July 22, 2015

Poolside ruminations

Filed under: Philosophy — Mike Kueber @ 10:26 pm

Whiling away the summer hours lounging with friends in my apartment pool, I try to shift the conversation to my favorite subject – philosophy.  Not all of my friends enjoy the reflective life, but usually I can find a subject that piques their interest.

Last summer, one of my favorite discussions concerned the most important traits in deciding whether to date someone.  We eventually settled on four – smart, attractive, warm, and personable – although I was surprised that some friends discounted brains.

Last weekend, I stumbled into another interesting discussion when a single, 53-year-old friend expressed great satisfaction with his life.  He felt like he had it all – e.g., a prestigious and satisfying job, looks that much younger women found attractive, athleticism that enabled him to compete with college kids in sand volleyball, and excellent social skills.  Because he was sounding a little smug, I decided to challenge his sentiment:

  • Would he be willing to give up his career and his wealth to be ten years younger?

To my surprise, both of us quickly agreed that we would give up our money and our career in order to have ten more years of life.  I suspect there was some hubris in our thinking that we could quickly find responsible, satisfying work in some other capacity, but also it reflects a lack of interest in having wealth.

A few days later, I posed this question to my best friend (60-years old), and he just as quickly declined to move back to being a 50-years old.  He had put a lot of effort into accumulating his wealth and was unwilling to accept the ignominy of being 50-years old without any assets.

Yesterday, I posed this question to a couple of drinking buddies.  One of them said it was a stupid question that didn’t make any difference or any sense.  Instead he wanted to talk about the latest gossip about NFL practices about to begin.  I wanted to remind him that the unexamined life is not worth living, but he wouldn’t agree.

July 8, 2015

Cocktail parties

Filed under: Philosophy — Mike Kueber @ 7:46 pm

Last Saturday, I was hanging out with one of my sons at my apartment’s pool. The pool was packed for the 4th of July.  As we were standing at one end of the pool, an acquaintance approached us, and I quickly started on a wide-ranging conversation because I hadn’t previously talked to him this summer.  Mostly we talked about his living arrangements (he and three mutual friends sometimes cohabit) and his job status (he is a recent college grad in kinesiology who does personal training, while his best friend has decided to go to chiro school).

I thought the conversation was interesting, but my son’s eyes seemed to glass over, even after I tried to shift the conversation to a series of injuries that my son had experienced while working out at his gym.  After a while, my acquaintance moved on to another group, and I asked my son about his apparent disinterest.  He confirmed that he was bored by the conversation, and just wasn’t interested in hearing other people’s stories.

My son’s comment caused me to remember that two of my brothers in North Dakota had recently commented that I seemed to ask an inordinate number of questions when I was visiting with friends and family in North Dakota last June.  They thought that I was nosy.

Upon reflection, I have concluded that I used to be like my son and my brothers.  I wasn’t interested in other people’s stories and I was horrible at making casual conversation with strangers.  I remember talking to a similarly-minded female lawyer about cocktail parties (the ultimate experience in casual conversations), and she described cocktail parties as a laborious situation that she would avoid unless she had enough energy to shift mentally into her “A game.”  She and I were kindred spirits.

Times have changed.  I’m still not good at casual conversation, but I am interested in other people’s stories, and that often makes for even better than casual conversation.  Some of this change in me is related to a philosophy I learned from some French guy who described our daily encounters with strangers, acquaintances, and friends along the way as some of the most satisfying things in life.

That made sense to me, and I have tried to develop that life skill.  Like networking, I think it provides not only a superficial, pragmatic utility, but also a substantive, intrinsic reward.

And it reminds me of an important scene in Pride & Prejudice, in which Elizabeth scolds Darcy for being cold and aloof (prejudice) to her at a ball (an 1800s cocktail party).

  • Darcy I certainly have not the talent which some people possess of conversing easily with those I have never seen before.  I cannot catch their tone of conversation, or appear interested in their concerns, as I often see done.”
  • Elizabeth[Me, too.]  But then I have always supposed it to be my fault – because I would not take the trouble of practicing.”

Listen up, son.

July 7, 2015

Sexism (and racism) – part 2

Filed under: Biography,Culture,Philosophy — Mike Kueber @ 5:59 pm
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Yesterday, I posted about the definition of sexism and how most people could easily stumble into so-called sexist statements.  No sooner had I blogged about that sentiment than I commented as follows on Facebook about people ridiculing a dead young man who had jumped into a lake even though he knew an alligator was in the area:

  • “Young men often do stupid, dangerous, risky stunts. No need to disparage him with a racial epithet (cracker) or hyperbolize about him being eaten.”

Upon further reflection, however, I elaborated as follows on the racism and sexism:

  • Of course, it’s OK to use racial epithets if you are one of its victims. So perhaps Ted Wood [the person who made the cracker comment] is a cracker, which makes his comment politically correct. Also, I perhaps said something sexist when I said young men often do stupid, dangerous, risky things, but that has been my life experience. Young women don’t do those things nearly as often.

Because I believe the charge of sexism and racism is too casually bandied about, and because I believe people are too easily offended, I accept the mission of pointing out how unreasonable these standards are when applied to situations that are not politically correct.

p.s., on reflecting on this issue, I believe I acted badly in shunning the Dixie Chicks after their lead singer Natalie Maines said those mean things about George W.

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.

May 21, 2015

A world-class consumer

Filed under: Economics,Philosophy — Mike Kueber @ 11:13 pm
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Last week, I got into two separate philosophical arguments with two of my best friends over whether it was wrong to spend a lot of money on materialistic things.  The arguments were prompted by an anti-religion Facebook attack on a Houston pastor living in a $10.5 million house.

Neither of my friends thought it was wrong for people to spend boatloads of money on themselves, although one friend who was brought up in the Catholic/Jesuit tradition believed such spending was inappropriate for a man of the cloth.  And the other friend, more of an Evangelical guy, begrudged the Houston pastor as a charlatan.

I disagreed with both of my friends on the general practice of spending lots of money.  I don’t recall when, but at some point in my life, I came to the opinion that it was sinful to use an inordinate share of the world’s resources.

I guess this philosophy started with my Catholic upbringing.  We were taught that it was admirable for priests to take a vow of poverty.  Then a few years later during high school and college in the 60s and 70s, I was taught the evil of conspicuous consumption.  Although that concept had been around since the 19th century, it reached the height of ridicule in the 60s. And finally during law school in the late 70s, there was an oil crisis with long lines at the gas pumps and talk of rationing.  During that time, a person did their civic duty by self-restricting their use of gas, and many even considered this a patriotic duty because of our nation’s reliance on imported oil from the Middle East.

In the past few years in San Antonio, my philosophy have been reaffirmed in the context of water usage.  Because our city seems to be continually on some sort of drought restrictions, there is community pressure to reduce water consumption.  The local paper, the Express-News, does its part by periodically doing an article that exposes the biggest private water users in town, with headlines shouting that the profligates are using 10 to 20 times as much water as a typical household.  Not surprisingly, those exposed are apologetic and promise to do better in the future.

Because of all of these life’s experiences, I have gradually settled into a position that ethical people shouldn’t feel entitled to deplete an inordinate amount of resources, even if their income or inheritance allows for it.  It isn’t just oil and water that are limited resources.  Our entire economy produces a limited amount of resources, and in that context it doesn’t seem fair or just to consume 10 or 20 times as much as a typical household.

So, what are successful people to do with their good fortune?  Obviously, they could use it to help others, but if philanthropy is not in their nature, they can retain the capital as productive assets.  As Thomas Piketty pointed out in his classic book, Capital in the 21st Century, the world economy remains out of balance with too much labor and not enough capital, so increasing our savings rate will help everyone.  Plus, with a healthy estate tax, larges estates will provide government with a relatively painless way to fund the necessary governmental services.

In Downton Abbey, the aristocratic Dowager Countess haughtily attempted to justify her use of servants:

  • An aristocrat with no servants is as much use to the county as a glass hammer.”

In her mind, providing employment to servants was a noble thing for aristocrats to do.  I love Countess Grantham in the TV show, but her thinking is outdated.  Employing a slew of servants to wait on you is, not only demeaning to them, but also corrosive to you.  As Jean Knight sang a big hit in 1971, “Mr. Big Stuff, who do you think you are?”

May 15, 2015

My kidney

Filed under: Biography,Medical,Philosophy — Mike Kueber @ 5:50 pm
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A couple of weeks ago, NY Times columnist David Brooks proposed that his readers write their personal eulogy and submit it to him for a project he is working. He thinks that the process of writing a eulogy may cause participants to recognize what is meaningful to their lives and to shift away from things that are unimportant.  It might also prompt participants to get after things they have been putting off.

As I started writing my eulogy, I was immediately prompted by something I had been putting off for months – namely, donating a kidney.

I’ve heard of thousands of people dying each year or living a debilitating life because they couldn’t receive a kidney transplant.  Then last year, I read an article in the Express-News about a donor who started a chain of transplants by agreeing to give her kidney to a stranger, who in-turn had a relative who would donate a kidney to another stranger.  The first donor, called the altruistic donor, triggered a chain of 17 relative-friend donations.

That sounded amazing.  Why shouldn’t I become an altruistic donor by donating my kidney, especially since medical advances made the donation relatively safe and pain free?

I’ve casually mentioned this possibility to friends and family, and my M.D. son later informed me that he did some research that indicated my life expectancy would not be shortened because of the donation.

That was comforting, but due to my dawdling retirement lifestyle, I didn’t make a lot of progress toward getting this done, other than a few phone calls, until I started working on my eulogy.  My eulogy made me realize that a kidney transplant would be one of those meaningful things that I wanted to include in my eulogy.

So I went back to work on this project and made contact with a local hospital in town that specializes in transplants.  The process is underway.

In an amazing coincidence, two days after getting in contact with the hospital, I started reading a new book called The Most Good You Can Do by Peter Singer.  In the book, which describes becoming an effective altruist, donating a kidney is listed as the gold standard of altruists.

My patron saint, Ayn Rand, is probably turning over in her grave.


March 25, 2015

Nature vs. nurture

Filed under: Culture,Fitness,Philosophy — Mike Kueber @ 5:07 am
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Today, while taking my daily bike ride on the Leon Creek Trail, I came upon a middle-aged, slow-moving couple riding single file in front of me, with the woman up front and the man a few yards back. As I was preparing to pass on their left, the man slowly veered to the left until his tires went off the edge of the trail and when he overcorrected his bike came back onto the trail and then went down. Fortunately, I was able to squeeze by on the left side of the trail, and as I went by him, three thoughts went through my mind:

  • First – “Whew, I missed him! That was close.”
  • Second – “What was that guy thinking? Idiot!”
  • Third – “I’d better stop and see if the guy is hurt.”

After stopping and turning around, the guy quickly called out that he was OK and I resume my ride. But as I proceeded down the trail, I wondered why my immediate reaction had been so self-centered. Yes, human instinct has a dominant concern for self-preservation, but the accident scene wasn’t very dangerous because I wasn’t traveling that fast, and even after I evaded the downed bike, my next reaction was to be peeved at the fallen rider instead of being concerned about him.

Ever since studying psychology in college, I’ve been familiar with the nature vs. nurture argument (coined by Francis Galton). I’m guessing my first reaction was mostly caused by nature, but my second reflects a disposition that my best friend describes as Ayn Randian.

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