Mike Kueber's Blog

July 13, 2015

Sunday Book Review #163 – The Silencing by Kirsten Powers and Inequality by Anthony B. Atkinson

Filed under: Book reviews,Economics,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 12:57 am
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The Silencing describes how the left is killing free speech in America.  They do this by attempting to ostracize and punish anyone who holds a contrary political opinion.  The most common technique used by the left is to demonize the offender as bigoted, racist, sexist, etc.  When the left is charged with intolerance of alternative opinions, they respond that these issues are already settled within civil, mainstream society.  When the left is charged with killing free speech, they say that speech will continue to be free, but civil society is similarly free to levy punishment on those who stray far from the so-called mainstream.

I’ve always been a bit of a devil’s advocate, and The Silencing motivates me to redouble my efforts.  It also makes me feel a bit of shame for my reaction against the Dixie Chicks after lead singer Natalie Maines said some mean things about George W. Bush.  I’m sorry they are no longer making great music that I loved.

Inequality reminds me of one of my favorite books from last year, Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty, a French economist.  Piketty explained why the world economy was moving toward greater income inequality (r>g; return on capital was greater than the growth of economy) and provided some common sense solutions, such as increased education subsidies, greater progressivity in personal taxes, and reduced corporate tax loopholes.

Although Piketty’s analysis and proposals might seem radical to some conservatives, his tone was so nonpartisan that he persuaded me to see him as a reasonable man.  Atkinson not so much.  He is a British economist who reportedly mentored the younger Piketty on inequality, but his focus is more on the elimination of poverty, which seems to produce more draconian socialistic proposals.  Among them:

  • New technology should be developed in ways that encourage greater employment, not less.
  • Greater power to labor vis-à-vis capital.
  • Jobs guaranteed for everyone.
  • Minimum wage should be a “living wage.”
  • Guaranteed return on capital saved by low-income individuals.
  • Large inheritance granted to all individuals upon reaching majority; funded by wealthy.
  • Increase state ownership-participation in private companies.
  • Progressive taxation, up to 65%.
  • Increased estate tax and a new tax on wealth.
  • Payments to parents for having children.
  • Increased social security.

Although Atkinson seems quite bold in his willingness to interfere with capitalism, I confess to being intrigued by several proposals.  Especially interesting is the proposal to grant a large sum of money to all young adults, funded by a robust estate tax and an annual tax on wealth.  I think the first-world countries can afford to give their young adults a jump start on their life to think and act like a capitalist.

July 8, 2015

Cocktail parties

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

July 6, 2015

Sexism

Filed under: Culture,Sports — Mike Kueber @ 10:19 pm
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In the wake of the American women’s success in World Cup soccer, the Washington Post took the opportunity to charge Great Britain with sexism.  The charge was prompted by the Brits’ national organization congratulating the women’s team for making it to the semifinals with the following tweet:

  • “Our Lionesses go back to being mothers, partners and daughters today, but they have taken on another title – heroes.”

According to the Post, the tweet is sexist because it was not something that would ever be said about a men’s team.

I agree that something like that probably was not uttered to men on the Golden State Warriors as they returned home from winning the NBA title in Cleveland, but does that make it sexist?

According to Merriam-Webster, sexism means “behavior, conditions, or attitudes that foster stereotypes of social roles based on sex.”  Based on that definition, any belief that family generally plays a larger role in the life of a woman than it does in the life of a man is sexist.

I suspect, however, that makes much of America sexist.  Although feminists are free to pressure women to discard the traditional outsize role of women in raising a family, the vast majority of American women continue to reject the feminist call.

Perhaps the term sexist should be limited to attitudes that reflect negative stereotypes because surely the political-correct policemen don’t expect us to cease making general comments on the other sex.

p.s., the Post article commented that the British women soccer players were much more “accomplished” than their male counterparts.  “Accomplished” means highly trained or skilled.  The women may be relatively accomplished, but I don’t suggest they compete on a level field against the Brit men.

On Language

Filed under: Education,Facebook — Mike Kueber @ 9:29 pm
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Beginning in the 70s, Bill Safire was a political columnist for the NY Times who wrote a special Sunday column titled, “On Language.”  In the Sunday column, he discussed word etymology and usage.

Safire was a favorite of mine for 30 years (he died in 2009), and I thought of him today when I came across a couple of interesting terms:

  • High-quality pre-k.
  • Racist

The first term is invariably used whenever a political entity argues in favor of expanded pre-k, as San Antonio politicians did recently with Pre-K 4 SA.  Not surprisingly, no one wants to expand low-quality pre-k even though America seems to be flooded with it.  Indeed, when I tried to find the distinction between these two types of pre-k, I quickly learned the following poorly-kept secret from an article in the Washington Post:

  • Whenever policymakers talk about universal preschool — and that is happening more frequently these days — they always say that it must be “high quality,” but they never explain what that actually means.

The modifier is especially useful for policymakers to refute any of the numerous studies that show pre-k to be ineffective.  Ineffective pre-k is by definition “low-quality pre-k”; whereas, the progressive politician is asking voters to fund high-quality pre-k (to reduce inequality). How can an egalitarian say no to that?

The term racist was used on Facebook to describe Donald Trump for retweeting the following comment:

  • “Jeb Bush has to like Mexican illegals because of his wife.”

When I suggested to my Facebook friend (a grad of Notre Dame law school) that there was nothing racist about the tweet, he responded:

  • “come on mike…you’re way too smart to stoop to something like that…first of all, trump is referring to a mexican-american, and secondly, he assumes she is illegal…how much more racist can his assertion be?”

I responded as follows:

  • “First of all, Richard, Donald Trump didn’t say anything. He merely retweeted, without comment, what someone else said, kind of like you did in posting this article from Deadstate. And if we are going to infer what Donald Trump was implying, I suggest that he is implying the well-documented fact that Mexican-Americans are generally much more in favor on granting amnesty to undocumented immigrants.  And surely, no one has suggested that Jeb’s wife is illegal.”

I didn’t, however, object to the term racist being used to discuss alleged bigotry against Mexicans. I withheld my objection after reading several online discussions on whether the term racism is appropriate when referring to ethnicities or nationalities.  Although most commenters believe that Hispanics or Mexicans are not racial terms, and therefore believe bigotry is more technically precise and accurate, there were a couple who suggested the meaning of “race” had expanded to include ethnicity or nationality.

I am confident that Bill Safire would not approve of this expansion.  He loved precision in words and felt that flabby usage predicted flabby thinking.  I agree.

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.

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.

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