Mike Kueber's Blog

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 30, 2014

Does the Silicon Valley need affirmative action?

Filed under: Business,Law/justice — Mike Kueber @ 1:23 pm
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USA Today is known for superficial reporting and splashy graphics, but today the paper contained an article that seems more suited for the NY Times or Washington Post. In an article titled, “Few minorities in non-tech jobs in Silicon Valley, USA TODAY finds,” the newspaper did extensive research to determine that African-Americans and Hispanics are underrepresented at three dominant companies in the Silicon Valley – Google, Facebook, and Yahoo – and that this underrepresentation extends not only to technical white-collar jobs, but also to non-technical white-collar jobs.  The article indicated that concomitant over-representation inured to the benefit of whites and Asian-Americans, but failed to provide separate statistics for those two groups, apparently considering them to be a single behemoth for purposes of this article. The article also suggested that women were being shortchanged, but provided no statistics to support this.

After providing statistics, the article quoted several affirmative-action proponents, starting with Jesse Jackson. One of the proponents admitted that their objective was “the dismantling of this myth of meritocracy” and “Ultimately, changing these numbers will be critical to the continued success of the American tech sector, which in turn helps power the national economy.”

All of this suggests the catchphrase made popular in the Lost in Space TV show in 1965 – “That does not compute.” The affirmative action proponents are suggesting that three of the most successful companies in America (and the world) need to fundamentally change so that they better reflect the more bureaucratic, underperforming sectors of the economy. It also calls to mind two comments made by two conservative icons from the 80s:

  • Margaret Thatcher – Socialists are happy until they run out of other people’s money to spend.
  • Ronald Reagan – If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it.

October 18, 2014

Asian privilege

Filed under: Culture — Mike Kueber @ 12:25 am
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My previous post concluded that Jon Stewart was correct in finding the existence of white privilege in America.  As I was cycling today, however, it occurred to me that in some sense Bill O’Reilly was also correct in saying that, if there is white privilege in America, there is also Asian privilege.  In fact, I have noticed that in my kids when in high school commenting that Asian kids were generally smarter and harder-working than non-Asians.  And I’ve heard anecdotal stories about white kids being disrespected because of their color when trying to play competitive basketball or football.

These are examples of past successes from your racial/ethnic predecessors that enure to the benefits of those who come later.  Likewise, past failures of your predecessors will hold you back.  Most people would be willing to accept this concept.  It’s just that when it is phrased as “white privilege,” a conservative opponent of affirmative action will feel an urge to resist.

April 22, 2014

Aphorism of the Week #19 – Some ideas are so stupid than only an intellectual could believe them

Filed under: Law/justice — Mike Kueber @ 10:19 pm
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George Orwell, the estimable 20th-century author of 1984 and Animal Farm, said that some ideas are so stupid that only intellectuals could believe them. I couldn’t help but think of that saying today when I was reading an article in the NY Times.  The article reported that the U.S. Supreme Court had decided the voters of Michigan were allowed to pass a constitutional amendment prohibiting discrimination based on sex or race in college admissions, government contracting, and public employment.

That may sound like a no-brainer decision, but the vote was 6-2, with Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg arguing that it was discriminatory against minorities to prohibit discrimination against the majority. (The Orwellian argument could have had a female trifecta except that Elena Kagan recused herself because of some prior involvement in the case.)

In 2007 Chief Justice Robert suggested, “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.” Seven years later, Justice Sotomayor attempted a biting comeback:

  • The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to speak openly and candidly on the subject of race, and to apply the Constitution with eyes open to the unfortunate effects of centuries of racial discrimination.”

Chief Justice Roberts didn’t need any time to expose Sotomayor’s ad hominem:

  • People can disagree in good faith on this issue, but it similarly does more harm than good to question the openness and candor of those on either side of the debate.”

The NY Times printed an editorial criticizing the decision. In the editorial, it praised Sotomayor’s eloquence is declaring that “race matters,” as compared to Robert’s “glib” statement in 2007 that revealed “a naïve vision of racial justice.”

Seems that Sotomayor and the Times were exactly what Orwell had in mind with his aphorism.

 

March 6, 2014

Affirmative action, legacies, and meritocracy

Filed under: Culture,Issues,Media,Philosophy,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 11:16 pm
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The Rivard Report is a local on-line magazine that claims to be the embodiment of Mayor Castro’s slogan for San Antonio – “A City on the Rise.”  More specifically, the magazine aspires “to be a catalyst for urban transformation and progressive economic and cultural development.”  Sounds to me like the embodiment of liberal orthodoxy.

One of the cornerstones to liberal orthodoxy is affirmative action.  Liberals, especially the well-heeled, silk-stocking liberals, think there is so much inequality in America that they feel nobly obliged to hand out a piece of life’s spoils to a few members of groups that historically have been socio-economic losers – i.e., African-Americans, Hispanics, and, sometimes, women.

So what does the Rivard Report have to do with affirmative action?  Well, one of its recent articles revealed an interesting dilemma that confronts liberals whenever they are required to apply their abstract principles to real life, and, much like public-school advocates who send their kids to private schools, the Rivard Report appears to have concluded that real life is more complicated than abstract principles.

The article that prompted this discussion reported on the tragic death of a Minnesota college kid in an ice-storm traffic accident.  The young man had been hired by the Rivard Report to be an intern in at the magazine this summer, and though he seemed outstanding in many ways, he was the opposite of affirmative action – i.e., an Anglo male with a love of Ultimate Frisbee attending a small liberal arts school in the Midwest.

As I was reading about the young man, my internal liberalism detector started sounding out warnings that, if the hiring wasn’t based on affirmative action, it was probably based on “legacy” – i.e., selecting someone whose family belongs to the aristocratic club.  This practice was perfected by the ultra-liberal Ivy League, which for decades admitted only kids from the highest socio-economic class (legacies) and the lowest (affirmative action).  As countless studies have shown, the Ivy League benignly neglected the best and the brightest from the massive middle.

Sure enough, my liberalism detector was spot on because a few more paragraphs into the article it was revealed that the young man had outstanding breeding – “I knew writing and journalism was in [his] blood,” gushed the hiring editor.  His mom was previously a newspaper reporter and his dad, before becoming an executive at a local company, was a widely-traveled journalist and editor.  Although Editor Rivard described his immense respect for the dad, he also tried to minimize the significance:

  • For all of [his dad’s] success as a journalist, it wouldn’t have helped the [young man] at the Rivard Report. We were looking for the best available young journalist to spend the summer in San Antonio and make an immediate contribution.

“Best available?”  Count me as one of those who is skeptical of the likelihood of getting the best available if your search is limited to affirmative action and legacies.

Meritocracy is the cornerstone that the massive middle wants.

p.s., I have heard of two note-worthy anecdotes about conservative Texans who didn’t receive legacy treatment:

  1. President Bush-43 graduated from Yale college and decided to continue his education, but because of his mediocre college grades, he was denied admission to UT Law.  Fortunately for him, the legacy practices of the Ivy League permitted him to get into Harvard Business School as a second choice.
  2. Secretary of State James Baker graduated from UT Law at a time when his father’s law firm, Baker & Botts – was one of the largest in Texas.  But because of the firm’s anti-nepotism policy, James had to find work at another firm in Houston – Andrews & Kurth.

 

March 1, 2014

More affirmative action?

Filed under: Culture,Issues,Law/justice,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 3:21 am
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Earlier this week, President Obama announced an initiative called My Brother’s Keeper.  According to a White House website, the initiative is designed remedy a problem that has plagued America for decades – underperforming young men of color.    Although the media has generally focused on young black males as the problem, the White House suggests that Hispanics (but not Asians) should be included in the mix:

  • Data shows that boys and young men of color, regardless of socio-economic background, are disproportionately at risk throughout the journey from their youngest years to college and career.  For instance, large disparities remain in reading proficiency, with 86 percent of black boys and 82 percent of Hispanic boys reading below proficiency levels by the fourth grade – compared to 58 percent of white boys reading below proficiency levels.  Additionally, the disproportionate number of black and Hispanic young men who are unemployed or involved in the criminal justice system alone is a perilous drag on state budgets, and undermines family and community stability.  These young men are more than six times as likely to be victims of murder as their white peers and account for almost half of the country’s murder victims each year.”

I am troubled by this initiative because America needs to get out of the business of treating people differently because of different skin color.  Such varying treatment will invariably do more harm than good.

Furthermore, the White House might summarily declare that black and Hispanic boys are failing “regardless of socio-economic background,” it conspicuously fails to provide any evidence to support this highly questionable statement.  Unless there is compelling evidence that there is a race-based problem in the black and Hispanic communities, I believe America will be better served by treating this as a socio-economic issue that can be addressed in a colorblind fashion.

January 16, 2014

Affirmative Action and 8(a) certification by SBA

Filed under: Business,Culture,Law/justice — Mike Kueber @ 2:34 am
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An article in today’s San Antonio Express-News reported on a federal program – so-called 8(a) certification by the SBA – that is designed to help socially and economically disadvantaged entrepreneurs gain access to the economic mainstream of American society.    That sounds like an unassailable program even for a conservative for me.  I have long argued that affirmative action by colleges in favor of minorities should be replaced by affirmative action for kids who are socially and economically disadvantaged, such as those with parents who are poor or uneducated, and this sounds like a move in the same direction.

But the devil is in the details.  Upon closer examination, I learned that the federal program presumes you to be socially and economically disadvantaged if you have at least 25% membership in one of the following groups:

  • Black Americans
  • Hispanic Americans
  • Native Americans
  • Asian Pacific Americans
  • Subcontinent Asian American

It would have been simpler to designate who is not eligible – i.e., white people.  To ensure broader, self-serving support, the program includes women as potentially disadvantaged, but actually requires women to provide some evidence of personal disadvantage.

As in the dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, where the government develops a language that is specifically designed to mislead the people, America’s government has determined that affirmative action for minorities is no longer defensible.  But instead of ending affirmative action for minorities, the government simply changes the language.  Minorities become, by definition, social and economically disadvantaged individuals.

The Express-News article quotes an individual who describes the 8(a) certification as a wonderful windfall:

  • The 8(a) is an important certification for a small business.  It’s kind of like getting into Harvard.”

Although 8(a) says nothing about affirmative action or minority set-asides, if it walks like a duck and talks like a duck….

December 15, 2013

Sunday Book Review #116 – David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell

Filed under: Book reviews — Mike Kueber @ 11:28 am
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Gladwell has become one of the most popular nonfiction authors in America.  Starting with The Tipping Point, he followed-up with Blink and Outliers, all huge successes.  His newest book, David and Goliath, as noted in the book’s jacket, continues Gladwell’s tradition of combining “history, psychology, and powerful story-telling.”

Outliers, which is my favorite Gladwell book, examined some of the underlying reasons for an individual’s success.  David and Goliath looks at that same issue from a different, narrower perspective.  Gladwell’s newest book scrutinizes situations where, ostensibly against all odds, an individual succeeds.

Obviously, the biblical tale of David and Goliath is the quintessential example of an individual succeeding against all odds.  But upon closer analysis, Gladwell concludes that the D&G matchup was actually a mismatch in favor of David and his sling, based on dynamics similar to the rock, paper, scissors game.

Rock, paper, scissors?  Let Malcolm explain.  In D&G days, there were infantry, cavalry, and projectile warriors:

  • With their long pikes and armor, infantry could stand up to cavalry.  Cavalry could, in turn, defeat projectile warriors because the horses moved to quickly for the artillery to take proper aim.  And projectile warriors were deadly against infantry because a big, lumbering soldier, weighed down with armor, was a sitting duck for a slinger who was launching projectiles from a hundred yards away.”

Gladwell analyzed other facets of the D&G fight, but this was essentially paper covering a rock.  Or in a similarly colorful Gladwell analogy, Goliath went to a gun fight with a knife.

Subsequent chapters in the book examined other situations (a) where the ostensible advantage was actually disadvantageous (sometimes called affluenza), or (b) where significant disadvantages forced individuals to be creative (think out of the box) and develop alternative strategies that enabled the person to overcome those disadvantages.  Being born with dyslexia, like famous lawyer David Boies, is an example of this latter situation.

I found the second and third chapters to be the most interesting.  The second chapter dealt with optimal class size in elementary and secondary schools.  Before directly addressing schools and class size, Gladwell showed how successful parenting is easier with more money, but only up to a certain point, where additional money does not help and eventually makes successful parenting more difficult.  Intuitively, that makes sense and is reflected in an inverted-U curve.  Gladwell extended the same inverted-U concept to schools.  Smaller class size facilitates successful teaching, but only to a certain point, beyond which there are a plethora of problems created by a too-small class; e.g., too dominated by a bully, no individual autonomy, less likely to find intellectual peers, not enough variety of opinions in discussion, etc.

The third chapter concerned whether an individual was better off getting into the best possible university.  According to Gladwell, there was strong evidence that kids were much more likely to succeed in life if they attended an average university where they were strong students instead of an excellent university where they would feed at the bottom of food chain.  The former kid will flourish; the latter will flounder.  An obvious application of this concept would be affirmative action, which Gladwell concluded was counter-productive.

From a personal perspective, there is an argument that this concept applied to me at the University of Texas Law School, an excellent university where I just barely achieved admission and where my studies floundered.  But I disagree with that argument as applied to me because I had already downgraded the importance of academic excellence before enrolling at UT, as reflected by my mediocre grades during my last year of college at UND.  And my self-esteem was fine during UT-Law days and I always felt that I could compete academically with my classmates if that were a priority to me.  But, in general, the concept makes sense.

As with Gladwell’s earlier books, D&G contains some weak chapters, but overall this book is well worth reading.

 

p.s., the following is an interesting tidbit from Gladwell regarding Harvard’s attempt to deal with class standing:

Affirmative action at Harvard

Malcolm Gladwell in his book David and Goliath described the psychological effect on kids in elite schools like Harvard when they find themselves a class position to which they are unfamiliar – i.e., bottom of the class:

  • By the way, do you know what elite institution has recognized this very fact about the dangers of the Big Pond for nearly fifty years?  Harvard!  In the 1960s, Fred Glimp took over as director of admissions and instituted that was known as the “happy-bottom quarter” policy.  In one of his first memos after taking office, he wrote: “Any class, not matter how able, will always have a bottom quarter.  What are the effects of the psychology of feeling average, even in a very able group?  Are there identifiable types with the psychological or what-not tolerance to be ‘happy’ or to make the most of education while in the bottom quarter?”  He knew exactly how demoralizing the Big Pond was to everyone but the best.  To Glimp’s mind, his job was to find students who were tough enough and had enough achievements outside the classroom to be able to survive the stress of being Very Small Fish in Harvard’s Very Large Pond.  Thus did Harvard begin the practice (which continues to this day) of letting in substantial numbers of gifted athletes who have academic qualifications well below the rest of their classmates.  If someone is going to be cannon fodder in the classroom, the theory goes, it’s probably best if that person has an alternative avenue of fulfillment on the football field.  Exactly the same logic applies to the debate over affirmative action.

Based on Gladwell’s book notes, this information came from a 2006 book by Jerome Karabel – The Chosen: The Hidden History of Admission and Exclusion at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton

November 26, 2013

The trouble with boys

Filed under: Culture,Media — Mike Kueber @ 8:56 pm
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When I read my weekly issue of Time magazine, I usually start at the beginning.  The beginning of Time magazine is a column titled “Editor’s Desk,” by managing editor Nancy Gibbs.  As I was reading her column this week, I was struck by the following statement from Gibbs:

  • Also in this issue is a remarkable report on the hearts and minds of young men. Every few years, the spotlight tends to swing from girls to boys and back again: Who’s racing ahead, who’s falling behind, who suffers more from a hookup culture whose actual virulence is often exaggerated.”

Huh?  If there has ever been a spotlight revealing any concern for the status of boys vis-à-vis the girls during my lifetime, I missed it.  As a staunch opponent of affirmative action, I have always been concerned that boys are bound to suffer whenever society (the establishment, especially the media) seems to be rooting unabashedly for one over the other, especially in a zero-sum game.

Notwithstanding the misleading nature of Gibbs’ statement, her column does refer the reader to a major article in this week’s issue relating to boys – “What Boys Want.”  Although the principal focus of the article is the fact that boys seem to be having more trouble dealing emotionally with the new hookup culture, it also examines how boys have broadly fallen behind girls in life in general – e.g., in 1970, 58% of college students were men, while in 2010, 57% of college students were women.

All of this reminds me of the old saying that the grass is not greener on the other side of the street; it’s greener where you water it.

I hope this article is a sign of things to come, a time when boys and girls receive the attention they deserve.

June 30, 2013

Race-conscious contracting by the City of San Antonio

During my City Council campaign, I provided two examples of Mayor Castro and his cronies on the City Council taking actions that unfairly discriminated against Anglos:

  • Redistricting.  Votes in the districts with the most Anglos were severely diluted.
  • City contracting.  Preferences were given to businesses owned by minorities.

In the course of researching the redistricting issue during the campaign, I learned that the City’s treatment of its Northside districts was not only inequitable, but also illegal, and I am in the process of getting that illegality rectified.  While doing some research this week on affirmative action, I stumbled across a Supreme Court decision that indicates the City’s race-conscious contracting is similarly illegal.

My first awareness of race-conscious contracting occurred in January this year, and I blogged about it shortly before getting into the council race.   The blog entry was based on two articles in the Express-News that described not only the Council’s first step of helping minority businesses to be more successful in the bidding process, but also the Council’s Plan B in the event that the first step wasn’t adequately successful:

  • At a City Council meeting last month, Fair Contracting Coalition members said city contract awards should mirror the diversity of San Antonio’s business community.  Members of the Fair Contracting Coalition want the city to step up its race-conscious method of awarding contracts to one of ‘segmentation,’ a method that would consider each racial and ethnic group separately and set hard goals for awarding contracts to each.  The city would move to segmentation only if it determines that the race-conscious plan isn’t effective.  It will take about a year to determine whether the race-conscious plan is working.  The city made the decision to abandon its long-running practice of weighing race and ethnicity in contracting decisions in 2010, a move that was effective in January 2011.  However, it switched back to a race-conscious program last May, saying minority participation plummeted under its race-neutral program.  The city noted it paid $24.3 million in construction contracts for the August 2011 through mid-May 2012 period, with minority- and women-owned businesses garnering $4.7 million, or 19 percent, far short of the city’s goal of 29 percent.”

The relevant Supreme Court decision that I stumbled across earlier this week is City of Richmond v. J.A. Croson Co., 488 U.S. 469 (1989).    According to Wikipedia:

  • Croson was a case in which the United States Supreme Court held that the city of Richmond’s minority set-aside program, which gave preference to minority business enterprises (MBE) in the awarding of municipal contracts, was unconstitutional under the Equal Protection Clause. The Court found that the city failed to identify both the need for remedial action and that other non-discriminatory remedies would be insufficient.
  • Croson involved a minority set-aside program in the awarding of municipal contracts. Richmond, Virginia, with a black population of just over 50 percent had set a 30 percent goal in the awarding of city construction contracts, based on its findings that local, state, and national patterns of discrimination had resulted in all but complete lack of access for minority-owned businesses. The Supreme Court stated:
    • We, therefore, hold that the city has failed to demonstrate a compelling interest in apportioning public contracting opportunities on the basis of race. To accept Richmond’s claim that past societal discrimination alone can serve as the basis for rigid racial preferences would be to open the door to competing claims for “remedial relief” for every disadvantaged group. The dream of a Nation of equal citizens in a society where race is irrelevant to personal opportunity and achievement would be lost in a mosaic of shifting preferences based on inherently unmeasurable claims of past wrongs. [Citing Regents of the University of California v. Bakke]. Courts would be asked to evaluate the extent of the prejudice and consequent harm suffered by various minority groups. Those whose societal injury is thought to exceed some arbitrary level of tolerability then would be entitled to preferential classification. We think such a result would be contrary to both the letter and the spirit of a constitutional provision whose central command is equality.”

The similarities between Richmond and San Antonio are striking.  Both are cities where a minority was the majority (blacks in Richmond and Hispanics in San Antonio), yet they implement a program to favor themselves over the Anglo minority.  A major distinction is that Richmond established a hard goal, whereas San Antonio is merely threatening to do that if their softer techniques don’t succeed.

It is unclear to me whether the Supreme Court would look more generously on a technique that grants points to minorities instead of relying on hard quotas, but at a minimum the Court will require that the City Council based its action on a strong report showing that race-conscious contracting is (a) a compelling governmental interest and (b) narrowly tailored to accomplish its purpose.

Two-bit bet says San Antonio hasn’t done that.

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