Mike Kueber's Blog

February 28, 2012

Philosophical advice from one generation to the next

Filed under: Philosophy — Mike Kueber @ 12:35 pm
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I recently blogged about the philosophical advice that Barbara Bush gave to the Wellesley College graduates in a commencement address in 1990.  My dad never went to college, but he was a philosophical sort of guy.  In 1977, as his four boys were in their 20s, he handed them the following short note that contained his philosophy of life:

 

                                    1977

Dear Mark, Greg, Mike, and Kelly 

            I hope you have a good life.  Believe in God.  If you marry, to love and take good care of your wife.  If you have children, spend time with them because you only have them a little while.

            Make friends and try to keep them.  They are nice to have when you are down or have trouble.  Never think you are better than anyone and help people when they are down.

                                    Love and Prayers

                                    Dad

 

Dad’s note reflects his priorities in life.  He died of emphysema in 1996, and kept those priorities to the end.  He surely lived an examined life.

Coincidentally, I am at almost the same place in life as Dad was back in 1977 – i.e., my fourth and last son has just started college.  But I am not as settled as Dad was, so I am not ready to dispense any advice to my kids yet.  Maybe I’ll save it for the grandkids.

 

 

 

February 27, 2012

Retirement – three years later

Filed under: Philosophy,Retirement — Mike Kueber @ 12:33 pm
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Three years ago today, at the age of 55, I took early retirement from USAA after almost 22 years of devoted service.  In return for those years of service, USAA provided me with a pension and, almost as importantly, lifetime health insurance.  Without USAA-provided health insurance, retirement probably would not have been financially feasible for me. 

So what do I think about retirement, three years later?  Even without financial stresses (the stock market has almost doubled since March of 2009), the problems of life do not disappear.  (That reminds me of Lonesome Dove’s Gus McCrae telling Miss Lorena that life in her imaginary San Francisco is still just life.)  In fact, I sometimes think that the obligations of work keep a person distracted and preoccupied from personal-relationship issues, and those personal relationships are what make the world go round.  As Barbara Bush famously said in a 1990 commencement speech at Wellesley College:

  • And as you set off from Wellesley, I hope that many of you will consider making three very special choices.
    • The first is to believe in something larger than yourself, to get involved in some of the big ideas of our time. I chose literacy because I honestly believe that if more people could read, write, and comprehend, we would be that much closer to solving so many of the problems that plague our nation and our society.
    • And early on I made another choice, which I hope you’ll make as well. Whether you are talking about education, career, or service, you’re talking about life — and life really must have joy. It’s supposed to be fun.
    • The third choice that must not be missed is to cherish your human connections: your relationships with family and friends. For several years, you’ve had impressed upon you the importance to your career of dedication and hard work. And, of course, that’s true. But as important as your obligations as a doctor, a lawyer, a business leader will be, you are a human being first. And those human connections — with spouses, with children, with friends — are the most important investments you will ever make.  At the end of your life, you will never regret not having passed one more test, winning one more verdict, or not closing one more deal. You will regret time not spent with a husband, a child, a friend, or a parent.”

All three of Bush’s choices are sterling solid separately, and when combined they form the basis of an excellent life.  And most importantly, they continue to operate throughout life.  They remain just as valid for someone retiring from a career as they do to someone graduating from college.

Recently, I have been thinking about the third choice – human connections – and I blogged about that as some of my New Year’s resolutions.  Emotional intelligence and personal relations have never been a forte of mine.  After high school, I focused on academics and then got married shortly after law school.  In 2007 I got divorced, and since then I have struggled to develop and maintain satisfying relationships.  Let’s hope that understanding the problem is the biggest step toward solving it.  

A final thought on the timing of retirement – NY Time columnist David Brooks recently wrote about a survey of retirees.  One of their biggest regrets was staying in their principal career too long.  From my perspective, that is exactly correct.  You only live once, so why spend so many years doing the same thing.  Although I enjoyed me time in the insurance industry and at USAA, I’m glad that I left as soon as I could afford it.  A life is enriched by variety.

February 1, 2011

Same-sex marriage in Texas

Earlier today, there was a news report that Barbara Bush, the daughter of Bush-43, was endorsing same-sex marriage in her new home state of New York, where she runs a nonprofit health organization.    In a video released by The Human Rights Campaign, Bush said:

  • “I’m a New Yorker for marriage equality.  New York is about fairness and equality and everyone should have the right to marry the person that they love.”

The video was released in connection with a legislative effort in New York to legalize gay marriage.  Last year, a similar effort in NY succeeded in the State House, but was voted down in the State Senate.  Although Barbara appears to be giving unqualified support for gay marriage, a close reading of her statement suggests that she might be limiting her argument to New York. 

Obviously Barbara is famous as a Texan, and gay marriage in Texas was resoundingly defeated by the Texas voters in 2005 when they voted to amend the Texas Constitution to limit marriage to the union of one man and one women.  Proposition Two was supported by 76% of the voters and passed in 253 of 254 counties, with Travis County being the only outlier.

I hope that Barbara in her statement isn’t suggesting that Texans aren’t “about fairness and equality.”  According to the American judicial system, each state has the right to decide whether to recognize same-sex marriage, and Texans have clearly exercised their right. 

As Rick Perry opined in his book, Fed Up, people who like same-sex marriage and don’t like a lot of guns can either choose to live somewhere other than Texas or they can work toward changing the laws in Texas.  I don’t think there is any question that Texas will eventually legalize same-sex marriage, but that legalization should come when the people are ready for it.  I hope the rest of the country respects our decision and doesn’t start threatening boycotts, like they did will the MLK-holiday issue.

December 11, 2010

Sunday book review #4 – Decision Points by George W. Bush

George W. Bush is my favorite contemporary politician.  When I was going door-to-door during my Congressional campaign, the 2nd-most common question was what I thought of Bush-43.  (The most common question was what I thought of Roe v. Wade.)  Although I realized I would be more successful in my door-to-door discussions if I distanced myself from Bush, or at least gave a more nuanced opinion, I responded truthfully that I admired the man.

With that disclosure, I begin this review of Decision Points.  Unlike most presidential books, Decision Points is not a chronological narrative of the Bush presidency.  Instead, it is a review of how Bush made the important decisions in his life.  Because there is so much interesting material in the book, I have decided to break the review into three parts – the pre-9/11 stuff, post-9/11 foreign policy, and post-9/11 domestic policy and conclusions.  I will review the first part this week and the other two parts, I hope, on succeeding Sundays. 

The pre-9/11 stuff

The pre-9/11 stuff comprises four chapters – Quitting (about drinking), Running (deciding to run for president), Personnel (hiring and firing), and Stem Cells (government research with stem cells).  In the course of explaining those decisions, Bush reveals a lot about his character and personality, which is the diametric opposite of my all-time favorite politician, Richard Nixon.  I supported Nixon because I related to a lot of his background, values, ambitions, and insecurities.  He was the perfect foil for John Kennedy.  My preference for Nixon seems inconsistent with my admiration of Bush-43, who background and personality is more Kennedy-esque and Nixonian.  What’s so special about Bush-43?

Sportsmanship

 Maybe it’s his love of sports.  Bush and I share the love of sports, and I think we share some of the fundamental values that sports teaches, the most important being sportsmanship.  Bush described with admiration the sportsmanship displayed by his dad in losing to Bill Clinton in 1992: 

  • Dad handled the defeat with characteristic grace.  He called early in the evening to congratulate Bill, laying the foundation for one of the more unlikely friendships in American political history.  Dad had been raised to be a good sport.  He blamed no one; he was not bitter.” 

Later in 2000, early in the evening, after the critical state of Florida had been called for Gore, Bush showed his own sportsmanship – “I was ready to accept the people’s verdict and repeat Mother’s words from 1992: ‘It’s time to move on.’” 

I love this attitude.  Defeat is not a failure or a personal rejection.  Politicians offer their services, but someone has to lose.  I disagree completely with those politicians who assert that their first obligation to their supporters is to win the election.  Their supporters have no right to insist that a candidate doing anything more than campaign hard and smart.  The voters will decide who can represent them best.

Parenting

 

There’s an old protest song from Vietnam days with the lyrics, “You can’t even run your own life; I’ll be damned if you run mine.”  (Sunshine by Jonathan Edwards.)  I thought of those when I read about Bush-43 deciding whether to leave Austin and the Texas governorship to run for president.  Surprisingly, Laura was quickly on board, but his daughters weren’t.  Finally, one night George sat down with Jenna (who was soon graduating from high school) on the patio of the Governor’s Mansion and said, “I know you think that I’m ruining your life by running for president.  But actually your mom and I are living our lives – just like we raised you and Barbara to do.”  

That is so refreshing and politically incorrect.  Yes, parents need to put their children first, but there needs to be consideration for the parents, too. 

Growing up

Bush has a reputation as a slacker, which he denies “My philosophy in college was the old cliché: work hard, play hard.  I upheld the former and excelled at the latter.”

Something I share with Bush is his dislike of campus politicians – “I had no interest in being a campus politician.”  When describing a young Karl Rove, “I assumed he would be another one of the campus politician types who had turned me off at Yale.  I soon recognized that Karl was different.  He wasn’t smug or self-righteous, and he sure wasn’t the typical suave campaign operator.”

Bush has a reputation as a young boozer, and he accepts that – “In reality, I was a boozy kid and [Dad] was an understandably irritated father.”  Even after marrying, this happened – “As we were eating, I turned to a beautiful friend of Mother and Father and asked a boozy question: ‘So, what is sex like after fifty?’….  Years later, when I turned fifty, the good-natured woman sent me a note to the Texas Governor’s Mansion: ‘Well, George, how is it?’  Laura saw a pattern developing, too.  What seemed hilarious or clever to my friends and me was repetitive and childish to her.” 

Although Bush graduated from Harvard Business School, he never bought into those people – “I knew what I did not want to do.  I had no desire to go to Wall Street.  While I knew decent and honorable people who had worked on Wall Street, including my grandfather Prescott Bush, I was suspicious of the financial industry.  I used to tell friends that Wall Street is the kind of place where they will buy you and sell you, but they don’t really give a hoot about you so long as they can make money off you.”

Nepotism?

Many believed that Bush was unqualified to run for governor, but he persuasively disagrees – “My experiences on Dad’s campaigns and running the Rangers had sharpened my political, management, and communication skills.  Marriage and family had broadened my perspective.”  That makes perfect sense. 

In the final days of the campaign, this so-called lightweight was ready for a broadside from Ann Richards – “She did her best to set me off.  She called me ‘some jerk’ and ‘shrub,’ but I refused to spark….  On debate night, Karen and I were in the elevator when Ann Richards entered.  I shook her hand and said, ‘Good luck, Governor.’  In her toughest growl, she said, ‘This is going to be rough on you, boy.’”

Personnel

An entire chapter in the book is devoted to Bush’s philosophy regarding personnel.  I think the following encapsulates that philosophy – “I was looking for integrity, competence, selflessness, and an ability to handle pressure.  I always liked people with a sense of humor, a sign of modesty and self-awareness.” 

I couldn’t agree more with those qualities, including the sense of humor. 

This chapter also contains a comment ostensibly on the selection of Cheney, but it seems more applicable to McClain’s selection of Palin – “The vice presidential selection provides voters with a window into a candidate’s decision-making style.  It reveals how careful and thorough he or she will be.” 

Stem-cell research

Another chapter in the book is devoted to Bush’s decision to deny federal spending for stem-cell research except for already existing stem-cell lines.  I have read other book reviewers commend Bush’s thorough and open-minded research prior to making this decision.  I disagree.  Bush may have conducted thorough research, but I’m not sure about it being open-minded.  To describe his pro-life position, Bush quoted from former PA governor Bob Casey, “When we look to the unborn child, the real issue is not when life begins, but when love begins.”  As a committed, staunch, pro-lifer, this was really a no-brainer for George Bush.  

Warts?

Any warts?  Yes, I noticed three – one substantive, one personal, and one trivial:

  1. Mental illness.  I’ve always resented that the federal government required employer-provided health insurance to cover treatment of mental illness as generously as it covered treatment of physical illness.  I think that one is more essential than the other.  Imagine my surprise at reading about Bush’s pride in signing the law that required this.  His pride was based on his relationship with a Texas Ranger partner Rusty Rose, who suffered from a chemical imbalance that caused anxiety.  My question (and probably Rick Perry’s) to George Bush would be, “Did you think about federalism and whether you and the federal government had any business telling businesses what to do regarding this?”
  2. 

  3. Silver spoon.  Bush was considered by many to be an aristocrat because of his family and connections.  Ann Richards famously commented about his dad being born on third-base and thinking he hit a triple.  One of the charges of aristocracy against Bush-43 was that he used connections to avoid Vietnam service by getting in the National Guard.  Bush’s description of this incident included a quote that sounded aristocratic to me:
    • I informed the Alabama National Guard commanders that I would have to miss several meetings during the campaign.  They told me I could make them up after the election, which I did.  I didn’t think much about it for another few decades.”

I don’t think most of us would “inform the commanders”; rather, we would humbly ask for permission.  Maybe it’s just me, but that quote was jarring.   

          3.   UT law school.  Before going to Harvard Business School, Bush tried unsuccessfully to get into the University of Texas Law School.  I think he should have mentioned that fact somewhere in this book because it makes the UT Law School look good and it makes me look good.  Only in America would I be able to go to a graduate-level school that George W. Bush could not get into.  Of course, it also reveals UT to be more of a meritocracy that admits a Kueber, whereas Harvard admits the Bushes, Obamas, and Castros of the world

Based on what I’ve read thus far, Bush has not disappointed me.  Despite the aristocratic trappings, Bush is more Texas than Connecticut.  His self-deprecation is frequent; his hubris is rare.  Of course, much of this is due to his mom and dad.  A perfect description of their parenting style occurred at Mile 19 of his first marathon.  He was running at an 8:33 pace as his parents cheered him on.  Dad – “That’s my boy.”  Mom – “Keep moving, George. There are some fat people ahead of you.”

A person’s most important quality, in my opinion, is that they be comfortable in their own skin.  They need to like and respect themselves.  The insecure and egoists do neither.  People who are comfortable in their own skin are better able to deal issues and challenges.  I look forward to reading about W. dealing with 9/11.

July 1, 2010

Country music and George Strait

This morning, I woke up with “The Breath You Take” playing on my radio.  It’s the latest song by the king of country music, George Strait.  Sometimes friends ask why I love country music, with its low energy and hokey lyrics.  I admit that sometimes I’m in the mood for more energy and sometimes the lyrics are trite or hackneyed, but few things have the ability to move me or make me think like a country ballad – like “The Breath You Take”

“The Breath You Take” is a story about a dad who takes time to enjoy his son.  He misses a business trip to watch his son play baseball and later travels a thousand miles to share in the birth of his grandson.  The moral of the story is in the chorus:

Life’s not the breaths you take
The breathing in and out
That gets you through the day
Ain’t what it’s all about
Ya just might miss the point
Try’n to win the race
Life’s not the breaths you take
But the moments that take your breath away

This moral isn’t as obvious as it may seem.  I knew an executive at a previous employer who would ask promotion applicants what they would do if they had to choose between preparing for an important briefing in the morning or attending a daughter’s school play.  Most applicants were savvy enough to know that attending the play was not the correct answer, so they shrewdly developed a hybrid answer – they would attend the play and then work on the briefing into the night, as long as was necessary.  That was not the answer the executive was looking for, and he told them that.  The executive wanted an employee who realized that there were thousands of moments to spend with the children, and therefore the employee should be willing to sacrifice a few of those moments to the employer who puts bread on the table.  

So “The Breath You Take” prompts you think and makes an eloquent argument for choosing the baseball game.  First Lady Barbara Bush just as eloquently confirmed this choice in a 1990 commencement address at Wellesley:

  • “At the end of your life, you will never regret not having passed one more test, winning one more verdict, or not closing one more deal. You will regret time not spent with a husband, a child, a friend, or a parent.”

(To read the entire speech, which was selected by American Rhetoric as one of its Top 100 speeches, go to http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/barbarabushwellesleycommencement.htm.) 

Incidentally, although George Strait lives in San Antonio, I became a big fan of his in 1983 while I was living in Minto, ND.  That was when I first heard George sing “Amarillo by Morning,” which is one of my favorite songs of all time.  “Amarillo” is a lonely ballad about a cowboy who had a bad rodeo in San Antonio and was rushing to his next rodeo in Amarillo.  The song was written by Terry Stafford (of “Suspicion” fame) in 1973, and he made it a regional Texas hit while I was attending law school in Austin.  Ten years later, the voice of George Strait turned it into a national hit.  Recently, George did the same thing with “Wrapped,” a song written by Bruce Robison of Bandera, TX.  Bruce gave the song to his singer/wife Kelly Willis, and she made it a regional hit in Texas.  Eight years later, the voice of George Strait turned it into one of his signature songs.

If you don’t already like country music, give it a try.  Try something like Brad Paisley’s “Welcome to the Future.”  But save it for a time when you feel reflective and are ready to be engaged or comforted; not when you want to be a master the universe.