Mike Kueber's Blog

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.

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August 19, 2014

Rush to judgment in Ferguson

Filed under: Culture,Law/justice,Media — Mike Kueber @ 1:42 am
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As a mostly jaded, non-empathetic person, I don’t pay a lot of attention to human-interest stories. That explains why I didn’t initially follow the developments in Ferguson, MO. Then as things spiraled out of control, I played catch-up and read-up on the earlier activities and new developments. Part of my catch-up consisted of reviewing the Facebook wall of Cary Clack.

Cary is a Facebook friend who posts thought-provoking stuff. A couple of years ago, he was a columnist in the Express-News. Like most of the E-N columnists, Cary was a liberal and he provided readers with the African-American perspective on most issues. When Joaquin Castro decided to run for Congress, he lured Cary away from column-writing and into policy-advising. Then, when Joaquin was elected and left SA for DC, Cary stayed home and ran Joaquin’s local office. But that job didn’t last.

A couple of weeks ago, Joaquin’s brother, Julian, gave up his job as SA mayor and took a job as HUD secretary. The SA City Council replaced Julian by selecting Ivy Taylor as interim mayor, the first black mayor in SA history. (The city is only 7% black.) Ivy asked Cary to be her communications person and he accepted.

Multiple jobs haven’t changed Cary. One of his first posts on the subject of Ferguson and Michael Brown, Jr. included a link to a CBS St. Louis article titled, “Michael Brown called quiet, respectful.”  The following paragraphs were gleaned from the article:

  • Big Mike, as some of his friends called Michael Brown Jr., wasn’t the type to fight, family and neighbors said, though he lived in a restless neighborhood where police were on frequent patrol. His parents and neighbors described him as a good-hearted kid with an easy smile who certainly wouldn’t have condoned the violence and looting that spread through his north St. Louis suburb following his death.
  • Brown was an aspiring rapper, though it was more of a hobby. This week, he was supposed to start college in pursuit of a career as a heating and air conditioning engineer. On the day of this death, Brown had walked with another friend to a nearby convenience store. Mull saw them in the street and honked his horn to say to “hi” just minutes before the police officer came by.
  • “He was never a person who liked confrontation,” Mull said. “His smile was going to make you smile.”
  • Neighbors described Brown as quiet and respectful—a “good boy,” who “was never in trouble,” said Sharon Johnson, 58, who lives just a little ways down the street. Johnson said Brown would frequently stop to chat.

A couple of days later, the police released a video that revealed “Big Mike” was not always good-hearted, peaceful, and respectful. In fact, I can only imagine how stupid the reporter who wrote the article feels about saying Brown “wouldn’t have condoned the violence and looting.” Hell, Brown did not even need the cover of a riot to conduct his personal looting of a liquor store.

To Cary’s credit, he posted the Brown video and said:

  • “I won’t be a hypocrite and not post new developments that will be part of the Michael Brown story even when they’re not favorable to Brown. We can’t ask for facts that will help us understand the truth of what happened and then only accept the facts we like. No excuses for his behavior in the store. Still no justification for how he later died.”

Most of the commenter’s to Cary video posting followed Cary’s lead and attempted to downplay its relevance. I took a different tack and responded as follows:

  • Fair & balanced? Hardly. The vast majority of commenters attempt to minimize and marginalize the new evidence – i.e., an unarmed Brown (6’4″ and almost 300 pounds) apparently committed a strong-arm robbery shortly before he encountered the policeman – so that they can hold to their initial narrative. Of course, that always happens when someone rushes to judgment.

It amazes me that, while no one objected to the media portrayal of Brown as a gentle giant who was never in trouble with the law (at least, no trouble since his 18th birthday as any earlier activity would be juvenile-protected), it is suddenly highly objectionable when facts reveal the person to be a thug. While that may not be relevant in a courtroom, it is relevant in the court of public opinion. Furthermore, I think the fact that Brown had committed a felony less than an hour before the shooting is relevant to how he might react to a policeman confronting him on the street.

But, unlike the people of St. Louis who yesterday marched in support of their policeman or the people of Ferguson who rioted and looted in support of Brown, I’m going to try keep an open mind and not rush to judgment.

November 14, 2012

Sarcasm v. ad hominem arguments

Filed under: Philosophy — Mike Kueber @ 3:26 am
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A few days ago, I engaged in a discussion on Cary Clack’s Facebook wall concerning his following post about radicals, both political and religious:

  • I embrace the name “liberal” with pride and don’t allow anyone, liberals included, to define it for me. Liberalism is a great, noble and flawed political philosophy that has done much good. Conservatism is a great, noble and flawed political philosophy that has done much good. At their essence, both are inspired by inherently moral impulses. Like religions, often it’s their true believers who give them a bad name.

When one of Clack’s friends expressed his disgust with “crazies who proclaim divine concurrence,” I sarcastically said that this person must not have a personal relationship with Jesus.  I subsequently explained that individuals who have a personal relationship with Jesus and aren’t spoon-fed their religion by hierarchical religions are likely to come across as eccentric or crazy.  Cary responded that, “It was your blog referencing me (thanks for the warning bro) that led to this post. I was going to give special attention to your blog tomorrow, but based on your comments- O Infallible One- it may be a waste of time. Peace.”

Subsequently, a couple of commentators called me “smarty pants” and “not brilliant after all,” so Clack interjected, “But let me jump in and say I don’t want to see any ad hominem attacks on Michael here.” 

Huh?  Clack calls me “O Infallible One,” but someone else is out-on-line to call me smarty pants?  I called Clack on it and suggested, “There’s a fine line between ad hominem and sarcasm, O Infallible One. In fact, my initial comment to Paul contained a tinge of sarcasm.”

Clack responded with, “I don’t think it’s so fine a line. My sarcasm has always come through in my writing but not even those who disagree with me have ever accused me of making ad hominem attacks on people.”

I countered: “Cary, so it is clear to you that calling someone ‘O Infallible One’ is not an ad hominem? We will have to agree to disagree because I consider it to be an attack on one’s character.

The exchanged ended when a third party (a St. Mary’s law grad) interjected: “Seriously Michael? A character attack? Grow some nuts guy!”  I’m sure St. Mary’s Law School is proud of him.

Instead of engaging the St. Mary’s guy, I decided to let the dispute go.  But I felt a new awareness of the fine line between sarcasm and an ad hominem argument:

  • Sarcasm – the use of irony to mock or convey contempt. 
  • Ad hominem argument – an argument made personally against an opponent (especially his character) instead of against the opponent’s argument.

This new awareness, however, does little good if I don’t put it into practice.  Today, I got into an argument on a Facebook friend’s wall over the TEA Party.  With my second entry I said the following:

  • The anointed one said in his State of the Union speech, “I believe what Republican Abraham Lincoln believed: That government should do for people only what they cannot do better by themselves, and no more.” The Democrats and the TEA Party (Taxed Enough Already) Republicans have a good-faith disagreement over how little people can do for themselves and how much government needs to do.

I thought my entry was an attempt to find common ground, but instead of seeing this as a kumbaya moment, my friend jumped on my use of “the anointed one:”

  • Middleton: Don’t forget that who you sarcastically refer to as “the anointed one” is still the President of the United States, and I know what TEA Party is supposed to mean, so no need to explain.
  • Kueber: Phil, there is nothing inappropriate with using sarcasm to describe the president of the united states, is there? And I wasn’t insulting your intelligence by suggesting you didn’t know what TEA meant; rather, I was emphasizing the elegant simplicity of the movement’s principles.
  • Middleton: Mike, I affirm your right to be sarcastic, if you wish, but that is beneath you, as a person of reason and intelligence. In this case, it comes across more as an ad hominem tactic, which unnecessarily distracts from the discussion. I think if the TEA baggers (see how unnecessary that is?) were simply focused on taxes as you say, you might be right. But their agenda seems to be much broader and more vicious.
  • Kueber:  Point well taken. I recently got into a discussion with Cary Clack and he called me Oh Infallible One. When I suggested that his name-calling was an Ad Hominem, he responded that it was mere sarcasm, for which he had a reputation he was proud of. I told him there was a fine line between sarcasm and ad hominems. My sarcasm, however, wasn’t as bad as his because mine was directed at a third party (Obama and the media), not you. And my sarcasm wasn’t as bad as yours because mine was substantive (Obama has been treated as the Savior by the media), whereas yours about tea-baggers is merely tossing out Fighting Words. But ultimately, you are correct that calling Obama the anointed one might draw emotion into the discussion. I take it back.

This “Anointed One” is a perfect example of saying something that I consider akin to gentle teasing is often not considered teasing when you are on the receiving end of it, “O Infallible One.”  So, the lesson is to go ahead with sarcasm if you are trying to irritate the recipient or impress a listener with your wit, but stay away from it if you want to have an honest exchange of views.

November 2, 2012

Cary Clack makes a positive case for Barack Obama’s re-election

Filed under: People,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 5:51 pm
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Cary Clack was a liberal columnist for the San Antonio Express-News until he resigned that position about a year ago to become the communications director and senior advisor to Joaquin Castro, the Democratic candidate for my congressional district, the 20th.  It seems that most political flacks this year emphasize negative campaigning, but earlier today, Clack made the following positive case on Facebook for re-electing President Obama:

  • Oct. unemployment rate at 7.9% with 171,000 jobs created and 84,000 more jobs added to the August and September figures. He kept the country from going into a depression; 800,000 jobs a month were lost when he took office; 33 straight months of job creation with more than 5 million new jobs; the stock market has more than doubled; he saved the auto industry and one million jobs; 30 million Americans will have health insurance at a boon to PRIVATE insurance companies; consumer confidence is at a 5-year high; housing starts are at a 4-year high. Yet this country is worse off under President Obama?

As Mark Twain said, there are lies, damned lies, and statistics, so perhaps we should take a closer look at Clack’s statistics:

  1. October unemployment rate at 7.9% while 171,000 jobs created and 84,000 more jobs added to the August and September figures.  Clack conveniently fails to note that the unemployment rate increased from 7.8 in October and that the rate is higher than when Obama took office in January 2009.
  2. He kept the country from going into a depression.  The Great Recession ended in June of 2009, before the Obama stimulus had taken effect, so clearly nothing Obama did prevented a depression.
  3. 33 months of job creation with more than 5 million new jobs.  The statistics from Obama administration seem to have a flexible starting date.  Sometimes the starting date is Obama’s inauguration, others (like this one) start a few months later, and others are blamed to George Bush to this day.
  4. The stock market has more than doubled.  Funny how Obama attributes the doubled price of gas to the fact that prices were so low in 2009 due to the Great Recession; however, when it comes to the doubling of the stock market, there is no reference to the fact that stock prices were abysmally depressed in March of 2009. 
  5. He saved the auto industry and 1 million jobs.  This is urban legend.  The auto industry (but not the auto unions) would have done better under a managed bankruptcy, at less cost to the federal government.
  6. 30 million Americans will have health insurance at a boon to PRIVATE insurance companies.  The federal government is about to founder under the weight of its various insurance/welfare entitlements, and it simply cannot afford ObamaCare at this time.
  7. Consumer confidence is at a 5-year high; housing starts are at a 4-year high.  Of course, consumer confidence and housing starts should be higher as the economy recovers.  The questions are whether the Obama recovery has been too tepid and whether Romney can shift the recovery into overdrive.

Based on Clack’s statistics, I think the Obama campaign might be better served if it quit talking statistics and reverted to its previous tactic of trying to demonize Mitt Romney.

May 2, 2011

Assorted thoughts on the killing of Osama bin Laden

1.  Maybe I’m hyper-partisan 

When I heard that bin Laden had been killed, my first thought was one of “mission accomplished.”  This could be a watershed event in our war on terrorism, just as the fall of Bagdad could be a watershed event in the reform of the Middle East. 

My second thought, however, was more prosaic; it was about politics.  I wondered how this event would affect the prospects of removing the liberals from power in 2012.  That thought was amplified when an SA Express-News columnist, Cary Clack, noted on his Facebook wall that “Obama gets bin Laden.”  And then his morning’s issue of the Express News had a huge photo of Obama on the cover along with a much smaller photo of bin Laden.  

I am not one of those people who want Obama’s leadership to fail.  I am rooting for a strong economic recovery, and I want the regime-change efforts in Libya to succeed.  But occasionally my mind drifts back to the competitive, partisan mode, just like it did for another reader of Clack’s posting.  The similar-minded reader (Danny) said to Clack, “Why does it always have to be Democrat or Republican. Our AMERICAN Soldiers got him not Obama!!!!”  Clack responded with “That goes without saying, Danny. Lighten up.” 

That probably applies to me sometimes – I need to lighten up.

2.  Maybe I’m a sexist

Female reporters have become completely accepted in America; just like female politicians.  There are two areas, however, where I question their credibility – reporting on football and combat.  There’s something about reporting on something that you don’t understand first-hand.  The problem with my belief, however, is that most male reporters didn’t play football or fight in combat either.

This morning, I was watching Imus in the Morning when he started interviewing an older woman who had worked at the Department of State for Henry Kissinger, mostly as a spokesperson, I think.  When she bragged that she had risen to the civilian equivalent of a three-star general, I almost gagged before finding the remote control to change channels to CNN.  She may have thought that such a statement gave her credibility to discuss the taking of Osama, but it did the opposite to me.  I wasn’t buying.