About Me

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Armchair theorist, poet, and occasional IT manager, Sascha B. is equipped with a Master's Degree in Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Texas, and is not afraid to use it. His work has been published by the University Press of America, Edwin Mellen Press, University of Texas Press, and a variety of small journals nationwide. He is also the proprietor and baker for 3141 Pie, of which you should eat many.

The Deal

I stopped blogging in 2013, when life overtook me. My father became ill and died shortly thereafter, and my mother was left with increasing dementia. I became the primary caregiver, and now orchestrate my mother's care and our family estate.

Now, I am coming up for air again.

Looking for the next book to read. All suggestions welcome.

My reading list is over here.

Friday, February 25, 2005

I Know It's In Bad Form

But yesterday there was a forum to discuss putting up a suicide barrier on the Golden Gate Bridge. Many relatives and friends and lovers of the dead got up and showed their outrage at the bridge authority not putting up a barrier. And I feel their pain, and understand: I've known a few who've taken that dive over the years as well. But you know what? Suicides tend to find a way regardless. These folks who loved them: where were they the day before? What drove their lovers to take their own lives? It wasn't a magnetic attraction to the side of a landmark bridge, I assure you.

Fencing off the bridge in retaliation for the loss of a life is a bit like kicking the side of the car that ran over your dog. It isn't going to help. The car isn't at fault. It's the driver, and also in the end the dog. We need to take more responsibility, and while it is always possible to make our world so safe with airbags and safety fences and child car seats and safety locks and protective laws and measures surrounding every moment of our lives, we will never, never be able to wipe out the sense of despair that leads someone to the edge. At least not with legislation and fences.

Iraq And Truth

I don't normally take the time to attack another individual's work, but today I read an opinion piece that is just plain wrong. The SF Chronicle published an open forum piece by one J. Alexander Thier, a Hoover Institute fellow and legal advisor for activities in Afghanistan (among other things). He writes on what is necessary for the new Iraqi constitution to succeed. Unfortunately, within the first three sentences of his column, there are so may factual errors that I have grave doubts about any of the remainder. And these aren't tough things: it would take at most 5 minutes to fact check it all on Google if you wanted. In fact, go ahead and try: send me the time it takes you, and the fastest time wins a free beer. Really. In any case, let's rip this apart. Here is the intro graf:
In 1426 A.D., Iraq was in disarray. Its capital was ruled by a foreign power, while tribes in the countryside battled for control. Baghdad, the seat of the imperial Ottoman throne for more than 500 years, had been repeatedly sacked and was in ruins. Unable to break free from internal strife and foreign interference, the people of this once great nation entered a long period of darkness and subjugation.
Point The First: "In 1426 A.D., Iraq was in disarray." In 1426, There was no such entity as "Iraq" in existence. But leave that for now; let's just say we are looking at the general region of Mesopotamia. Baghdad was busily being ruled as a fairly stable provincial capital by the Kara Koyunlu, or "Black Sheep Turkomans", vassals to one of the dynasties of power at the time.

Point The Second: "Its capital was ruled by a foreign power, while tribes in the countryside battled for control." Effectively, the Kara Koyunlu were yet another Islamic power holding onto a provincial capital of the caliphate. Before this, it was ruled by the Il-Khans, the Mongol Emperors of Iran. Baghdad had been sacked in 1258 by the Mongols. It was not controlled by Arab rulers again until the creation of the modern state of Iraq in the 20th century. Baghdad may not have been the same place it was in the 11th century, but it was still pretty well off by the standards of time and place. It was, in fact, the largest city in the Middle East.

Point The Third: "Baghdad, the seat of the imperial Ottoman throne for more than 500 years, had been repeatedly sacked and was in ruins." Okay. Now here we lapse off into LaLa land of irresponsible writing. Baghdad did not fall to the Ottomans until 1534. The Ottoman Empire itself did not even exist until 1453, with the capture by the independent Ottoman state of Constantinople. But even being generous, the Ottoman Beylik was founded by Osman I in 1281---less than 200 years prior to our illustrious author's date. As for the "in ruins" bit, please see Point The Second, above, cf. "largest city in the Middle East".

Point The Fourth: "Unable to break free from internal strife and foreign interference, the people of this once great nation entered a long period of darkness and subjugation." Okay. First: there was no "nation" to have been once great. Iraq as a nation only came into being in 1932, under the auspices of the Western Powers after the First World War. What had been "once great" was the Mesopotamian region of the Islamic Empire ruled by a variety of dynasties, including Abbasids, Buyids, Seljuqs, for the earlier periods, and later the Jalayrids during the period in question. As for "darkness and subjugation"---those are rather fuzzy concepts in the context of a global empire based on religious hegemony, as viewed by a seemingly secular modern in a non-theocratic bent of mind.

The remainder of his piece is set in three sections. They are pointers to a "successful" constitution: Be inclusive, Balance Islam and Islamic law, and Achieve legitimacy. Now I don't have a real argument with this, though I think I might alter the presentation somewhat. But from a writer who so clearly has no background in Islam, in the history of the region, or in the trends of that region over time, how can we be expected to take seriously his pontification on how to succeed on these terms?

I'd be happy to entertain any response from Dr. Thier, or anyone else for that matter, on this topic. And that free beer offer still stands.

This sort of trite and inaccurate spin in order to promote a political sensibility does no one any good. Not the promoter, nor the detractor. It shouldn't be out there. Shame on Dr. Thier for putting such a piece out in the public forum; shame on the Chron and any other papers publishing it.
What's Condi Wearing Now?

This WaPo column tries half-heartedly to dissect the meaning of Secretary Rice's style. It gets a few things right: she is breaking away from the standard American Woman of Power look. She is demanding that observers be faced with both her power and her sexual identity. But it misses the more critical issues: For an appearance in Germany, she appears in a style and with a presence most reminiscent of the nazi use of covert sexual power as an engine for political presence. That she is presenting sexuality despite being a peculiarly asexual public figure. The lack of insight is well displayed by the writer in this choice bit of distraction:
"When looking at the image of Rice in Wiesbaden, the mind searches for ways to put it all into context. It turns to fiction, to caricature. To shadowy daydreams. Dominatrix! It is as though sex and power can only co-exist in a fantasy."
Sex and power together only in fantasy? Sex and power have always been linked. As noted above, the nazis actually harnessed this as a method of manipulation. But while it is unusual (though not unheard of) for a woman in power to present a sexual front, for Condi Rice to be the one to do it is just weird.

And yes, she does look a bit like the Matrix's Neo....

Thursday, February 24, 2005

SF Stories: Object Lesson In Stupidity

Childrens, gather round! Don't ever, ever follow our example of how to get things done! This bridge debacle may wind up being the true legacy of the Governator. How embarassing for us all.
Win Some, Lose Some

On the up side: A Palestinian cabinet has been approved, and it looks at first glance to be a good one. For now.

On the down side: the pope is back in hospital with the flu. I said it before, I say it again, John Paul ain't long for this world.

For anyone interested, a good (and in the mainstream media, quite solitary) Reuters update on how the Kurds are playing the Kirkuk card in their role as power brokers and king makers in Iraq of the moment.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

The Local Front

Despite the presumed "crisis" in Palestine---Ahmed Qurei's inability to get a cabinet approved by the Legislative Council---I think it is more significant that: 1) After a year in office, Arnold "Governator" Schwarzenegger is losing some traction in the state, and slipping in the polls after failing to do much but solidify the already calcified lines of partisan thinking in California politics, and 2) that after hackers cracked the history of Paris Hilton's mobile phone, what number should appear there but SF Mayor Gavin Newsom's private home line? Either he is getting distracted by his newly single state, causing his current inability to manage any sort of forward movement in governance, or his inability to progress in pushing forward his agendas in the City is making him run to his newfound singleness as a welcome distraction. I don't know which. But god save us all from a paparazzi shot of Gavin's hair and Paris, together...
Gee But It's Great To Be Back Home

In glancing over the news, I see that Bush in busy mending fences in Europe, while still grandstanding on the looming threat of Iran and Syria. Not a peep about N. Korea. I fear that as we move ahead, he will be needing, and gathering, more support for a push against those two nations that will look similar to much of the runup to the war in Iraq. We will see hard words, "last chances", UN Security Council discussion, and sanctions. In the end, I'm not sure what will come down: it might be quite different than the Iraq scenario. The players in Iran and Syria are radically different in mind and temperament than Saddam Hussein. But Assad and the Supreme Council are not sit down and shut up people. And it is impossible to guess what the coming actions of the Lebanese will be.

Still: North Korea? Kim Jong Il, the guy who already has some nukes? Hello?

Monday, February 21, 2005

Gonzo Is Gone

Quickly, but heartfelt: R.I.P., Hunter S Thompson: A bullet to the head by your own hand seems a poetic way for your wild life to end. The world is less of a place without your presence.