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.







Saturday, March 12, 2005

Complications

This AP release says worlds about just how convoluted our current ties are in the Middle East, without even giving thought to the new directions that such relationships might take over the next decade. Our now great ally and support in all efforts, Egypt, that new opening to democracy (according to the president), is again implicated in abetting everything we are trying to end: Egypt Aided Iraq's 1980s Weapons Program

Choice bits:
In 1981, after the outbreak of war with Iran, President Saddam's Iraqi government paid Egypt $12 million "in return for assistance with production and storage of chemical weapons agents," the U.S. weapons hunters say in a little-noticed annex of their Comprehensive Report, a 350,000-word document issued last October....

In 1983, the Egyptians modified the Iraqis' Grad 122mm multiple-launch rocket system to enable warheads to carry chemical agents. That powerful weapon system can launch 40 rockets with a range of 12 miles....

A year later, the Egyptians supplied Iraq with 9-foot-long Grad rockets pre-equipped with plastic inserts in the warheads to hold the poisons....
Of course, the wall of official denial from Cairo continues to be chink-less. I wait for George and Condi to get this swept well under the rug.
Quote Of The Day
"That is what normal people never understand. They want to enjoy the artist's products—as one might enjoy cows' milk—but they can't put up with the inconvenience, the mud and the flies."

-Henri Matisse

Friday, March 11, 2005

Lame Ass Alert!!!

This posting just found on craigslist in SF. Please god don't let this disease be catching. If it is we are all in a lot of trouble.

And I thought that bad clichés from 1950s B movies had all died off, except as poor-performance post-modern irony.
On Trade Deficits and Subtle Spin

This from Bloomberg:
Financial shares were the biggest drag on the S&P 500 among 10 industry indexes. They are down 1.4 percent for the week. Rising interest rates may curb demand for loans and reduce the value of bonds owned by banks, brokers and insurers.

JPMorgan, the No. 2 U.S bank, fell 11 cents to $36.25. For the week, it's down 3.3 percent. Citigroup Inc., the world's largest financial services company, lost 15 cents to $48. American International Group Inc., the biggest insurer, retreated $1.02 to $65.10.
And this from the NY Times:
"I don't really see any real grounds for concern," said Mark Vitner, senior economist at Wachovia Securities. "Living standards here continue to improve, and I think it will continue to be the case."

"We are a young country at the high end of our consumer spending," he added. "We need the developing world to get wealthier to buy our goods, and the developed world, like Japan, to grow more rapidly."

A similar positive view of the economy was expressed by James Glassman, a senior economist at J. P. Morgan Chase, who said he did not "find the figures scary, but encouraging."
FYI: Wachovia down a full $1.30, or about 3% for the week. Seems you need to put a positive spin on even the bleakest news.
Commentary

On the anniversary of the Madrid bombings, some leading clerics of the Spanish Islamic community have issued a fatwa against Osama bin Laden, a first in the Muslim world. As a non-Muslim, I will not comment on the ups and downs of this; but I would like to note an interesting parallel to something a bit closer to the history of many westerners.

The basis for the fatwa is, according to the reports, the accusation against bin Laden of the sin of istihlal. Literally, this can be translated as 'self-law', in other words creating one's own rules. But the more accurate translation into English, particularly in religious context, would be that bugaboo of the inquisition for so many years, and the plague of Orthodoxy through the Middle Ages: innovation.

Now, in Islam, the sin of innovation in religious matters is bid'ah; but this is a legal matter, rather than religious. They accuse bin Laden of twisting Qur'an and text to create his own law. I see the parallel in the Church's accusation and condemnation of scientific activity and it's proponents: it bears on dogma, but is in itself a matter of secular innovation.

Anyway, just an interesting thought.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Sunshine And Lollipops

The Blogger.com servers have been a bit wonky this last day or so, making it hard to post, but that's alright: the world as I see it is more of the same. Troubles, Terror, Turmoil, Transition, Triumph, Tears. Fear, Failure, Fanfare, Fun. So go ahead and look yourself. I don't feel like doing any thinking today. The sun is beating down, the sky is clear and blue, the temperature is climbing up to 75°, and I plan on going out and enjoying it to the fullest.

But just for the record:

Terror.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Dumb But Funny

It isn't really newsworthy, but it sure does look bad: a Governator group dedicated to creating jobs in California is outsourcing its work to India.

Ha Ha Ha! Muckraking at its best!
Back Talk

As I was saying yesterday, the pro-Syrian rally today was significant, popular, and altogether democratic. The problem with democracy in the Middle East---particularly in a fractured society such as Lebanon---is that it is far more complex than Bushian rhetoric or action will allow.

The demands of the administration---for immediate Syrian withdrawal, for disarmament, for "free" elections---mistake symptoms for causes. Syrian occupation is not the reason for Lebanese factionalism or war; it is an outcome of a failed democracy coupled with the power struggle by a strong neighbor in a weak position regionally. The NY Times notes this, in its final grafs, with a nod to the trouble that would arise should Lebanon make a separate peace with Israel (highly unlikely in any case, as Hezbollah wouldn't stand for it.) But I do wish Mr. Bush and sidekick Condi could assimilate what it might portend when a rally for the opinion we are against draws crowds which "dwarf" those who turned out for the rally we supported.

It's going to be more complicated than bully pulpit demands by the president to end authoritarian rule in the Middle East. To start a ripple in a still pond is easy: throw some rocks. But if you want to turn that pond into an island, throwing rocks isn't going to do it.

Monday, March 07, 2005

You Enn

Fred Kaplan has an excellent musing on Bush's appointment of John Bolton to the post of Ambassador to the United Nations. Admittedly, Kaplan has a liberal slant, but at the same time he points out the glaring issue of Bolton's long-standing hostility toward the organization he is now committed to working with.

You have to wonder just what are long term plans are internationally, with such radical disdain for the international forum on the one hand, and an unknown arc of action by the State Department on the other.
Darwin Award Contender

Badges? We don't need no stinkin' badges!

It's a horrible thing to be mauled. But I'm trying to imagine just what this guy was trying to do to save himself..."
(03-07) 10:51 PST San Francisco (AP) --A man who was severely mauled by two chimpanzees at an animal sanctuary last week was quickly overwhelmed when the apes attacked, his wife said Monday.

'One was at his head, one was at his foot. But all that time ... he was trying to reason with them...I couldn't do anything.'"
(emphasis added)
Read it all here.
More Thoughts On The Middle East

I find it intriguing that the various pundits and media outlets have been struggling through a debate as to whether the recent events in Lebanon and Egypt are due to the policies of president Bush and his war in Iraq, thus making him deserving of praise, and validating the last four years of US policy. It's as though they feel almost incapable of giving him credit, and grudgingly are seeing events that push them toward that unpleasant end. The question is interesting, but pointless. More important is how we can help guide event towards ends and trends that are favorable to us: toward stability, and open government, and integration into the Western sphere of influence in markets and philosophy and life.

Today in Lebanon there have been rallies; anti-Syrian, pro-independence rallies. Later today and tomorrow there will be rallies organized by Hezbollah to support Bashar Assad and the Syrian troops. It is a new voice in the region, these grass roots noises. And that is good. And if our meddling has helped that to begin, then good. It neither validates our errors, nor assures our success. Instead of debating whether or not to begrudge the president some fleeting laurels for his cowboy rhetoric and quasi-imperial actions, we should be discussing how we can help along this brief instance of free speech, and nurse it into something more lasting and more powerful. It's been said before: elections do not make a democracy. They are just a first step in a long process. If and when Syria withdraws from Lebanon, the country will still be saddled with a government built on false premises and discriminatory practices: half the legislature will still be deeded to the Christian minority. And the most powerful political party will still be Hezbollah.

I don't think that harsh demands will cater to keeping this new flame of change burning; I also don't think that anything short of a massive new coherent MidEast policy by both the US and the EU will foster what optimists are calling the spread of democracy in the region. An occupied Iraq is not a benefit to this; nor is a stalled peace in Israel, and continued occupation and settlement in the West Bank and the Golan.

The debate should not be what has been right or wrong, and who takes credit and who takes blame. The debate should be how to nurture the glimmerings of change in a terribly complex and volatile region that holds, for better or worse, much of our future in it's hands.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Interesting Sunday Reading

The NY Times has run an interesting article on the fundraising practices of Arnold Schwarzenegger, our semi-beloved, Hummer-driving Governator. It notes among other things, the growing alarm among factions on both sides of The Great Arnold Divide at his attention to extremely wealthy high-paying donors---the notorious "special interests" he is always so at pains to castigate.

What is enlightening about this is that the groups who have backed him on a number of his pet issues--redistricting, for example--are alarmed at the trend. The gap that it produces between the common voices of the voters and the voices of the wealthiest of Californians cannot be denied, no matter what Arnold says about being "un-buyable". If you only hear one tune, you're gonna start humming it eventually. And if you were humming it to begin with, as is the case with a lot of the current Schwarzenegger-GOP wealth interaction, then it's doubtful you're going to switch to something different that's being piped away by some mice in a different room.

The quote that resonates with me?
"He has the potential to be a Teddy Roosevelt reformer," said Derek Cressman, director of TheRestofUs.org. "It is disappointing to see him turn around and raise money hand over fist."
Too true. We had hopes for ya, Arnie. Wha' ha' ye done?
More On Sgrena

No bright lights, no warnings, no high speed driving:
Suddenly, she said, she remembered her captors' words, when they warned her 'to be careful because the Americans don't want you to return.'

Sgrena wrote that her captors warned her as she was about to be released not to signal her presence to anyone, because 'the Americans might intervene.'
I'm not yet sure what to make of this, seeing as the source is fairly anti-American to begin with, but if there is any truth at all in it, it makes for one of the more sordid affairs in this war, on par with Abu Ghraib. But it remains to be seen what the 'real' story will turn out to be. I still believe that this will cause a ruckus among Italian opinion, but do little to alter US-Italy relations.