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, January 07, 2006

Saturday Wry Chuckle

A.P. has posted the text of Tom DeLay's letter of resignation to the GOP House members. It is a great piece of rhetoric. Here is the letter, with Pinocchio commentary added:
Dear Colleague:

Today, I have asked Speaker Hastert to convene our conference for the purpose of electing a new majority leader, the position I have been honored to fill these past three years through the trust and confidence [confidence? I'd say more fear, but that's quibbling.] of our colleagues.

During my time in Congress, I have always acted in an ethical manner [The nose grows!] within the rules of our body [the nose grows again!] and the laws of our land [a debatable point. let's give him this one. not all unethical or evil or cruel acts break laws.]. I am fully confident time will bear this out.

However, we live in serious times ['serious times'? other times weren't serious? the first half of the twentieth century was, oh, jokey and slapstick? what the hell does he mean?] and the United States House of Representatives must be focused on the job of protecting our nation and meeting the daily challenges facing the American people. History has proven that when House Republicans are united and focused, success follows. [Actually, this it true. At least that is, success for the House Republicans. Don't stretch it to the rest of America though.]

While we wage these important battles [Ahem.], I cannot allow our adversaries to divide and distract our attention. I will continue to stand up for the issues I care so deeply about [i.e. money and power] and work with you all on these priorities [again.]. I am constantly thankful for the support of my constituents in recent days as well as over the years they have allowed me to serve them. I will continue to work every day to fulfill their trust, and yours.


Tom DeLay
Now, that's a great piece of work. The honest ethical warrior, fighting for the common man in times of great..."seriousness."

DeLay-ism will remain, but at least his smug overfed grin won't be at the top of the pyramid anymore. Let's hope the next leader of the house stands for slightly more than power at any price.
Boom Boom Out Go The Lights

Here is an interesting piece from the Jerusalem Post, for those of you who may continue to think that the Middle East is anything but a deeply convoluted and complex region. Al-Arabiyah, the Arabic News channel based in Dubai, ran a documentary on female suicide bombers in the Islamic World. Fatah, the "moderate" old-school party of the Palestinian Authority, has condemned the movie, saying that it is "a scandalous and despicable film that is completely biased in favor of the executioner at the expense of the victims of occupation". And more. But read the article. It is interesting. Of most note to me are the points that a key speaker in the documentary was Dr. Nawal El-Saadawi, the famous, controversial and eminent Egyptian thinker and writer on the topic of women and Islam. To have El-Saadawi involved is both divisive (radical Islamists see her as anathema) and appealing (she is considered by many more liberal Muslims and by Western folks to be one of the great minds of the field). But more interesting to me is the comment from Al-Arabiyah, buried way down in paragraph 11, that "The film was produced by a foreign company and purchased by Al-Arabiya."

What foreign company? From where? I can understand the J'Post grabbing onto this, especially considering the political state of things in Israel and Palestine at the moment. But with the wind in the sails of such activities as US pay-for-opinion propaganda in Iraq, I'd like to know whether this review of a very difficult and convoluted issue was produced internally or externally to the Arab world, and where the documentary received its funding.
Tom Goes Down

Better late than never: DeLay relinquishes House majority leader post - Yahoo! News

Friday, January 06, 2006

The State Of The Governator

Been thinking a bit more on Arnold's State of the State speech; I am trying to figure out just what his aim is in taking this tack on things. He is proposing the incurring of more than $60 billion in debt (anathema to the GOP), and $160 billion in cooperative funds from the private sector (nice proposal but potentially nasty in its hidden cost ramifications) and the Federal government (highly unlikely). He is planning on offering up versions of bills nearly identical to those he has been busily vetoing as they come out of the legislature. He has provided no details, and he has a terrible track record on big ideas with poor planning (cf. the budget proposal last year).

On the one hand, perhaps he has reached his "nothing to lose" point in his mind politically, and is ready to push this through in a radical Pat Brown way. But I don't think he is there (yet). Then again, he is also very likely alienating his own party, without having gained any trust from the Democrats. Which leaves him with a very fickle and skeptical voting populace, and not a lot of capital to work with.

Let's hope that as the details are drawn out over the next few weeks, that we see a plan that is not only aggressive, but centrist and willing to attack some of the entrenched functional problems in the working of the state. If Arnold can pull it off, he might not be governor for very long, but he may provide a legacy in the state that will long outlast his political career.
The Photo Op
"'It would be a stretch to say he was really interested in many thoughts from around the table,'"
Says an anonymous "former official" (e.g. one of the participants at the table---Colin? Colin?) It is a shame that with the opportunity to actually retool our haphazard policy in the war, and create new strategies for both successful furtherance of Iraqi independence and growth, and American face-saving and security, instead the President chose to play the Karen Hughes game, and make it look good, without allowing his soul or mind to be touched. True, a few faces went later to chat with Hadley, but in the end, I doubt "advice" will be taken now, any more than it has been in the past---unless it jibes in lockstep with the preconceptions that Mr. Bush and his circle already presume.

It's a shame, because like them or not, agree with them or not, the opportunity to provide that much insight and brainpower and experience to one of the great problems of the times is one that shouldn't be squandered on cynical marketing ploys. And I fear that all this was, was that.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Rolling Stones 246 Years Old

Crikey. That's old. Good thing the BBC hooked me in on that.

(BBC) Stones exceed Bowl gig age limit: "The four members of the Rolling Stones have a combined age of 246, with guitarist Ronnie Wood the youngest at 58."
Another Worm Turns

Wow. Perhaps Maria has been holding back on the Clintonian sex these days. Perhaps the Governator really has begun to understand the tortured dynamics of governing the state. But either way, or if it's just a cynical ploy to recapture a power base, his proposal today to spend a whopping $223 billion dollars on state infrastructure, and radically increase (rather than decrease, as was his stomping grounds a year ago) the state's current debt and spending, is if anything a radical attempt to alter the dynamics of activity in Sacramento.

It will be fascinating to watch what this does to his Republican constituency; to the attitude of the Democratic legislature toward effective compromise; and whether or not anything comes of it once the election year has passed. Keep in mind that in this state, it really isn't how much money we throw at a problem---it's how incompetently that money gets used (or not used, or funneled away, or "vanished") by the elected representatives of the glorious state of California.
Does This Make You Uneasy?

It does me: when Iran begins to be quiet rather than to spew rhetoric, I get nervous.

I was just asked my opinion on the likelihood of Israel attacking Iran, now that Sharon is gone from the political arena. While I don[t think this is the likeliest outcome (Israel won't engage in a major and a highly internationally dubious action while her own political body is in such disarray), I do worry about what sort of antagonism may arise from Ahmedinajad and his clerics. In any case, if anyone was thinking that the Middle East was growing dull, well: welcome to 2006.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

The Latest Word From J'town

Whither now Likud? Whither now Gaza? Whither now, O Jerusalem?

Doctors Doubt Full Recovery for Sharon - New York Times
PM Death Watch

I got the news that Ariel Sharon had suffered a brain hemmorhage while I was at the gym, chuffing away at the treadmill. The as-it-happens CNN world wouldn't let this one go, and with good reason. This is momentous; the timing really couldn't be worse, with the unsettled issue of the Gaza withdrawal, and the upcoming Palestinian elections. Not to mention the current state of politics in Jerusalem. This could significantly shift the dynamics of current events in the Middle East. Watch to see what happens betwixt and between Netanyahu, and Olmert, and Peres. I am holding my breath, and hoping for the best, rather than the worst.

And Other News

It seems that the Administration has scored a win in the Supreme Court, who decided today to allow the transfer of Jose Padilla immediately out of the military and into the criminal courts, without sitting on the constitutional issues underlying the case. As noted by the press,
"In a stinging rebuke for the administration, the appeals court had said the government's decision to bring criminal charges against Padilla after he had been held by the U.S. military for more than three years gave the impression the government was trying to avoid high court review of the case."
And it would appear that the SC, led by Chief Justice Roberts, doesn't care about appearances. I worry that now the questions that beg raising will never be given a hearing, and the court will avoid ruling in any direction, once again skirting the issue of the legality of the current tactics of the executive branch.

It makes me wonder: if they believe there is sound basis for the action, wouldn't it be better to have the full court speak to this, and set the issue in law? That would avoid the seeming conflict with the judicial branch, wouldn't it?
Either You're With Me, Or With The Enemy

So goes Mr. Cheney in his defense of the wiretapping scandal. A classic defense of cause and principle, and total disregard of actions. Of course, giving this speech to the Heritage Foundation certainly isn't going to open him up to criticism...His most egregious twisted take?
"If we'd been able to do this before 9/11, we might have been able to pick up on two of the hijackers who flew a jet into the Pentagon."
But he begs the question: if it is so vital, and so obviously necessary, why avoid the courts? Why hide from Congress?

I reiterate: this is not about spying, and it is not about the war. This is solely about expanding the power attached to the President and the executive branch beyond the bounds of the chacks and balances of government.

Cheney strongly defends eavesdropping - Yahoo! News

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

A Bittersweet Commentary

This little blurb from the NY Times is wrenching: on the one hand, it gives hope to all aspiring writers that they really might be doing something right. On the other hand, it shows that most have a fart's chance in a windstorm of ever getting picked up by a mainstream publisher, regardless of the quality of their writing. V.S. Naipul has said it eloquently: "To see something is well written and appetizingly written takes a lot of talent, and there is not a great deal of that around."

What's even more interesting to me is, that of all the 20 agents and publishers who saw the manuscripts, none of them seemed to know what they were looking at, despite being taken from major works written by two extremely prominent writers.

Literacy? Remember when we thought it was important?
More On The Field Of Battle

An interesting and important insight to the issue of Executive powers expansion from Jack Balkin here. I don't think that this is nefarious; I do however think that it is vital to understand the forces that are gathering on each side of this battle, and what it represents. Connecting the dots is a practice that we are woefully poor at, outside of the philosophical circles of conspiracy theory. We need more of this.
Retrospective Introspection

In reviewing the last year of posts, I've noticed that I have been linking or commenting on the blog of Andrew Sullivan more than any other blogsource. I am not quite sure what to make of this; it bemuses me. Am I becoming a rash conservative libertarian? Or has Sullivan begun to make a move toward being a centrist lefty? Both? I've no idea. What I do know is that in the world of blogs--of Kos, and Josh Marshall, and Instapundit, and Eschaton, and all the rest---tend to leave me feeling like I've been headslammed with the blunt object of narrow ideology. And I suppose that is the nature of the blogosphere. But it doesn't make for an effective high level view of process.

I will be thinking more on this in the next few days.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Russia Gives Me Gas

The spat between Russia and Ukraine which expressed itself in the reduction of gas flowing to all or Europe is not really surprising to me. It is amusing in a way to see it appearing as Russia takes the lead seat in the G8, but even so not a big surprise. Coming as it does on the heels of the denunciation by Putin's (now former) advisor that Russia is effectively no longer a democracy, and that much of that commentary revolved around the types of activity that now provide the Russian government with a majority stake in Gazprom, I am only surprised that there hasn't been more of this type of games playing. I am also surprised that none of the media seem to be playing out the connection of the forced resignation, the accusation of corruption having destroyed Russian democracy, the accepted rise to the chair of the G8, and the pipeline crisis.

Russia is not a beacon of good behavior; neither is Ukraine. Russia's desire to quadruple the cost of gas to a nation that holds the keys to the pipelines for all Europe is stupid, but greed tends to blind people of even moderately functional intelligence.

Read more here, here, here, and here.
Hubris Alert

Last week, I said that to my thinking the political battle of the year will be for the radical expansion of executive power, regardless of law, regardless of response. Now it seems that some others are agreeing with me. What is most frightening about this instance---cloaked in the guise of agreement with the McCain amendment and the reassertion of a higher moral standard of action for US actors in the world---is that it is so blatantly disregarding both the will of the people, the word of the law, and the intent of the action. Read more about it here. Or don't. The fact is that our president has decided that in order to expedite his actions---for which there are viable arguments for and against---he may disregard the law at will, and hide his actions from both the congress and the people.

He may be right about the need for such actions. But he is utterly wrong about the means to achieve them.
A Katrina Of War

Okay, so we are bailing out on 'rebuilding' the ruined infrastructure of Iraq. Andrew Sullivan hits the issue of trust and failure; but this is indeed another massive failure for which the administration---and the President---need to cop to. Most of the billions already spent have gone to anything but new infrastructure, and have even helped to pay for the construction of new prisons and the like which we now decry for poor management and the use of torture (hah.)

This was major goal of the fight: to take the decrepit bones left by Saddam Hussein's years in power, and help to build a new foundation for a new nation. We have not done that. We have refineries vulnerable to the insurgency, causing gas crises; we have sporadic power in many regions; we have water issues now and continuing to loom.

And now, it looks like on this front at least, the leaders may slink away into the night, hidden by a cloud of obfuscation, mendacity, and indifferent neglect.

It pisses me off.

U.S. Has End in Sight on Iraq Rebuilding

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Strange And Terrible

A few days ago, I cast my vote for Pakistan as the most dangerous of spots for the next few years. This SF Chronicle article on abduction and forced marriage is a good insight into one corner of why that might be. And keep in mind: this is not about Islam. This is about a cultural narrowness that is the outcome of reclusive thinking. These families, and these young women, are playing out the fear of change in a traditional system that has yet to find a way to adapt to change and interaction with the outside world that does not degrade the basic values of its internal systems.

It will be interesting to see what happens with the British "savior squad" that is helping these women, and whether other diplomatic missions begin to follow suit. On the other hand, this could flare up in reactionary ways. But when there are more than 100 abductions in a year, I think that any response other than what the British mission have now begun would be unthinkable.

Hope for change.
Welcome To The Future

A new day; a new month; a brand new year. The festivities are done, and now we head rattling toward the Next Big Thing. I don't have any commentary on the usual today; instead my head is filled with thoughts about time, and transitions, and the way we as humans love live interact and generally survive.

I sit here at my computer, sipping my coffee, feeling quite tangibly the quiet solitude of my home today, as you sit somewhere else, at home, at school, in a library or cafe, reading these words. You are a friend, or a colleague, or a stranger. Perhaps you only know me through these words. Perhaps by some strange serendipitous coincidence, you have read something of mine in some other place, and other world: a story, a book, a poem. Perhaps you never will. But through this moment, and these words, we construct (however tenuously) a moment of connection, and an interaction without either duration or contact. A funny thing, isn't it?

The calendar moves on; make the most of it. Each day brings us new connections, and whatever they are---a new love, a conversation with a friend, a random interaction with a blog---they are what makes up the thing we call living.

Happy New Year. I wish you the best.