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.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Just A Wishful Fantasy

If only this piece of news---NASA Launches First Mission to Pluto---and this piece---CIA Confirms It's Bin Laden on Audiotape---were combined into a single new headline:
CIA Confirms Launch of Bin Laden on Mission to Pluto
"Transformational Diplomacy?" (updated)

I don't know. Rice may say so, but at least as presented by the WaPo this sounds to me a hell of a lot like "nation building" or "cultural imperialism". I'd heard a good bit of grumbling from inside the walls regarding the new FS restructuring, and the shuffling of personnel out to hot spots that no one will bid on. But I didn't expect the policy presentation of it by Rice to be so blatant.

What troubles me about this is that the Foreign Service (and by corollary, the nature of diplomacy) is not, as described in the article, "merely reporting on events;" it has always been the informed interaction with foreign powers to support and benefit our policy aims. To alter this, into something which actively promotes the modification of those powers to be more in line with what we see as appropriate, is simply an exercise in hegemonic power-wielding.

Some of the changes are needed and overdue. But one of the unstated reasons for the new rules on promotion, that officers must
"accept assignments in dangerous posts, gain expertise in at least two regions and are fluent in two foreign languages, citing Chinese, Urdu and Arabic as a few preferred examples,"
Is targeting the real problem that they cannot get experienced officers to bid on service in these regions. Leaving aside the reality that most career foreign services folks have, by the time they get to a place where they can bid for promotion into the senior service, two and usually three or four foreing languages under their belts, there are other problems with this. The risk of pushing many qualified officers into early retirement, rather than serve a 2-year post in Baghdad, or Kabul, or Yemen, is (or should be) a real concern. We run the risk of entering the new century with a diplomatic corp made up of the inexperienced and the politically appointed, to the exclusion of all else. And as for the language examples given, it's pretty obvious that Secretary Rice is engaging in a bit of euphemism: 'Urdu' means "Kabul." 'Arabic' means Baghdad (or maybe Sana'a).

It's hard to find effective ways of getting good people who have worked hard to take unpleasant posts, at risk of their and their families' lives. I would think that someone in State could come up with a little more carrot, and a little less stick and propaganda.

Diplomats Will Be Shifted to Hot Spots

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Welcome to the 1950's, or "I Have A List..."

I couldn't make this stuff up. I would laugh at myself for being too absurd. But here we are, turning back to the days of The Red Scare, of McCarthyism, of turning in the neighbors who might say something that makes you uncomfortable.
"An alumni group is offering students up to $100 per class to supply tapes and notes exposing University of California, Los Angeles professors who allegedly express extreme left-wing political views.

The year-old Bruin Alumni Association on its Web site says it is concerned about professors who use lecture time to press positions against President Bush, the military and multinational corporations, among other things.

The site includes a list of what the group calls the college's 30 most radical professors.

'We're just trying to get people back on a professional level of things,' said the group's president and founder, Andrew Jones, a 2003 UCLA graduate and former chairman of the student Bruin Republicans."
I'm fairly disgusted. Read it all here: "Radical" UCLA professors targeted by alumni group.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Good News

It's nice to hear that on a holiday we've got some international consensus on a major threat. Now that Russia is presumptively on board, and China is not objecting, there is a chance that Iran and its absurdly nationalist and offensively radical leader, Ahmedinejad will be checked before actions spiral out of hand. While I do not take quite as millenarian and pessimistic view of this particular crisis as does, say, Niall Ferguson---I think we are still a ways off from an equation of Ahmedinejad = Hitler and US/UN/EU3 diplomatic maneuvering = appeasement---I do think that these are dangerous times in the middle east. Sharon has become an international Terry Schiavo, Mahmoud Abbas is giving up on politics, Assad of Syria is stonewalling the UN commission, and this doesn't even touch on Iraq and the Saudis....

In the memory and spirit of Dr. King, I'll just put out there that there are possibilities and options within the human spirit that are greater than our cynical tendencies, and lead toward better, rather than worse, hopes for the world.

Big Security Council Members Agree on Iran