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 28, 2006

And Yet More

Call me crazy, but this BBC piece justs makes me think of the Fascist Party of Mussolini in the 20's-30's:
"One idea being floated, he says, is for Hamas to support a neutral government of technocrats and to focus on social and economic issues."
Read more here:BBC NEWS--Hamas rejects donor 'blackmail'
Democracy Now

These are surely the signs of a mature governing politic:

"We will cut off the head of anyone who dares to sit in government with Hamas," shouted one Fatah gunman. (or, according to AP, "Whoever will participate in a government with Hamas, we will shoot him in the head.")

"We are now no longer part of the cease-fire," one of the gunmen, Nasser Haras, told the crowd. Palestinian militant groups agreed last year to a cease-fire with Israel.

All this after a group briefly stormed the parliament. I have little hope for Hamas as a government leader. It looks likely that the US will cut aid, which in turn will massively disrupt the Palestinian Authority's ability to manage day-to-day activities like payroll, which in turn will fire up resentment among Hamas, which in turn will spur new violence...

No. I don't think that this sort of Democracy is good for the Middle East.

Read more here: Gunmen seize Palestinian parliament and here and here

Friday, January 27, 2006

In The Face Of Rising Shock

There has been much made of the "shocking surprise" of the Hamas win in Palestine. I didn't think it was that shocking, nor that much of a surprise. And this opinion piece from Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed, the editor of the pan-Arab newspaper Al-Sharq Al-Awsat had this to say, two days prior to the election:
"The Palestinian crisis can be summarized by saying that the most sensible of parties with the most experience and history in the Palestinian struggle is void of the most important factor that is sound and coherent leadership. The competing movement, Hamas, is more likely to win due to the popularity of its political speech and the clarity of its local endeavors; however, it lacks a practical political plan that may serve in the best interest of the Palestinian people."
And nothing in his assessment has cahnged with last night's outcome in the election.

It would be more helpful if the western media would look at who and what we now have to face, rather than focusing on their disbelief that the Palestinians have had the chance to finally show both their disgust with their leaders, and their disregard for diplomatic norms and the impact that will have long term on their lives and hopes.
In The Face Of Rising Shock

There has been much made of the "shocking surprise" of the Hamas win in Palestine. I didn't think it was that shocking, nor that much of a surprise. And this opinion piece from Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed, the editor of the pan-Arab newspaper Al-Sharq Al-Awsat had this to say, two days prior to the election:
"The Palestinian crisis can be summarized by saying that the most sensible of parties with the most experience and history in the Palestinian struggle is void of the most important factor that is sound and coherent leadership. The competing movement, Hamas, is more likely to win due to the popularity of its political speech and the clarity of its local endeavors; however, it lacks a practical political plan that may serve in the best interest of the Palestinian people."
And nothing in his assessment has cahnged with last night's outcome in the election.

It would be more helpful if the western media would look at who and what we now have to face, rather than focusing on their disbelief that the Palestinians have had the chance to finally show both their disgust with their leaders, and their disregard for diplomatic norms and the impact that will have long term on their lives and hopes.
More Thoughts

One thing is clear about the election of Hamas: this is the outcome of the Bush administration's devotion to spreading their idea of "democracy" through the middle east. I wrap the word in quotes because to all appearances, it is the belief of the current administration that democracy is defined by fair and free elections which occur once, or perhaps twice, without disruption. This of course, is one of the key processes in the structure of a democracy, but it ain't the whole enchilada. Not by a long shot. Hitler was elected in a fair and free election. Granted, not by a landslide like Hamas; but maybe that only shows that the Germans of 1932 were less vehement than the Palestinians of 2006, and that the hate that resides in the core of the issues at hand is greater now than it ever was.

So be it. Now, after devoting millions of dollars to Fatah and the PA, including millions spent in the run-up to this election to try and shore up Fatah's sketchy image in the eyes of the Palestinians as a functional and effective governing body; after pushing for elections in a region rife with corruption, hate, narrow ideology and rancor; after declaring a new age of I don't know what, we have a terrorist organization being chosen in a free and open election by a vast majority of the population as their leaders. It is as much to say "we are through with poses. We hate, and we want leaders who hate."

If this is the democratic wave that Bush thinks ought to seep the ME, we are in dire trouble. I still hold out a slim hope that the sane minds of Hamas will rise to the top; that they will by sheer force of need disengage from militancy and religious ideological bombast, and focus on governance and paying the bills. But I fear it is more likely that Palestine is the first in a wave of "democratic" reforms of government for the region. We can only hope that the governments of Iraq, Iran, Syria, et al. don't follow suit.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Thoughts

A bunch of you have been asking me about my thoughts on the Palestinian elections and the overwhelming win by Hamas. And frankly, I'm not sure. There are a thousand reasons to be worried, and as many or more to be fascinated. I do think that the most important issue will not be how Israel reacts, nor what the response of the now minority Fatah MPs do; it will be what path Hamas decides to follow now that it is faced with being a responsible political entity in the world polity, rather than a goad in the side of the Israelis. One thing that we tend to forget here in the US is that despite the violent aspects of Hamas, and its engagement in terrorist and military activities, it is also a remarkably active and well organized support group for Palestine, providing financing and infrastructure for health and welfare, education, and a whole constellation of other activities. There is the hope that this aspect of the organization will take greater hold, and the militarized end of Hamas will be subsumed into the Palestinian Authority structures. Not that I think this is what will happen.

It will be interesting. Watch for how effective Hamas is in forming a government, and building effective ties internally and abroad.
Wow

Even more significant a bloc than I guessed: Hamas 'secures stunning victory'

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Out Of Touch

As Rumsfeld touts the solidity of our armed forces, pretty much everyone else in the nation, including many in those forces, say we are pushing the limits of what we can do. And even though a new budget is to be unveiled for 2007, rather than "the next step in a long line of bold changes" I am betting that it will look more like the last few "radical" changes that Rumsfeld has proffered for creating a more sustainable force. In other words, rearranging those Titanic deck chairs yet again.

Rumsfeld Says Military Not Overextended
If I Forget Thee, O Jerusalem....

As of 9:40 a.m. PST Reuters is now projecting a win for Fatah in the Palestinian elections, 46% to 30% for Hamas. Of course, this is coming from Fatah; Hamas is remaining sceptical and will wait out the vote count.

I suspect that no matter what the final outcomes of this vote, Hamas is taking the smart route with this. There is almost certain to be a measure of question and contantion in this vote, and pre-judging the outcome is almost a guaranteed foot in the mouth.

My own suspicion is that Fatah will win overall with a slight majority, but that Hamas will capture primary focus points througout the territories, leaving a fractious parliament yet again for the Palestinians to endure.

Fatah estimates it won 46 pct, Hamas 30: official

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

FISA Unconstitutional?
"Last week, Gonzales sent leaders of Congress a 42-page legal defense of warrantless eavesdropping which suggests that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act is unconstitutional if it prevents the NSA's warrantless eavesdropping."
That's an interesting argument: the placing of checks on Executive power by the Judiciary is unconstitutional because, well...it places checks on Executive power! Brilliant work, Alberto! Now, why exactly were we snooping on Christopher Hitchens, again?

Gonzales Says NSA Criticism Misleading
Disappointing On So Many Levels

The headlines say it all:Senate Panel Votes Along Party Lines to Endorse Alito
"Beg Pardon. I'm A Bigot."

These things happen all the time. I feel a bit for UK treasury junior clerical officer Robbie Browse...but only a bit. Mistakenly sending out an email to the wrong recipient list can cause embarrassment, job loss, professional disaster. And for that apologies can be made. But if the email is a racist joke list, I'm sorry. You blew it. Not by making the mistake, but by not having the sense to recognize that the material you were touching was not only inappropriate for the workplace, but likely inappropriate anywhere else as well. It's a failure in judgment, and that, in the professional world, is anathema. Save it for the dinner party. Or the football game.

Especially if your mailing list is that of every major name in journalism.

Treasury apologises over e-mail

Monday, January 23, 2006

Compulsive Affinities

For the first time in a while I must link to Josh Marshall, and agree with him without reserve:
"There's another possible explanation, though -- one that squares with my sense of this group in the White House. And that is that they have an ideological affinity -- perhaps even a compulsion -- for presidential assertions of extra-constitutional authority. Just on principle."
This is what I've been harping on for a while, and I suspect will be a key issue as we move forward with the whole NSA muddle. The reason the issue of spin in my previous post is so critical to this debate is in regard to this issue. It isn't substantive, the concern: in the end, it won't really matter what sort of spying the feds are up to. It is philosophical: Why it is being done, and who is able to determine the boundaries of action.

The far reaching desire to expand the scope and strength of the Executive is, I say again, what this is all about. And we neglect that at our peril.
Pledge Drive Season

I won't get into my general issues with NPR and public radio these days; but there is one thing that just irks me. It's pledge drive season yet again, and the announcers are trying to convince me that sending them money will "cost less than my cup of coffee in the morning." And technically, they are right: at between $0.30 and $1.00 a day, it's less than my coffee. But I pay for my coffee each day, as I drink it. KQED expects me to pay for the year in advance. Now: imagine if your local café requested one monday morning that you pay the entire $800.00 you intend to use on coffee for the year right then, up front. I imagine you'd walk out. The economic impact is wildly different. For KQED to use this analogy is disingenuous then: there is no way in hell they are going to charge me half a buck a day, each day, separately, for a year. They want cash on the barrel, right here right now.

And that's fine. But don't badger me with pseudo-guilt inducing comparisons that are incorrect. There is a world of difference between 365 dollars, and one dollar a day.
More Obfuscation

Here we go. The president says he wasn't breaking the law, and holds out as evidence this comment:
"You know, it's amazing that people say to me, 'Well, he was just breaking the law.' If I wanted to break the law, why was I briefing Congress?"
But he didn't "brief Congress": he briefed 8 members of congress, denied them access to primary technical data, and disallowed review by any of their aides. And at the time they went on record saying they were disturbed by the activity and concerned that it overstepped the bounds of the law.

At the same time, dissect this approach by Gen. Michael Hayden:
"This isn't a drift-net out there where we're soaking up everyone's communications...This is hot pursuit of communications entering or leaving America involving someone we believe is associated with al Qaeda,"
right then. If it isn't a drift net, then we are targeting specific individuals. FISA provides for that. If it's hot pursuit, FISA provides for pre-emptive tapping as well. So either we're doing nothing unusual---in which case this debate wouldn't be occurring at all---or we are doing something which cannot be managed by existing statute---in other words, breaking the law.

Beware the spin.

Bush rejects charges that domestic spying illegal
the Battle Is Engaged

Watch for more and more of this sort of talk as we head toward the hearings on domestic spying. The spin note that is being hammered on from Karl Rove on down the line is that this activity is vital and necessary to the ongoing protection of the US and the war, and that the FISA laws are woefully inadequate to handle modern issues in a timely manner.

What is disingenuous about this argument is that while the administration may well be right on both those counts, that isn't the issue. The issue is whether the president has broken existing law by his actions. If the argument presented is correct, then Bush et al. must come up with an extremely compelling argument to show why they did not approach congress for changes in the law to expedite their need.

If they are able to spin the discussion in the direction they desire, then the debate is lost before it is begun, and a blow will have been dealt (yet again) to the process of good governance, and constitutional law, and a core of what makes American government to date such a successful and powerful experiment in democratic political philosophy.
Good News From Turkey

This is an important bit of news: That the charges against Orhan Pamuk have been dropped by the Turkish court trying him. But even more so, as the BBC article notes, there are more than a dozen other cases that do not have internationally acclaimed authors to bring attention to them, and the west (and particularly the EU) must keep watch on this. While the issue of Armenian genocide is no laughing matter, the content of his comments is less relevant than how the Turkish government and society deal with this sort of self-critical speech.

One of the great difficulties here, as is being teased out this moment in interviews with a BBC broadcast right now, is that many, many Turks feel that it really should be illegal -- illegal -- to insult the Turkish nation. At the crux of Turkey's attempt to move westward is the incompatibility of this sort of attitude with the normative views of Europe as a whole.

BBC NEWS - Court drops Turkish writer's case

Sunday, January 22, 2006

As If There Weren't Enough To Fret About
"Bedbugs are back, and they're not just rearing their rust-colored heads in New York City. Authorities say it's a global crisis: Exterminators who handled one or two bedbug calls a year are now getting that many in a week, according to the National Pest Management Association.

'There's an epidemic going on throughout the country, and New York seems to be the hotbed,' said Jeffrey Eisenberg, a pest control expert."


OK. Terrorism. Domestic Spying. Government Corruption. Armageddon brewing in the Middle East. And now, this: Bedbugs Bite Big Apple in Global Epidemic