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, February 04, 2006

Sick Of A Meme

I am getting really tired of seeing this erroneous satement repeated in every press report pertaining to the cartoon kerfuffle, including this one tonight, from the AP:
"One depicted the prophet wearing a turban shaped as a bomb with a burning fuse. Islamic law is interpreted to forbid any depictions of the Prophet Muhammad."
Islamic law does NOT "forbid any depictions of the Prophet Muhammad." It forbids any depiction of any living creature. Period. This is inclusive of the Prophet, of course, but not exclusive to the Prophet. And the subtle distinction is important in the depiction of the conflict. The furor that has sprung up is being, through this trope, tied directly to a presumptive acceptable reaction to orthodox religious idignation. It should not be. The violent reprisals we are now seeing are a response of reactionary hatred, repressive dogma, and arrogant ignorance and rejection of other cultures.

If two embassies are torched for these cartoons, then why not a few houses for every picture of a woman on a billboard? Or a man on a magazine cover? I know they aren't emotionally comparable, but logically, to follow the dogma of this particular breed of sha'ria, they are the same.

U.S. Decries Embassy Torchings in Syria - Yahoo! News:

The outrageous and always worthwhile Hitch chimes in with his ineluctable reasoning and rhetoric:
"Islam makes very large claims for itself. In its art, there is a prejudice against representing the human form at all. The prohibition on picturing the prophet—who was only another male mammal—is apparently absolute. So is the prohibition on pork or alcohol or, in some Muslim societies, music or dancing. Very well then, let a good Muslim abstain rigorously from all these. But if he claims the right to make me abstain as well, he offers the clearest possible warning and proof of an aggressive intent. This current uneasy coexistence is only an interlude, he seems to say. For the moment, all I can do is claim to possess absolute truth and demand absolute immunity from criticism. But in the future, you will do what I say and you will do it on pain of death."
If only more editors and governments were thinking more than reacting to this issue. And now, another US media outlet, chimes in to not print the cartoons in question, this time NPR. I just wonder: can we really engage in a dabate over images without presenting those images, and reviewing the context in which they are given? Can you effectively "discuss" art without seeing it? Or music, without hearing it? I wonder.

Cartoon Debate - The case for mocking religion. By Christopher Hitchens
"Unless, we show some solidarity, unashamed, noisy, public solidarity with the Danish cartoonists, then the forces that are trying to impose on the Free West a totalitarian ideology will have won; the Islamization of Europe will have begun in earnest. Do not apologize."
Insightful, aggressive, honest, and vital words. From a Muslim. Where is the response from the rest of us?

Read more: Opinion: SPIEGEL ONLINE
And Just One More

The open letter to the Muslim World for the Editor-In-Chief of the Jyllands-Posten, the publisher of the cartoons.

And if you're curious, you can see the original page of cartoons that started the whole mess here, courtesy of Wikipedia
And One More Thing
"Jyllands-Posten had well articulated its position as founded upon core principles of the Western world: “We must quietly point out here that the drawings illustrated an article on the self-censorship which rules large parts of the Western world. Our right to say, write, photograph and draw what we want to within the framework of the law exists and must endure — unconditionally!” Juste added: “If we apologize, we go against the freedom of speech that generations before us have struggled to win.”"
Read this whole article. If you still don't get it, I'm not sure what to say: FrontPage magazine.com :: Thou Shalt Not Draw by Robert Spencer
It's A Cartoon, Folks.

Today "protestors"* in Damascus set fire to the Danish and Norwegian Embassies. This is not about religious respect, nor images in a newspaper. This is about intolerance, and the response of violence and bullying and terror to conflict and offense. There is a good post on the issue here; and I think that we should all keep in mind the fact that there are many, many Muslims who abhor the response that is being seen now.

And still: this tempest in a teapot is at the crux of the nature of the 21st century global dialectic. It isn't just Islam vs. the West (As Josh Marshall notes well), and it isn't about a religious precept. It is about a sliver of the population using violence to terrorize the remainder into appeasement. And to date, from the looks of the US media's and Government's responses, and The European press to a large extent as well, and most certainly the press in Egypt, and Jordan, and the rest of the Middle East, that the intimidation is working.

*I would call them intolerant violent thugs, or brownshirts. In this they do not deserve the more acceptable label of protestor. They aren't protesting anything but the fact that not all the world believes as they do.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Siding With Repression Censorship And Appeasement

Shame on us. It may be a foul issue, but if we believe in freedom, then we need to stand up for even the haters' ability to have their say---but we shouldn't side with violence, and extremism, and threats of murder.

US sides with Muslims in cartoon dispute
Diplomacy At Its Finest
"'We will never recognize the legitimacy of the Zionist state that was established on our land,' Meshaal, the Damascus-based head of the political and military wings of the militant Islamic group, wrote in a column titled 'To whom it may concern,' published in the al-Hayat al-Jadida newspaper.

Hamas leaders have said they might heed a truce with Israel as an interim measure that could include the establishment of a Palestinian state in the Gaza Strip and occupied West Bank, but would not abandon a long-term goal to destroy Israel." [Italics added]
So far from the mainstream of the global polity that they are creating themselves a muddy little eddy in the shallow banks of history. This isn't the statement of a mature political actor, nor one that bodes well for the health and future of either Israel or the Palestinians and their future state.

Hamas resists pressure to recognize Israel

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Images Of The Prophet

I've been listening to editor after editor talking about how they would forego publishing cartoons of any sort portraying the Prophet out of respect for the religious precepts of Islam, yet still adamantly believe in free speech and the need to allow cartoons to be provocative and even offensive. I find this interesting, and utterly lacking in historical perspective. While there is a prohibition against portrayal of images in Islam, there is as well in Judaism. Granted, in regard to the Prophet it is taken more seriously, but not as an absolute.

I did a chunk of work once on a 15th c. manuscript from the heart of the empire of Islam, looking almost exclusively at its two dozen illuminations, each with a portrait of...yes, that's right: the prophet Muhammad. Do a cursory search over the last 40 years, you will find numerous images of the Prophet, derived from both East and West, mostly respectful (East), often not (West). The only reason we now have the rising outrage in the Middle East---including the threat to begin riots, murders, and firebombings in Gaza, thank you Hamas---is the radicalization of a slice of contemporary Islam. It is in much the same vein as the fatwah which was decreed against Salman Rushdie over The Satanic Verses, only far worse.

The Muslim world should have the dignity to disdain this sort of absurd antagonism, and allow the debate that it inspires to begin. It would allow for a better understanding of Islam in the end, and hopefully a more understanding and sympathetic West. Instead, we have the unelucidating and self-defeating hate and spite being vented out of the Middle East. It's sad.
Too Rich
"WASHINGTON - One day after President Bush vowed to reduce America's dependence on Middle East oil by cutting imports from there 75 percent by 2025, his energy secretary and national economic adviser said Wednesday that the president didn't mean it literally."
Didn't even last a day. Not even as spin. Read it all: Administration backs off Bush's vow to reduce Mideast oil imports
One More Thing, And Then I'll Shut Up
"Germany's leftist Die Tageszeitung went one dubious step further, opting to side with a totalitarian ideology rather than defend the right to free speech. A Tuesday editorial in the paper began with the sentence: 'The Danish newspaper Jyllands Posten -- which is considered the mouthpiece of right-reactionaries in Denmark -- knew what it was getting itself into...' Whether the paper is right wing is beside the point. Either way, the sentence means that freedom of opinion is a privilege for left wing publications like Die Tageszeitung, but is restricted for those on the other side of the political spectrum....

[T]he same paper which defended Rushdie so energetically not so long ago, now expresses understanding for the Muslim reaction to the "unappetizing caricatures" -- caricatures that aren't even close to being as offensive as Monty Python's Jesus satire "The Life of Brian."

How would Die Tageszeitung react if Christian fundamentalists called for a boycott of English goods as a result of "Monty Python's Life of Brian? "
Indeed. That from Spiegel Online. We risk so much by ignoring the threat of allying the obsequious conciliation of the left with the intolerant rage of the right.
Free Speech

It is interesting: the encapsulation of the difference between Western cultural mores and those of current militarized theocratic Islam is brought to a head by a Danish cartoon.

I wasn't going to comment on this, as I've no clue where it is leading; but I think it is vital to watch, as nothing lately shows our disconnect better. We believe in free speech---except when it pisses someone off. If we support free speech---and this is in no way hate speech, though it is provocative---then we cannot make exceptions. If we do, we are no better than bigots.

The BBC has a brief timeline of the furor here
Shuffling The Deck Chairs
"WASHINGTON, Feb. 1 — A comprehensive military strategy review once billed as Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's architecture for revamping the armed forces eliminates no major weapon systems and calls for only incremental change in other priorities, according to Pentagon officials, outside advisers and independent analysts."
Like I said before, this was eminently predictable.

Pentagon Review Calls for No Big Changes - New York Times

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

The Battle Is Joined
"BOSTON - Backed by abortion rights groups, three Massachusetts women sued Wal-Mart on Wednesday, accusing the retail giant of violating a state regulation by failing to stock emergency contraception pills in its pharmacies."
Now, I'm not sure this is the best front on which to open the fight in the debate regarding the moral convictions of pharmacists, and their legal right on those moral grounds to deny legally prescribed medications to patients. But it is a beginning.

The whole issue is a bit frightening to me. The idea that individual morality can trump the legal and cultural conventions of how our society works on a day to day standard, on a nuts and bolts level, cuts to the heart of who we are. Imagine, if you will, that a pharmacist believes it is immoral to provide anyone of a different race or religion any medications to fight debilitating illness, since his creed says that god strikes down the heathens with plague and illness as a penance for sin. Would this be acceptable? Can you imagine, rather than denying contraception to women, the pharmacy worker denied insulin to a black diabetic? The basis of the decision is the same.

If this becomes a valid standard, then a major leg on which American culture has stood for it's entire history will have just been kicked out from under us.

I have a solution, though. If a pharmacist feels unable to provide legal medications as prescribed, according to medical standards and government statute, then rather than denying those medications on moral grounds, they could always take up a different profession. I'm sure there would be fewer bioethical conflicts for them serving coffee, or pumping gas. You don't have to be a pharmacist.

Women Sue Wal-Mart Over Contraception
Read This Now
"If neoconservatives got only one thing right in the past three years, it would have to be this: It is simply ludicrous to argue that nothing can change in the Muslim world so long as the Palestinian question is not settled. Let’s get real: In the 1970s, Catholic Europe (Spain, Portugal) and Latin America embarked on their own democratic transitions without waiting for the fate of their Catholic brothers of Northern Ireland to be settled. In the 1990s, similarly, Orthodox Europe (Romania, Bulgaria) and Russia followed suit without second thoughts for the fate of their Orthodox brothers in Bosnia. Whatever the current plight of the Palestinians (which owes less to the indifference of Crusaders and Jews than to the deliberate callousness of Arab leaders), the same should apply for the Muslim world."
This is one of the best and most provocative articles I have seen on the current war. Despite his neocon and hawkish leanings at times in the text, this is a balanced, incisive, and devastating portrait of the current state of our international affairs as it pertains to terror, the ongoing war, Islam, and the Middle East.

World War IV As Fourth-Generation Warfare by Tony Corn - Policy Review

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

State Of The Union Question

Has anyone out there compiled a list, or know of a list, of the grand promises and programs that this president has offered up in his SOTU speeches, which have never been fulfilled? This is in re his upcoming announcement that the US is "addicted to oil" and that the only solution is to invest in technology to wean us away. I'd love it if someone could provide a sampling of other sweeping self-contradictory absurdities from Mr. Bush, like for instance, ending AIDS in Africa, and giving America a new "social security" program, and revamping the tax code, etc. etc. etc. Even better if you have one comparing Bush's absurdities to Clinton's grandiosities, for a good bipartisan hoot.

let me know.
O Tempores! O Mores!

If only anyone really gave a rat's ass....The Grand Ole Docket.

This, according to Josh Marshall, is the current list of "all the folks in the Capitol Hill corruption mess who prosecutors have publicly identified as participants in criminal activity." Happy viewing.
Vindicated At Last
(or, The Obvious Theorem)

For years in High School, I labored at passing my mathematics classes. It was never my forté. In particular, the years of geometry and trigonometry were wearisome and painful for me. I never really got the hang of writing out mathematically discursive proofs of things I could see. So what a pleasure it is to read the following in a brief but lucid article in Physics World:
"But what is it that is so fascinating about Pythagoras's theorem in particular? First, the theorem is important. It helps to describe the space around us and is essential not only in construction but - suitably adapted - in equations of thermodynamics and general relativity. Second, it is simple. The Hindu mathematician Bhaskara was so enamoured of the visual simplicity of one proof that he redid it as a simple diagram - and instead of an explanation wrote a single word of instruction: 'See'."
It's a good little article. Read the whole thing here: Pythagoras (January 2006) - Physics World - PhysicsWeb
Gimme Gimme Gimme NOW

This is just sad. Aside from the chemistry involved, which is dubious at best, this gizmo which "electrolyzes" new cheap plonk into aged elegant wine misses the point of aging fine wine: that wine, aside from being a good drink, is a living creation, and does not have a point of being "done", like a steak being cooked to medium-rare. The key to what's wrong with the thinking behind this? This money quote:
:"'Think of the savings we'll make. Shorter production time, no need for storage, no need to invest in barrels,' he said."
'Nuff said. Instant gratification in the end may be the death of much that is fine and good about what western culture has provided to the world in the last 250 years. Sigh.

Fast track to a fine vintage - smh.com.au
Taking God Back To The People

It's not too surprising: a pastor sells his church to finance the purchase of a BMW. If we commodify everything in our lives, and make faith a marketplace measure of political fidelity, is it any great shock to see this guy trading in on an opportunity?

Ripon pastor agrees to 16 months behind bars for selling church
January Ends

So much news, and so little to say: the pre-State of the Union hullabaloo has begun, Iran has been referred to the UNSC, Israel has killed two militants in an attack, the first such encounter since the elections; Coretta Scott King has passed away, the Oscar nominees have been outed, Alito goes to the vote, Skilling and Lay go to the dock...and what have I to say to all of this? Something that certainly is unprofessional, and unenlightening:


Sorry. Just how I feel. Health care reform? Hah. Tax reform? Please. I've got nothing constructive or informing today to say today. I am tired, and worn down, and not particularly optimistic about things. You want some analysis and commentary? Give me a reason to be engaged, this last day of the month. Otherwise, I'll see you in February.