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 25, 2006

For Better Or Worse, We Start To See Effects

It will be years before we can accurately gauge just what impact the No Child Left Behind program will have on the current generation of children being taught in our public schools. Years before we know how it will impact higher education, workforce and marketplace trends and competition, innovation in the arts and sciences, and on and on. But now, according to
this NYT article today, there is one clear and somewhat disturbing outcome that can be seen: the narrowing of curricula to cater to the testing regimen dictated by the government.

As the article notes, there are two different camps of opinion on the issue. The first, that we are losing the breadth and vibrancy of education available to students, and thereby short-changing them; the other, that when you are weak in critical area, you focus on that area to the exclusion of all else, until you are up to par.

I think that you can make effective argument for either side, but that it really comes down to something simpler, and more ominous: we are more concerned with structure than we are in the end with content. And we are allowing bureaucracy to dictate the delimiters of what allowed and accepted critical thought will be.

In much similar fashion to the TV censorship-under-pressure I mentioned the other day, this approach of narrowing to a mere two subjects is following the same unfortunate pattern. At the risk of penalty and censure, we are willing to forego creativity and independence. Like the article quotes, "What a sadness."

A century ago, it was not uncommon to find, among the subjects being taught in our public schools, Latin, Greek, French, Calculus, Classical History, Rhetoric, the list could go on and on. I'm not saying we should go back to teaching Greek and Latin to 7th graders, necessarily. But the emphasis in US education until very recently---say, up through 1975---had always been to teach the process of critical thinking, as well as the facts of a given subject. In the 70s and 80s we experimented with educational theory and policy, and though there was much good, there was even more bad in the attempts to "level the playing field," to "give children more choice" and to avoid the offending of anyone with anything. But still there was the chance of being taught to think, and to be exposed to any number of disciplines and worlds of learning in the process of navigating through the public school systems. In this day of "teaching to the test" we have forsworn that chance, and I fear that in the end we will be training a generation who will have potentially the technical skills to navigate basic English and Math, but will be utterly lacking in the necessary intellectual breadth to learn more for themselves, to analyze the unusual or unknown, and to succeed in a global environment where they will be unequipped to navigate the varieties of experience and alien culture that must surely confront us all.

Education requires commitment, dedication, and a willingness to push boundaries. No one learns if they are not required to think for themselves. Learning how to pass the Star test is a fine goal for a student, but it shouldn't ever be the final goal. Benchmarks are a fine idea, but only when we provide a structure which can give students the tools to reach them.

Schools Cut Back Subjects to Push Reading and Math - New York Times

Friday, March 24, 2006

Ghaddafi Feels Ripped Off?

Not that I have a lot of sympathy for the Libyan leader, after his years of distateful actions. But you have to admit they have a point here: if the US wants to modify behavior of nations on our list of bad guys, then there has to be some reward for actions taken toward change. Libya has made remarkable movement in the last 3 years, and leaving them on the terrorist list without comment is a bit of a slap. Especially when put into this context:
"'U.S. credibility is at stake here,' said Randa Fahmy Hudome, a Washington lobbyist for the Libyan government, pointing out that the only nation that has been removed from the State Department's list was Iraq.

'You can't say that the only way to get off the list is for us to liberate you.'"
Hmm. Or can you?

Libya says feels "cheated" over US terrorism list

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Another Blow To Freedom
"'In more than 20 years in the business, this is the most chilling thing I've ever faced.'"

--Tom Fontana, creator of shows St. Elsewhere, Homicide, Oz and now The Bedford Diaries.
And frankly, I agree with him. Even though in this case the WB are self-censoring their show, this is government-sponsored censorship: regulation through fear of reprisal.

If we allow this trend to continue, I fear we are heading into a dim time for the arts and open discourse in this country. It took years for the movie industry to get past the albatross-like dead weight of the Hayes Code hung around its neck; I expect we are seeing a similar trend now.

The government has little to no business determining the value, appropriateness, or inherent morality of art. That is and must remain the purview of the public at large--and the artist. If we allow the government to enter into that dialogue, then we deny the value of art as a medium for inquiry, and we can look forward to a generation of pablum, Hallmark sentiment, and Leave It To Beaver-isms.

WB Censors Its Own Drama for Fear of F.C.C. Fines - New York Times:
And Another One Gone
"A laptop computer belonging to Fidelity Investments and containing sensitive data on about 196,000 retirement-account customers was stolen last week, the company said."
As these incidents become more and more common, and the disclosure laws (like that in California) continue to force affected corporations to let both consumers and the media know of the thefts and breaches, I wonder why simple precautions aren't being used to avoid this sort of scenario.

In this case, the info was on the laptop because "the computer in question was brought to a business meeting by a team of employees." Clearly, this team has never heard of removable drives. Why not pop the drive out, and have one person carry it? Or keep the info on a USB drive, separate from the laptop?

Yes, encryption helps. Yes, locking a system helps. But there are simple, manual, non-technologically advanced ways of being more secure. I would hope that even sales guys could pick up on that. Sheesh.

Fidelity Laptop With Customer Info. Stolen

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Bush Speaks!
"I'm going to make up my mind based upon achieving a victory, not based upon polls, focus groups or election-year politics,' he said."
Funny, but I sort of believe him on this. Bush has never really run anything in the war based on politics: It's all been guided by ideology, faith, and his own stubborn misapprehension of reality. So no, I don't think he'll play election politics with the troops this year. Not that it helps.

Bush says troop levels not bound by politics.
Good News

BBC NEWS: Eta declares permanent ceasefire
Bad News

N.Y., Calif. Air Is Dirtiest, EPA Says

Monday, March 20, 2006

The Key to The Bush Administration's Successes And Failures
"Donald Rumsfeld demands more than loyalty. He wants fealty. And he has hired men who give it."
You may replace the words "Donald Rumsfeld" with "George Bush" or "Dick Cheney" or even "Condoleezza Rice" and the maxim still holds true. Sadly.

Read the scathing op-ed here.
Imperial Democracy

Our successes in action.
"the promise of peace that comes with democracy. This fight continues in Afghanistan, where our diplomats, and aid workers, and soldiers are working alongside a broad international coalition to help the Afghan people build a future of hope and freedom."

-Secretary Condoleezza Rice
Sydney, Australia

March 16, 2006

Today, hot off the news wires: A man in Afghanistan faces a possible death sentence for converting from Islam to Christianity. Really. I somehow have difficulty reconciling Dr. Rice's vision of 'hope and freedom' with state sanctioned death for a change of faith...Read it all here
O, Cruel Irony!
"As oil prices hit a record $70.85 per gallon last year and have hovered around $60 ever since, the Pentagon realized the only way to soften the blow would be to consume less."
I could tease this out endlessly, but I just don't have the heart.

I do like the amusing statistic Iraq War fuel consumption versus WWII fuel consumption in 1944 France given here: "The US Army burned 12 times more fuel per soldier in Iraq than it did in France in 1944." That's some average. Is this war 12 times more valued than that one? Returning 12 times the result?

Let's ask Rumsfeld. Read it all here: Pentagon feels fuel price pain.