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, September 02, 2006

Bad News

This tidbit from AP, carried by NYT, and The Malaysian Star, and other news outlets, is mostly interesting in its implicit indictment of the West's work at "freeing" this nation. The UN report on which it is based notes the major rise in opium harvests in the Southern provinces, where the Taliban are currently ranging pretty freely again. The official response to this is to blame the Taliban; but when confronted with a more than doubling of the crop in a northern province, where there is no insurgency, the blame is placed (mostly) on "the lack of government control and the presence of powerful warlords and corrupt local officials."

Now, I don't want to be completely negative here, but isn't this effectively the same sort of situation we went in to try and alleviate? A violence ridden nation with corrupt leadership, churning out the world's supply of opium? Strong rebukes from Costa and the UN are good, but shouldn't the rebukes land a bit more squarely in the lap of the US and the coalition which has been unable to complete the mission it went in to do so many years ago?

Read it all here: Opium Harvest at Record Level in Afghanistan.
Apropos of Absolutely Nothing

Direct from The Telegraph, we have...

Planet Rock's top ten guitar solos of all time!

  1. Comfortably Numb - Pink Floyd

  2. Sweet Child O Mine - Guns N Roses

  3. Freebird - Lynyrd Skynyrd

  4. Eruption - Van Halen

  5. November Rain - Guns N Roses

  6. Stairway to Heaven - Led Zeppelin

  7. Sultans of Swing - Dire Straits

  8. Aqualung - Jethro Tull

  9. Hotel California - The Eagles

  10. Child In Time - Deep Purple

We report. You decide.
Spain In Mesopotamia II

This report from the NYT today adds an even more interesting twist to the symbolic semi-nationalist pride shown by the raising of the flag of Kurdistan across the north of Iraq. An influx of Arab refugees into Kurdistan creates pressures there we haven't yet seen til now: NYT: Iraqi Arabs See Unlikely Haven With Old Foes.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Spain In Mesopotamia?

I really don't think that Iraq can endure a fragile federalism like the one that governs Spain. With this rather symbolic action by Barzani and the Kurdish government, There may be significant backlash. Not so much about the Kurdish flag being raised over Sulaimaniyeh, but more over the Iraqi flag being lowered.

This, coupled with this last quarter's significant increase in violence, is not good news for Iraq as a whole (though perhapd for Iraqi Kurdistan), nor for US current policy. It will be curious as well to see what the response is from Ankara in the North...

Read all about it--AP: Kurdistan president replaces Iraqi flag.
Berkeley Meets Mel

Ah, Berkeley. Never was my kind of town, really. Too much NIMBYism sugar coated with the rhetoric of being "progressive." But truly, it's this sort of so-called evenhanded approach to all points of view which makes me churn inside. Not all ideas are of equal merit. Not all opinions are valid enough to stand on their own, even if they are widespread. Becky O'Malley appears to miss that critical, editorial truth:
Why did Berkeley paper run anti-Jewish column?

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Apropos of Absolutely Nothing

A beautiful, absurd, pop culture musical train wreck:

Why Am I Underwhelmed?

With much fanfare, NASA and Lockheed Martin announce the awarding of a contract to LM to build the next generation of manned spacecraft. Or at least try to. Last time, after nearly one billion dollars of expenditure, they gave up. That was a decade ago.

I'm not holding my breath.

Then again, it could turn out well: a bloated government contracting agent entrenched in the bureaucracy of running up costs may have a chance in this 21st century of ours to really, really innovate, and turn out something fabulous. On time and under budget. Or maybe something like the ill-fated Mars Climate Orbiter. Remember that Lockheed/NASA winner? That's the one that blew to bits because half of it was designed in inches, and the rest in centimeters. And you know what? they aren't the same size! But anyway, like the spokesperson said, this isn't about doing it right, or doing it well, or finding solutions to the problems we've faced in the past; "it's about exploring; it's about adventure. It's great to be with NASA and go out and explore."

Just remember, kids: this time, EVERYTHING in INCHES, or EVERYTHING in CENTIMETERS. No mix and match? OK?

Read more here: Lockheed Martin Wins NASA Moon Contract.
Smoke 'Em If You Got 'Em

...But you won't need to smoke so many of 'em any more: seems that the ever-clever tobacco industry has been quietly increasing the nicotine content of their nicotine-delivery products, to the tune of 10% on average in the last six years. And 30% for Kools, since it's always good business to hook the folks in the 'hood a bit harder...

That's a lot of new addiction. It's no wonder so many friends of mine are finding it harder and harder to quit. I wonder how calmly we'd take this sort of action if it were the liquor lobby instead of the tobacco lobby: if suddenly all the vodka on the market crept up from 80-90 proof to 100-125 proof. Think that would be taken in stride, and that "no comment" responses would be acceptable?


Nicotine Up Sharply In Many Cigarettes
Real Terrorism

Simultaneous bombs, set off by cell phone remote control, in 22 of 30 bank branches. On payday. Imagine what the response would be if it happened here. Imagine what the outrage would sounds like, if it had happened here. Imagine how quickly we would take arms, if it happened here.

But it's in Thailand.

Mai pen rai.

22 Bombs Explode in Thailand, Killing 1
Workers Of The World Unite!

Just heard on NPR that the Industrial Workers of the World---the IWW, or "Wobblies" union---has claimed that they now have organized and represent Starbucks workers in a number of shops in the Chicago area. This could be a fun story to watch.

The Wobblies have been staging a slow comeback since the late 80's; the fact that they've targeted Starbucks is to me both meaningful, and amusing. Starbucks, in the meantime, is refusing to recognize the unionization of the shops, stating that they have not certified the IWW as a collective bargaining group, and therefore will ignore the fact that they now have union shops in their midst.

I never really believed in "The One Big Union," but if the Wobblies can do something for the Starbucks barista-clone drones, I'm all for it.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

He Says It Better Than I Can

Andrew Rice in Slate Magazine recaps the economic situation better than I did below, with this:
"The slight rise in median household income, to $46,326, is the first in six years. That's the good news. But the rest of the Census Bureau report makes for grim reading. For one thing, wages are actually shrinking relative to inflation, which suggests that incomes are rising only because more household members are working at more lousy jobs. The number of people without health insurance rose slightly, to a record 46.6 million. So did the number of uninsured children. The proportion of Americans living in poverty held roughly steady, at 12.6 percent, but of that group nearly half were really poor, earning less than half of the poverty-line cutoff of $20,000, 'the highest such percentage ever recorded,' an analyst tells the NYT."

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Bad News (And A Silver Lining?)

The bad news? 12.5% of all Americans live in poverty. Thats one in eight. Next time you're out on the street look around you, and think about what that means.

The good news? "It was the first year since President George W. Bush took office in 2001 that the poverty rate did not increase."

Now, two things here: if we are touting this as an example of the rising boat of our economy, this isn't too good a metric. We aren't hearing that the poverty rate declined; only that it didn't increase. That still leaves a legacy of five years of increasing poverty. At the same time, one of the primary motivating principles of the free market economy we currently tout so forcefully is that while we do generate vast discrepancies between the richest and the poorest, in the long run we expect that while the richest will get much richer, so too will the poorest be slightly less poor. And to my mind this type of information runs directly against proof of that.

I must admit, I don't think that a massive number of those living in poverty is ever a good sign for an economy. And in terms of purchasing power and standard of living, the difference between "not nearly enough to feed my family" and "Even less than not nearly enough" is not a reasonable measure that can be used in terms of the rising boat. Even if the boat is rising, these folks are the unplugged holes in the prow.

Every eighth person in the nation. Think about it. Is that the economic boom you want to be a part of?

Reuters: Data show one in eight Americans in poverty.