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 13, 2008

Funny. I just had a conversation about this.

As picked up by Josh Marshall:
From NBC's First Read ...

McCain spokesman Brian Rogers said this to the Politico about the increased media scrutiny of the campaign's factual claims: "We're running a campaign to win. And we're not too concerned about what the media filter tries to say about it."

Basing a campaign for high office on a strategy of deliberate lies is not an issue of tactics. It calls into question the character of the candidate and his fitness for office.

Check out the First Read piece. You can also read the whole Politico piece here.

Winning is one thing. Winning through a declared campaign of falsehoods---when you are running on a platform of honor and decency---is abhorrent.
"Conservative" Ugly

So some clever guys were selling "Obama Waffles" at a rally. A pretty clever idea, until you look at the box (see the article for a picture, I won't deign to repost it here), and the details:

"Obama is portrayed with popping eyes and big, thick lips as he stares at a plate of waffles and smiles broadly."

"On the back of the box, Obama is depicted in stereotypical Mexican dress, including a sombrero, above a recipe for "Open Border Fiesta Waffles" that says it can serve "4 or more illegal aliens." The recipe includes a tip: "While waiting for these zesty treats to invade your home, why not learn a foreign language?"

"It's the ultimate political souvenir," DeMoss told a customer.

Asked if he considered the pictures of Obama on the box to be racial stereotypes, Whitlock said: "We had some people mention that to us, but you think of Newman's Own or Emeril's — there are tons and tons of personality-branded food products on the market.""

If anyone thinks that one of the drivers for those voting against Obama is not race, pure and simple: wake up.

I just don't get it. Now, it turns out that despite the adamant announcements from the McCain campaign that his running mate had traveled to Iraq, Ireland, and beyond, it turns out that it was not so. No Iraq: just near Iraq (at the border). And while her plane did land in Ireland to refuel, she never left the plane.

Now, me, I don't care where Sarah Palin has been. I'd like to see more international experience, sure. But I think that intelligence and statesmanlike conduct are far more important. (And she's shown quite a lot of a certain type of the former, yet almost none at all of the latter). What bugs the crap out of me is this: Why bother to lie about the little stuff? About the incidentals? This is so trivial as to not matter one way or the other, so why destroy what vestige of "honor capital" is left for McCain by spewing this sort of crap? Bigger issues I can see the point: even if I disagree entirely with the premise, wildly spinning issues to drive home a point could possibly make sense, in a cynical and morally bankrupt ends-justifies-the-means way. But making up travel destinations? Really? They couldn't think of a better way to handle the question?

Off the top of my head, I can think of at least three simple, base-approving ways to spin Gov. Palin's lack of travel history that would condemn the question, reinforce her qualities of quick-study and decision making, and still would avoid this sort of mendacity. And I'm not a genius. This ain't rocket science.

If McCain and his advisors can't do as much, I don't want them in the driver's seat of this country as long as I am here.
Passing Thought

Talking politics last night with the friend of a friend, it struck me yet again how with such bewildering consistency individuals who label themselves as "fiscal conservatives and social liberals" are willing to suspend disbelief and continue to tell themselves (and me) that the GOP is the party of fiscal conservatism, and therefore they can't vote for a democrat, for Obama, because it's clear that he'd tax and spend and what we need is someone to rein in government spending.

This. After two terms of Bush. After six years of Bush with a Republican congress to back him. After the most egregiously rapid expansion of government and of government debt in modern history.

And their candidate is going to be the best choice to shift gears?

It's as though a whole slice of the entire nation suffers from cognitive dissonance.

Remember: it's not about the details of the story. It's about the story itself, and the reliability of the narrator.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

In an age of terror, an age of instability, we are living out the New American Dream.

It isn't the post-9/11 world we are seeing these days: it is the post-Forrest Gump world. Some people may say that the destruction of the two towers was the defining moment of the current age; I say that we have moved past that: we are living in the golden age of the Glorification of Ignorance. Bush and Rove fought the Culture Wars for our nation far better than they did our adventures abroad in Iraq and Afghanistan (Petraeus speaking with the BBC this week: Victory "is not a word I think I'd use here"); where abroad they have fought with mixed results, here at home, they have fought and won.

The Culture War is over. The bad guys won.

It's been decided: we prefer our leaders to be just like us---preferably as fallible or even more so. It makes them endearing. Robert Kagan said recently that, in regard to those who have deep knowledge of issues and ideas beyond their own hometown, "I’m not generally impressed that they are better judges of American foreign policy experience than those who have Palin’s experience."

Kagan is a senior policy advisor to John McCain.

Personally, I like to hope that the folks who control our military have some idea of what they might be fighting against out in the world, and what that fight's ramifications might be; certainly as much or more than say, my mailman or the guy at the local grocery. But it's no surprise that we like our leaders to be the image of ourselves. We are living in the Forrest Gump Age: we have accepted that instinct ("gut feeling") trumps empirical knowledge; that feisty counts for far more than understanding; that this life's box of chocolates is one which we do best to eat without question: ya don't stick a finger into each one to see if its nougat, or that nasty cherry syrup. Just pop it in your mouth and hope for the best.

There are plenty of legitimate arguments to be made on both sides of our Culture War; unfortunately those arguments never were the issue. What won the war, and what dooms us moving ahead, is the arrogant belief---the apocalyptic faith---that the events of history are moved for us, in our favor, rather than requiring us to move them for ourselves.

If, as some politicians of late are happy to claim, our wars and our supreme court cases and our rash acts to diminish civil liberties are "God's plan," then it makes sense: no matter what action you take, if you are on God's side, you are going to be winning. The actions don't matter any more than the interim outcomes. If, on the other hand, you believe that there is great and grave personal responsibility and consequence for our actions, and that those responsibilities and consequences increase the greater your power in society, then the story is different.

Of course, that is the story we have rejected. That is the story of Ann Coulter's latte sipping weenie liberal fools, the story of Rush Limbaugh's namby-pamby educated elites, and Michael Savage's homosexual child-molesting left wing communists.

Our dream now is one where anyone can rise to power, particularly someone who derides deep knowledge and nuance, who scoffs at detractors, who is absolutely certain of their own choices regardless of the impact on others, and who is blithely unaware of the possibility that a choice made from a position of privilege may simply be an additional shackle on the legs of someone who is not of the same class, or gender, or color, or creed, or religion, or clan. Nothing illustrates this better at the moment than Sarah Palin's interview this evening with Charlie Gibson: full of aggressive arrogance, nearly void of depth or consideration, here was a person without hesitation and without doubt: "you can't blink; you have to be so committed to the mission..." Honestly, for the first time I felt truly bad for this candidate. She was (and is) so clearly out of her depth in those 10-12 minutes, and so blithely unaware of it.

This is what we've come to. Run, Forrest, run.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Wake up, America.

Wake up and see what we are doing.

This is an election that will change us, for better or worse, from who we are now. It is an election that, when done, will signal to the world and history who we plan to be, and what we hold dear, for the next generation. And we have a choice: we have the choice to take hold of our destiny, and leap higher and farther than anyone has ever done before. Or, we can choose to let go of the best of what we have dreamed for ourselves, and sink toward ignominy.

This is not a battle of liberal versus conservative: in the policy world, that battle is moot: the middle way is what we are, and the primary policy makers on the left, and the primary policy makers on the right, while differing in many ways, all reflect a more holistic and centric vision.

This is also not a battle of culture: despite all the talk of the "culture wars" that is not the fight we are engaging today. We have a culture: it is America. It is rich, diverse, contradictory, frustrating and appealing. It is sometimes flexible, and sometimes unaccommodating. It is based, indeed, on a certain sense of moral conviction which is not only built into the laws and written documents upon which this nation was founded, but found in some sense in the homes of every individual in this country---right of left, accepted or shunned, criminal or upstanding citizen, parent or student or believer or atheist or immigrant. We may not agree on all the particulars, but the motivations and guides which drive those particulars, they are the engine of our being; it is there.

No, it's not about culture wars. It's about making a choice in the crossroads of our life as a nation. And we have a choice to make right now. On the one side, we have an easy choice: we can accept the route of the schoolyard bully, the bellicose liar, the comfort of a lie which, in its demeaning of another, gives us the false sentiment of superiority. For a time, we'll feel good. For a time, that choice makes us feel safe.

We've made that choice before. Many nations have.

The feeling doesn't last. I could throw out some examples, but they'd be misconstrued, for they would be compared, rather than seen as just points within a broad spectrum. But in that spectrum of choice, the path ahead always grows darker, and narrower: I could say Germany, November 1938. I could say Italy, April 1924. I could say Compassionate Conservatism and Washington DC, 2000. I could say Manzanar, 1942. But that isn't the point: our choices are not those choices, and our choice is not then. Our choice is now.

The option to accept the feeling of self-righteousness is an easy one: it makes us feel good. It makes us feel right. It gives us the internal moral certitude to impose our will on others. Unfortunately, it also eats away at the very soul of our nation. It corrupts our hearts. And when we awake from whatever travesty it might bring upon us---that we might bring upon ourselves---we will be shamed. And we will be less than we are today.

The other option, though. What is that other option? It is the harder way. It is to choose difficult truths over simple lies. It is to accept that there are times when there are no easy answers, and that we are fallible. and to struggle with that fallibility in order to achieve greatness. This is what brought us our Constitution; what brought us to victory in the Second World War; what brought us to join in with Berlin's cheering crowds as they took pickaxes and chisels to the wall that divided their city and our world for half a century.

I would like to believe that as a nation, we can still make the right choice, and rise above ourselves.

And I do believe that the choice is clear: on the one hand, we have the route of surety, and the route of consolidation in our self-congratulations. John McCain will lead us there, on the backs of our fears and our spites and our schoolyard belligerence, on a tide of self-deception. On the other hand, we have Barack Obama , who may or may not rise to his own potential, but has shown the capacity to lead us through the questions of doubt, and on to the possibility of something better. Remember: this is not about policy. The policy will be made by Congress one way or the other. It will fall slightly to the right, or slightly to the left of center. It will not be particularly liberal, nor will it be conservative: we've had neither in many years when it comes to policy, and we won't for years yet to come. And it's not about culture: if we force the issue, and make our government one driven by "Kinder,Küche, Kirche" then we have already lost, and we should prepare to start burying our dead with the shame that will be required of us.

This is a choice about a basic American nature: this is a choice about achieving greatness without dispensing with decency. This is a choice about being more than the sum of our individual parts. A choice about taking not the high road, but the hard road of reality: the one with dark turnouts, and potholes, and oncoming traffic that cannot be foreseen, but nonetheless must be negotiated. Our choice is one to shape our children's world, and the world they will leave to their children. Are we big enough, proud enough, grown up enough, to make the hard choice? To take honesty and truth and hope---and along with it the necessary doubt, and uncertainty, and chance for a future beyond the scope of our own imaginations?

In my heart I believe we are. In my heart, I believe that as a nation we can move beyond the scandals of today toward a different and better future. One not built on deceit and the twisted words of spinmasters looking to achieve 50% +1, but something better than that.

I do not believe John McCain is a man who can take us there. He has shown us this year his means and methods, and regretfully they are now of the camp of the first choice.

I do not know if Barack Obama can take us there. But I suspect---I hope---that he can.

We don't have another choice for leadership: these are the options. The party of the first choice, and McCain, or the party of the second choice---the harder choice, but the better choice---and Obama.

Tomorrow is the anniversary of a monumental horror. Remembering it, and honoring it, gives us a choice: to address hatred and fear with more of the same, or to change the nature of the battle, and look to our better selves for inspiration and motivation to rise to another level. Look at the record. Then look in your heart. And when you are done, ask yourself which sort of a country you want to live in.