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, November 15, 2008


I'm lying on my living room floor, an icepack on my lower back, trying to stave off the persistent sciatic pain that is now my constant companion. It's hard to pay much attention to what's going on in the world, since my primary focus is to try and blot out the pain, and focus on my body: strength, balance, posture, motion. And with few others around to talk to---well, no one else around, actually---it's even harder. There is only so much thought in my own head. Without anyone to speak with, or share with, or compare my own mind to, the best I can achieve is a sort of stalemate with my own mind.

On the current chatter in Washington --- Obama's transition, his potential cabinet picks, all that --- I have little to say as yet. I think that part of the outsize noise over the slightest motion, a discussion with Clinton, a discussion with Richardson, the fretting over Lieberman, it all gets large because so little is known of what may come. So we make noise. I have no idea what is going to drive the president-elect's choices, nor the choices of those whom he tries to recruit. Better to wait until we see who is standing by him when the noise dies down. Right now there are more important considerations, on which we can all have more impact. Where is consumer spending heading, or unemployment? What is the impact of today's coordinated protests against prop. 8?

And all the while, LA is burning.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Proposition 8 in SF

This SF Chron article is a fascinating breakdown on our presumably tolerant city. 25% of us voted to pass this discriminatory clause in our constitution. And far more than that in selected pockets of the population.

The breakdown seems to be driven by race, and by immigrant status, and by education, rather than by political ideology, or socioeconomic status.

I know I shouldn't be shocked. But it makes me sad: in my city it would appear that one out of every four voters is either ill-informed, religiously intolerant, stupid, or an out and out bigot. (OK, OK, that's a bit harsh. But that is how it feels.)

And the war begins....

San Mateo County is giving it to Lehman Brothers, suing them for fraud. I can't help but smile at the audacity, and the potential for populist justice.
"This is Main Street taking on Wall Street," said Burlingame lawyer Joe Cotchett, the lead counsel retained by the county. "This is a brushfire that's going to burn East, and the Hudson River is not going to stop it.

"This is the first of its kind," he added. "We are going after these guys' houses, their bonuses, their salaries and everything these guys have."

Years: 18. Rights: 0.

Eighteen years ago, a group of Saudi women came together to try and change their world, by the simple act of getting into the driver's seat.

I remember this protest vividly. It occurred on the eve of the first Gulf War, when I was deep into my graduate studies, awash in Arabic literature and history, gender issues and Islam, and the politics of the Middle East. A number of faculty members were deeply connected to the women involved in Saudi Arabia, as friends, colleagues, and associates.

Even then, there was little hope that this would instigate real change; it was more the hope that it would wake people up to the reality of life under Saudi and Wahhabi rule for women. In that respect, there was some moderate (but short-lived) success. The women were imprisoned for only a short time, and there were no public whippings or executions.

 As the article notes, there has been no real change in women's rights in the Kingdom. Two wars, two decades, and a world of woe has passed, but the veil is as long as ever. Despite the deep and long ties between the US and Saudi, despite the complex readjusting of that relationship after the events of 9/11, despite all, we have no influence on the Wahhabi clerics, nor on the royals. We can be viewed with suspicion and occasional outright distaste when it comes to cultural openness, despite the deep and real friendships and relationships that continue to be built on the personal level and in the professional world.

I am curious to see if these strong and willful women can, after two decades, restore some of the sense of empowerment that the simple act of driving gave; not to be arrested yet again, in a futile effort to alter the nature of the poity in which they live, but to give strength and courage to a new generation, in the hope that in a changing world, there may be an opportunity to bring a different point of view to a nation.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

That Cult Of Personality Again

There's a new film out in Turkey about Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, and it appears to be stirring up controversy:


It's interesting, because there are two distinct threads to the debate around this cinematic presentation of the Father of the Nation. The first is the one which I am thinking through in general terms: the conflict between our idealization of leaders, and the reality of their humanity. This goes on everywhere to some extent, and has been an issue in the Turkish Republic since the days of Ataturk's rule. To assign human weakness to the image of the leader is to impugn the power of The Leader, and so rankles those supporters of the myth of the Cult Of Personality. This isn't a Turkish or an Ataturk-specific point; this is a general one.

The second issue is more culturally specific, and feeds on the current dichotomy that has grown over the last quarter century in Turkey. That is the growing tension in power between the Secularists and the Islamists. As the introducer of secularism to his nation, Ataturk played an interesting card in balancing the traditional with the "modern;" in the past, that secular core which he enforced was strongly guarded by the military and the governments in power. But with the rising power and strength of the tradfitionalists and Islamists, and their gaining the reins of government, that dynamic tension gives way to more complex situations. Interestingly, this film seems to have offended both sides of the divide in this, but for vastly different reasons.

It would be interesting to see; there's a lot about the life of this man which lends itself to cinema, as well as controversy. And any film that pisses off both sides of a debate --- just like any policy decision that does the same --- has an odds-on chance of probably being pretty close to the best compromise with the truth that you can get.


As the markets sag under the weight of Walmart, GM, and general lousy news all around, I thought a good reminder of what the problem is would be in order.


Take a look at the chart: you can see that the VIX volatility index is at its highest ever; 25 points higher than in 1998, and the height of tech-bubblicious uncertainties and absurdities. Every other incident and peak on the index since 1990 is a pebble next to the mountain we are climbing right now.

Until that peak reduces to something within the normal zone of activity, we won't be out of the woods.

Good Morning

So it is official now: Germany is in recession (http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/rss/-/2/hi/business/7726162.stm), UK is looking in the maw of recession, the US is certainly deep in...We are having morning whiplash on the markets, with things looking up at this point, but volatility is still the name of the game.

The unemployment numbers are in (http://feeds.reuters.com/~r/reuters/topNews/~3/pmhsnOYD1Yw/idUSTRE4AC40B20081113): basically, we've got 4.5 million people on the rolls of the unemployed. And remember from the last time around---that's not how many unemployed people there are. That's just how many unemployed people are collecting benefits. We haven't yet started to publish the estimated counts of those who have dropped off the rolls, or who never applied for insurance, or are significantly underemployed to the point of poverty.

4.5 million. An army that's getting stronger every day.

On a happier note, it looks like the Democrat Begich is going to win the seat in Alaska after all, and Ted "Seven Indictments? What Seven Indictments?" Stevens will gracefully retire into the woodwork of Alaskan corruption: http://andrewsullivan.theatlantic.com/the_daily_dish/2008/11/begich-surges-a.html.

More later.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


If you haven't heard, a company has begun wickedly expensive dirigible tours out of Moffett Field by Palo Alto; the first commercial dirigible to fly in this country since the Zeppelin disaster. I watched it go by a while ago.

Just the thought of it is really, really cool.

Hump Day

For anyone interested, the back is getting better. It's still a bitch to sit, bend, or otherwise act normally, so blogging is confined to limited bouts mostly while lying on my back. But there was a lot today to note.

First, we had another -5% day on Wall Street, despite Paulson announcing that he is now going to do what most people with brains wanted him to do in the first place, and buy equity in the failing financial institutions, instead of trying to buy up trillions of dollars in bad debt. There's just too much bad news out there to keep away the selloff jitters, it would seem.

Next, in the wake of the passage of prop. 8 here in California, and the enshrinement of discrimination in the state Constitution, Connecticut is setting up to begin allowing same-sex marriage. How well this fares, and what the response will be, is anyone's guess.

It's been determined that Obama's health care plan will cost us $75 billion. That's a hefty wad of cash----until you put it in context. We would provide health care to 95% of all Americans for one-tenth of the cost of the so far ineffective bailout. Health care for 95% of the population, for 25% less than the second bailout for a single insurance company (AIG), who still have yet to prove they can survive with or without government props.

When I look at it that way, it seems like chump change, and the ROI is off the charts.

On other fronts, We still don't seem to be able to rid ourselves of a Palin aftertaste, and I once again am impressed at her seemingly endless energy and ability to remain perky while spewing idiocy and divisiveness. In her chat with Wolf Blitzer, she noted that she is "still concerned" about Obama's "association" with Bill Ayers, and asserts that going after such issues is not "negative."


Imagine if we had judged all past candidates by their associations: I doubt any president would pass muster. By investing the electoral process with guilt by association, and the need for every candidate (herself included) to actively disprove a negative, Palin is helping to muddy the waters of the next 8 years of politics. If it's even possible for it to get any worse.

Read the whole thing here.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Random Non-Rant

Last week my hot water heater died. It's never been great, but I've put up with the now-and-again weak heat, or limited supply, or whatever. But last week it died completely, so after my cold shower I called my landlord to let him know. When I got back home that evening, I had VERY hot water. Lots and lots of it.

It is totally fabulous.

My landlord is great (thanks, Robert!)

My new hot water heater ROCKS.


I've been thinking a lot since the election about the 20th century political history of the Cult of Personality, and about our current, remarkable weakness for following that path of desire. Without equating the individuals in any way, but only our responses to them as societies and citizens, I think about Mussolini, and Lenin and Stalin, and Ataturk, and of course Hitler----and then I think of Sarah Palin, and on the other side of things, president-elect Barack Obama. And I am troubled. Not by Obama, of course, nor even really Palin. But by our strange hunger to worship charisma, rather than select rational leaders.

I'll be writing more about this soon.

Oh Dear. So What CAN They Do?

Provided without comment:

STOCKHOLM, Sweden, Nov. 7 (UPI) -- Swedish health authorities have sparked controversy with their decision to supply free prosthetic penises that are not fully functional to transsexual men.

However, some have criticized the plan because the prosthetic penises being offered by health authorities cannot be used to urinate and cannot become erect.


So today the markets took a mild tumble with the news of the new AIG bailout, and the 9,500 layoffs from DHL, and Circuit City's bankruptcy; and at the same time we saw Obama and Bush together in the Oval Office. Wow.

I am pondering more, though, the murmurs of Obama's review of Bush's executive orders, and the likely dismantling of the Guantanamo gulag. It's going to be messy, but in that wholesome, democratic sense of mess.

Still, my back is keeping me mostly prostrate, and so it is difficult to write here. I hope to be back up to speed sooner rather than later, especially with the consolidation of the new cabinet coming, and movements in the middle east, and more. Here in SF we still don't know who our new supervisors are; rest assured though that they will stand, in good SF tradition, on the far left end of the see-saw---farther even than most of the population of the city. We're in for some silly times.