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.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Ripe For Satire

This article cries out for someone funnier than me to give some treatment (though I'm not wuite sure what):
Scientists find 2,000-year-old brain in Britain

Talking Bailouts and Calling Bullshit

Joseph Stiglitz calls it like it is, and calls for bankruptcy rather than bailout:
The failure lies with the managers of US carmakers and America’s financial markets, which failed in their oversight and encouraged short-sighted behaviour. The “bridge loan to nowhere” – the down payment on what could be a sinkhole of enormous proportions – is another example of the short-sighted behaviour that got us into this mess.
And he's right. While intervention is necessary, we cannot continue to alleviate downside risk while propping up upside gain for executives and investors. I'm awfully tired of hearing about haircuts and moral hazard and too big to fail---nothing is too big to fail, as long as the interventions are structured to allow for graceful failure, and a "soft landing."

Big Moon

Tonoght at its closest in 15 years.

I'll be looking up.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

No Bailout

It looks like the auto boys are S.O.L. tonight, after the union nixed the demands of the Republicans in Congress.

We'll see what shoe drops next in this little dance.

Ouch! Ouch! Ouch!

From AP:
The Labor Department said last week that employers cut a net total of 533,000 jobs in November, and the unemployment rate reached 6.7 percent, a 15-year high. And the latest jobless claims figures indicate that the December report could be just as bad or worse, Abiel Reinhart, an analyst at JPMorgan Chase Bank, wrote in a client note.

Companies have eliminated a net total of 1.9 million jobs this year, and some economists project the total cuts could reach 3 million by the spring of 2010.

Several large U.S. employers announced layoffs this week, including Dow Chemical Co., 3M Co., Anheuser-Busch InBev, National Public Radio and the National Football League.
As well as BofA (35,000), Stanley (2,000) and Sara Lee (700). We now have nearly 4.5 million people officially unemployed. Factor in to that our known undercounting (those who don't file, who give up looking, etc.) and we can guess at a number closer to 5 million.

That's a lot of people looking for work. And remember: they (and presumably their families) are also uninsured. Ponder the financial implications of that, grasshopper.

Guilty! Guilty! Guilty!

Or at least roundly castigated by the pointing finger of responsibility: the bipartisan report on torture tactics looks up the food chain to....Donald Rumsfeld.
"It is particularly troubling that senior officials approved the use of interrogation techniques that were originally designed to simulate abusive tactics used by our enemies against our own soldiers and that were modeled, in part, on tactics used by the Communist Chinese to elicit false confessions from U.S. military personnel," the report said.
The absurd blindness that could allow the descent into what is now our legacy of the last six years would require some twisted brilliance in the realm of deep thought---and that does indeed smell like a Rumsfeld spoor. Let's hope that this report is only the first step in clearing the air, opening the doors, and ending the era of American Torture. I agree with the report's authors, in looking to the words of General Petraeus, on what makes us (and keeps us) who we are in times of great trial:
"Our values and the laws governing warfare teach us to respect human dignity, maintain our integrity, and do what is right," wrote Petraeus, who at the time was the top U.S. commander in Iraq. "Adherence to our values distinguishes us from our enemy."
Here's to January, and a return to sanity.


Really paying attention to detail....for once. I have to say, though: the Clintons certainly won't be hurting due to a 5K pay cut for Hillary; and the emoluments clause actually does matter.

Now, let's just hope she doesn't turn out to do the job $5,000 less well than her predecessor.

Good News, Bad News.

After spending the day yesterday on a mini-holiday, resting my sciatica and mulling over my professional futures, it looks like things haven't changed much: On the bright side, Obama has officially tapped Daschle to lead the Health Care Reform, and as I said before, this is a great choice for the nation. On the other hand, Krugman is noting the steady arterial bleeding of jobs at a rate of three quarter of a million per month. That, if true, is terrifying. And as a member of the clan of the un- and under-employed, it sends chills down my already damaged and aching spine.

And here in SF, we are still looking down the maw of an unruly and seemingly untameable beast of deficit and cuts. While over in India, things continue to roil as Pakistan attempts to walk a fine line of action. George Friedman at Stratfor continues to have some of the best analysis of the situation, particularly framed from a more Indian (and thus Western) perspective:
"If the Pakistani government is in control of the country, it should be able to weather the storm. If it can't weather the storm, then the government is not in control of Pakistan. And if it could weather the storm but chooses not to incur the costs, then India can reasonably claim that Pakistan is prepared to export terrorism rather than endure it at home. In either event, the demand reveals things about the Pakistani reality."
And in either event, we're in for a bumpy ride.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Feel Good Story.

This story, with the lede of
Honest woman finds $97K in restroom, returns it
is both a lovely testament to the positive aspects of human nature, and a depressing reminder that such action is so rare as to make headline news.

A Thought

In the wake of desperately, corrupt, cynical, or self-serving actions by people involved in politics, or management, business, or even social networking, we all too often hear as an explanatory dismissal
"Look; that's just how [enter category here: 'politics', 'business', etc.] works."
We need to start responding responsibly:
"No, that's not how it works. That's just how you are working it."
Stand up. Speak truth.

Fiscal Irresponsibility

In a few days, the State of California will go bust on infrastructure development. And here in SF, we face more than a half a billion dollar deficit next year---and the big proposal from the Board of Supervisors (fresh from their successes in stacking the new board with the "progressive"* slate) is to slash funding for the arts by 50%. For a net savings of $1.1 million. Against almost $600 million in shortfalls. And the very programs they look to cut are those which bring significant revenue and marketability to the city: the cachet of the Symphony, and the Opera, and our Museums far outweighs the running costs they represent in the budget. The lifeline of this city is the tourist trade; to devalue the very issues which promote that industry is idiotic. Happily, it looks like the Mayor agrees with me on this.

Still, we face a terrible mess, and the reckoning is coming quickly.

* Progressive is a misnomer; they are more reactionary pseudo-populists.

No Surprise.

An important report straight from the Department of the Obvious:
"The DHS has a 1970s-style solution to a 21st century problem."
Well, yes. Let's hope that some of the recommendations in this report get taken up by the new administration. It's long overdue.


What a morning: First, the news that Illinois Governor Blagojevich has been arrested for being just possibly the stupidest corrupt official on the planet---trying, among other things, to sell off Barack Obama's former Senate seat to the highest bidder. Despite being, as TPM notes, just about the most bugged, monitored, and traced elected official in America. What disgusting arrogance.

Next, Sony is sacking 16,000 employees, while the Tribune (and thus its 8 major daily papers, not least of which the LA Times) has filed for bankruptcy. This is the sort of "contraction" fallout which will have greater social repercussions than are initially apparent. It spills over from economics into communications, and knowledge, and the way we both receive and interpret the world.

More soon.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Israel And Gaza.


Raise a Glass

One of the numerous markers passed through this weekend was the 75th anniversary of the enactment of the 21st amendment to the US Constitution, and the end of that failed social experiment known as "Prohibition." It's worth a moment's consideration at this time, when so many people are so actively pursuing the restriction of "immoral" activities through legislation - just think of Proposition 8, teen abstinence programs, or the raiding of medical marijuana dispensaries - and think of just how disastrous the temperance movement's achievement was. Yet again, we seem to ignore the failings of any program when pursued at an extreme.

So: have a moderate drink, and enjoy with moderation the sanity of 75 years of growing up.

Thanks, Benedict!

The Pope is praying for us:
Benedict said he was asking the Virgin Mary to help families struggling to make ends meet and those who can't find work or who have just lost their jobs.

Random Thought

In his book, The Ascent Of Money, Niall Ferguson notes that despite the increase in global interest in the topic, student enrollment in Finance (at least at Harvard) has increased among men in the last 35 years by a factor of 3 from 5% to 15%, yet among women from only 2.3% to 3.4%. He duly notes the underrepresentation of women in the field. Later on, he notes that the burgeoning world of microfinance has made clear that women are overwhelmingly a far better credit risk than men.

He does not go on to either note or investigate the implied possible correlations.

New Week

The market is soaring as the lame duck administration and the Obama administration in waiting come to terms with the auto makers; honestly, I don't see any major benefit in pushing through resolution on this prior to next month, rather than letting them limp along on life support until the new crew have greater authority to manage terms. But I doubt we'll have that much sense.

At the same time, Pakistan has preemptively raided a Lashkar-i-Taiba camp in Kashmir, and arrested a top actor; apparently in the hope to avoid India doing the same and sparking greater conflict. This also may give them some cover from any ties that surface between the attacks and the Pakistani government, military or intelligence services. My bet is that those ties will indeed surface, and will have remarkably little impact on the continuing mess of a relationship between the US and Pakistan, our own governments favorite rogue nation.

And this weekend saw more worldwide chaos, and the anniversary of Pearl Harbor, and more troubles for our local economy: CalPers is announcing today a 31% loss. And yet I still talk to people here in SF living in some fantasy where everything is going to turn around again tomorrow, and the credit will start flowing again. Sigh.

So, happy Monday, one and all. Today I plan on monitoring the progress of my latest batch of beer, in the hope that its fermentation trajectory is a bit less volatile than worldwide economics and politics.