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, December 20, 2008

Culpability Of The Quants

As I ponder on the AIG bailout, the bank bailout, the auto bailout, and now the hedge fund bailout, I find myself pondering the issues raised in this Scientific American article, which states what should be obvious but somehow isn't:
The software models in question estimate the level of financial risk of a portfolio for a set period at a certain confidence level. As Benoit Mandelbrot, the fractal pioneer who is a longtime critic of mainstream financial theory, wrote in Scientific American in 1999, established modeling techniques presume falsely that radically large market shifts are unlikely and that all price changes are statistically independent; today’s fluctuations have nothing to do with tomorrow’s—and one bank’s portfolio is unrelated to the next’s. Here is where reality and rocket science diverge.
Unfortunately, it appears that no one will need to take responsibility for their actions, or be held accountable, since we are handing out bailout money with bothering to demand it.

Speaking of which, I could use a bailout myself. I know there have been lapses in judgment, and losses, but I assure you that my management is ready to do what it takes to use someone else's funds to my advantage. Really.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Not Linkin', Just Thinkin'

I'll link up to the articles in question later. But just some thoughts first. Bush has approved a bailout for the auto industry, with some caveats built in for accountability. I doubt it will have the desired effect. But we'll see. In the meanwhile, people are beginning to realize that the Madoff ponzi scheme scandal is a) all too similar to business as usual on Wall Street the last decade or two, and b) that there is more and more murmuring that the investors whom he bilked of that $50 billion may well ask for their own government bailout. I hope that doesn't come to pass; we are well on our way down the slippery slope to a total dismantling of both the benefit of the marketplace in action, and the benefit of government action to support it, leaving us with the worst of both worlds: failed capitalism and doomed socialism. Not a pretty picture, and a costly one.

At the same time, things are looking bleaker and bleaker here in California, with the Governator planning a veto of the Democrats latest attempt to salvage the State budget, and no other options on the table. And apparently, it has come as a surprise to some here that while mortgage rates are at an historic low, the only people who can qualify are those with good credit and no troubles ---- in other words, the people who don't need relief in the first place.

And in the Middle East, Hamas has officially ended the truce in Gaza, although the breaches have been numerous of late in any case. Good thing the UN passed that resolution the other day regarding the irreversibility of the peace process....

It's a winter day, dark with rainclouds, and the news appears to be following suit. I'll rant more later. Now, though, it's time for more coffee.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

One For The Season

For all my Jewish (or slightly non-Christian-ish) fellow travelers:

Sanity Bites Back.

It looks like the Dems up in Sacto are planning an end run around the stonewalling GOP. The new package requires only a simple majority vote, and so should pass. It is a queer package of goods, and as it all applies to the general fund, it is ripe for abuse, but hey: if it gets us limping along to something better, then I'm for it. And frankly, a move to a more sensible gas tax is pretty OK in my book.

So if it passes, we are halfway there. Perhaps the GOP can come up with another $20 billion in revenue to finish closing the gap...

The Latest

It's 37 degrees out on the street on the west side of San Francisco; there's snow in the Berkeley hills. But the skies are clear blue, and the sun is out, so that's an upgrade since yesterday. The Democratic budget plan failed in the state legislature yesterday, and the GOP alternative is also likely to go down in flames. Highway construction, new schools, and housing projects are all being shut down immediately, as there is no more money for infrastructure projects without covering the deficit gap.

And while you may not care, an interesting bit of foodie news today: George Morrone just took over the perenially lackluster kitchen at the Cliff House here in SF. If there is hope for a great meal at that great location, it could be resident in Morrone's talent. Here's hoping. And if he's making soup there this winter, I may even haul my butt out to Ocean Beach to try it out.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Dumbest. Resolution. Ever.

The UN declaring that the Palestinian - Israeli peace process is "irreversible" is a bit like declaring that summer shall be eternal because, well, we like sunny weather.

Still, it's a nice gesture, I guess.

More on the Rate Cut

Krugman thinks we're in the deep doo. He also notes one of his Princeton colleagues who wrestled with the Japanese liquidity trap issue with him back in the day: Ben Bernanke.


A Penny Saved Is....

Straight from OddTodd, here's a New Jersey story for our beleaguered times: it seems that in New Jersey, the penny is no longer legal tender when it comes to the courts and traffic fines. Hilarious.

Fed Cuts Rate from 1% to 0.25%

Read the release. Seems that some analysts are doubtful about the efficacy.

The Big 3....2....1......

McClatchy has a good review of some of the feelings running high in the Congress (and their constituencies) regarding the auto industry's failure.
"The bankers were only excessively greedy for the past 10 to 15 years," he said. "Detroit Three management has been inept and greedy _ with the exception of (former Chrysler chairman Lee Iacocca) for about 50 years."
Despite the current bailout fever, it seems that the American people still can smell a pile of crap when it drives up to their front door.

Feel Good Journalism.

A bright and cheery piece for the holidays from Reuters.
"The myth of wonderful capitalism is dead but not capitalism, just the nice warm fuzziness."

Every week, there is more hard-to-believe news; a Wall Street trader arrested on charges of a $50 billion investor fraud, and the governor of Illinois accused of trying to sell the Senate seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama.

There is now so little respect for President George W. Bush that an Iraqi journalist threw his shoes at him on Sunday, a grievous insult in Iraqi culture. Bush prepares to leave office next month with a presidential legacy battered by the grim economy and the unpopular war in Iraq.

Everyone agrees the situation in America, now officially in recession, is certainly bleak.


Andrew Sullivan ponders the shoe tosser, and rumors that he has been abused while in US custody:
I was wondering how Bush could make his legacy even more toxic in the few weeks left to him. Some thought it impossible in the middle of two failed wars, $10 trillion in debt; $32 trillion in new entitlement liabilties, and a second Great Depression. But we are always misunderestimating him.

Microsoft Finds Macro Flaw

Users of Microsoft's Internet Explorer are being urged by experts to switch to a rival until a serious security flaw has been fixed.
Man, that's a slam.

Of course, for everything other than streaming movies from Netflix, I use Firefox. So I am less concerned. But for the rest of you, watch out....

One Answer.

Here's some thoughts on the why and wherefore (micro, not macro) of my homeless man, and some of his compatriots.
Indications are that we are only seeing the beginning of what the faltering economy will do to those living on the edge of homelessness. While the family shelter waiting list is longest for families in San Francisco, single men, particularly returning veterans, continue to be most likely to end up on the street.

Investing In The Future

There is never a benefit cutting education funding without a plan to improve and increase educational opportunities and find cheaper ways of doing more, or find funding elsewhere. The California GOP, blindered by their "no new taxes" pledge, offers to cut off our nose to spite our face by removing $10 billion from educational spending in the State, at a time when spending --- while perhaps ill-used at the moment --- must be increased to meet the future need of an educated and employable population for the State.
The largest chunk of spending cuts, nearly $10 billion over the next 18 months, would come out of K-12 education. This year, the state is spending $58 billion on public schools.
Perhaps the answer is to address once and for all how we spend the money, rather than simply taking away %17 of the money available to teach our children during the most critical time of their lives.


I haven't yet been able to read much of the news; I've been distracted by my sciatica, and trying to deal with what now appears to be truly constant pain in my hip and leg. Sleeping has been difficult, and while movement --- particularly getting up and down, sitting and rotary motions --- is quite painful, stretching and constant motion is so far appealing to me as the best remedy for even temporary alleviation. Walking, stretching, I am actually tempted to try running, even though I know it would likely just exacerbate whatever is at the root cause.

In any case, the pain has led me to some serious thinking about life, and the realities of our time on this earth, and how we treat one another, and ourselves.

I am in the café right now; on the way here I passed a new local street person, one of the thousands of homeless here in San Francisco. He is notable because we don't have too many homeless on the streets out in this neighborhood, stuck in the far northwestern corner of the city. Those we do tend to settle in to the locale, find their corners and doorways, and stay for months or years. This man showed up next to the local fast food spot a few weeks ago. He has a bicycle laden with what would seem to be all his worldly goods, a sort of more mobile shopping cart. Typically I see him sitting up, sleeping, in the rear doorway of the building, wrapped in camouflage clothing.

Today he has a plastic rain poncho (also camouflage), and his beard has begun to grow out. His bicycle was parked in his usual seat; he stood in the next doorway urinating.

It is 44 degrees out, and raining on and off. I see this poor man, and I feel a mix of emotions: pity, loathing, fear (not of him, but for myself), curiosity, sorrow, anger. He is only one of thousands in the city.

What have we made, and why do we allow it to continue?

Monday, December 15, 2008

Truly Odd

The Gerrothorax Pulcherrimus:
"It's weird. It's the ugliest animal in the world," Harvard University's Farish Jenkins, one of the scientists who describe the mechanics of its bite in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, said in a telephone interview on Friday.
I don't know if I quite agree about that "ugliest" bit. But it sure is weird.

Perhaps She Owed Paul?

You have to wonder at the motive behind this sort of theft:
A bold thief has taken a portrait from the altar of Sacramento's Catholic Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament.
On a Friday afternoon, for a portrait estimated at a mere $200 bucks.

Only In Paris

The nude artist's models in France are protesting against the taking away of their tip jars.

Protesting. Naked. In the winter. In Paris.

I sure hope they are filled with fiery indignation, because otherwise, that's a lot of icy cold butt cheek out on the boulevard....

No Wonder....

via Slashdot, this article gives some insight: it appears that all those utterly dense people who have missed the humor in 90% of what I say really are friggin' nuts:
Researchers at the University of New South Wales, in Sydney, found that patients under the age of 65 suffering from frontotemporal dementia (FTD), the second most common form of dementia, cannot detect when someone is being sarcastic.

Progress II

Turkish intellectuals apologize for the Armenian genocide.


Small steps in the face of the growing Chinese powerhouse. Taiwan and China begin daily flights back and forth for the first time since the civil war.
"Taiwan and China have launched direct daily flights and cargo shipping, the first time in nearly 60 years that such direct transport links been allowed."

Clintons and Kennedys

Really not sure how to feel about this: Caroline Kennedy is going to try for Hillary Clinton's Senate seat in New York. I'm no detractor of Kennedy, but she has always struck me as more of a philanthropic cultural benefactor than a political actor. I also have queasy misgivings about yet again the opportunity of replacing the scion of one political dynasty with another. At this point I'm uncertain that there is a large difference (philosopshically/metaphysically) between branches of Bushes, and Kennedys, and Clintons. Then again, I wonder what the options are. There is something discomfiting about electing a name rather than a person. And I fully expect that when she runs, unless there is a major player running in competition, that the people of New York will elect her. But most likely not elect Caroline Kennedy---they will elect Caroline KENNEDY, scion of Kennedys, and image of the House of Kennedy.

Moon Day

The full moon is just now passing, and there is so much going on out in the world that I don't know where to begin. It doesn't help that inside my own small befuddled head there is so much pressure that it feels as though my skull will explode. But nevertheless, here is what I see when I glance out the window of my so-called soul:

α) The $50 billion Madoff Ponzi scheme. Here we have a prestigious fund manager doing what in effect every gambler does, only to a greater extent---and hence providing greater exposure to failure. It is an impressively audacious bit of criminal cruelty, as well as an incredibly poorly timed one. Then again, I wonder how many other minor schemes that are accomplished daily by the quite reputable firms around the country on which the economy seems to now rely so heavily, how many of those are given a pass simply on good faith and a wink? What was the straw that brought down Madoff's camel shell game? Was it simply scope, or did he piss someone off?

β) Bush's Close Encounter with a pair of size 10 shoes in Baghdad. There was a lot of chatter on this one yesterday, ranging from why was the Secret Service so slow to respond to how quick George Bush's ducking response was. Today the yammering is more reserved to how lauded the journalist's move is in the Middle East\. In any case, it was certainly an inauspicious close to Bush's legacy in Iraq, and probably not what he was hoping for.

γ) On the local front, faced with a loss of more than half its discretionary spending fund, SF is negotiating layoffs with the unions. I wish that someone would ask me about where waste could be trimmed; I fear that my brief time within the wheels showed me just how poorly things can be handled within a city bureaucracy.