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, March 21, 2009

Old Wine. Really Old Wine.

This is very cool. I can't imagine what it might be like to sip a product that was contemporaneous with Napoleon Buonaparte, president John Quincy Adams, Simon Bolivar, and the very first photograph ever taken. Especially one that still tasted good...1825 Champagne from Perrier-Jouet. Whould'a thunkit?

Horse's Mouth

I was just checking the state database of expected layoffs from California companies, or offices of companies located in the state. The database breaks it down city by city. In San Francisco, the announced layoffs are worth note:
404 in March.
199 in April.
63 in May.
35 in June.
And that's just one database, counting only layoffs that are already planned, and not including any government NPO or NGO organizations, or companies too small to bother. Even so, that's more than 700 layoffs already planned for the remainder of the fiscal year in little ol' SF. From less than a dozen reporting companies (primarily Schwab and JP Morgan Chase, and Barclays).

The state is hovering at 10.5% unemployment -- 1.95 million people. And that's only the official rolls.

I see hard times ahead.


Nobel Laureate speaks:
Treasury has decided that what we have is nothing but a confidence problem, which it proposes to cure by creating massive moral hazard.
If Krugman is right in his analysis of this, we are in deep, deep trouble.

Friday, March 20, 2009

What Makes Us So Darn Special

It's City leaders like this, and stands like this, on topics like this.
Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi wants the board to commend restaurants that have stopped serving foie gras in advance of a state law outlawing the controversial pate starting in 2012.

"Why not get ahead of the curve in San Francisco and spotlight the fact that it's extremely cruel and inhumane to be offering foie gras?"

Just for the record: I actually like Supe Mirkarimi. I think he is one of the saner of our supervisors these days. But seriously, read the full article, if only for the marvelous snark quoted from the mayor's office at the end.

My own opinion is that unless you are going to come out against the breeding of any meat for consumption, foie gras is a (forgive me) red herring. Meat animals are not treated humanely by nature --- we raise them for slaughter, and slaughter is inhumane. Either you accept this, and can live with it, or you should go veggie. And that's fine. But it isn't a suitable basis for legislation. We can minimize some of unpleasantness in the process, but it's not clear to me that legislation of this sort of ban does anything beyond the creation of a black market backlash to provide what has been removed from the legal market. Better to legislate overall regulation of laws against farm animal undue cruelty, and promote smaller farm health, and sustainable agrobusinesss. That will provide far more good for both humans and animals in the long run.

Of course, we could simply outlaw the eating of meat....

The Worm Turns

And to think, just a while ago I was trying hard to get myself a gig with these guys...from the WSJ:
Barclays is offering to lend bidders, which include U.S. private-equity firm Hellman & Friedman LLC, as much as 80% of the purchase price of its San Francisco-based iShares unit, the people said. Analysts estimate the iShares business could fetch as much as $4.5 billion.

Barclays's effort to grease the sale process highlights the difficult situation in which the bank has found itself. One of the U.K.'s most thinly capitalized banks, Barclays faces a March 31 deadline to decide whether it will participate in a U.K.-government insurance plan aimed at putting a lid on banks' losses. If the bank can't sell assets to raise cash needed to pay for the insurance, analysts say it may have to sell a stake of as much as 40% to the government.

A Barclays spokesman declined to comment.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Holy Crap, Batman!

Direct from a reader over at Andrew Sullivan, this nugget has light shown on it in the darkness of the AIG bonus kerfuffle. Seems that for a start, they aren't bonuses, and on top of that, they were written into the contracts specifically because the company was heading straight into the toilet:
The other thing that strikes me as very strange, though, is the self-stated rationale of the Retention Plan. According to the recitals section, the contract exists, among other things:
To recognize the uncertainty that the unrealized market valuation losses in AIG-FP's super senior credit derivative and originally-rated AAA cash CDO portfolios have created for AIG-FP's employees and consultants.
I sure wish I could get a contract like that.....

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Quote Of The Day

"Las Vegas is like the subprime mortgage market of restaurants"

-Elizabeth Blau.

It seems that the restaurant world is feeling its own bit of irrational exuberance. Read all about it here.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Egregious Totalitarian Denigration Of The Day

Kim Jong Il, leader of one of the most impoverished nations on the planet, where food shortages are more common than not, has brought in his own trained pizziaiolos to keep the party seniors well-fed with authentic pizza:
In the 1990s, he hired an Italian pizza-maker to teach his staff the vital art of olive placement. And, after "trial and error" failed to bring the pizza up to snuff, he sent them to Italy last year.

Apparently the trip was a success: the restaurant now serves pasta and pizza made with ingredients flown in from Europe to North Korea's elite.


I'm not sure if an effectively government sanctioned market in bribes is really the sort of growth industry we want fueling the nation which owns all our debt....
The gifts are essentially bribes or kickbacks, and they are prohibited under Chinese law. But in China, legal experts say, bribery laws are selectively enforced, and party members in good standing are rarely investigated.

As a result, the practice of bribing government officials — by other government officials and, more commonly, by private businessmen — is so widespread that luxury goods producers have come to count on it as an increasingly important revenue source.

China is now the world’s fastest-growing luxury market, with an estimated $7.6 billion in sales last year, according to Bain & Company, a global consulting firm. And industry experts say gifts to government officials make up close to 50 percent of the country’s luxury sales.

The Meaning Of Learning

Stanley Fish has a great opinion piece in the NYT today, about the proposed boycott of Israeli academics due to Israeli policy toward the Palestinian people. It comes right to the crux of a critical issue for our time: the politicization of both education and thought. While professor Fish doesn't address the implied endgame of this sort of behavior --- a sort of Big Brotherish totalitarianism of right-thinking --- he does hit the nail on the head as to what actually matters about maintaining the at-the-moment somewhat tarnished institution of enlightenment literacy:
The real question is, should the policies (whatever they are) of a country an academic happens to live in ever be a reason for denying her the courtesies academics extend to each other in recognition of the collaborative nature of the work they do? (Yes, I would include academics from the Third Reich.) That question has the advantage of facing squarely the issue of what academic work is and isn’t, an issue that is obscured if you’re just toting up and rank-ordering atrocities as a preliminary to determining which scholars you will or won’t deal with.
Imagine if we had boycotted all German academics at the onset of Hitler's reign: all the thinkers, the writers, the scientists, the thinkers, the teachers, who found their way to the US, and helped (among other things) to drive forward the war effort, institute the modern network of universities, spur on the amazing post-war boom in technological discovery....

I'm not a fan of repression. And I'm not a fan of retaliation. I worry that we have infected the basic methods of our ways of thinking, and learning, with this sort of coercive pressure, and are losing the very nature of an independent academia.