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, June 06, 2009

Book Club

Okay. So I finally got around to reading Pullman's "His Dark Materials" novels. And I have to say, I'm not sure I enjoyed it. Well, not entirely.

I thought that the first book, The Golden Compass, was an engaging read; an effective story, well crafted, with a decent underlying message about the dangers of authoritarianism, and a healthy suspicion of what may look fair, but be foul. At the same time, it was at times a bit too eager to revel in rebelliousness for its own sake. But hey---it is targeting an audience of pre-adolescents. That might be a nice release valve to read this stuff, especially when well written (which this certainly is), and imbued with some solid background references and intimations (Milton, Blake, etc.)

Then I delved into books II and III. And what I found was that while the writing began to carry a bit less authority in its grand grasp of things, at the same time it was more and more infused with a clear authorial distaste --- hatred, really --- of organized religion, and a disturbing tendency to write inherent weakness into even the strongest female characters. As the story ripped by, I found myself hearing the authorial voice more and more, and the tone wasn't pleasant.

I'm left with a feeling that although the intent may have been to craft a literary world where empathy, and honesty, and curiosity, and intellect, and love are paramount, and where the grasping of power for its own sake, or for the pleasure of controlling or denigrating others, is destroyed, it instead tears down one negative stereotype and replaces it with another equally flawed one. And without even noticing.

Lest We Forget

It's D-Day. Somehow, I remember this being more widely noted a few decades ago than it is today. We grow too far from the battles and sacrifices that were made.

Friday, June 05, 2009

The Brown Is Falling

Well, that British Government didn't last very long.....


I know it's just a matter of trying to put a positive spin on fairly depressing news, but I have a hard time taking seriously an economist (who should know better) who plays the numbers in ways that even I, econ- and math-challenged as I am, can see through them like cellophane.

Four factoids given in the article:

  1. This recession is now the longest since WWII

  2. Since the recession began in December 2007, the economy has lost a net total of 6 million jobs.

  3. The unemployment rate in May was "officially" 9.4%. If laid-off workers who have given up looking for new jobs or have settled for part-time work are included, the unemployment rate would have been 16.4 percent in May, the highest on records dating to 1994.

  4. The average work week in May fell to 33.1 hours, the lowest on records dating to 1964. The number of people out of work six months or longer rose to more than 3.9 million in May, triple the amount from when the recession began.

The response to this information from the expert they choose to quote?
"This tide is turning," said Richard Yamarone, economist at Argus. "We expect this trend of slower job loss to continue throughout the year."
Even his metaphor is off. The tide turns when its direction reverses. When the tide slows its pull, that is the ebb. An ebb tide often lasts almost as long as the tide itself.

And then you have the slack tide, where motion stops and the water is still, before the tide turns.

Look, this is pretty simple: things are bad. They aren't getting worse at the same rate they were 6 months ago --- primarily because they are already hitting super lows, and the governments around the globe have stepped in to put their thumbs in the dike. But they are still going down, and with unpredictable volatility. And if we are unlucky, they could get a lot worse.

Three days of positive market news is not a turnaround for the economy. It is not jobs. Four months of "slower" loss is still a sinking ship.

I wish we had a bit more honesty and willingness to analyze in the world of journalism.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Blame It On Poland

Apparently, it was the Poles who started the Second World War. And Russia's non-aggression pact with Hitler had nothing to do with the ensuing blitzkrieg.
The paper, titled "Fictions and Falsifications in Evaluating the USSR's Role On the Eve of World War II," recounts how in the run-up to Germany's invasion of Poland on Sept. 1, 1939, Hitler demanded that Poland turn over control of the city of Danzig as well as a land corridor between Germany and the territory now known as Kaliningrad.

"Everyone who has studied the history of World War II without bias knows that the war began because of Poland's refusal to satisfy Germany's claims," he writes.

Kovalyov called the demands "quite reasonable."
Yeah. Right. The Molotov-Ribbentrop pact (signed on August 24th 1939) was in no way at all a cause for the already prepped and ready military of Germany to wipe Poland off the map on September 1, 1939.

And Abu Ghraib was just a couple of bad apples.

And Mexico's claim on Texas in 1846 was perfectly reasonable, considering all the Mexicans who lived there, so we should absolutely have just given it back...

I mean, really.

Big Day. Grand Words. New Hope --- Insh'Allah....

(Courtyard, Al Azhar University, Cairo Egypt)

As the whole world debates the meaning of the truly magnificent speech given by president Barack Obama at Al Azhar in Cairo today (video here, full text here), little notice has gone to the passing of David Carradine at age 72, in a hotel room in Bangkok. Caine is no more.

But for Obama: I was going to find a key quote to pull, but honestly, the speech is too coherent as a whole to pull anything brief. There will be plenty of soundbites, sure, but not a single one will convey the full sense of any of the messages. This was a powerful, even-handed, and honest speech, and despite the mixed reviews and sad (yet expected) dismissals from the US polarizing pontificators, the Arab world and Israel so far (here, here, here), I suspect that with this move Obama has laid the foundation for a radically different relationship between this country and the Muslim world as a whole, as well as the Middle East. Whether the potential there is ever grasped is an open question though, and one that will require answering from Cairo, and Damascus, and Jerusalem, and Riyadh, and Gaza, and Ramallah, and yes, even Tehran.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

New Hampshire Gets Smart

...and legalizes Same Sex Marriage.

State #6. Who's next?

And honestly, I don't know if it's the AP or NYT who came up with the remarkably dull headline ("N.H. Legislature Approves Gay Marriage"), but I would have gone with the more direct and catchy

"New England Yankee Stronghold Goes Gay."

Monday, June 01, 2009

Potential Darwin Award

This guy is insane. But I bet the ride is fun:
Maddox, an artist and cabinetmaker in Medford, Ore., has been tinkering with pulse jet engines for seven years now. He’s recently started bolting them to old-school cruiser bicycles and selling them on eBay, and a video of him riding one is bouncing around the blogosphere.
The video is on the link page.

And then there's this.


Foreign Policy points me to this fascinating event recorded by Spiegel: a parade to lift our economically depressed spirits by the Latvian Blonde Association (website includes a section on Blonde Jokes, but sadly no English text translation).
"Finally, something positive," one 70-year-old woman watching the parade told AFP. "I just can't stand listening to people talk about the crisis anymore."

The parade was just part of a range of events making up Riga's "Blonde Weekend," which also included a golf tournament, a fashion show, a ball and a drawing contest for kids.
I don't know whether to be delighted, amused, horrified, or all three.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Faith Turned Upside Down

On the AP wires this morning:
(05-31) 10:45 PDT Wichita, Kan. (AP) --

Media outlets are reporting that late-term abortion doctor George Tiller has been shot and killed at his church in Wichita, Kan.

Anonymous police sources told The Wichita Eagle and other media that the 67-year-old doctor was killed Sunday morning at Reformation Lutheran Church.
Murder. In the church. I'm wondering what ever happened to the concept of sanctuary---let alone sanity, or grace, or respect.

And I expect that the perpetrator would call himself (I guarantee it's a man, not a woman) a "christian." Hah.

The Poetry Of Politics

And vice versa.
It's an essential part of democracy that it can shape and employ the idea of authority, so that authority can stave off the effects of populism run rampant. As for authority running rampant, well, in a democracy it can't or at any rate shouldn't: a consideration which makes democracy superior to any system where power is concentrated perpetually in a few - or sometimes only two - hands.
That's Clive James for the BBC providing, in the wake of the recent Oxford Poetry kerfuffle, some marvelous insight into both politics and art: and why the sensibilities of one are incompatible with the nature of the other.

Interesting News From Cuba

WaPo reports today that Cuba has agreed to re-open wide ranging, high level direct talks with the US:
"But on Saturday, the State Department official said, the head of the Cuban Interest Section in Washington, Jorge Bolaños, formally accepted a U.S. offer, made this month, to re-open talks on immigration that the Bush administration had halted in 2003. Those were the highest-level talks between the two sides. "
This is great news. The best thing that can happen for that country is to come to some reasonable amity with the US, and move beyond the absurd embargo of the last half century.

A Problem With Labor

It isn't an original thought, but at a certain level, the parallel between organized labor and the unions in the US, and the US itself, is striking. consider:

American independence came with a rallying cry for "no taxation without representation.' Unions began with the same demand for representation [collective bargaining rights]. The basic justification for unionization is the protection of the worker [citizen] from the capricious use of power by the employer [crown], and to guarantee a basic decent level of return for labor [the pursuit of life, liberty, happiness]. The violent rebellions that took place in the first decades of the 20th century [revolutionary war] led to the formation of what we now know as the AFL and CIO, along with others like the IWW and the ILGWU [constitutionally founded legislative & representative government].

I think that we have seen both institutions suffering from the same malaise, although to wildly differing degrees. Over the last decade we have seen government shift toward a more autocratic model, one where the prerogative of power is assumed by the executive and wielded to the benefit of the aims of a small class of those who hold power, or aspirations to more imperial gain.

In Labor, the sickness has been more invasive, and longer standing. The same greed for power --- great power for the few, growing out of the same initial desire to invest some power in the many --- has taken the primary goal of protection and security and turned it on its head into a counterproductive sinecure which at its best helps to engender apathy on the part of the workers, and at its worst promotes and preserves incompetence at the detriment of the greater community.

I believe we are seeing a return in the pendulum swing of government right now, at least on the federal level. The Obama administration has made a good start of reversing some of the inertia that has built up since the collapse of the Soviet Union. But it is slow work, and it is still unclear if it will be successful to any great extent, or lasting, or filter down to the states and local governments. Much will depend on how devoted to their own grasp of power the officials of each Party remain.

In the unions, I'm afraid I see nothing of the sort. And I also do not see the political courage or will in the government to demand that change. The unions are now powerful enough to maintain themselves to their own detriment. Each time a union refuses to consider give-backs in the details of a contract, at the risk of losing the entire framework of the workplace itself, they put another nail in the coffin of fair representation and collaboration. We have seen this recently all too often, against the backdrop of the current economic mess.

Here in San Francisco, the unionized government workers have lost any credibility they ever had with the public or their bargaining opposites. As the local government falls into debt, we remain in thrall to the unions which are, honestly (and here I speak not only as a local citizen, but as a former union member) bloated, overpaid, and utterly inefficient in anything but self-preservation.

A revolution is necessary.

I don't advocate the breaking up of the unions: I think that with a strong dose of reality, some more effective and intelligent (and less self-interested) leadership, and a willingness to consider different methods of action, organized labor can and should continue to play a valuable role. But as long as the de facto purpose of the union is to maintain the union, then they are part of the problem, not the solution.