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, September 19, 2009

The Nature Of Faith

It's an open question these days, when you might bump into a Jedi Knight in your local grocers.

Then again, if you shop at Tesco, they won't lower their hood, you might not get the chance. (Go ahead, click and read the article, you won't be disappointed.)

So, the question: Is Jedi now a valid religion? And if so, is forcing a jedi to lower his or her hood to enter a place of business an infringement of their religious rights?

It's actually sort of interesting: in what way is, say, Mormonism more valid as a religion than Jedi? How about Scientology? Where do we draw the line, and how do we decide?

Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi!

Happy New Year

The new year of 5770 has begun today for the Jews of the world, as we celebrate Rosh Hashana with food, community, prayer, and the sound of the shofar, or ram's horn. We now enter the ten day period until Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, which is called the "days of awe." It is a time to reflect on your actions, your words and deeds, and your spirit, leading up to a moment of confession with the community, and before God.

As I sit here in my apartment today --- not in synagogue, and not with family or friends --- I ponder the upcoming year, and the past year, and what my role has been, and will be. I am not a paragon of virtue for my erstwhile community, clearly. But as I look at the choices I have made, as well as those still before me, I believe that I am moving forward as best I can, and that I have owned my struggles.

We have a history, as Jews, of wrestling with God. I have not yet been pinned to the mat.

Friday, September 18, 2009

12.2%

Unemployment in California hits its highest watermark in 70 years.

Not looking forward to looking for work here over the next few months.

Stupidest. Idea. Ever.

Actually, just the stupidest nanny-ism idea to come from the SF Mayor's office in a week or two. This time Gavin wants to put a tax on soda: not a "sin" sales tax, but a tax on businesses making the sale.

But only big box stores and chain markets. Not other sales outposts.

And not restaurants.

So, in a city where doing business is already a challenge, we will drive out the handful of grocers we have -- there are already large swaths of the city without groceries -- while driving sales to businesses outside the city limits, and providing an effective subsidy for a protected class of business. All in the name of "childrens' health."

Will this keep kids from drinking soda? No.
Will this keep people from purchasing soda? No.
Will this in any way impact the obesity issue? No.

It will, however, perversely drive revenue down for San Francisco, even though it is apparently designed to do just the opposite. Because sales will stay constant, they will jsut move elsewhere, leaving us with less of a tax base. And stores will opt out of new openings, reducing city tax base growth.

Oh, and he's already been advised by the city attorney that if we put this into effect, San Francisco will undoubtedly be sued.

But with Mayor Newsom about to be a father (literally any minute now), perhaps it will give him some adult perspective for once in his tenure.

Quote For The Day

"fundamentalism in many ways is the opposite of actual faith, a dysfunctional and uniquely modern fusion of rationalism and ignorance."

-Andrew Sullivan, on Karen Armstrong, Richard Dawkins, and faith.
Happy New Year, everyone.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Government Takeovers?


For any of you who are actually concerned that president Obama is leading us down the road to a totalitarian, fascist, communist-socialist authoritatian anti-republic future, here's a little something for comparison:
Berlusconi owns all of Italy's private TV networks and appointed the directors of the state-run RAI. Earlier this month, he said it was "unacceptable" for RAI journalists to criticize him.
Small man on a balcony spotted in Italy.

I don't think we really have too much on this front to worry about here this season.

Productivity, Technology, And Chimeras

This article in the NYT got me thinking yet again about the annoying tendency for not only business types and employers, but everyone on the American scene really, to get hung up on our levels of "productivity." The article (ifyou're not interested in reading it), is about software that is supposed to enhance your productivity by either blocking websites that will suck your time away, or tracking your behavior so as to shame you into performing more efficiently. But it starts from the same false premise that we always use now in these discussions: the assumption that were it not for the interwebs and video games and email, we would be actively productive (i.e., producing tangible work product that is measurable and definable) 100% of the work day.

This is not the case.

In some professions, you are actively engaged most of your time at work: in customer service, or manufacturing, or agricultural work for instance. But in many, many white collar jobs -- particularly those where you are in front of a computer all day -- you are often called on to do work that requires thinking, processing, and yes, even daydreaming. And since nanny-state software can only really be put in place in those jobs, let's address them: productivity is a very slippery measure. Particularly if you are trying to apply Taylorism. Output may often have little to do with total time actively engaged in activities which can be quantified. Example: if I am a programmer, and I am trying to re-factor a particularly complex algorithm, that my manager has estimated will take 2-3 days. I may spend far more than half my time engaged in what appears to be goofing off: just thinking. Letting things settle in my mind. Every now and then I may try to jigger my code. This might go on for a while. And then, I will simply hunker down, and write my code snippet in 30-40 minutes, and I'm done. Total actual time? Let's say two days. Total observable work time? Maybe 3 hours. As a technical manager, I'd say that's productive. An outsider would likely say that productivity-wise, I had failed.

But the work product expected was produced within the proposed time, and (assumably) to acceptable standards. The important thing to remember is that this does not mean that I could have done additional "productive work" during that time. I used all that time, just not in directly observable ways.

Now granted, this is not always the case, and there are plenty of opportunities for abuse. But productivity must be measured in many less tangible ways. This is why so many countries which provide far more holiday time, fewer work hours, and laxer workplace environments are still (in terms of hour for hour productivity) extremely competitive with the overworked US. This is why my old company had such a struggle providing quantified metrics: our aim was to show the relationships between health and productivity in the workplace. It's too hard to quantify the intangibles.

It irks me that we are trapped in this false premise, even after so much literature over more than four decades (cf. The Mythical Man Month, for example) has addressed it. We are slow to accept that eight hours of hearing tap-tap-tap of fingers on the keyboard may not actually provide eight times (or even two times) as much value as seven hours of silence and noodling followed by one hour of inspired machine-gun key rattling. But that is the truth.

Taylorism is insidious, but it has no place in the current workplace of technology and innovation.

Baucus Reax

Well, the pundits (and the rest of Congress) have weighed in, and apparently they (by and large) agree: this bill sucks. It provides too little reform for too high a cost, pisses off the left by leaving out the government option and subsidies that would provide for the middle class, and pisses off the right by still providing any subsidies at all, and still costing almost a trillion bucks. It loses democratic support, and gains no GOP support. Not one vote.

I agree with Rockefeller, and with TPM, and with Nate Silver over at 538: since this attempt at real compromise returned a product that no one loves, and gains less than nothing on the bipartisan side, let's move with a bill that at least makes one side of the aisle happy. And will please the majority of the voters. And will pass whether or not Olympia Snowe finds a way to stop looking like she just sucked a lemon out of the anus of a dirty universe.

If we can get a better bill, then we should. There is no reason to go with bad options unless there is no other option at all. And we aren't there.

A government option. No middle class penalty. Sensible subsidies offset by benefit taxation. Greater small business tax credits. This can happen.

Reality-Based Stupidity

Hot off the SF Chron presses, another stunning intuitive leap for the State government:
California State Parks officials - who had planned to tell the public this week which state parks were going to be closed this year due to budget cuts - admitted Tuesday that the job of determining which parks to shutter is more complicated than they thought it would be.
Apologies for the vulgarity, but....no shit, Sherlock. Most everyone has been say that since the Parks closure plan was announced. Apparently, they only now realized the staggering impossibility of patrolling closed lands for 100 parks without any rangers.
One big problem, officials said, is that they don't know exactly how they're going to keep the public out of closed state parks and beaches. Officials fear a free-for-all among squatters and ruffians for dibs on thousands of acres of unpatrolled parkland.
One big problem? The Big Problem. So now we have the idiotic attempt at penny-wise pound foolish savings for our bankrupt state "postponed indefinitely" --- which on the one hand is nice, because we keep our parks available, but on the other is catastrophic, because we can't pay the folks who will do the keeping.

But as I said, this was foreseen by everyone but the state planners and the Park Service. Another strike against California's governing [sic] brains.

The Baucus Bill

It's out in draft form. I managed the first 80 pages. It's a quick read compared to the house bill, with a mere schmear 223 pages to skim through. I made it as far as the outline of the proposed coops (there is no "public option" in this draft), and I have to say, the coop idea sounds daft to me. Creating an ex nihilo industry of NPOs to do what the government already does well, who can't have any experience or legacy, sounds like a recipe for failure to me.

But hey, it still needs to be presented and hashed over. Maybe it will smell better with some edits.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Cool

Sometimes things that seem retrogressive are actually the best progressive response to a problem. Like women only trains in India.

Honestly, if this solves the issue of public harassment, then maybe we could do a little of the same in Tokyo, and New York, and here....actually, no: not here in San Francisco. I just had a vision of the political backlash that would ensue with any sort of gender segregation here. Thank heavens for the wacky world of the SF Bay Area.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Who Wants a "Public Option?"


Doctors do.
Now, a new New England Journal of Medicine survey finds some surprising results: A large majority of doctors say there should be a public option.

When polled, "nearly three-quarters of physicians supported some form of a public option, either alone or in combination with private insurance options," says Dr. Salomeh Keyhani.
And while the AMA officially opposes the public option, a majority of its members are for it. Despite all the hype and all the fear and all the outrage, this cuts straight to the bone: the people who provide our care think that this is the smart way to make it happen. And for you free marketeers out there: doesn't it make sense to allow the providers of a product or service their favored mechanism for delivering that product or service effectively to the market, and therefore to their consumers?

In other words, getting out of the way of letting the medical profession do their jobs, by letting the government do its own.

Happy Happy Joy Joy, Or Keeping Up With the Joneses Sarkozys

Foreign Policy reports that Sarkozy is proposing that France begin measuring GDH -- Gross Domestic Happiness --- along with GDP, as a measure of national wealth and success. Apparently, he has been paying attention to the decades-long experiment in practice in Bhutan to do the same thing.
Bhutan's effort, in part, is aimed at avoiding the pattern seen in the study at Harvard, in which relative wealth becomes more important than the quality of life.

"The goal of life should not be limited to production, consumption, more production and more consumption," said Thakur S. Powdyel, a senior official in the Bhutanese Ministry of Education. "There is no necessary relationship between the level of possession and the level of well-being."
But what is most fascinating to me is that the bulk of the number-crunching and theorizing on just how to measure the value of bliss on a national economic plane has been done in the US and...Canada. And we all know how darned happy those Canucks are.

Justice, Justice Shalt Thou Pursue

And in this day of the Roberts court and Corporate entities and all, it is both a bit shocking and quite heartening to see a judge actually pursuing justice, rather than mere legality. Judge Jed S. Rakoff has struck a blow for common sense as well as judicial integrity with this ruling on Merril and BofA.
The $33 million settlement "does not comport with the most elementary notions of justice and morality,"..."It is quite something else for the very management that is accused of having lied to its shareholders to determine how much of those victims’ money should be used to make the case against the management go away."
I can only hope that his ruling is not overturned in a higher circuit court. And that his attitude is one that is catching like Swine Flu. We need more of this.

Read the whole article. It's worth it just for the frisson of schadenfreude you'll get.

LATE UPDATE:
read the full decision here.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Quote Of The Day

My father used to say, ‘Son, always remember that silence gives consent.’

--- James E. Clyburn (D-SC)

Trade Secrets

Courtesy of xkcd.com, now you too can be the resident computer "expert." I've been wishing for a flowchart like this for years.

Quote For The Day

"We probably should have passed the Clinton bill."
That's Bob Dole, who, after leaving behind his historic legacy of helping to destroy the 1994 Health Care Reform spearheaded by the Clintons, is now working to sway some GOP votes to save the reform effort of president Obama.

Better late than never, I suppose.