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, October 02, 2009


OK. This may not be a smart law for Nairobi. But I suspect that it would do a world of good here in San Francisco. Maybe we should try it for a week or so:
Newly outlawed activities include blowing one's nose in public without using a hankercheif and spitting into trash cans. Another of the laws criminalizes loud noise.
I bet the revenue in fines from the nose-blowing law alone would bring in substantial revenue.

Another Notable Passing

Marek Edelman, a leader of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, is dead at age 90. Upon him peace.

Brother, Can You Spare A Job?

From the NYT today:
The latest report lent further credence to the sense that opportunities are indeed diminishing, and in nearly every field. The unemployment rate continued to inch toward double digits, a level last seen in June 1983. The so-called underemployment rate (which includes people whose hours have cut and those working part-time for lack of full-time positions along with the jobless) reached 17 percent, its highest point since the government began tracking such data in 1994.
That report is the one showing national unemployment at a record 9.8%. Of course, here in California where the unemployment rate is over 12%, and the underemployment numbers are apparently too embarrassing to publish (but I can extrapolate---something close to 21%), this is small beans.

Still, we're a long long way from feeling good again.

You Are A Widget

At least, you are if you're a teacher. That's the determination of this report from The New Teacher Project this past summer. It notes (in conjunction witht he chart shown above) that
Though it is widely accepted that a teacher’s effectiveness matters more than any other school factor in student success or failure, it is almost never considered in critical decisions such as how teachers are hired, developed or retained.
If we are only concerned about efectiveness of educators when looking to dismiss or punish them, then we are missing the basics of the student-teacher dynamic, and failing to support the fundamentals that will be necessary for any improvement in the educational system.

We too often make an assumption that education is like any other business: the delivery of a product (knowledge) to the consumer (students). But that is not the case. The model is more of investment than business. Funds (knowledge) are invested in a company or property (students) which the board (parents) manages in the hopes of increasing shareholder value (community benefit and class mobility). There are a lot of ways to invest effectively; as we saw in the banking collapse, those methods can become arcane and overly complex. But it boils down to making certain that you are providing real value for something. The financial markets at their worst reap profits by creating transactions that return no value to either the originators or end-users. Education at its worst provides information without knowledge.

If we cannot find ways to support those who educate our children, and support them in meaningful ways, then what are we teaching our children with the message that sends? And once they graduate without critical thinking skills, but only the ability to scam or score a test, what will they in turn provide our society?

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Interesting Governator Update

It looks like Arnold has yet another chance to leave a significant structural mark on the State before he leaves office. This time, it is an overhaul of the State's taxation system. I've just read the overview of the report (but not the appendices and quite honestly, while I see where it will raise the ire of the Dems in Sacramento, and the unions, it actually appears on surface to be a really interesting and innovative overhaul. Yes, it would redistribute the burden of taxation. Yes, the rich might see a net reduction in personal tax. But with the idea of overhauling the corporate and business tax structures, and removing the sales and use taxes, I think that it may actually wind up being more beneficial to mid and low income residents---since initial costs will be abated, despite a potential lower threshold for taxation overall. Consumables are where we spend our money, and need to spend our money: if they cost less, and it is balanced by other actions, I'm thinking this is a good overall outcome.

The whole report (pdf) is here.

Should We Be Concerned?

First, we had the Nutjobs Of August, hauling their loaded weapons to town halls and presidential events across the nation, saying to those who questioned them "We don't plan on using them....this time."

Then, we had the Facebook Death Poll, asking whether you thought the president should be assassinated.

Now, we have a right wing journalist nutcase promoting suggesting that the best thing for the country would be a military coup.

The Secret Service is investigating the Facebook fiasco. While Newsmax has pulled the original column by John L. Perry, there is still no word of a followup. I know there are tons of crazies out there, on the left as much as the right (remember all the exacerbating Bush hatred?) But the current wave seems denser, faster, more concerted, and more violent.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

No Public Option. Yet.

So the Senate Finance Committee voted down both the Rockefeller and the Schumer amendments today. It's impressive to me that the vehemence of the GOP and the Democrats in so-called conservative states remains at the level it does; the absolute unwillingness to respond to either the reality of our currently failed system, or the potential value (and overwhelming public support) of the proposals. So, while I have nothing to say to the GOP senators, who have decided that opposition to Obama is a political expediency they cannot do without, I do have this to say to the Democrats in committee who helped to bring down today's vote on the side of those who would have neither what is given in the present, nor what is possible in the future---who would choose to bring the house down upon themselves for the chance of political gain---to those keen minds who are our leaders I say:

Max Baucus (D-MT); Thomas Carper (D-DE); Kent Conrad (D-ND); Blanche Lincoln (D-AR), , and Bill Nelson (D-FL): Why do you hate America?

Dumbest Thing I've Read This Morning

Although let's face it, it's still pretty early. This opinion piece from Bret Stephens in the WSJ is gloatingly proclaiming Obama's foreign policy a failure, and a resurgence of neoconservative thinking. What does he base this on? First, the continuing existence of leaders with whom the US has tangible differences and conflicts. Next, on the bewildering idea that
Where neocons do put their faith is in American power, not just military or economic power but also as an instrument of moral and political suasion.
Remember: these are the thinkers who prompted and encouraged what became a regime that endorsed and legalized torture, to the dismay and disgust of most of the rest of the world; the guys who have left a large swath of the Middle East perilously perched on a fulcrum of democratic rule (enforced by the presence of most of our military on one hand, and led by theocratic militarists on the other), thus hollowing out the sort of philosophical hope that the American Idea once held for many in the region; and finally, helped promote some of the most disastrously counterproductive policies (in terms of global cooperation) we have seen in decades.

One of the greatest problems with the neoconservative policy hawks is that they neglect to address the larger game; with the assumption that America is and always will be mighty, and that might makes right, they forget that there are always larger playing fields than the ones we can create or control singlehandedly. And despite our desire to be, and self-delusion that we still are a moral guide to the world, most of the rest of the community of nations can see that our compass has been misaligned for some time. We are still working out how to bring it back to our True North.

President Obama has, through a strategic shift and tactical ploy, brought Russia to the table for the first time allowing potential sanctions on Iran. The neocons (and apparently Stephens as well) would have us continuing the Bush missile plan that Obama dismantled, and instead of finding tactical means of strategic coercion would continue to rely on shows of grandiose strength that only infuriate our opposites (and our allies as well), and lose the greater opportunity for rebuilding a lasting strength for the US. Personally, I find the long game more enticing. Even if it means getting to flex less muscle, and occasionally looking less like the biggest bully on the playground.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

And More Iran.

And it seems that all this is getting eerily familiar...


TEHRAN (SBC) - In a stunning attempt to draw similarities between itself and North Korea, Iran has successfully test-fired a number of missiles in response to the world community's irritation at the disclosure of yet another secret nuclear enrichment installation hidden underground beneath a military base near Qom.

Iran's president Ahmadinejad said that, like Kim Jong Il, he too would be happy to "drop "Hans Brix" into a secret pool of man-eating sharks" in order to prove to the world that "it isn't just small impoverished Asian nations that can act out" in ways that lead to their censure and ridicule. "Take that, UN! Up yours!" he announced, much to the dismay of some members of the Supreme Council.

Well....OK. So that's not the real press release. This is. What on earth makes these people think that this is a show of sensible strength? Talk about engendering negative response, and self-destructive behavior. Sheesh. Let's just hope it isn't really a job for Team America ("F--k, yeah!")