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 16, 2009

Unsurprising News

Apparently, the furlough plan implemented by the State of California to save money isn't actually doing much:
The furloughs, which amount to nearly a 14 percent pay cut for 193,000 state workers, are supposed to save the state $1.3 billion this fiscal year. But it will actually save a little more than half that and the savings will decline significantly - to $236 million - as the real costs of furloughs play out over the next few years
I wonder how long before the UC system furlough plan shows the same lack of ROI. This was an ill-conceived and punitive approach to a difficult problem. We could have --- and should have --- done much better.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Public Option

Mark Blumenthal of Pollster.com, in a stunning (and quite surprising) display of conflationary logic, questions the national desire for a "Public Option" in the health care reform being debated now. And Andrew Sullivan seems impressed.

I'm not. Here's why:

There are two issues at stake here, something which Blumenthal glosses over quickly and then studiously avoids. The first is the popular desire or "demand" for a government - managed health care option; the second is the public awareness of and understanding of current news and politics. Blumenthal takes the statistics of the second, and from them draws a conclusion about the first. This is a false syllogism.

  1. People can't identify "public option."
  2. "Public option" is media-politics speak for the creation of a universally available robust government-managed health insurance plan.
  3. Therefore, people don't want a "public option."

Look at it this way. In the Pew poll he quotes, a bit more than half the people were able to correctly identify the phrase "public option" as part of the health care debate. From this, he infers that people can't be demanding a public option because they don't even know what it is. And yet in every contextual poll, where the question is not whether you can identify a media term, but whether you desire a certain policy outcome in your life, the result is overwhelmingly in favor of a robust "public option" --- even if the respondent doesn't know that that is what it is called.

I'm all for a more informed population. But we aren't there. And deriding the desires of the many because of their Current Affairs / political illiteracy is not only disingenuous, it's demeaning and on the level of making fun of an immigrant who may have a Ph.D. or a Noble prize in physics, but has a thick accent and difficulty with English.

Unshocking News

News Flash! If your boss is a pointy-haired bully, it's likely he/she has issues, and is insecure about his/her own position! That's the outcome of a new report out in Psychological Science. It's hard to get excited about their findings. But what I find even more interesting than the report (or the SF Chron write-up, really) is this tidbit about their methodology:
The researchers did not actually observe workplaces but rather asked volunteers - mainly working people ranging from secretaries to managers - whether they were high or low in the pecking order and how secure they felt about their job performance, and ranked them with questionnaires and exercises designed to measure aggressive tendencies and behaviors.
So really, what they have is not a measure of bullying in the workplace and its relationship to insecurity; instead they have measured the perception of both bullying behavior and levels of confidence.

We used to call this inferential logic, and usually got low marks for it. But since the outcomes could be presumed anyway --- anyone who has ever worked in a corporate environment or hierarchical office organization could tell you --- it's still valuable. Here's their site if you are being bullied by your PHB.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Cool Invention Watch

A fan without blades. I don't know how much more futuristic you can get than that. Of course, some folks want to poo-poo it, like this guy here on wizbang. But you know what? It doesn't really matter that it's based on the centuries' old Bernoulli Principle, or that it is basically a hair dryer with a large oscillating diffuser on top. The point is that no one else bothered to do it before. And it is undeniably cool. And that, folks, is the definition of a good invention. Thank you, Mr. Dyson.

Am I going to shell out $300 for it? I doubt it. But if I can get one on the cheap, I'm totally there.

Secret Agent Man On A Balcony

Wow. A fascinating tidbit via FP and the Guardian shows that, according to Cambridge historian Peter Martland, "Archived documents have revealed that Mussolini got his start in politics in 1917 with the help of a £100 weekly wage from MI5." It seems that the Brits recruited the 35 year old journalist to keep the war fervor alive in Italy, and this initial practice at loquacious grandstanding and sending gangs of thugs to brutally beat peace protestors and anti-war activists into submission proved so rewarding that he turned it into a lifelong career.

Prediction Review

I said here in May that I expected the call for a constitutional convention to be "deafening" by year's end; perhaps that was too hyperbolic. But I believe that the Field poll bears out the trend that more and more Californians are recognizing the need for structural, not just political, change.

It isn't about particular causes; it isn't gay marriage or balanced budgets or lower taxes. It is about our century-long experiment with direct democracy via the initiative process, and its shortcomings, failings, and destructive trends. We've seen it in the fight for gay rights, in the fallout over 30 years of prop. 13, over the oft-repeated cycle of populist delight passed into law but then strayed from its intentions due to lack of funding, lack of foresight, lack of proper authoring, a change in temperment, or some combination of all those and more.

We need a revamp, and it can't come soon enough.

We Want Change! (NIMBY Mix)

Apparently a majority of Californians are actually fed up enough now to see the benefit of holding a state constitutional convention---but not enough to actually make the structural changes which would benefit the state. Compare these tidbits from the Field Poll:
"75 percent said sponsors of ballot initiatives should be required to identify how the state would pay for the proposals"...and yet..."52 percent of state voters oppose lowering the two-thirds threshold to pass a budget in the state Legislature to a simple majority, and 69 percent oppose amending Prop. 13 to allow the Legislature to raise taxes with a majority vote."
So while we identify the problem, we absolutely, positively don't want anyone to take away the goodies we can't afford. Heh. Read the full Poll results Here (.pdf).

Let's hope that we can at least get to the convention, where progress through dialogue and compromise could potentially occur.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

He Hates These Cans! [updated to correct link]

In an unpublished essay, Dr. Nielson said of the theory, “Well, one could even almost say that we have a model for God.” It is their guess, he went on, “that He rather hates Higgs particles, and attempts to avoid them.”

What theory, you might ask? The one that says that the Large Hadron Collider is being sabotaged by the future. The LHC is intended to create Higgs bosons, in order to help prove (or disprove, or inform) The Standard Model of physics. But the LHC is cursed. And these guys are convinced it's an attack from the future---possibly to save the universe.

Cool, eh?

Or, maybe God is just after Navin Johnson.

Health Care Again

It's clear that Olympia Snowe (in this Newscom picture from TPM) is much, much happier about how she played her hand today than she was back when I wrote this last month. I suspect she's feeling a bit smug---as well she should. Despite the flak she will take from her party for this vote, it's clear that the power she will wield in the upcoming debates will be to her great advantage, not only in the health care discussion but for her prestige over all.

Leonardo Discovery

The BBC notes that the portrait above is now being attributed to Leonardo Da Vinci, rather than an anonymous 19th century German hack. Apparently Leonardo left a fingerprint impressed in the canvas.

I had no idea that they were printing people back in the 15th century, let alone that Leonardo had a rap sheet.

Seriously though, it's pretty cool when things like this come to light.

Health Care Movement

So the Senate panel has just voted thumbs up on the Baucus bill, 14-9, with Olympia Snowe voting with the majority to add a sheen of bipartisanship to the deal.

This is good news.

Monday, October 12, 2009


Alongside the janus sins of arrogance and ignorance, one of the most destructive facets of human nature is the mad desire for ideological purity, and its imposition on others.