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.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

More Manure Exposed

Courtesy of The Dish, we direct your attention to this amusing Malcolm Gladwell parody in Vanity Fair. It nails oh, say 7/10 of what really irritates me about his flippant approach to reality, and does so with a happy holiday theme. In a nutshell:
"So what does this blsht metric tell you about your appeal, compared with the appeal of the baby Jesus?

It tells you this: he was special.

And—here’s another thing—you are not."
Happy holidays, one and all, eh?

Pre-Caffeine Snark

Perhaps Lindsey Graham was getting too mavericky for the party of John McCain and Sarah Palin.

Eating Their Own Young

Who'd've thought we'd see the day when Lindsey Graham is identified as too liberal for the GOP?
Republican leaders in a South Carolina county have censured their own U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham for working with Democrats on a climate bill and other legislation.

Censured for bipartisanship. Wow. I guess the GOP wants to make absolutely certain the natin knows what direction they are heading these days.

More on this (and the full statement of censure) here.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Quote Of The Day

"I owe 30 percent (of my good looks) to genes, 30 percent to good sex, 30 percent because of sports and healthy lifestyle and for the remaining 10 per cent, I have to thank my plastic surgeon. I'm 71, but I'm happier, the sex is better and I understand life better. I don't want to be young again."

-Jane Fonda
I can only hope to have the same 30 percents (and the same sentiments) when I reach her age. Here's to you, Ms. Fonda. Rock on.

Calling Horseshit For What It Is

A brilliant review by Elizabeth Kolbert of the populist idiocy "Superfreakonomics:"
“The problem wasn’t necessarily that you talked to the wrong experts or talked to too few of them,” he observes. “The problem was that you failed to do the most elementary thinking.” Pierrehumbert carefully dissects one of the arguments that Levitt and Dubner seem to subscribe to—that solar cells, because they are dark, actually contribute to global warming—and shows it to be fallacious. “Really simple arithmetic, which you could not be bothered to do, would have been enough to tell you,” he writes, that this claim “is complete and utter nonsense.”
If the mishmash un-science of Levitt and Dubner is where market capitalist thinking brings us too, then I may return to my socialist roots.

I've heard them speak, I've tried to read both their books, and frankly, I find their type of analysis significantly below that of Malcolm Gladwell, another populist thinker, whose inductive reasoning is about on par with the religio-scientific meanderings of snake handlers and christian apocalyptical criers of the Rapture. It disheartens me that so many of us are so eager to accept ideas that are so obviously wrong, self-destructive, and naive.

Who Is A Jew?

“having a ham sandwich on the afternoon of Yom Kippur doesn’t make you less Jewish,” Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet, chairman of the Rabbinical Council of the United Synagogue, said recently.
It seems that this question of what makes a body Jewish --- which caused turmoil in the US Jewish community some 30 years ago --- has reared up again, this time in a prestigious school in North London.

On the one side, you have a high-demand religious school looking for ways of selecting from a pool of candidates. On the other, you have Britain's Race Relations Act. And sitting in the middle, the question of the nature of Judaism as both a religion and a racial/national heritage. The nut of the case:
The case began when a 12-year-old boy, an observant Jew whose father is Jewish and whose mother is a Jewish convert, applied to the school, JFS. Founded in 1732 as the Jews’ Free School, it is a centerpiece of North London’s Jewish community. It has around 1,900 students, but it gets far more applicants than it accepts.

Britain has nearly 7,000 publicly financed religious schools, representing Judaism as well as the Church of England, Catholicism and Islam, among others. Under a 2006 law, the schools can in busy years give preference to applicants within their own faiths, using criteria laid down by a designated religious authority.

By many standards, the JFS applicant, identified in court papers as “M,” is Jewish. But not in the eyes of the school, which defines Judaism under the Orthodox definition set out by Jonathan Sacks, chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth. Because M’s mother converted in a progressive, not an Orthodox, synagogue, the school said, she was not a Jew — nor was her son. It turned down his application.
And so the suit began. And so too the complications. For myself, while I see the reasoning behind both sides of the controversy, I don't see how the issue can be resolved easily: the battle is about sectarian power, and tradition, and not really religion at all. By forcing the question into the secular courts, it will now have an impact on all religious faiths, and pretty much certainly to their detriment. The question of matrilineal inheritance of faith in Judaism is problematic --- but only when in context of the conflict between Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and progressive movements (or sects) of the faith. The progressives want to see a more inclusive religion -- and to allow sincere practitioners of the faith to have access to spiritual validity. The Orthodox wish to see an excclusive faith, where they hold the power for access.

The problem is, as you might infer by the quote at the start of this rant, is that while there is great controversy over who can get into the club, there's very little one can do to get out, if you've been born into it. Here in the US, we've taken a more lenient approach, though there is still considerable conflict. In Britain, it will likely be more contentious.

And over it all hangs the pall of the Nazi laws for blood purity and impurity, and the slippery slope back to the ghettos, and cultural darkness.

Stupid Stupak

While I tied the GOP to the Stupak amendment's passage below, I should clarify: while the GOP is kvelling over this, it is not their doing. Stupak is of course a Democrat (hissss), and the primary mover of votes in this instance appears to have been the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

So a perfect storm of blue dogs, closeted protectors of child molestors, and anti-choice men of the Old School has brought this wedge to bear. And along with the President, I'd like to emphasize that this legislation has no place in the current bill: by adding this amendment those in favor show that the battle over health care has nothing to do with health care itself --- it is a battle for control and ideological power. The abortion ban in Stupak is a hail mary ideological pass for those who wish to see this as a democratic defeat and a condemnation of Obama. It is not about health, not about insurance, not about economics, and not even about women's rights. It's just a shameful tactic to derail what should be an historical win for both sides of the aisle and all their constituents.

It is this sort of action that makes me wonder if the Dems have the balls to actually move forward with any real change, or if they will just strangle themselves yet again with compromise, conflict, and debased indecision.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Reassessing The Rise Of Rapacity

On this anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, and all that presaged, the BBC has published the results of a survey on world opinion of the outcomes of that momentous time twenty years ago. One of the major outcomes of the collapse of the Soviet Union was the rapid rise of the global market and the growth and spread of Western-style Capitalism. So now, after two decades, what does the world think of what we hath wrought?
More than 29,000 people in 27 countries were questioned. In only two countries, the United States and Pakistan, did more than one in five people feel that capitalism works well as it stands.

Almost a quarter - 23% of those who responded - feel it is fatally flawed.
If you take a look at the chart above, you'll note that even here in the US, significantly less than half the people polled (about 25%) consider deregulation and less government reform a reasonable route for the future.

If Obama can help guide this country (and its lawmakers and representatives) to a place more in tune with not only its people, but the other nations with whom we interact, then his presidency will be a great success. If he cannot, then I suspect that we will find ourselves on the losing side of history, guided by those who would rather bring the world down around them than let go of their own petty gains.

The Nature Of GOP Leadership

So on the one hand we have the tea partiers, and Michele Bachmann / Sarah Palin wingnuts. And the Glenn Beck crew. And it is foolish to belittle the potential power they wield to sway the politics of the nation through their weird divisive populism. But then there is the mainstream leadership, who have an equally unpleasant demeanor:
"Candidates who live in moderate to slightly liberal districts have got to walk a little bit carefully here, because you do not want to put yourself in a position where you're crossing that line...Because we'll come after you."
Mafia boss? Drug cartel leader? No: that's RNC Chairman Michael Steele, showing off the dark heart at the core of contemporary "conservatism."

Now I don't have a whole lot of good things to say about Democratic leaders either, but 'don't vote your conscience and don't vote for the benefit of your constituents, vote the party line or we will come after you' somehow, to me, crosses the philosophical line from party unity to Party Unity in jackboots and brownshirts.

Only one GOP representative voted for the House Health Care bill (Joseph Cao (R-LA)). Let's see how ugly it gets in the Senate.

House Passes Health Care Reform

Late last night, with 220 votes in favor, the house voted to pass the bill, along with the divisive and derogatory Stupak Abortion Amendment. Here are your representatives who voted to include the amendment, which supersedes the existing language in the bill to restrict government-financed abortion, and effectively dissalows abortions for any woman carrying coverage for her health --- whether the government pays or not.

But the omnibus is passed, and Pelosi can chalk this up as an historic moment. Now we will have to see just what the Senate can do with this, and if the more outrageous aspects of the House compromise can be whittled into reasonability.

In the meanwhile, ponder on those 215 reps who believe that health care reform is fascism, or the road to Dauchau, or a greater danger than terrorism (cf. Michele Bachmann), or that the status quo which is killing the nation is better than any non-perfect and entire solution, or who are too fearful and lacking in political courage to take a chance on being right, instead of merely being safe.

As for me, I look forward to the greatest period of innovation to open up in American health care management in generations.