About Me

My photo

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, November 21, 2009

Mygar be a purdy wine!

Courtesy of Alder Yarrow over at Vinography, we have been pointed toward this brilliant tidbit of UK marketing: local dialect translations of the comments on the back of wine labels. If you think wine talk is difficult to decipher in plain English, try this:
"A totally stoatin bevvy. It's bricht an' foo o' flavur, wi plum, curranty fruit, mackin it taste awffy braw. A youngane's colour wi cherries an black fruit on the nose, it has a laldy kick tae it, tha runs fae the front tae the back ae' yer mooth."
Hmm. Perhaps they should stick to beer up in Scotland...Check out the whole thing on spitton.biz. It's pretty amusing.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Observation

At what point in recent times did people stop getting out of the way of ambulances when the sirens are blaring? It used to be that you heard / saw an ambulance, and you pulled your car over and waited until it passed, allowing it full and free right of way. I'm mean, we all had that back-of-the-mind nudge of "there but for the grace of God..."

Now, it's different. Just a few minutes ago, I watched an ambulance stuck behind four lanes of cars. All stopped at a red light. All remaining set in the middle of their lanes at the intersection. A few, rather than pulling over, tried to nose their way across the intersection, against the light, and keep moving forward. But none actually made way for the ambulance.

Either they are all fatalistic, or have never been seriously ill or injured nor loved someone who has been so, are so utterly arrogant and selfish that they sincerely feel that it doesn't matter, and whatever they might be doing and anywhere they might be going is far more important than another human's life; or they are just really, truly, utterly stupid.

We report. You decide.

A Modest Rant

Imagine, if you will, you are an employee. And you are asking for slightly more than a 30% raise. For this rate hike, you are promising your employer:

  1. 10% less time on the job;

  2. 25% less work product;

  3. A significant reduction in positive attitude
What do you think your employer's response would be to this offer?

"Clean out your desk, You're fired", maybe?

But that's pretty much the situation that the University of California has now presented, with the addition of a 32% hike in fees riding on top of the already implemented furloughs, as well as the current and expected additional cuts to classes and services. It's no wonder that the students are a little outraged.

California has a terrible budget crisis, but we also face a terrible educational crisis, and the current actions of the Regents and the University President are only set to exacerbate both.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A Real Crisis

Apparently the nation is facing a massive Eggo waffle shortage:
It will take until the middle of 2010 before shelves around the country are stocked at pre-shutdown levels....."We have eight of them, and if we ration those — maybe have half an Eggo in one sitting — then it'll last longer," said Resciniti, who blogs about being a mother. "I told my husband that maybe I need to put them on eBay."
O the horror! The horror!

To Health!

The CBO released the numbers on its analysis of the reform bill today: as TPM reports (with my own added emphases):
The health care bill--which includes an opt-out public option--will require $849 billion over 10 years in new spending, to be paid for with cuts to Medicare, while reducing the deficit by $127 billion.

In that time it will extend coverage to 31 million Americans--94 percent of citizens will be covered by 2019.

Over the second 10 years, CBO projects even greater cost savings--up to $650 billion.
Keep in mind that the CBO tends to be conservativein its estimates. This is a major vindication for Democratic leadership. And while there are still some questions---Reid claims 98% coverage to the CBO 94%, no one is quite sure of the mechanisms in place for the still-in-place federal funding abortion restrictions, and whether they are any less punitive than what Stupak inserted earlier, the cuts to Medicare are still uncertain, and there is no guarantee that the opt-out plan laid out for the states will actually work. BUT---effectively universal coverage, cost containment, deficit reduction...this is another huge step toward the first goal in changing the way we maintain the health of our nation.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Quote Of The Day

"[This is] yet another step that shows and proves Israel is not ready for peace".
Mahmoud Abbas, responding to the decision of the Israeli Ministry of the Interior to move ahead with the development of 900 new settler homes in East Jerusalem.

End Of The World Alert

Get ready. It's coming next week.

The Unspoken Logical Failure

In the debates on Health Care reform, there is a basic divide that no one is really addressing. It shows up though, in yet another poll, this one out today from AP and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (pdf). The gist of it is this: an overwhelming majority of Americans feel that we pay too much for our health insurance. And an almost equal number want to see reform. But just about half distrust the government's ability to do anything positive:
Overall, the poll found the public split on Congress' health care plans. In response to some questions, participants said the current system needed to be changed, but they also voiced concerns about the potential impact on their own pocketbooks, preferring to push any new costs onto wealthier Americans.

For example, 77 percent said the cost of health care in the United States was higher than it should be, and 74 percent favored the broad goal of reducing the amount of money paid by patients and their insurers. But 49 percent said any changes made by the government probably would cause them to pay more for health care. Thirty-two percent said it wouldn't change what they pay, and just 12 percent said they would end up paying less.
(SF Chron)
So what does that mean? It does not mean that Americans are against reform; quite the contrary, despite the word from the media. What it means is that Americans are scared of government getting it wrong. That's a very different kettle of fish. We approve of the goals, we just don't trust the ability of the actors. And this is where the divide in opinion falls; when we conflate the two (as has been happening), we wind up with both a false portrait of opinion, and a false sense of what options are available.

The anti-reform movement and the GOP have grasped at this disjuncture to argue against any action. This is not only wrongheaded, but goes against the will of the people. Until someone --- anyone --- provides a viable alternative to government action in the healthcare market to improve coverage and constrain cost, the government is the only organization capable of attempting change. Add to this the other major finding of the AP Poll --- that the clear popular choice on how to pay for better health coverage is to tax the rich. Take a look at pages 11-14 of the poll: 57% favor this approach. The next runner up is a distant 15 points lower, that of taxing the insurance companies on the profits which are identified elsewhere in the poll (by more than 75% of respondents) as egregiously high.

So in a nutshell: We want change. We want the wealthy to pay for it. And we think the government will screw it up.

I'd say this is a reasonable assessment. The question is: how close to not screwing up can the congress actually get? And if they come close enough, will we gain momentum to do even more?

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Coming Trial

There's a lot of chatter right now about the decision to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in civilian court in New York. Many think this is a good idea; many others seem to think it a sign of the end times. In reality it is neither; it is a complicated but fundamental shift in both the political viewpoint of the nation's approach to the post 9/11 world, and a significant change in the strategy toward counter-terrorism and global security.

At a very basic level, the conundrum of the Al Qaeda prisoners at Guantánamo defines a philosophy of governance. Under Bush and Cheney, a conscious decision was made to place those held as suspected terrorists, accomplices, and fellow travelers of Al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, and the 9/11 plotters, somewhere between the lines of the law. Neither POWs nor civilian criminals, they were put in a grey zone that allowed the removal of impediments that were faced in the prosecution of the Global War On Terror (remember GWOT?) Despite what some might claim, this was clearly a choice made, not a corner backed into. And what it provided was an additional (albeit troublesome) tool in the toolbox for the War.

At the same time, as we progressed in Iraq and Afghanistan (and continued for some time to operate the web of clandestine extraordinary renditions), the Guantánamo situation was part of a greater vision of the world, and the US role within it. We declared that war could be fought against concepts, not just nations. And with that singular presumption, we stepped outside the bounds of what has been governed by international (and military) law. By declaring the challenge a military adventure, the US under the leadership of Bush and Cheney opened up---unilaterally, and without consensus---a whole new realm of activity which while appealing to authoritarian-minded leadership, has brought with it untold problems.

So much for that. Now, Holder has announced that instead of indefinite detention in a zone without legal status, KSM will be approached as a criminal, accused of criminal acts, and tried in a court of law. This means a couple of things. First, it is a rebuke against the entire worldview presented by the Bush administration, and still held by a significant minority in this country. Second, as a corollary to that, it throws into question the entire premise of both wars in which we are still embroiled. Think about it: if the acts of Al Qaeda are criminal, but not acts of war, then the response of taking a nation to war against them "wherever they might hide" is in and of itself a crime of war, and thus impermissible. Which gets me back to my original point: the choice to try KSM is a sea-change of philosophy in government. What the impact will be, and whether more movement will follow, remains to be seen. Most of the complaints and fears that are being expressed about the trial are not only specious, but stupid. And they show a stunning lack of faith in the very system that their expounders claim to be wanting to protect and defend. Josh Marshall has addressed this pretty well here. And Friedman while noting a number of salient issues, surprisingly misses the point entirely, and makes a determination that the fault lies not with the previous administration, nor with the current administration, but with the lack of international law to catch up with the radicalism of the Bush-Cheney axis of thought.

Is there risk? Of course. Is it greater than the what we have with the status quo? Absolutely not. Is it the right thing to do? Well, that all depends on your ideology. For myself, I am far more in alignment with this direction than with declaring war on the world. It was a moral, logical, and geopolitical failure on the aprt of the last administration to presume to be able to make war on a concept --- however hateful, and however dangerous --- without readily identifying an opposable entity with which to make war. The nature of war cannot unilaterally be changed by a single nation, without some sort of acceptance of terms by the rest of the world: it's like announcing to a playground that everyone is now going to play catch with you----and all the other kids are just going to stare at you sort of funny, and then go on playing on the swings and monkeybars. At least a few folks in power now are realizing this, and slowly but surely are trying to bring things back into alignment.