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, February 13, 2010

Personal Note

The last 56 hours have restored my belief that returning to being an Apple computer user was one of the better judgments I have made in the last year or so. My doorstop of a Dell XP notebook was gnawing at my mind after its demise by conflicting drivers, burnt audio and video cards, and corrupted Windows updates so this past week I decided to try and resuscitate it. After two straight days of repairing, reloading, reformatting, and really trying not to despair, I am happy to say that I once again have a functional notebook computer running Windows XP. It has almost no software on it, but it works.

I am exhausted.

To celebrate, I just finished watching the 1959 noir gem Our Man In Havana, with an all star cast including Alec Guinness, Burl Ives, Maureen O'Hara, Ernie Kovacs, Noel Coward, and Ralph Richardson, a screenplay and story by Graham Greene, and direction by Carol Reed of The Third Man fame. This is a brilliant dark comedy, and how it has escaped my attention all these years is beyond me.

If you enjoy noir, and subtle humor, and Alec Guinness, this is a film you should see. It certainly took my mind off the hell of Windows Recovery Console repetitions and Windows Updates.

Now if there were only a few more surprises like that to fill the rest of the evening, I'd call this a pretty decent Saturday night.

Friday, February 12, 2010

It's Called 'Theft'

So I haven't read the book yet, but if the charges of plagiarism are at all accurate, I suspect it says more about the breakdown of our traditional sense of ownership, property and propriety than it does about trying a young author trying to pull a fast one.
“Obviously, it isn’t completely clean but, for me, it doesn’t change my appraisal of the text,” said Volker Weidermann, the jury member and a book critic for the Sunday edition of the newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine, a strong supporter. “I believe it’s part of the concept of the book.”

Although Ms. Hegemann has apologized for not being more open about her sources, she has also defended herself as the representative of a different generation, one that freely mixes and matches from the whirring flood of information across new and old media, to create something new. “There’s no such thing as originality anyway, just authenticity,” said Ms. Hegemann in a statement released by her publisher after the scandal broke.
Hmmm. On a certain level, yes. And any author or artist who has borrowed from others understands that. But credit must be given when it is done. There is a reason we still have rights attribution and copyright laws. And that is where Ms. Hegemann earns a massive fail --- and by implication so too her entire generation.

Very early in my academic career, one of my professors taught me very explicitly that if you "steal" the work of others correctly and effectively (with attribution), it is called "borrowing." Any other combination --- "stealing" work poorly --- is just plagiarism, pure and simple.

It's not the lifting of whole pages of someone else's words that's the trouble here: it's that there is no credit given to where those words come from, nor any indication that they aren't sui generis. I am sure I could "write" a great play about a young Danish prince tortured by self-examination, love, and power. The only problem is that no matter how I slice it, it would still be Shakespeare's Hamlet.

We spent the last decade with a government and a market promoting the idea that it wasn't what was right or wrong that mattered; all that mattered was what you could get away with. And if you could get away with it, it must be OK.

Clearly this attitude has now spread beyond politics and finance.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Random Thought

the absence of joy.

In the vast catalogue of the English language, is there a word that accurately denotes that state of being? We easily can identify the opposite of joy --- despair --- but the simple and all too common malady of its absence, and replacement with...nothing at all? Do we have a word for this?

Some rabbis have identified evil as "the absence of God." Perhaps you can associate evil with a passive rather than an active presence. But I don't think I would do the same with despair. Just as joy elates the spirit and demands an active reciprocity, so too does its opposite. But its mere absence deflates rather than elates, and leaves a vast landscape of ever diminishing horizons.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Edumacation

This is an annoying article. Apparently, more students than ever before are taking the AP exams. And more of them --- a full 4% more --- are failing compared to a decade ago. But many more are also passing --- since the number of students taking the exam has doubled in that time.

So aside from this being a non-issue framed in a meaningless context, what is even more irritating is what they don't provide: a meaningful trend of the overall spectrum of scores. Sure, we have an increase of scores below 3. But: what is the breakdown? What percentage of students score 5 this year, compared to 2001? What percentage scored 3? And what is the ratio of threshold passes compared to scores above 4? And has that changed significantly?

If we knew those numbers, we could get a sense of whether or not performance is improving or degrading on the AP exams, and whether our best students are getting better, or getting worse, or staying pretty much the same.

Without it, the reporting is just fluff. Worthless.

Thinking Small

Yet another interesting idea from SF, which on it's own has some real merit, but placed in context is a counterproductive disaster:
A new plan calls for transforming part of Columbus Avenue, the heart of North Beach's vibrant commercial corridor, where street parking already is scarce and alfresco dining is in demand.

If deemed a success, the parking space conversion program would be expanded to other neighborhoods.

The city already is testing road closures in the Castro and the Mission to create what amounts to asphalt miniparks in spaces once dominated by cars and trucks.

The project dovetails with San Francisco's transit-first policy, which emphasizes planning and funding decisions that discourage the use of private automobiles.
On the one hand, I love the idea of adding tablespace to North Beach; it is a very European sensibility for one of our most European neighborhoods. But: We are also looking at a second round of the largest cuts in service, and highest fare increases, of our public transit system in history -- which in turn is going to force people into their cars, which will require the city to provide more, not less parking.

I don't fault the business owners who are in favor of the plan; on its face, it seems like a real win for them in terms of increased business, additional foot traffic, and overall increase in revenue. But I absolutely fault Mayor Newsom and the Board of Supervisors, who should be looking at this in the big picture -- seeing the forest and not just the little Italian neighborhood tree -- for not recognizing the reductive nature of this policy, at this time.

If we are to be a transit first city, then we need to engage in creating available transit opportunities. Crafting plans to reduce options for non-transit users at a time when the only public transit options are being taken away from the population is not only stupid, it's a public safety menace.

Smackdown in Missouri

Claire McCaskill talks tough: ba-boom!
"I have noticed that you and many of your colleagues have been highly critical of some of the emergency spending that has gone on since the financial meltdown in September 2008...

[Yet] You are about to use almost a billion dollars in stimulus dollars in your current budgeting process. Please advise me as soon as possible what cuts you would recommend to your committees and the rest of the legislature to make up for these funds if we decided to rescind the unspent stimulus funds."

We need a lot more of this direct language and direct response from our leaders on both sides of the aisle. And from the guy in the White House (and no, I don't mean Rahm Emanuel). Read her whole letter (on TPM). It's worth the half-minute it will take.

Ahem

"You may not communicate with anyone about the case on your cellphone, through e-mail, Blackberry, iPhone, text messaging, or on Twitter, through any blog or website, through any internet chat room, or by way of any other social networking websites, including Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn and YouTube."

-Judicial Conference of the United States, in the model jury instructions released to the federal judiciary in late January.
Apparently, some jurors are unclear that twittering about your trial, or posting it as status updates on facebook, is actually a method of communicating outside the courtroom. A lame method of communicating, perhaps, but still: twittering from the jury box? Seriously???

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Quote Of The Day

"If I offered you a £1 million bonus for exceptional performance, you might work more hours and check Facebook less. But would your input be more thoughtful? More creative? Would you be more likely to tap your full-brain potential? Doing more doesn't equal doing better." (my italics)
-Dan Ariely in Wired, implying that absurd Wall Street and City bonuses really did help to fuck us over instigate the recent economic disaster (h/t Andrew Sullivan). The discovery is generally applicable in most work situations. I only wish that foolish managers, nearsighted executives, owners, and CEOs, and stuck-in-the-18th-century Taylorites would learn it -- along with every single living person in the financial world.