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, March 05, 2010

# 11

Night. March 4th, in the Transit First City that never sleeps. Muni strikes again:
At 9:44 p.m., an M-Ocean View light-rail train struck the pedestrian near San Jose Avenue and Farallones Street. The woman was transported to a hospital, Muni spokesman Judson True said. The woman sustained injuries that were not life-threatening.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Edumacation

There is a fantastic article in this week's NYT Magazine by Elizabeth Spencer, reviewing some of the problems and progress in making our schools better by identifying just what makes for good teaching. It's the best simple review of the contemporary field I've seen.
But what makes a good teacher? There have been many quests for the one essential trait, and they have all come up empty-handed. Among the factors that do not predict whether a teacher will succeed: a graduate-school degree, a high score on the SAT, an extroverted personality, politeness, confidence, warmth, enthusiasm and having passed the teacher-certification exam on the first try. When Bill Gates announced recently that his foundation was investing millions in a project to improve teaching quality in the United States, he added a rueful caveat. “Unfortunately, it seems the field doesn’t have a clear view of what characterizes good teaching,” Gates said.
If you have any interest in teaching, or what makes a good teacher, or what we need to do to improve education in this country, read this article.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

SF Muni. Again

Reported accident #10 of the year: the 5-Fulton runs down a cyclist on Market Street...and keeps on driving.

Interestingly, this comes right on the heels of Judson True, the Muni spokesperson, announcing his resignation. Apparently he's sick of trying to spin this shite. I can't blame him.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

It's Official

Jerry is in the race.

I think that with our current choices and crises, we could do far worse. And if the choice is Whitman or Brown, well, I far prefer a Statesman, however checkered, running California as a State, than a CEO running it as eBay 2.0. As he was quoted in the NYT, he has a good point:
“It’s not much of a career-builder; it’s more of a career-ender,” he said. “But I feel I could bear that better than the other candidates.”
It just might give him a chance to twist enough arms to make a small difference.

My own plug here: Jerry, you want my support?
  • Support a constitutional convention;
  • Push to revamp the initiative process;
  • Push even harder to revamp the budget process;
  • Find a way to put prop 13 back on the road to revision, so the State can once again recoup some funds to pay for education and infrastructure;
  • Play hardball with the prison, civil service, and teacher's unions.
It wouldn't be much, but it would be a start. And it would provide a legacy.

Goodbye Saturday Mail

The US Postal Service is looking at major cuts, in the face of its rising costs, lowered custom, and overall pain. We look to lose Saturday deliveries, as well as see a rise in stamp costs again. But if you look to the end of the article, a telling note in the penultimate paragraph:
A major problem for the agency is a new requirement for an annual payment of $5.5 billion to prepay expected medical benefits for retirees. Most businesses handle that cost on a pay-as-you-go basis and Potter said he is seeking congressional approval for the post office to go back to that standard.
My emphasis. So once again, we see the corrupting influence of rising health care costs. I am bewildered that there are still any people in this nation who are against trying anything, anything at all -- including the current bill in congress -- to constrain the explosion of costs in this sector.

The Democrats and the President are looking to pass the bill and patch it up after it is law; that's probably the most effective model we can hope for in this day and age. The republicans want to end the discussion.

Remember that come election day. Or the first Saturday your mailbox remains empty.

Monday, March 01, 2010

A Terrible Idea

It has the whiff about it of Best Intentions. But it is a terrible idea:
San Francisco high school students, just months out of middle school, can start earning San Francisco State college credit this fall through a ninth-grade ethnic studies course.

At a school board meeting last week, the head of the university's Ethnic Studies program also promised that students would earn up to six college course credits for the high school freshman course - a rare opportunity for a 14-year-old.
As someone who passed through the ethnic studies battles of the 80s and 90s -- debating their validity, their purpose, and their rigor -- and who went on to earn a graduate degree in area studies, a similarly belabored field, I admit that while there is much to learn via such courses, providing them as an entryway incentive to college level education is bad for the students, and bad for the fields of study, and bad all around.

A ninth-grader is not prepared to address the questions raised in the field. Not because they aren't smart enough, but because they have at that point had no exposure to or experience with comparative methodology, or with academic rigor (in the most classical sense), and are in a position to do what all students do best in the first years of high school: accept what is told to them as fact, and either regurgitate it wholesale, or rebel against it wholesale.

In a field like Ethnic Studies, where the very basis of what is learned is a cultural construct that is drawn from multiple more generic and generous fields (anthropology, history, sociology), having no sense of structural perspective sets up the students for later failure as thinkers -- though they may well "pass" all the courses they face -- and provides a lopsided pool of study for the fields in general. Even more importantly, increasing the pool of these courses for the young students will decrease the likelihood of their being more engaged in more courses which will set them up for the future -- courses focusing on critical thinking skills that can be applied to more abstract fields of study like, oh, Ethnic Studies.

I appreciate that the State College will help offset the costs. But this is not a good expenditure of their money at a time when money is so tight. Better feeder programs could be introduced, with greater likelihood of positive outcomes. Learning about "who you are" is great; but learning how to understand what it means to think you know who you are is greater. Giving young teens the topics but not the tools is just another step toward the undermining of our educational system.

//end rant//