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, July 31, 2010

Evidence Based Living

I've been thinking a lot about current political discourse, and the increasingly polarized nature of the dialogue we hear. The last quarter century has seen an increasing erosion of the (vocalized) center, and an extension of the fringe edges of ideology at both ends of the spectrum. OK. We know this. But what has been bugging me is the increasing prevalence of outspoken individuals on those ideological frayed ends, and even more so in what has become the mainstream of conservative, right wing thought, of a remarkable lack of interest in the evidence left by history and reality, in favor of adherence to principle.

I see this everywhere: in major publications (eg Economist, WSJ), in blogs, commentaries and op-eds (eg NYT, Atlantic), and I hear it on a daily basis from otherwise clear-thinking people. And I fear that it has spread like a metastasizing cancer from political commentary to most other fields of discourse as well.

Paul Krugman points out a recurring cycle in economics that indicates a pattern of deflation, and is bewildered why people who know this continue to ignore it, in his words
What I’ve never quite understood is why so many investors still loooove the likes of the WSJ editorial page, while they hate, hate, hate people like, well, me — when believing anything the former says has historically been a very good way to lose a lot of money.
It's a fair question. And not just an economic one. An anecdotal aside: I was watching a documentary on WWII last night, and perused some of the online comments other viewers had left at Netflix. The comment that stood out was from a viewer who thought it was an excellent documentary, except he couldn't believe that some of what was shown to have occurred really occurred. Therefore he urged people to disbelieve it.

The desire to believe the accuracy of an ideology or belief in the face of evidence to the contrary used to be considered a sign of madness. Now it is starting to be counted (apparently) as a sign of strength.

In a similar vein, on the always frustrating and valuable blog of Andrew Sullivan, he points out some discussion between Gary Shteyngart and Ross Douthat on the value of the information soup that is the interwebs. Apparently, they are arguing that crap information is a gateway to valuable information; that
MySpace and lolcats make you more likely not less to go on, through serendipitous link-wanderings, to read, say, The American Scene, which in turn makes you more likely to read, say, Dos Passos.
The profoundly misguided and dangerous mistake in this thought is the error of assuming that most people consume all information equally in a high-speed rapid consumption environment.

Sorry, no.

What it may do is make people more likely to look at a comment about Dos Passos. But not actually read Dos Passos. The world of wikipedia has made it far easier to digest information at a slightly sub-Cliff Notes level, and provides no reward to the average internet user for actually engaging with content at a higher level.

People create more, but there is no incentive to create better.

What we are creating is is a universe of information similar ot a fast food emporium, where you can get a cheap, ugly hamburger that tweaks all the immediate gratification centers of your brain, only you have a choice between the burger called "The Filet Mignon Supreme", or the "Super-Health McPatty Deluxe", or even (if you're a masochist) the "B-Grade ground meat from animals treated like hell and processed in a sweat shop in Asia". But they're all effectively the same product, with the same content despite the packaging and labeling. And they all leave you in the same state of poor health.

This is just another process which is training us to disbelieve what we discover through experience and assessment, and rely on the structures of our own dysjunctive beliefs. It's as though, along with universal literacy, the scientific method is busily been tossed on the trash heap of human past, along with the rest of the achievements of the Enlightenment.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Feeding The Beast?

I love this story: A Canadian Anglican priest fed a communion wafer to a parishioner's dog, which accompanied him to the altar during communion.

A female priest, no less.

I guess this is what the Catholics are worried about when they talk about the pitfalls of opening the priesthood to women?

Bow. Wow.


I'm afraid that despite the huffle-fuffle in the press, this isn't Pentagon Papers II. Unlike the PP, there doesn't appear to be any smoking gun; nor is this vetted material. It's raw intelligence that still requires review (90,000 pages of review). Remember, it was unvetted intelligence of this nature that got us into Iraq. Remember Chalabi's connections? The mobile weapons labs? the WMD? Mmm hmm.

None of the info is pretty, but none of it is really news. Just confirmation of details. I agree in most part with George Friedman on this:
Much will be made about the shocking truth that has been shown, which, as mentioned above, shocks only those who wish to be shocked...We are left with the mystery of who compiled all of these documents and who had access to them with enough time and facilities to transmit them to the outside world in a blatant and sustained breach of protocol. The image we have is of an unidentified individual or small group working to get a “shocking truth” out to the public, only the truth is not shocking — it is what was known all along in excruciating detail. Who would want to detail a truth that is already known, with access to all this documentation and the ability to transmit it unimpeded?
That's the question we face. It has more to do with political agendas, election timing, and a willingness to use the active military as a wedge tool against the war effort, the military, and the current administration, than with the Afghan war and the potential there for success or failure.

Not a Bad Idea

I think that Haiti could do far worse than this. Just please, please, please don't tell Bono. He might get ideas.