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, September 24, 2010

Hmmm

The SF Chronicle is reporting that Barbara Boxer has taken a noticeable lead in the race between her and Carly Fiorina, 47%-41%; polls suggest that this is far less a race between contending points of view than it is a race between high negatives:
Nearly two-thirds of Fiorina's supporters say their preference is more of a vote against Boxer than a choice for the former HP executive.

Just 29 percent of Boxer voters say their preference is based on their negative feelings for Fiorina.
And yet boxer has a 47% disapproval rating. With 12% of the electorate undecided, it is still anyone's race. but two-thirds of support being a vote against someone else rather than a vote for you doesn't leave a lot of real supporters.

I still think that Boxer will take this election, not because she is loved, but because in the end, that majority of voters supporting the not-Boxer candidate will either stay home and not vote, or start to realize just how unappealing a candidate they are looking to elect: replacing donkey poop with elephant poop still leaves the room stinking.

Moonshine, Sunbeams, Lollipops and Puppy Dogs

That's apparently what the new CA budget is made of -- or possibly what our legislators have been smoking in order to achieve concensus on what appears to be yet another unsustainable and dubious budget offering for our state:
Sources close to the talks said leaders had agreed to make $7.5 billion in spending cuts and that they are assuming the state will receive a significant amount of federal money, which has not been promised. The $7.5 billion in cuts is much less than the governor and Republicans have been backing - about $12 billion - and even less than the $8 billion in reductions Democrats had proposed.

Additionally, the framework relies on a $1.4 billion revenue estimate by the Legislative Analyst's Office, which is rosier than a Department of Finance estimate, along with $1.2 billion from the sale of state buildings that would then be leased back.
So, the health of our State relies on cutting less of our deficit spending than what was proposed by those who don't want to cut anything at all, and then relying on funds that don't exist except in the feverish daydreams of Sacramentans hoping to suck at the already dry teat of an irritated Federal sow.

Yeah, I am feeling really positive about this election year.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Democratic Epic Fail

Dems in Congress decide that having a tax issue horse in the race prior to elections is a bad idea. So now instead of having two solid stances prior to November (1: We saved the country from default by forcing the ultra-rich to once again pay their fair share, or 2: the GOP want the country to default because they support the greed of the ultra rich), they now go in with "we fought hard to expire the Bush tax rates because they were killing the nation at the expense of the middle class and the poor, but now since we aren't sure how it might turn out we're going to punt because we didn't really care that much anyway."

My god, as a party they are pathetic. I'm not sure whether to laugh or cry though, since our choice in leadership is pathetic, or sanctimoniously evil.

The Pledging of America

right.

I've just finished reading the populist screed that is the Pledge to America; the amount of hypocrisy, dangerously shallow policy directives and revanching of cold war era fearmongering is pretty daunting. Here are a few of my most favorite disturbing quotes:

By permanently stopping job-killing tax hikes, families will be able to keep more of their hard-earned money and small businesses will have the stability they need to invest in our economy and help grow our workforce.
Hmm. Seems to me that a permanent freeze on all tax hikes might be a terrifically bad idea. Also, I'm not sure there is more than a tenuous connection between higher (not "high") taxes and "job-killing". In any case, should the unforeseen disaster arise, which requires higher spending, how, exactly would we deal with it---since we've permanently cancelled our ability to levy more tax money?
We offer a plan to repeal and replace the government takeover of health care with common-sense solutions focused on lowering costs and protecting American jobs.
I would think that the blanket protection of existing jobs, and the sweeping lowering of costs might be in direct contradiction with one another, without the intervention of some larger force of regulation---such as a government. It's back to basics here, Econ 101 etc. You can't have everything, and have it on the cheap, and expect to receive value and live well. Protectionism in a global economy for a nation the size of the US is eminently self-destructive.
Hold Weekly Votes on Spending Cuts.
Good lord. This might as well be labeled "how to keep congress from ever accomplishing anything by clogging the arteries of legislation with meaningless blather and bureaucratic procedural time-eaters." We can barely get these guys to vote on anything of value now; imagine the logjam if they were mandated to vote on spending cuts every week---regardless if there is anything to cut. It's like begging for an ideological impasse every Friday, forever.
Impose a Net Federal Hiring Freeze of Non-Security Employees: Small businesses and entrepreneurs are the engine of our economy and should not be crowded out by unchecked government growth. We will impose a net hiring freeze on non-security federal employees and ensure that the public sector no longer grows at the expense of the private sector.
Leaving aside the basic issue that the public and private sectors are rarely in competition for jobs at a federal level, and that there is no data to suggest that small businesses are being "crowded out" by government workers, a net hiring freeze would be a massive disaster. If the goal is to throw government into chaos, then maybe OK. But as real policy for governance, this is one of the stupidest ideas imaginable.
We will repeal President Obama’s government takeover of health care and replace it with common-sense reforms focused on strengthening the doctor-patient relationship.
You can't legislate the doctor-patient relationship. Any more than you can legislate the love of children for their parents. This red herring is better stated as "we will return to the status quo ante, and rely on the selflessness and goodwill of those in the medical profession and the insurance world to govern our needs."
Permanently Prohibit Taxpayer Funding of Abortion: We will establish a government-wide prohibition on taxpayer funding of abortion and subsidies for insurance coverage that includes abortion, this includes enacting into law what is known as the Hyde Amendment. We will also enact into law conscience protections for health care providers, including doctors, nurses, and hospitals.
Overturn Roe v Wade. This has nothing to do with government, nor economics, but just about legislating morality. It also is as heavy handed an action by government as anything the authors' claim to oppose. The difference? They oppose actions which act as legislative policy in the financial and communal secular world (the normal realm of our government), and are all for even more authoritarian action when it governs the moral, or the private, or the personal actions of individuals.

Fully Fund Missile Defense.
Lacking a Soviet enemy, this document formalizes their replacement with Iran, and threatens a rain of ICBMs on Topeka unless we return to Reagan era levels of spending on systems which are now obsolete as strategic objects. How this fits with reduced spending I've no clue. How we might be able to forget that enemies are fungible, and just a few years ago this same language was leveled against Iraq, leading us to our longest war, and providing high cost with great suffering and little gain...I dunno.

Maybe we really are that stupid. I, for one, have no desire to share in the nation that this document truly portends. I'm not thrilled with what we've got, but at least I know that we have hope for working and altering it for the better. This "Pledge" strips us of that.

Autumn

Today is the full (harvest) moon, the beginning of the Jewish festival of Sukkot, the first day after the autumnal equinox, and the day that the first revisions of the health care relief act go into law.

Of all these, I think the last is both the most important and the least lauded right now.

At the same time, I suspect that the pre-electoral s--tstorm that is being whipped up right now by the Tea Party and the congressional GOPs re-upped Contract With America Pledge to America is going to continue to both eclipse any real activity to better our lives, as well as feed the sense of the nation that up is down, white is black, bad is good, and that the absorption in self without sense of responsibility to any others, the affirmation of entitlement without cause or reason, and the glorification of leaders and politicians who have more in common with the cast of Big Brother than with any non-fictional character of merit.

sigh.

Monday, September 20, 2010

"We don’t know"

An invaluable and critically important commentary on a critically important topic: the current nature of knowledge, learning, and cognition. I urge you to read it in full, and think about the implications of the author's statements on your own behavior.
Some of the top digital designs of the moment, both in school and in the rest of life, embed the underlying message that we understand the brain and its workings. That is false. We don’t know how information is represented in the brain. We don’t know how reason is accomplished by neurons. There are some vaguely cool ideas floating around, and we might know a lot more about these things any moment now, but at this moment, we don’t.

...If students don’t learn to think, then no amount of access to information will do them any good.
I wish I were less inclined to agree with the author's assessments, but I think he is dead on. There is at the moment a blurring of perception between the tools for information dissemination, and the ability to use those tools to engage in critical inquiry or true innovative discovery.

While technology is a fantastic tool, it teaches neither judgement nor critical inquiry. Those things are what propel us into innovative thinking, and new discovery, and the willingness to look down an undiscovered path and (potentially) declare it of greater value, even when the main road has five stars from 800 yelp reviews and 15,000 "likes".