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.







Thursday, November 15, 2012

War

I haven't been posting much of late --- far too much else in my world taking up my time, I'm afraid --- but the latest uptick in the war between Israel and Gaza made my heart constrict just a little bit. For the first time since the first Gulf War, missiles are being fired at Tel Aviv. This can only bode ill for everyone involved.

Perhaps the Hamas leadership in Gaza sees some positive political calculus in this move. But at the cost of an almost certain ground attack of overwhelmingly assymetry from the Israelis, and the guarantee of casualties mounting, at what cost are they willing to gamble that it is easier to turn the world against Netanyahu and Israel, rather than turn the work toward the Palestinian people?

Monday, June 25, 2012

Downgrading Our World, one Ruling at a Time

So today we saw Scalia & co. render two critical rulings: first, striking down most of the Arizona immigration law --- but leaving in place the most egregious insult to civil liberties in it, the "show your papers" clause, allowing local law enforcement to stop anyone they think is "suspicious" and demanding to see their proof of citizenship. I remember being a young kid watching all those old WWII movies, and laughing at the absurdity of those crazed nazis always demanding people's papers. Now I'm really not sure what to think --- or how safe it might be to think it...

The second ruling (or non-ruling) was the decision to not revisit Citizens United, and to strike down the decision by the Montana State Supreme Court, and wipe out a century of decided jurisprudence in that state which determined that, yes, indeed, huge sums of corporate money can indeed corrupt the system, or at the very least give the impression of corruption.

The majority of the current court see things differently. Apparently to them, gobs of unregulated money can do no harm, and can never even seem to do harm to the democratic process, because its influence will be by nature good and true.

I would like to move to the planet they grew up on, because people there must be ahh-maaayyy-zing.

So, score two for the move toward a power-mongering oligarchy.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

RIP Ray Bradbury

Incredibly sad: Ray Bradbury has died.

RIP, and let us only hope that his dreams will not die as well.

Friday, June 01, 2012

Unintended Friday Poetry

Nicholas Carr, on the all-important and ever-decreasing spaces between our thoughts, and words, and actions:
"What code does a programmer use to render silence?"
If you read nothing else today, read the last few posts of his blog. Then, go for a long walk in the sunshine, silently, thoughtfully, no phone, no tablet, no wi-fi, eyes wide open. 

Monday, May 28, 2012

Politics

So, Mitt Romney said today to a Memorial day gathering that we need to continue to build up our military because "a strong America is the greatest deterrent to war ever invented". And it's true: without a military spending (according to the Heritage Foundation) nearly double what the next nine largest national military budgets spend combined, well, without that we would have seen war this last decade in Iraq, and Afghanistan, and Libya, and Central Asia, and Lebanon, and Liberia....

I really wish I could respect him more as a man, and a leader, since there really is a good chance he may wind up being in a position to impact my life and the lives of those I love. But I just can't get past his utterly shallow cynicism. And history has shown that Presidents tend to govern according to what they actually say along the trail to the White House...

How much thoughtless jingo crap is that man willing to let pass his lips in order to win the election?

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Dawkins Channels Twain

Sometimes, the thread of honesty gets picked up in the most entertaining of places and people:

 "A native speaker of English who has never read a word of the King James Bible is verging on the barbarian."People who do not know the Bible well have been gulled into thinking it is a good guide to morality."I have even heard the cynically misanthropic opinion that, without the Bible as a moral compass, people would have no restraint against murder, theft and mayhem."The surest way to disabuse yourself of this pernicious falsehood is to read the Bible itself."
So saith Richard Dawkins, in commentary on the UK Secretary of Education's support for a plan to place a King James Bible in every school. 


And our own Samuel Clemens, wherever his ornery spirit is residing, is grinning and lighting up a cigar.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Memorialize This!

As we head into the weekend, I'd like to recommend that you all read the dueling op-ed demons of the NY Times today; David Brooks and  Paul Krugman, who have complementary pieces and who, unlike most weeks, are both on point. Expecially for Mr Brooks, this is one of those stand-out moments where he got enough sleep, took his meds, and stopped fantasizing about platonic ideals as seen through the lens of abstract expressionist conservative wingery.

Also, a nice and concise description of one of the primary reasons I have never, ever, really understood why people get all up in arms over the idea of same sex marriage (h/t Sullivan, yet again). It's a Jewish thing: on par perhaps with the early humor of Woody Allen (cf. Take the Money and Run)

And now: the sun is out, the sky is blue, it's May, it's May, the lusty month but not for long so turn off your computer, go out into the sunshine, and enjoy being alive. OK?

Friday, May 18, 2012

Friday News

Ahh, SF Muni, how we love to hate on you. But this is really sorta funny: over the last few years we have been getting these crazy improving on-time statistics reported, when all of us Muni riders have seen, well...the same old crappy on-time service.

Turns out we weren't crazy; just that Muni can't program a decent algorithm.


"We recently identified that the current algorithm rounded down the number of minutes if it were 4 minutes 25 seconds," said Paul Rose, spokesman for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency. He added, "These metrics don't really serve our customers or the agency."
Officials say they plan to change the algorithm to include stats that would show the on-time performance based on a true 60-second minute, Rose said.

Rounding down a time calculation? You'd think that amid the beating heart of the tech world, SMTA would be able to find at least a few engineers who could write them a standard (and accurate) calculation.

Then again, maybe the city will now be forgiving when I decide to round down my cumulative tax payments....

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

You Know It's a Tech Boom When.....

...you receive inquiries from headhunters which include job description bullets like

• will conduct solutioning sessions involving IT, vendors, business stakeholders and define outcome oriented solutions enabling understanding of the involved project participants.
"Solutioning"? Seriously?

I'm going to go for a walk now, and ponder the axiomatic shape of human idiocy.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

"It is time to reclaim our playground"



Wow. Just....wow. I don't know about you, but this old school lefty socialist-leaning San Franciscan cannot connect, condone, or agree with the statement in that posting. Nor what it wrought in the Mission last night.

My city is not a playground.

We have our problems, yes. There is inequity, and racism, and sadly as one of the most affluent cities in the nation, we are also one of the least affordable for working class folk and families. I'm all for working toward better ways of leveling those bumps out of our road ahead. But to attack "gentrification" by destroying the small businesses of your neighbors, by ruining the cars of the people down the street; making a stand against inequality by demonstrating your own indiscriminate brutality....sorry. That's more kristallnacht than Occupy in my book.

This is a city. It is not a gameland for the underprivileged or the overprivileged. It is not a bubble set aside from the issues which face the rest of the nation. And it cannot be a place where we condone the destructive force of bright eyed hatred in the name of a movement.

More on the outcome here and here and here.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Things That Matter

If you read nothing else this weekend, stop for a moment in the sunshine, note all the people around you, and read this.

Then turn to the person nearest you, and say 'hello'.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Tech Trouble

All our toys and distractions are adding up to a sizable cost:
The national phone poll of 1,005 U.S. adults found that Americans who subscribe to digital services spend an average of $166 each month for cable TV, home Internet access, mobile phone service and digital subscriptions, like satellite radio and streaming video—the equivalent of 17 percent of their monthly rent or mortgage payment. Those who download songs, apps and other products spend an additional $38 per month, on average.
That's more than $200 per month. During a depression. For distraction and leisure. Sure, we use it all for productivity too---I'd be lost without my broadband connection for working at home---but cable TV? the iPhone? Streaming Netflix? iTunes downloads?

I think if more people saw these numbers, perhaps we'd be slightly, just slightly more circumspect.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

News

Taking a needed sick day today, and so the opportunity to say that....I've not much to say. The world continues to become a thing more and more frayed at its human edges, and with each new story in the paper, each new item from the war, or the economic debacles, or the Middle East, or Washington, the quality and texture of life gets just that much more chalky, unreal, and farther away from any world I ever imagined being in when growing up. I love so much of what we have made and discovered, but I fear more and more that we have lost the knack for giving ourselves the internal tools and controls to use any of our goodies effectively for our own good.

Elsewhere, I've put 2 liters of new rye mash liquor into a newly re-charred barrel for the next batch of whiskey; call me around Halloween and I'll let you know how it turns out.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

4th Amendment? We don't need no stinkin' 4th Amendment.....

So we've gotten to this. The allowance of strip searches for any crime, regardless of reasonable suspicion, regardless of context. Any jailer or police officer or corrections official with a grudge or a kink or a cruel streak can use the power of their position to literally strip the accused of their clothes ---- and dignity, and honor, and respect, and humanity.

I'm sorry -- I've been willing to jump through some awkward intellectual hoops to give a pass to the current Supreme Court of late, but I think this straw just collapsed my poor legal camel.

Justice Breyer wrote that people have been subjected to “the humiliation of a visual strip-search” after being arrested for driving with a noisy muffler, failing to use a turn signal and riding a bicycle without an audible bell.
A nun was strip-searched, he wrote, after an arrest for trespassing during an antiwar demonstration.
Justice Kennedy responded that “people detained for minor offenses can turn out to be the most devious and dangerous criminals.” He noted that Timothy McVeigh, later put to death for his role in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, was first arrested for driving without a license plate. “One of the terrorists involved in the Sept. 11 attacks was stopped and ticketed for speeding just two days before hijacking Flight 93,” Justice Kennedy added.

Considering the total uselessness of a strip search in either of the situations posited by Justice Kennedy, I have a hard time with the convolutions required to accept this. Would a strip search of the 9/11 hijackers done anything other than possibly increase their vehemence to succeed? Or do the Justices think they were driving down the freeway with box cutters secreted in their bums?

Health coverage is evil, but the public humiliation of a nun is not?

Sorry, SCOTUS, you've lost me.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The World We've Made

Apparently, it is now considered reasonable --- rather than an utter violation of privacy, repression of free speech, and coercive humiliation --- to demand that a potential employee turn over their username and password for social networking sites.

I don't even know where to begin to detail just how wrong this practice is. Yet this is a perfectly understandable result of our fierce progression toward "sharing" in the virtual world, and of our continued removal of the filters of what was once common social behavioral norms within that progression.

I used to think that we couldn't have it both ways: now I'm thinking that we simply aren't going to provide room to make a choice.

For the record, I do not, and never will, love Big Brother.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Nothing Lasts Forever. And Now Even Less.

Nicholas Carr has once again clarified in a concise and precise entry the thoughts that I keep having regarding the new worlds of electronic publishing and the nature of the book. This post should be necessary reading for every single person involved in publishing, in education, or who writes, or reads.

A printed book is a printed book is a printed book. An ebook is not an ebook is not an ebook. The good news is that, if we make smart technological choices, we can alleviate this problem in the future. The bad news is that, if history is a guide, we probably won't make smart choices.

I personally think that for all the innovative opportunity they represent, ebooks are a step backwards for us, rather than forward. They create the illusion of permanence and universality, while actually dismantling the models which provide those characteristics.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Oops.

Apparently, the stupidest political move and associated coverup spin in the NPO world this century is now history:

BREAKING NEWS11:24 AM ET       Cancer Group, Reversing Course, Says It Will Maintain Planned Parenthood Funding

Let's hope this is a lesson learned.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Sports Crazed. Disturbing. Dumbing Down.

From the NYT, a look at the influence of sports and sports money on higher education:
"In a study published last month as part of the National Bureau of Education Research working paper series, Oregon researchers compared student grades with the performance of the Fighting Ducks, winner of this year’s Rose Bowl and a crowd pleaser in their Nike uniforms in crazy color combinations and mirrored helmets.

“Here is evidence that suggests that when your football team does well, grades suffer,” said Dr. Waddell, who compared transcripts of over 29,700 students from 1999 to 2007 against Oregon’s win-loss record. For every three games won, grade-point average for men dropped 0.02, widening the G.P.A. gender gap by 9 percent. Women’s grades didn’t suffer. In a separate survey of 183 students, the success of the Ducks also seemed to cause slacking off: students reported studying less (24 percent of men, 9 percent of women), consuming more alcohol (28 percent, 20 percent) and partying more (47 percent, 28 percent)."

Every time a touchdown is scored, a boy in the bleachers gets a little dumber. What a depressing finding.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Two Links

Offering up two insightful, if somewhat depressing, thoughts from Nicholas Carr:

Books That Are Never Done Being Written -- about the malleability of digital books and and the essential end to the era of immutable text we have lived in since Gutenberg, and a blog entry on our current inability to experience anything without sticking some digital filter between ourselves and it.

Happy MLK Jr. Day.

Remember the Dream.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Questions For The Day

So, after my cursory reading of the morning headlines, I'm left with two simple questions:

  1. Will our obstructionist congress allow Obama to move ahead with his plan to act on consolidating federal bureaucracies, or will they bloviate about the unreasonable extension of executive power, or something of the like? 
  2. Now that the state has had to come out and say what we've all known for years --- that PG&E is criminally negligent in its actions, and has been since at least 1956 --- and is looking to ding them for hundreds of millions of dollars in fines, will PG&E cry poverty, and go to the state regulatory commission to request that these costs be passed on to the customers (including those survivors of the deadly 2010 blast which instigated the whole process, of course), or will the State have the balls to demand that the shareholders actually take the downside of their risk for once, and eat the cost the way they should (if capitalism worked the way it is supposed to)? 
I'm afraid I'm not too hopeful about the outcome in either case.


 Happy Friday, and Happy MLK Jr. Weekend.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Quote For The Day


 "Mitt has the character of a private equity investor: a constant, reptilian assessment of self interest and opportunity."  
   -Andrew Sullivan, posting to give props to Ron Paul as the "candidate of character and integrity."
 
Now, I'm not sure about Mitt. But I think Sullivan nails the capitalist ideal dead on.

Monday, January 09, 2012

Call, Speak, Vocalize, Listen.

This study suggests that there really is a problem with our heavy reliance on texting and other non-voice methods of communication. While it isn't a surprise that there is a cognitive difference between our reactions to a known voice and to a written text from that same person via a digital device, being able to break it down to the level of neuroendocrine response is pretty notable.

In any case, if you're feeling stressed, call your mother --- don't text her.

Gimme Some Money

A really egregious business model is offered up in this new rapaciously anti-community, anti-consumer, truly Randian even-more-than-the-market-will-bear car service model using "dynamic pricing". The service is called "Uber" -- perhaps a Nietzschean reference -- and it isn't pretty:
Although New Year’s Eve was very profitable for Uber, customers were not happy. Many felt the pricing was exorbitant and they took to Twitter and the Web to complain. Some people said that at certain times in the evening, rides had spiked to as high as seven times the usual price, and they called it highway robbery. Uber’s goal is to make the experience as simple as possible, so customers are not shown their fare until the end of the ride, when it is automatically charged to their credit card.
The NYT blog post on this hints at the evil in the model. I hope this gives pause to such current trands as dynamic parking pricing, and other civic experiments of that ilk. There is a limit to the viability of unabashed greed costumed as market principles. 

A Bad, Even Destructive Idea

....and really great news---for Mitt Romney.

I imagine that Bill Keller's op-ed in the NYT today had Romney's team more gleeful than anything since that picture of the Bain partners steeping their greed hardons in hundred dollar bills.

The idea of Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton swapping places as VP and Secretary of State is just about the most destructively bad idea I can think of for the Democrats who live more than 25 miles from Washington DC, and frankly, for the administration in general and for the liberal side of politics in general. Perhaps Keller has too many glittering stars exploding in his eyes to see it, but this would leave us with a VP who is hugely despised by a large swath of the nation, and a Secretary of State who has about as much diplomacy in his actions (think Biden-isms, here, folks) as a late night comic with tourette's.

Oh well. I guess it's just politics.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Brief Thought

I have little to say about the irrelevant circus entertainment we were all given by the GOP last night in Iowa, other than this: the Republican voters of that state came down to making a choice between a wealthy, privileged chameleon, and a aggressively activist religious imperialist. They left the libertarian, the hatemonger, and the raft of crazy to fade away for the evening.

 But even between the choice of two penny dreadfuls, they could not choose. With a margin of eight votes, I don't think Romney is feeling as big as he likes. And Santorum may be feeling grand, but like the other rapid surges we've seen I expect his will go down in the flames of harsh negative ads, the bright light of the press, and the realization of the non-christianist evangelical crowd that he is a really ugly proposition.

I hope it will be different when it comes to the election, but for now, this horse-race among the GOP hopefuls is painful -- it's a bit like watching your crazy old aunt run her panties up the flagpole.