Lefties in Academia Revisited

Posted on March 31st, by matt_schiavenza in Politics. No Comments

Ezra Klein dismisses yet another spurious "why are university professors liberal?" post with some impolite truths here.  Best part:

What I do believe, or am at least considering, is that the heavy
consumption of information tilts consumers towards the liberal end of
things. To rephrase, you could be brilliant but not particularly
informed and carry on with your biases intact. But if you’re reading
the papers
and thinking critically about the massive deficit,
the lack of WMD’s, the nomination of John Bolton, the insane
prioritization of Social Security over Medicare, our president’s
distaste for reading the news, the fiscal absurdity of his tax cuts,
the pro-torture bent of his underlings, and so forth, I think it’d
swing you hard left. That’s not true for everyone and, crucially, it’s not true of all Republican administrations, but it is accurate when restricted to Bush 43.

Well said.…

Learning Chinese

Posted on March 30th, by matt_schiavenza in Personal. No Comments

In recent weeks, I’ve stepped up my efforts in learning Chinese.  After all, it’s one of the main reasons why I’m here.  Some notes on the language:

- grammatically, Chinese isn’t too difficult.  There are no tenses, conjugations, or articles.  The sentence structure is usually subject-verb-object, like English. 

- learning the vocab is very difficult because the words are so dissimilar to English.  When I learned Italian, I quickly gathered that passoporto means "passport", for example.  It doesn’t work like that in Chinese.  Learning vocab requires a lot of pure memorization.

On the other hand, the vocabulary seems to flow logically.  Words are often compound, like in German.  I don’t know enough Chinese vocab to say how extensive this comparison is, but that’s my initial impression.

- what makes Chinese hard to speak are the tones.  Mandarin has four tones (Cantonese has six or seven, I think) which have to be said correctly in order to communicate the word. For example, the word ma in Chinese can mean five different things depending on the tone (there’s a neutral tone, too)  The tones are: high, rising, rising-falling, and falling.  Most Chinese are pretty charitable with foreigners and derive what you mean by context even if you get the tone wrong.  The tones give Chinese a songlike quality that’s completely unlike any European language I’m familiar with.

- the characters are tricky, but not impossible.  I made a painful resignation upon arrival in China that I’d never be able to read the characters.   Given some time, however, and certain characters began to look familiar.  Each character is written in a certain number of brushstrokes, which have to be done in a certain order.  As a general rule, brushstrokes go from top to bottom and from left to right.  Like anything else, writing characters gets easier with practice.

Obviously, Chinese isn’t going to come as easily to me as Italian did.  And that’s alright.  I’ve got two years here, and I think a reasonable goal is to have a pleasant, simple conversation in Chinese by the end of my second year.   

One of the pleasures of learning Chinese has been just learning something at all. Life doesn’t get boring so long as you keep learning new things.  How’s that for a motto?…

Moral Outrage of the Day

Posted on March 29th, by matt_schiavenza in US Affairs. No Comments

Some pharmacists have begun refusing presecriptions for birth control and the morning-after pill because such medicines violate their morals, The Washington Post reports.  Women turned away by these pharmacists are often forced to make desperate phone calls to their doctors in order to obtain the medicine.

James Joyner takes the traditional conservative position that such things hardly matter because of the power of the market:

From a practical standpoint, in all but the smallest towns, this would
be a non-issue. If the pharmacist at XYZ Drugs won’t dispense birth
control pills, all one would have to do would be to start going to ABC

Nice try, but that’s a cop-out.  Jesse Taylor calls him on it here:

Joyner is discussing the push for "pharmacists’ rights"
(I never considered not doing my job a right, I’m going to try that out
when I go in today) in not dispensing birth control. He argues a
typical conservative out, the power of the marketplace in overcoming
objectionable decisions by suppliers of goods or services. Restaurant
won’t serve you? Go to another one. Store won’t sell you something? Go
to one that will.

The problem, and Prometheus 6 gets directly at it, is that
we are not informed consumers.
I go into a pharmacy, I have no idea whether or not the pharmacy will
deny me drugs because of their personal preferences, or even which
members of the staff will or won’t. Granted, I may hear after a while
that Pharmacy X won’t dispense my given prescription, but it relies on
a lot of word of mouth and quite a bit of trial and error. It creates a
marketplace of uncertainty, where I have no idea if I can get the
perfectly legal medications I’m entitled to, and serves to threaten my
overall quality of medical care.

Indeed.  This strikes me as another "seperate but equal" argument.  One pharmacy for the righteous folk who only fornicate to produce babies, and one pharmacy for everyone else.  I don’t see how a pharmacist should have the "right" to refuse service based on their morals.  We have institutions in this country, such as the judiciary and legislature, that determine the legality of things like contraceptives.  It’s not up for the individual pharmacists to decide.

Anyway, read the original WaPo article- it’s truly frightening.

Conservative Split Revisited

Posted on March 29th, by matt_schiavenza in Politics. No Comments

Not long ago I quoted Andrew Sullivan in questioning the Republican Party’s descent into the party of Big Federal Government at the expense of traditional conservative values.  Sullivan, admittedly, isn’t much of a litmus test: he’s a frequent critic of the Republicans and supported Kerry in last fall’s election.

Today, however, a more slavish conservative blogger by the name of Bill Quick has jumped on the bandwagon and offered eleven proposals for reforming the Republican Party.  Most have to do with some of the bloated entitlement bills that passed under Bush’s watch as well as the whole Schiavo affair.  Obviously, I don’t agree with Quick on everything, but I think it’s interesting that loyal Republicans have begun to show dissastisfaction with their party’s governance.

As Republicans now dominate every level of the federal Government, I believe we’ll see more dissatisfaction among its traditional conservatives.  This is the nature of dominant parties: they overreach, alienate a part of their base, and begin losing elections.

It happened to the Democrats.  Eventually, it will happen to the Republicans, too.…

The Trust Fund Interest Group?

Posted on March 28th, by matt_schiavenza in Politics. No Comments

Brad DeLong skewers a poorly written article by the normally reasonable Michael Barone, in which the latter argues that:

Michael Barone: The trustfunder left:
a previously unidentified segment of the American electorate… a
critical mass… a major force… the trustfunder left. Who are the
trustfunders? People with enough money not to have to work for a
living, or not to have to work very hard. People who can live more or
less wherever they want….


These people… very
liberal… have done nothing to earn their money… elite private or
public high schools… colleges and universities… propagandized about
the evils of capitalism and globalization…. Patriotism is equated
with Hiterlism…. [T]hey are citizens of the world with contempt for
those who feel chills up their spines when they hear ‘The Star Spangled


Where can you find trustfunders?… Places
with kicky restaurants… tolerant of alternative lifestyles… art
galleries… organic food stores… Starbucks competitors. The… San
Francisco Bay area…. Without the Bay area’s 1.15 million-vote margin
for Kerry, California would have come within 82,000 votes of voting for
George W. Bush…. Blaine County, Idaho (Sun Valley)…. Teton County,
Wyo. (Jackson Hole)…. Martha’s Vineyard….

DeLong produces numbers showing that Barone’s "critical mass" or "major force" really describes only a small percentage of the population of "the left".  Please read his analysis, as it hits the nail on the head.

Barone’s article amounts to nothing more than lazy stereotyping: take what he perceives as the most annoying sector of the political opposition and inflate their so-called influence.  It’s akin to liberals claiming everyone who votes Republican hunts gay people with semi-automatic weapons.  Conservatives view Bay Area (and Hollywood) latte liberals with unabashed scorn- but in all honesty, most very rich people who "don’t have to work for a living or work very hard" are probably conservative.

Like, um, the President.…

Who You Callin’ Chinese?

Posted on March 25th, by matt_schiavenza in China. 2 comments

Today, I finally got around to showing my students The Day After Tomorrow, the awful disaster flick that nonetheless coincides rather nicely with my current lesson theme of "weather".  I had to actually bring my own DVD player and set it up in the school’s A/V room, something that required the very nice tech guy at the school and a combination of my shite Chinese, his only-slightly-better English, and some ingenuity.

It was kind of fun babysitting a roomfull of sixteen year old Chinese as they watched the disaster flick, but one interesting thing did happen.  One of the characters of the film is a very attractive Asian-American woman who assists Jack Hall, the main scientist played by Dennis Quaid, in solving the riddle of the weather changes and saving humanity.  This actress doesn’t say or do very much but when she first appeared on the screen, one of the boys in my class yelled out, "Zhongguoren!" which is the Chinese word for, well, "Chinese".

Now I have no idea whether or not the actress was actually Chinese (she actually looked a little more Japanese to me but the kids would know better than I) but I heard myself correct the boy by saying, "No, ‘Meiguoren’" which is the Chinese word for "American".  He looked at me and shrugged his shoulders and then looked away.

Why did I correct him so swiftly?  I was recently reading a book* about China that revealed this interesting tidbit:  The Chinese in China refer to ethnic Chinese living in other countries as "overseas Chinese", even if they’re not Chinese born, do not speak Chinese, or have even ever been to China.  So, third generation Chinese in California, Singapore, Australia, or Thailand are called "overseas Chinese" here on the mainland, rather than "Chinese-American", or "Chinese-Australian" as we would call them.

The author* who pointed out this linguistic factoid argues that the Chinese government likes to think of itself as the governor of the Chinese jia, or household.  Ethnic Chinese living abroad must be doing so only temporarily.  It’s a fascinating concept, akin to The Republic of Ireland referring to the Kennedy family members as "overseas Irish".  Am I "overseas Norwegian" or "overseas Italian"?

I’m not sure which conclusions can be drawn by all this other than to say that China’s self-perception as a parental empire continues  even in the "People’s Republic".

*I should go ahead and out the book as The New Chinese Empire by Ross Terrill…

Birthday Wrap-Up

Posted on March 25th, by matt_schiavenza in Personal. No Comments

My first birthday spent in China was quite memorable, to say the least.  Because I am an idiot forgetful person, I didn’t bring my camera so cannot share any of the photos with you. 

Wilfried was kind enough to host a small gathering at his posh flat (see, I talk all English now).  Olya gave me four beer steins as a gift, and Jane brought me a chocolate cake from the lone French bakery in town.  Wil offered Belgian beer (Chimay!) and Jane had made vodka jello shots for the non-brewski inclined guests.

Despite being under the weather, I was dragged to the Ji Te Bar, where the bartender staff had insisted I go.  The minute I walked into the bar, I was sprayed with silly putty and all sorts of weird sticky stuff that got all over my jacket and my scarf.  They had made a Chinese cake and everyone had fun using it as a projectile (eating it, actually, is sort of out of the question if you’ve ever had Chinese cake).  The girls wore hats which was really cute and I rallied enough to stay for about an hour.

I was touched by the gesture by all of my friends- it’s hard to believe that I’ve been here for six months (counting my month in Thailand) and that I’ve met so many interesting people in this random little town. 

No matter how old you get, birthdays still remain special and this one was more special than most.…

At Least He’s Got a Sense of Humor

Posted on March 24th, by matt_schiavenza in Baseball. No Comments

Baltimore Orioles pitcher Eric DuBose was recently arrested in Sarasota, Fla. and given a DUI.  When asked to recite the alphabet, DuBose reportedly said:

"I’m from Alabama and they have a different alphabet"

Maybe there’s room for him on my fantasy baseball team.

(Via Hit & Run)…

More Abstinence Fun!

Posted on March 24th, by matt_schiavenza in US Affairs. No Comments

Here’s a great post from Pandagon showing us abstinence-only t-shirts: 



Posted on March 23rd, by matt_schiavenza in Personal. 3 comments

I’m twenty-four today.  Guess what?  I’m sick!  I’m not even at work.  Bah!…