Posted on May 29th, by matt_schiavenza in Baseball. No Comments

Brian Sabean made his first major trade of the year, acquiring relief pitcher LaTroy Hawkins from the Chicago Cubs for starting pitcher Jerome Williams and relief pitcher David Aardsma, both currently in the minor leagues.

Again, this trade is indicative of Sabean’s penchant for sacrificing the future for the present.  While Williams is struggling now in Triple-A Fresno, he has had some success at the major league level.  Aardsma was touted as a future closer.  This seems like a lot to give up.

Then again, Sabean has made few mistakes in giving up prospects before.  To date, only two of the players he has given up in trades have gone on to have much success: Keith Foulke, and Joe Nathan, both relief pitchers.

Futhermore, Hawkins should help stabilize a tattered bullpen.  Tyler Walker will still be the closer (for now) but Hawkins will take care of the 7th and 8th innings.  He’s one of baseball’s best set-up men but has had mixed success as a closer. 

I suspect Sabean believes Armando Benitez will come back earlier than expected (possibly early September) and having Hawkins and Benitez to close out games could be a formidable combination.

I also like today’s trade because it sends a message to the players (and fans) that the Giants are not yet ready to throw in the towel.  Fortunately, there appear to be no dominant teams in the NL West.  Unfortunately, it is likely that the Wild Card team this year will come from the NL East, the league’s strongest division by far.  For the Giants to reach the postseason, then, they’re going to have to win the division outright.  This weekend’s series against San Diego shows that the Padres clearly are the better team at this point.

The Giants have to hang in there and hope that Bonds comes back soon, and comes back as he was before.    If they’re within six or seven games by that point, then there’s hope.  If they’re more than ten back, then giving up on these prospects may turn out to be a mistake.…

Lessons Learned as a Rookie Teacher in China

Posted on May 29th, by matt_schiavenza in Teaching. No Comments

We’re entering the final stretch of teaching this year at Xinhai Senior Middle School.  Looking at my June calendar, I realized today that I have just two weeks of substantive teaching to go before a week chewed up by exams and then one last week of relaxed movie-showing/tomfoolery.  There’s also a delightful week off (June 6-June 10) thrown in for good measure.

Naturally, I’ve reached a point in the year when I’ve begun to reflect a bit on some of the lessons I’ve learned within the classroom.  I can assure you that I’ve probably made near every mistake in the book, short of hurling students out of the window (though I’ve been tempted a few times).  Fortunately, I believe I can apply these lessons to whatever job I have here next year:

- Discipline: Set the tone early by writing up a list of behavior rules, and sticking by them.  I didn’t do this, so often I would decide rules arbitrarily which isn’t fair and doesn’t earn you the respect of the students.  Specifically, decide on a system of punishment- how many warnings one gets, etc. Having a firm policy works because you avoid being accused of favoritism.

- Seating arrangement: Come up with a seating plan for the students and stick by it, unless you deem a change is necessary.   I’ve basically let my students sit wherever they like, and now it’s too late in the year to change.  It’s best to wait about a month into the year to see which students work well together and which ones don’t.  Mixing and matching is always a good thing.

- Don’t make threats you’re not prepared to follow through with.  Otherwise, students doubt your sincerity.

- Make an effort to be jocular with the students and to have plenty of one-on-one conversations.  Strict professionalism doesn’t work particularly well with younger students, especially within the context of my program in China.  You can’t expect students to take your class as seriously as they take their other ones, because you don’t give them grades.

-Prepare, prepare, prepare.  A well-prepared teacher basically lets the lessons run themselves.  Make sure you have all of your materials ready and that you never give off an air of not knowing what you’re doing. 

- Be flexible.  In China, lessons are canceled for no particular reason and often several students will be absent without your prior assent.  It’s good to have a backup plan, i.e. good games and exercises, to use in case you can’t teach your planned lesson.

- Keep regular records, otherwise you won’t be able to gauge your students’ performance over a length of time.

- Be available for office hours/extra help.  Give eager students the chance to get ahead, but insist that you tutor them in pairs or groups.  This can be hard in China, where particularly precocious students will ask you to tutor them, free of charge, individually.

- Don’t raise your voice to be heard when the students are being noisy.  This reduces the discourse to their level.  Insist on quiet by either speaking quietly or standing still until they begin listening.

- Insist that the students bring materials every day.  A good way to do this is to write their names on the board if they have forgotten their materials.  Chinese students often come to class without materials and sometimes without even a pen or paper.

- Try to solve as many problems as you can by yourself, or at least within the realm of the classroom.  Appealing to higher authorities at the drop of a hat simply undermines your respect amongst the students.  Don’t give them the satisfaction of seeing you upset or rattled.

There are others, but these are sort of the main ones.  Teachers or aspiring teachers may weigh in with some of their suggestions, as well.…

Am I Drifting Rightward?

Posted on May 28th, by matt_schiavenza in Personal. 3 comments

In my last post, I wrote almost unconsciously that I’m a centrist/moderate DLC type politically.  Goodness me!  Is that really true? (WARNING- navel-gazing below)

I was more of a hard lefty in college, but then again I think most everyone was.    I attended protests over the World Bank and against certain California ballot propositions.  I embraced an anti-globalization position for the bulk of freshman year.  I even stopped eating meat for a month!

Then came the 2000 election, where I found myself in the awkward position of actually liking Al Gore and considering him the best choice.  Most of my friends were ardent Ralph Nader supporters, only voting for Gore begrudgingly at the end when it was clear the election would be close.  I argued passionately that a vote for Nader amounted to a vote for Bush, and scorned those that believed that there was little difference between the Democratic and Republican candidates.    I also secretly detested Nader for being such a craven, megalomaniacal opportunist, but this was 2000 and Nader was hip, man.

After 9/11, I found myself disgusted with fellow liberals that opposed the Afghan War.  It didn’t require a heavy dose of patriotism to realize that overthrowing the Taliban would deal a critical blow to al Qaeda, the organization responsible for the worst atrocity on US soil since Pearl Harbor.  Despite the bungling of the Bush Admin, I still believe going into Afghanistan was the right thing to do.  Uncompromising pacifism, I decided, is morally bankrupt.

Studying political science and international affairs, I listened to a neo-libertarian lecture and discovered that I completely agreed.   In an era of greater global involvement, how could we slide back toward protectionism?

Living in China has given me a pronounced libertarian streak.  When you live in a country where individuals have no rights, you tend to recognize their value elsewhere.  I used to be an ardent gun-control supporter, but now I’m not so sure.   I remain firmly commited to ending the ruinous, disastrous, expensive War on Drugs.  I now believe that welfare reform was Clinton’s greatest domestic achievement.  In San Francisco, I can’t understand how anyone could oppose Gavin Newsom’s "Care Not Cash" plan, which has (ahem) worked very nicely thus far.

Let’s get one thing straight:  I’m not and will never be a conservative Republican.  First of all, I cannot suffer religious zealots, so there goes a big chunk of their base.  I still believe that too little government regulation in the economy leads to a tyranny of corporate interests.  I believe that the Iraq War was a colossal mistake, purely on strategic terms, and I find conservative apologists for torture disgusting.  I’m also opposed to Social Security privatization; not inter alia, but because there are simply too many other fiscal priorities at the moment.  These, I believe, are all major tenets of today’s Republican Party so you can be certain I don’t classify myself as one.

I dislike hardcore conservatism as much as ever, but I now dislike hardcore liberalism with the same intensity.  I read an article about Noam Chomsky the other day and was shocked by how much I disagree with him.  I don’t read The Nation anymore, nor do I frequent the most liberal blogs.  I can’t stand fat, arrogant Michael Moore and his conspiracy theories.  Most of the good solutions thinking comes from moderates on both sides of the aisle, I now believe. 

Those on opposite ends of the political spectrum are closer to one another than they’d like to admit.…

2008 Watch- Hillary!

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

I was quite surprised to learn that 53% of Americans are "somewhat" or "very" likely to vote for Hillary Clinton in 2008, according to a recent USA Today story.  Of course, it’s far too early to concern ourselves with that election, having just gotten through 2004.  Interesting, though.

Nobody denies that Hillary has the brains and savvy to pull it off- besides, a brilliant politician sleeps on the other side of her bed (one hopes).  I just wonder about left-over baggage from her First Lady years.  Conservatives hated Bill, but could at least admire his cunning political skill and personal chutzpah.  Hillary though personified the "evil shrew" throughout the 90s, in no small part because a fair number of people in America still find the idea of a tough, smart woman repulsive.  (Don’t believe me?  Compare press coverage of Hillary with its fawning over America’s Favorite Librarian, Laura Bush)

Hillary wisely is positioning herself in the political center on key issues such as the WoT and abortion.  As a centrist/moderate/DLC type myself, I find myself agreeing with Hillary more and more.    I’ll  keep her on my short list along with Wesley Clark (and definitely NOT John Kerry or John Edwards- you guys lost: now crawl into a corner.  Especially you, Kerry).…

Thomas Friedman is Making Sense

Posted on May 28th, by matt_schiavenza in Foreign Affairs. No Comments

Thomas Friedman makes an eminently sensible argument about Guantanamo Bay:

Guantánamo Bay is becoming the anti-Statue of Liberty. If we have a
case to be made against any of the 500 or so inmates still in
Guantánamo, then it is high time we put them on trial, convict as many
possible (which will not be easy because of bungled interrogations) and
then simply let the rest go home or to a third country. Sure, a few may
come back to haunt us. But at least they won’t be able to take
advantage of Guantánamo as an engine of recruitment to enlist thousands
more. I would rather have a few more bad guys roaming the world than a
whole new generation.

I couldn’t agree more.  Islamic fanatics cannot be reasoned with and must be neutralized.  That’s one aspect of the War on Terror.  But why on earth do we persist in a policy that turns ordinary people in the Middle East into fanatics?  …

A Voice of Reason on the Right

Posted on May 28th, by matt_schiavenza in Blogs. No Comments

I’m a frequent critic of the echo-chamber bloviations emanating from right-wing blogs, so today I feel compelled to promote one conservative with the cojones to take a contrary stand on the Newsweek/Koran flushing incident.

In a larger discussion of the press’ role in shaping American distrust of the military, John Cole writes that:

The media is not, as an institution, anti-military. The media is,
however, suspicious of the military establishment, and for good
reasons. The Pentagon routinely lies to them. See Tillman, Pat.  Or the Pentagon Papers.
Or any hundreds of other similar events. At any rate, even if the press
is suspicious of the military establishment, Rick is somehow confusing
criticism of the Pentagon with criticism of the actual soldiers as
well as the goals of the United States.

Bravo.  Why don’t more people on the right realize this?  Cole then says:

And while we are at it, can we conservatives please stop this laughable
cult of victimology? We have the Presidency (for the second time in a
row and the fifth time in the last seven elections). We control the
Senate by a ten seat margin. We control the House by a larger margin.
We have dismissed or dismantled virtually every institutional check in
order to limit opposition debate and increase institutional control,
regardless how short-sighted that might be. We are ramming through just
about every judge we wanted, and are about to reload the Supreme Court
with Antonin Scalia at the helm.

I’ve always been fascinated with the conservative self-perception of persecution.  More people identify as conservatives than liberal, and that hasn’t changed in over thirty years.  People often assume that the United States has become a more conservative nation since the days of The Great Society and the Civil Rights Act.  Nonsense.  What has happened, actually, is that conservative Democrats have simply fled the party and joined the Republicans.  Southern identification with the Democratic Party was a holdover from Reconstruction and was bound to end sometime.  And it did, first with Reagan in 1980 and then with the Congressional sweep of 1994.

Conservatives don’t bother me per se, and in fact I think a strong conservative party benefits America.  Today’s conservatives, though, hardly represent the core beliefs of their ideology, and that’s why somebody like John Cole is a major breath of fresh air.…

A Case for Giants Optimism

Posted on May 27th, by matt_schiavenza in Baseball. 1 Comment

When it comes to the Giants, I’m usually a bit pessimistic.  At times this season, I’ve been downright despondent.  Despite everything that has happened, the Giants are still .500, still within striking distance in the NL West (4.5 games behind) and have heard some encouraging news on the injury front.

– Jason Schmidt looked solid against the Dodgers Tuesday night and believes his recent stint on the DL helped rebuild his arm strength.  The Giants need Schmidt to pitch like an ace if they have any hope of competing late in the season.

– Giants trainer Stan Conte reports that closer Armando Benitez is making rapid progress in recovering from his hamstring injury. It is still possible that Benitez may be able to contribute late in the season, a major plus as I expect the bullpen to be exhausted by then.  In the meantime, Tyler Walker has pitched decently as the closer in Benitez’ absence.

–The news on the Big Kahuna, Barry Bonds, looks semi-encouraging for once.  Bonds has resumed rehab and seems intent on returning sometime around the All-Star Break.  Even if Bonds is slightly less than full-strength, he’ll make the Giants offense that much better.

In addition:

- Brett Tomko and Kirk Rueter have both looked solid in the rotation lately.  Even Noah Lowry’s last start wasn’t too bad.

- The middle relief, particularly Jeff Fassero, has been excellent and the Giants continue to win close games.

- The lineup, even without Bonds, produces reasonably well and with the improved starting pitching the Giants could be poised for a mini-run.

I’m not going to make any predictions at this point- the Giants still have a lot of problems and are susceptible to slump.  Nevertheless, if they can somehow stay within a handful of games by the time Bonds gets back (and Schmidt, presumably, gets on a roll) the 2005 season may yet turn out much better than anyone would have hoped a few weeks ago.…

Why I’ve Been Quiet

Posted on May 27th, by matt_schiavenza in Personal. No Comments

I’ve grown accustomed to updating this site at least once a day, so when a few days pass without a peep I feel compelled to offer an explanation.  Here’s what’s happening:

- On Tuesday, one of my bosses visited from Beijing to observe our lessons.  He sat in the rear of the classroom and scribbled notes, and then later in the day sat with me to go over my teaching style and to make suggestions.  Nobody likes being scrutinized and criticized, but in the end I’m interested in becoming a better teacher and an occasional kick in the ass is good for that.

- Meanwhile, I’m still waiting to be offered a contract for next year and to hear where I’m going.  By all accounts, I won’t be returning to Lianyungang.  Management has had a difficult time figuring out where to put me.  I’m very, very anxious to find out needless to say.  I’m looking forward to starting anew next year with a new school, a new city, new students, and new people- but I want to visualize it a bit before I go.  Naturally, I’m checking my e-mail every five minutes in the hopes that something will materialize. 

- I’ve also been making arrangements for my Japan trip this summer- it looks like I’ll be flying from Shanghai to Tokyo on the 9th of July and then onto San Francisco on the 18th.  My company has generously agreed to cover my travel expenses, giving me more money to spend when I’m there (and in Japan, I’m going to need it!)

So a lot has been happening here, and I just haven’t found much time to read the news, much less comment on it.  Having the internet crash for 36 hours this week didn’t help matters much, either.

I’m hoping that I’ll be more prolific next week.  Stay tuned for an official announcement soon of where I’m headed.…

Newsweek Affair Questions

Posted on May 22nd, by matt_schiavenza in US Affairs. 1 Comment

These assertions regarding the Newsweek scandal all appear to be true:

- Accounts of US military personnel desecrating the Koran and practicing other forms of religious humiliation on detained Muslims are not new
- When Newsweek ran their story by the Pentagon, nobody in the DoD objected
- A Pakistani politician (and ex-cricketer) Imran Khan saw the item and demanded an apology from the US
- Riots in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and elsewhere claimed the lives of about twenty people.
- Two US Generals claimed that the riots were not primarily caused by the Newsweek story.
- Newsweek apologized and then retracted the story because the unnamed source in the piece could not be certain anymore that someone flushed a Koran down a toilet.
- The Bush Administration, via Press Secretary Scott McLellan, criticized Newsweek for running the piece and implicitly blaming it for the problems in the Muslim world.

The whole brouhaha strikes me as an unfortunate incident but hardly a scandal.  Right-wing pundits have engaged in predictable howling about how the media is out to get Bush, the media is anti-military, and that the media somehow wants us to lose the War on Terror.  They conveniently forget that the journalist in question, Michael Isikoff, was celebrated in conservative circles less than a decade ago for his work in uncovering the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

Squabbling over the media obscures the critical issue at play here: why the hell are our GIs humiliating people in Guantanamo anyway?  Are they extracting useful information from the detainees?  Do these things somehow aid our cause in the War on Terror?  More broadly, does holding these people without rights as prisoners of war serve our broader interests? Have we benefited in any way from upholding this policy?  I’m skeptical.

The riots also show that anti-Americanism overseas does not appear to be on the wane.  If a cunning and corrupt Pakistani politician such as Khan can whip up such a fury over a small magazine piece, what does that tell us about our image in precisely the countries we want to like us?

Hawks have told us since the beginning of the Iraq war that public opinion in the Muslim world would swing in our direction once they saw the "wisdom" of our ways.   That does not seem to be happening, and it’s a more serious problem than many people would like to admit.…

Questions, Questions, Questions

Posted on May 22nd, by matt_schiavenza in China. No Comments

Inspired by this blogpost, here’s an extended list of questions I’m frequently asked in China:

1. How do you like China?

Oh, it’s alright I guess.  The whole authoritarian thing can be a downer sometimes, though.  Yes, very much

2.  Do you like Chinese food?

Yes, except when it’s still alive. Yes- it’s delicious

3.  What’s better, China or America?

America.  At least the beer’s cold. Oh, it’s hard to say…..I like both.

4. Can you use chopsticks?

Yes.  Can you use a fork and knife?  Yes, we use chopsticks in Chinese restaurants in America.

5. Where have you been in China?

This is a straightforward question, difficult to satirize

6. Do you know Yao Ming?

Yeah, he’s a helluva nice guy- a little soft in the middle, though. Yes, he’s a great player- you must be proud!

7. Do you like Chinese girls?

Yes, excepting the ones that obviously want a marriage proposal and a green card. Yes- they’re very pretty

8. How much money do you make?

Way more than I need to get by. Sorry, that’s private.

9. Where do you live?

What, so you can come knock on my door all night? Sorry, it’s private.

10. Can I have your phone number?

I already get enough text messages. Sorry, it’s private

11. Can you teach me English?

In exchange for free food, free beer, and probably some DVDs.  Nah…I don’t have enough time.

12. Have you ever had Chinese food before?

No, I’ve only ever eaten at McDonalds before. Yes- we have many Chinese restaurants in America.

And so on.  I don’t mean to convey a snarky cynicism…..but these questions do get annoying sometimes.…