Democratic Party Squabbles

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

Like many a losing outfit, the Democrats are turning on each other.  Liberals are accusing moderates of pandering to Republican initiatives.  Moderates sneer that liberals are too out-of-touch with the mainstream to warrant control over the Party.

Here’s a Washington Post article on Hillary Clinton’s recent comments at a Democratic Leadership Committe (DLC) conference, in which the Senator tries to calm tensions within the national party.  Instead of bitching about her "lurch to the right", all Democrats need to smell the roses.

Democrats are not winning enough elections.   Republicans have dominated American politics for much of my lifetime, nearly a quarter-century.  All Democrats agree that Republicans do not do a good job running the country.  Shouldn’t removing them from power  be the highest priority?

Apparently not.  It seems to me that lots of people on the left would rather preserve our "ideological purity" than to win elections.  What good, pray tell, does that do for us?  What’s the point of being ideologically pristine if we lack any power to implement our ideas?

Political parties in power are always susceptible to overreach.  Today’s Republicans are no exception.  Democrats, in the moment of opposition, must exploit factions within the GOP and appeal to a broader range of people other than those who reflexively hate President Bush. 

Let’s win elections first.  Then we can air these petty disputes.…

Google Earth

Posted on July 28th, by matt_schiavenza in Media. 1 Comment

Here’s a cool new site that I’ve just discovered, courtesy of my cousins: Google Earth.  Once you download the program, type in an address or city and watch as the globe spins ’round to your destination.  I was able to find my condo in San Diego as well as make out some buildings in San Francisco.  The program doesn’t work quite as well for foreign locations, but I still found a fairly decent overhead shot of Lianyungang as well as my old home in Italy.  It’s amazing and a great way to waste time on the web (which is what I’m here for, I tell ya)…

Is the Governator Finished?

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

What a difference a year makes.  Before I left for China, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger was still enjoying his political honeymoon, traipsing through California promising to fix all of the state’s problems.  Republicans swooned over his GOP Convention speech, admired his campaigning for Bush in Ohio, and even launched a website promoting Schwarzenegger for President by amending the US constitution.

In the past year, the Ah-nuld has seen his fortunes turn.  He has managed to piss off a bevy of strong California special interests:  nurses, teachers, policemen, and firemen.  He has run into trouble by associating himself with bodybuilding magazine.  His advisors have even suggested abandoning his November special election slate due to political pressure.

The California media has gleefully reveled in Schwarzenegger’s misfortunes.  The San Francisco Chronicle published a headline-in the front page, no less- calling the governor a "98 pound weakling".  Political sites such as Daily Kos have even treated Arnold’s electoral defeat as a fait accompli, given his tumbling approval ratings.

So is he finished?  Will Schwarzenegger go the way of the last celebrity governor, Minnesota’s Jesse Ventura? 

Not just yet.  First of all, he has sixteen months before facing re-election.  That’s a lifetime in politics.  He has plenty of time to score legislative victories and shore up his support.

Secondly, none of the Democrats likely to challenge Schwarzenegger can match the governor’s name recognition or star power.  Despite his troubles, Arnold is a charismatic campaigner and does well when interacting directly with voters.  Can a Phil Angelides capture the public’s fancy in quite the same way?

As Schwarzenegger’s defeat would be an embarrassment to the Bush administration, expect a steady flow of cash and publicity to roll in.  Arnold, ahem, is a fairly wealthy man himself.  I expect him to spend whatever it takes to win a second term.

So I wouldn’t count him out just yet.  If his special election is tabled, then that could be suicidal.  Otherwise, expect his survival instinct to emerge when it counts: the 2006 re-election campaign.…

First Weekend Back…

Posted on July 26th, by matt_schiavenza in Personal. No Comments

Enjoyed a gorgeous weekend here in the Bay Area, taking the opportunity to finally get over culture shock and jet lag. Just in time to board a long flight back to another culture, I suppose…

I spent Saturday up in San Francisco, where the sun shined undisturbed and temperatures rose into the 80s.  We visited the Museo Italiano-Americano, in the Marina/Fort Mason district, and also went shopping both in the Marina district and in Union Square (I needed clothes and shoes).  Then after a beer at a microbrewery near the Embarcadero, my Dad and I headed to SBC Park to catch my first Giants game of the year.  That they were obliterated, 16-4, didn’t take away from the enjoyment of the nice evening.  We even got a Gaylord Perry bobblehead out of it!

Then yesterday, I drove to Berkeley and had lunch with Mary, her friend Aiwa, and Aiwa’s boyfriend.  We then wandered a bit on Telegraph and I found myself (of course) in Amoeba Records where I bought four CDs:  Smile by Brian Wilson, Preemptive Strike by DJ Shadow, Who Can You Trust by Morcheeba, and Guero by Beck.

I then scooted down the East Bay all the way into Silicon Valley, where I had dinner with my aunt, uncle, cousins, parents, and grandmother in Sunnyvale.  My parents showed off their hundreds of China photographs and we enjoyed barbequed pork, potato salad, and brownies for dessert.

Then, I met Josh up for a beer at the BBC in Menlo Park.  I was pooped by the end of it, needless to say, but satisfied that I’m finally back in the swing of things at home.…

Whither Iraq?

Posted on July 23rd, by matt_schiavenza in Foreign Affairs. No Comments

Check out an excellent back-and-forth between Larry Diamond and Dan Senor, two analysts debating how much progress we’re making in Iraq.  I’m more partial to Diamond’s opinions, though both men make excellent points.

My overly simplistic generalization: Things aren’t going as badly as they could have, and it isn’t a complete disaster, but there are a lot of problems.  And it doesn’t change the obvious point that we shouldn’t have been in there in the first place.…

Vanquishing Jet Lag

Posted on July 22nd, by matt_schiavenza in Personal. No Comments

I finally feel as though I’ve gotten a grip on my jet lag problem.  I woke up this morning at 6:30 after nine hours of sleep- I should be able to last straight through till evening tonight.

Otherwise, I’m still acclimating myself to California life.  Yesterday, I walked from my parents’ condo downtown, a 45 minute walk.  It amazes me the extent to which suburban American towns are built around the automobile.  The entire walk, save for the last ten minutes, passes through residential neighborhoods.  A person lacking a car thus needs to alot 90 minutes to do the simplest amount of shopping.

I’ve also enjoyed the pleasant weather.  I used to complain about summer days like this: temperatures in the high 60s and low 70s, because they were too damn cold.  Now, I’m digging the break from humidity.  A ten minute walk to the dry cleaners in Lianyungang left me completely sticky with sweat.  Even more temperate Japan was hot and humid.  Here it’s dry and breezy.

Exercise is necessary, as I’ve indulged in familiar foods over the past few days. Mexican food, pasta, and a good old-fashioned burger.  Dee-licious.  There have also been microbrew beers (much better here than in Asia), red wine, and cheeeeeeese.  I might gain about eighty pounds in the next four weeks…..90 minute treks might become a daily necessity just to stay fit.…

Johannes Unbound

Posted on July 21st, by matt_schiavenza in Blogs. No Comments

For traveling reasons, I’ve been remiss in mentioning the addition to a new blog on the blogroll, entitled Bleach Eating Freaks

Johannes, a frequent commenter (as frequent as they come) on this blog, is a regular contributor to what looks like a veeeeery interesting page.  Those of us lucky enough to be on Johannes’ e-mail list are treated to his hilarious dispatches from Bergen, Norway. 

So go check it out…Jo posts under the pen name of "morethandork".  Alternatively, look for the bearded Norwegian guy (as opposed to yours truly, the unbearded Norwegian guy)…

Japanese Baseball

Posted on July 21st, by matt_schiavenza in Travels. No Comments

Like dutiful fans, Jascha and I attended a real live Japanese professional baseball game on Monday, my last night in Tokyo.  The Yomiuri Giants (Japan’s Yankees, I believe) battled the in-city rival Yakult Swallows club, prevailing 6 to 1.  A few observations….

- Fan participation was awesome.  Even the grayest and most august spectators wave around flags and chant songs, usually banging noisemakers together in strict harmony.  Young men with trumpets led cheers that did not cease throughout the game, even when it became apparent that the home team (Swallows) were headed for defeat.  Tremendous atmosphere.

- Each Japanese team can have three foreigners on the field at any one time.  The Giants No. 3 hitter was none other than Tuffy Rhodes, a former journeyman major leaguer who slammed three home runs on Opening Day for the Chicago Cubs in 1994.  He went deep in this game, a titanic blast to center, though struck out in his next two at bats.

The Swallows had two obscure ballplayers whose names I barely recognized: Adam Riggs and Alex Ramirez.  I checked out both guys on Baseball Reference and neither had distinguished stints in the major leagues.  Neither did much in this ballgame, either.

- The Japanese hitters were very aggressive, so the pace of the game was much quicker than in the US.  Only two walks were issued, I believe, and most of the hitters swung on the first or second pitch.

- The Giants’ right fielder made a nice play on a fly ball and subsequently bowed to the pitcher.  What a nice Japanese touch.

What was great about the game was its relative affordability.  Jascha and I spent only $15 for outfield bleacher seats and the food was cheap, also.  We each had two Kirin beers dispensed by "beer girls", cute young women with backpacks who pour beer from connected taps.  Very efficient.  Very good.

I would recommend the game even to non-baseball fans, as the atmosphere alone was worth the price of admission.  We felt that we were at a college football, rather than a baseball, game.…

Back in the USA…You don’t Know How Lucky You Are, Boy…

Posted on July 21st, by matt_schiavenza in Personal. No Comments

So…..here I am.  Back where it all started, San Carlos, California.  "The City of Good Living".

It’s just after 9am but I’ve already been awake for more than five hours.  Jet lag isn’t fun.  I’ll have to stay awake as long as possible to get on a "normal" sleeping schedule.  After that, it’ll be time to reunite with everyone, something I’m very excited about doing.

Culture shock hasn’t really set in yet, though I got a taste of it wandering around Whole Foods with my Mom, ready to pass out at any moment.  My first question:  where the hell are all the people?  In Asia I became accustomed to a glut of people wandering the streets at all hours, hawking their goods and blasting music and noise from loudspeakers.   The quiet of suburban American life is stunning.  Everyone seems neatly tucked away.

So to people who complain that California is too crowded…..ha!  I feel like I have all the space in the world.

Blog note:  I’ll be back on a normal blogging schedule here very soon, including the usual spate of political content.  I also will be writing little travel dispatches from Japan, as I find it is easier to judge such things in retrospect than in the moment they’re occurring.

I would like to say a big thank you to my good friend and former roommate Sean, who so generously hosted Jascha and I in Ota and showed us around.  It was a real pleasure.

So I’ll kick off the Japan posts now….stay tuned.…

Final Post From Japan

Posted on July 19th, by matt_schiavenza in Travels. No Comments

Got time for one more 11th hour post.  Jascha took off this morning, out touring Tokyo.  It was great seeing him again- it occurred to us that the last two times weve hung out have been in Spain and Japan.  Whats next, Africa?

In less than an hour, I’m off to the airport, bound for home.  Jet lag will almost certainly be a problem, as I arrive at 10:15 am.  I’m hoping that adrenaline will keep me going long enough tomorrow to get on a normal sleeping schedule.

I’m also bracing myself for culture shock, which is always greater returning to a country than going to one.  After spending a significant amount of time away from home, California became an idealized notion, a place that existed only in my memory.  Sharp details have dimmed over time. 

I’m of course excited to see my friends and family again after a long absence.  A month should be the perfect amount of time for a trip home- just enough to see and do what I want but not enough to ”settle in” again.  I’m sure I’ll be more than ready to head back to China in a month’s time.…