Heading Into Holiday

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

Fifty-six years ago tomorrow, when my father was three days old, Mao Zedong stood atop the majestic gate in Tiananmen Square and proclaimed to a crowd of a million Chinese that they now lived in a new country: The People’s Republic of China.

Today’s PRC doesn’t resemble the one Mao shepherded for nearly three decades.  I’m sure he’s rolling in his grave (glass encased tomb?) over China’s abandonment of Marxism/Leninism in favor of Western-style capitalism.  Nonetheless, each year China celebrates its birthday in grand style, giving its citizens six days of holiday.

I’m no Communist, nor even an admirer of the current regime in Beijing.  I will accept the hoilday, though, thank you very much.  Like last year, I’m staying put.  I still haven’t explored enough of Fuzhou to justify leaving town so soon.  Also, I’d like to save some money in deference to planned trips in January and May.

I won’t just sit in my apartment all day, though.  Since the weather has now cooled down, I plan to do a lot of walking in the city.  There’s a mountain just outside city limits that has great hiking trails, and there’s a lake in the city center that looks quite beautiful as well.  There are so many neighborhoods I haven’t yet explored that it’d be a pity to ignore them while I’m here.

I also, unfortunately, have to do some work.  I teach a writing class so I’ve got a lot of grading to do.  That should easily eat up half a day.

I’ll take some photos and then send them off to people, so you can catch a glimpse of where I live.  Please e-mail me if you don’t know me but would like to get photos anyway.

Last night, we were invited to a National Day banquet.  I was fearing the worst: long, ponderous speeches, many toasts, formal rigidity, and other trappings of Chinese pomp and circumstance.  Thankfully, none of this occurred.  There were only a few speeches and all were mercifully short and translated into English (!).  We stood around and drank red wine and ate from a delicious buffet.  Both Chinese and Western food were served.

All of the English teachers in Fuzhou were invited, so I had the opportunity to meet a few of the other laowai here in town.  I was happy to see several about my age and chatted with some nice folks.

No more teaching for six days!  I’m off to enjoy my time off.  Expect quite a bit of blogging, though …

Diamond Notes

Posted on September 30th, by matt_schiavenza in Baseball. No Comments

It’s been awhile since I’ve done a baseball post, and with the season nearing its conclusion now appears to be an appropriate time to issue a post-mortem for my Giants.

Amazingly, the 2005 Giants still had a shot to win the division as recently as two days ago.  This is amazing only because the Giants were eight games below .500 and have generally been dull, lousy, and uninspiring all season long. 

Nothing really has gone well for the Boys this year.  The offseason BALCO fiasco.  Barry Bonds’ bum knee.  The mid-April injury to Armando Benitez.  The erratic performance by Jason Schmidt.  The continued regression of Edgardo Alfonzo, Kirk Rueter, and J.T. Snow.  The maddeningly inconsistent pitching of Brett Tomko.

But the Bonds injury was the real explanation for the Giants’ mediocrity, and had he come back even two weeks earlier, I’d bet the Giants and not the numbingly average San Diego Padres would be drinking champagne.

But he didn’t.  And that’s baseball. 

Real baseball junkies like myself follow the offseason every bit as carefully as we follow the regular season.  What are the Giants going to do?  I read a blog post last week that asked this very question, and over one hundred people laid out their plans in painstaking detail.

I’m not enough of an aficionado to know how much money the team plans to spend, or what the contract situations are for many of their players, but I do believe that in general, with some minor tinkering and some good luck, the Giants could be in good position to make one final run in the Bonds era.

Their offense needs one extra bat, a power hitting first baseman.  Philadelphia’s Jim Thome might be available, but can the Giants a) afford him, b) get him without giving up too much, or c) take yet another risk on an ageing, declining star?  Florida’s Carlos Delgado would be fantastic but points a and b also apply to him.

The pitching seems fine, as the Giants have Schmidt, Lowry, and Cain as the backbone of their rotation.  Should they add another pitcher?  Maybe A.J. Burnett, if he can solve his attitude and recent pitching problems.  Who else is out there?  The bullpen seems fine, if Benitez regains his 2004 form.

Well, I’m sure I’ll have more to say about all of this in a few months, when the winter meetings kick into full gear.  In the meantime, this weekend should provide some compelling baseball.  The Red Sox/Yankees series, coupled with the Indians/White Sox, make for prime viewing.  I wish I could be there to take it in, but alas baseball hasn’t yet inspired many in the Middle Kingdom. 

I’m hoping for the Red Sox to sweep the Yankees and win the AL East, and for the Indians to sneak in as the Wild Card.  I don’t really care about the Sox anymore, since they got their title, but I dislike the Yankees enough to still root against them.  In the National League, I’d love it if the Astros and Phillies switched places, but it looks like Houston will be the Wild Card.  Look out for the ‘Stros- they could be dangerous in a short series with their three stud starting pitchers and closer.

I’m not making any bets, but an Indians/Cardinals World Series would be ideal.  I should root for the Pads, but I secretly hope they lose because it’d be a travesty that such a manifestly mediocre bunch wins the whole shebang.

Anyone else have thoughts?…

Quote Of The Day

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

"Activist-ism is like a combination of self indulgent-left maladies: a
twelve step program for an inner child with a bad case of the martyr
syndrome."

Lorelei Kelly from Democracy Arsenal

Sorry to all of my activist friends who might be offended…

Today’s Links

Posted on September 28th, by matt_schiavenza in Media. 2 comments

Some interesting things I’ve read today:

Karen Hughes, the Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy, is taken aback by an audience of Saudi Arabian women that defend their place in society and complain of US stereotyping. (from The New York Times)

NBNL Comment:   Here’s the money quote: "Many women said they resent the assumption that, given the chance, everyone would live like Americans."  Somewhere, Foucault is smiling….

Vladimir Putin says he will not seek a third term in 2008, forestalling concern that he would re-write the constitution to accommodate his consolidation on power. (from The Washington Post)

NBNL Comment: Look for him to change his mind.  Leaders everywhere have been known to invent "emergency situations" when their political ambition requires them.

Many authentic Chinese restaurants in the San Gabriel Valley struggle with the county’s hygiene ratings, often earning "B" and "C" when most restaurants easily maintain "A".  Chinese restauranteurs claim the very nature of Chinese cooking (such as letting ducks dry before cooking) prevents them with compliance. (from The Los Angeles Times)

NBNL Comment: I shudder to think what an American health inspector would say about a restaurant actually in China……

Finally, Vladimir Nabokhov’s Lolita turns 50.  Its story presaged our fascination with nymphets in pop culture, such as Britney Spears. (from The San Francisco Chronicle)

NBNL Comment: Has there been a better American novel?…

Reading Chinese

Posted on September 27th, by matt_schiavenza in Language. No Comments

When I began studying Chinese in earnest this spring, I ambitiously decided to learn both spoken and written Chinese.  After some immensely frustrating hours spent practicing writing characters only to have a Chinese person tell me I did them incorrectly, I decided to focus on the speaking and listening aspects of the language.

Recently, though, my friend Trish e-mailed me a website that has flashcards in Chinese.  You can learn the characters one at a time and then quiz yourself with the site’s neat shuffle mechanism.  Of course, I first had to install a program on my computer that enables East Asian languages. A half-hour of hunting around the computer followed by a 5 yuan purchase of Windows XP Professional readied my ancient Dell for the task of teaching myself to read Chinese.

Yes, that’s correct.  I purchased Windows XP Professional for less than $1.  I love pirated software almost as much as I love pirated movies!…

Where Will Turkey Go?

Posted on September 27th, by matt_schiavenza in Foreign Affairs. No Comments

Don’t miss this excellent piece from The New YorkTimes Magazine on whether Turkey is heading down the Islamist slippery slope.

As many of you know, I spent almost three weeks in Turkey in June 2004.  Granted, I didn’t spend much of that time with actual Turks, but I do remember one Istanbul native I met saying of her nation’s modern founder, Kemal Ataturk: "He is a hero to us.  Without him, we are nothing".

I think the Turks take pride in the society they have built.  It does separate them from the other Middle Eastern countries that have been largely mired in failure since the collapse of The Ottoman Empire more than eighty years ago.  I just don’t think that’ll erode so quickly, even given the inevitable disappointment over not being invited into the EU (which to me looks like a fait accompli)…

Pat Tillman

Posted on September 27th, by matt_schiavenza in Current Affairs. No Comments

Remember Pat Tillman?  He was the Arizona Cardinals defensive backfielder who quit his high-salaried life in the NFL for the battlefields of Afghanistan in late 2001.  In 2004, Tillman was killed in action and mourned as an American hero, slain by an enemy’s hand. 

Not so fast.  We learned several weeks after Tillman’s death that he was a victim of the terribly misnamed "friendly fire".  Now, his surviving family members want the truth- and they’re finding the Bush Administration quite uncooperative in that respect.

Tillman certainly cut against the jarhead stereotype.  A voracious reader, Tillman spent his offseasons in the NFL studying for a Masters degree in History.  He also criticized the war in Iraq (yet still served a tour of duty there) and was an admirer of leftist linguist/historian Noam Chomsky, whom he was to have met had he not been killed in Afghanistan.

Tillman seems like he was a remarkable man, though I wonder whether his conservative admirers feel as much sympathy for him now in light of his politics?

Or whether those on the far left who mocked Tillman feel a bit sick in their stomach?

Read the story in The San Francisco Chronicle.…

Tokyo Profiled…

Posted on September 27th, by matt_schiavenza in Photography. No Comments

Michael Moewe has contributed some fascinating photos of Tokyo at Jascha Pohl Sucks.  Jascha commented below that Tokyo has the best people watching of any city- I’m inclined to agree.  Remarkable.…

On The Iraq War And Its Protestors

Posted on September 25th, by matt_schiavenza in Current Affairs. 3 comments

In a typically pithy post about the anti-war gatherings in Washington DC, Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit writes:

I support the war, but I’m not afraid of an intellectually and morally
serious antiwar movement. We just haven’t had one of those.

Reynolds may be unaware of the volumes written by intellectually and morally serious people who oppose the war.  Or he could be willfully obtuse.  But his point does resonate a bit- why is the anti-war movement, per se, composed primarily of the left’s more unsavory elements?

Take A.N.S.W.E.R for instance.  For a glimpse of the organization’s extremism, check out this list from their website helpfully collected by David Adesnik.  Are these the ideas that the anti-war movement wish to promote?  I don’t mean to slander all of the protestors with this association, but I can see how hawks such as Reynolds form such a low opinion of the protestors.

I opposed the war from its onset, but I do not identify at all with its current protestors.  Perhaps in 2003, such protests were useful, but now I don’t see the point. What war opponents must do now is come up with a coherent strategy for our eventual withdrawal from Iraq.  I doubt those whose voices boomed loudest at DC gained applause from their nuanced wonkery.  …

Paean To Pro-Choice Belief

Posted on September 25th, by matt_schiavenza in Ideas. No Comments

Michael Berube has a very moving post about abortion rights.  The quotes he included at the bottom skillfully articulate the reasons behind my own support for choice.…