Das Is Das End!

Posted on June 29th, by matt_schiavenza in Travels. No Comments

In forty-eight hours I will be in Kunming and this apartment, my home for the past nine months, will be empty. I don’t have the time or energy to compose a sentimental post, so I’ll just note the fact and move on.

Blogging, I suspect, will be fairly light while I’m on the road though I’ll try and sneak in a few posts here and there.  If Typepad works, that is.

I’m meant to be packing but am procrastinating, of course.  Why do I do this every time?  When will I ever learn?  Oh well.

See you soon.…

Abortion Revisited

Posted on June 24th, by matt_schiavenza in Politics. 3 comments

Back in May I wrote a brief summary of an article by Jeffrey Rosen in The Atlantic speculating on what would happen were Roe v. Wade to be overturned.  I generally praised Rosen’s article and even slightly bought into his logic that the repeal of RvW would be beneficial to choice in the long term. 

Then, about a month later, I engaged in pointed debate with my friend Ksenia on this subject over beers at the Gulangyu Youth Hostel.  Ksenia’s support for Roe’s continuation was largely moral: even if its repeal were to protect choice in the long-term, it would still be objectionable even if one woman were prohibited from getting an abortion due to anti-choice legislation.  Hmm…interesting point but not exactly the sort of pragmatic analysis I was hoping for (no knock on Ksenia- she’s actually much smarter than me :)

Now, I’ve stumbled across a well-reasoned article challenging the notion that Roe v. Wade ought to be appealed for the sake of choice.  I’m still not convinced, but I now realize that there were some serious holes in my previous opinion and I’ll just have to go back to the drawing board to get to the bottom of this. (link via Brad Plumer)…

Is There Room in the Democratic Party for Joe Lieberman?

Posted on June 24th, by matt_schiavenza in Politics. 5 comments

First, a disclaimer:  I’ve never been a particularly big fan of Connecticut Senator Joseph Liebermann.  I thought his impassioned anti-Clinton speech given on the Senate floor during the height of the Monica Lewinsky scandal was foolish and wrong.  I generally dislike politicians who rail against the insidious effects of violent video games or whatnot and propose asinine legislation to regulate them.  I generally distrust very religious people, whether they be Christian, Jew, Muslim, or any other creed.  Most of all, I strongly disagree with Joseph Lieberman’s position on the Iraq War, which basically has amounted to full support for the Bush policy.

Many voices within the progressive community are eager to purge the Senator from the Democratic Party just six years after he was its Vice-Presidential nominee.  Ordinarily, I’d resist such a move being of moderate temperate and being a believer of the "big-tent" theory of politics.  Also, Lieberman’s record on most economic and social issues is more or less identical to many other mainstream Democrats. 

But….the war remains the single most important issue, and on that, Lieberman is dead wrong.  Other Democrats supported the war, of course, including a certain someone that ran for President two years ago and another certain someone whose husband preceded President Bush in the White House.  I disagree with them but can respect their opinion.

Lieberman, though, unlike Clinton or Kerry, has not, to my knowledge, ever criticized the war effort in the slightest.  He has not proposed any real legislation or even ideas of how the war could have been waged differently or how America should proceed.  He has basically fully supported Bush’s position on the war, even demagouging like cheap Republicans about "supporting the President in the time of crisis" and by refusing to condemn the American prisoner abuses at Abu Ghraib.

If a certain Presidential candidate supports the opposition on certain issues, I don’t particularly mind.  Nobody would call for a purge of a Democrat who was pro-death penalty, opposed raising taxes, or even opposed abortion rights.  But the war is such a contentious, important issue that any responsible Democrat- even a pro-war one- has to come up with a policy that is clearly different from the one proposed by the Administration.  Not only has Lieberman not done this, he has seemed quite content to echo the Pollyannish statements made by the Bush administration concerning Iraq.

After all, what is the point of being a member of the opposing party if you’re unwilling to oppose on the nation’s most significant issue?

For these reasons I would not be particularly sorry to see Joe Lieberman defeated by Ned Lamont in the Connecticut Democratic Senate primary.…

A Tour of the Baseball (and Giants) Blogosphere

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

For baseball fans out there that want a bit more information and analysis than NBNL provides, here’s a list of some of my favorite baseball blogs followed by a list of my favorite Giants-specific blogs. 

General Baseball-

Baseball Musings- The Instapundit of baseball. David Pinto frequently updates this excellent blog, providing snap analysis of most of the day’s baseball games as well as other information and notes from around the league.  Also, he has a nifty little site called the Day-by-Day Database in which you can compile statistics between any two days chosen at random.  Great time waster.

Baseball Analysts- Rich Lederer and Bryan Smith write longish pieces covering a variety of topics, with a particular emphasis on college and minor league ball.  This is a great site to go to for information on baseball’s newest trends.

Baseball Crank- The Crank is a conservative New York lawyer who writes about baseball, the war, and legal issues.  No, not all at the same time!  He isn’t as prolific as Pinto but often has interesting stuff that the casual fan would probably miss.  If you can stomach his politics, this is a daily read.

Minor League Ball- Blog run by former ESPN minor league guru John Sickels and powered by Scoop, blogging software that allows members to post their own diaries on the right side-bar of the page.  Sickels analyzes prospects, looks back at old prospects, and makes fearless predictions that more often than not end up being accurate.  A lot of fun.

There are lots more, but these are the ones I go to on a daily basis.

Here are some Giants only sites:

El Lefty Malo-  My favorite Giants blog.  Funny, insightful writing, good analysis, and frequent posts.  Malo also isn’t relentlessly negative like some yet not pollyannish like others.  Good balance of analysis, humor, and insight.

McCovey Chronicles- Written by long-time Giants blogger Grant, the McCovey Chronicles is the closest thing the Giants get to a community blog.  Grant’s a funny writer and there’s often quite a lot of good reader diaries on the side-bar.  Good place to go for up-to-the-minute news and updates regarding our team.

Only Baseball Matters- John Perricone is the classic angst-ridden fan familiar to people from his native New York but a little out of place in San Francisco.  He has covered the Barry Bonds steroid issue more thoroughly than almost anyone and has emerged as Bonds’ greatest defender.  It’s difficult to refute his no-nonsense logic.  When he actually writes about the players on the field, Perricone can be extremely negative and doesn’t waste many opportunities to blast the Giants management for their mediocre stewardship of the franchise.  Not the place to go to sing the praises of Brian Sabean or Felipe Alou.

The Splash- This is the San Francisco Chronicle’s Giants blog.  It’s occasionally great, especially when Bruce Jenkins posts his "3-Blog Lounge Material" but otherwise doesn’t really add much.

Obsessive Giants Compulsive
- This is the place to go to really get the nitty-gritty on Giants statistics.  Not exactly written in the most interesting manner, but full of information that other bloggers miss.

Each of these sites gets the NBNL stamp of approval.

More “Only in China” Stuff

Posted on June 23rd, by matt_schiavenza in China. No Comments

My experience with the Swimming Nazi reminded me of something I had read just earlier yesterday on Talk Talk China.  Here is a post about an infuriating episode with a translating service, excerpted in full:

No one likes to admit they’re wrong.  It doesn’t matter what
cultural background you have.  We all hate it.  But, making mistakes is
a part of life.  However, it never ceases to amaze me the lengths that
people in China will go to avoid accepting blame for clearly obvious
mistakes.   Here’s a perfect example:

A friend of mine needed to have a Chinese document translated into
French.  She contacted a translation service and a few days and 300RMB
later, the translation was complete.  I speak a bit of that French-hua
so I offered to take a look and offer some pompous suggestions for
improvement.  Unfortunately, I never got the chance to show off my
French chops.  The translation was horrendous.  Simply awful.  I
decided that Google could do a better job of translating the document
so, for fun, I copied and pasted the text into Google GTranslations (or
whatever it’s called) and I was amazed with the results: it was word
for word the exact same translation!  We went together to the
translation office and confronted the translator.  We showed him his
translation and the Google translation.  His reply: Huh…what a
coincidence!  “Um…is that really your excuse?”   “It’s no excuse,” he
replied.  Yeah, he had me there.  I had nothing to combat his
conversational wizardy.

Look, I get the whole saving face thing but the “deny, deny, and the
deny some more” strategy isn’t 100% effective.  It’s a good strategy,
I’ll give you that, but you really need to learn when you’ve been
beaten.   This “never quit” attitude is cute but it’s sort of the same
thing as closing your eyes and telling people that you’re invisible.
It’s the kind of pointless argument that a child would offer.  Since I
would never date to insult you by calling you a child, I will simply
let you save face and I’ll call you a complete and total embarrassment
to humanity or an idiot.  You choose and let me know.

This is just brilliant.  For one thing, where else would someone actually try and do a Google translation and pass it off as their own translation?  What a facile scam!  Secondly, Dan’s point about the "losing face" phenomenon is spot on.

I must admit I’ve never been particularly impressed with the whole "losing face" thing.  Before you come to China, you read and hear about this concept like it’s some sort of all-encompassing cultural fact that could make or break your social life. 

In reality, it’s mostly about
- painfully avoiding even the slightest confrontation
- never admitting error
- anger when someone else tries to pay the bill

Far from respecting it, I’m the walking embodiment of losing face.  I am somewhat confrontational by nature and am not above causing a scene when necessary, as my experience at the pool showed.  I have also, somewhat paradoxically, always been self-effacing and am not shy about admitting error (when I’m aware that I’ve made one or even think I might have).

Yet I’m generally well-liked by the Chinese, perhaps because of rather than in spite of my defiance toward "face".  I wonder if many Chinese people deep down view the "face" thing as a load of bull themselves and find it refreshing when someone refuses to adhere to it.

Maybe not, but sometimes I think cultural concepts like losing face are accepted at face value in order to rationalize behavior that in actuality is quite rude and counterproductive.


Swimming Pool Argument

Posted on June 23rd, by matt_schiavenza in China. 4 comments

Fuzhou’s rainy period has ended and the temperatures have soared in excess of 35 degrees C (about 100F).  The heat isn’t even the worst part- the humidity just kills you.  I can’t walk for more than five minutes without breaking into a sweat, and previously simple tasks like going to the bakery and the DVD shop have become akin to epic journeys through the jungle.  Not least- the heat has been a boon to Fuzhou’s critter population.  Alan found a rat in his apartment.  I have killed more cockroaches in the last week than I have at any other point in my life.  There’s a persistent….ickiness to everything that makes you want to sit all day in your air conditioned apartment.

So when my colleague suggested I go with him to the local swimming pool, I was all for it. He insisted the pool was big, nice, and uncrowded.  Perfect, I thought.

We got there around five yesterday, and discovered to our consternation that the swimming pool was packed.  Most of the swimmers were solitary men although there were a few ladies around.  There of course were a lot of small children whose mothers watched nervously near the water’s edge as mothers the world over always do.

First, we were taken into the communal locker room where we were to strip off our clothes, shower, and put on our swimming trunks.  I’ve never been a big fan of locker room situations in the best of times, but in China my discomfort is compounded by the fact that Chinese men seem very interested in the size of foreign penises.  In urinals, I can avoid their gaze quite obviously but in locker rooms there really isn’t anything I can do about it.

So I quickly changed and was about to head to the pool when I was stopped by a little old woman I will heretofore refer to as the "swimming nazi".  Here was our conversation:

"You can’t wear that swimming suit in our pool"
"Why not?"
"It isn’t a swimming suit"
"Um, yes it is"
"No, it’s too long.  Those are shorts".

I then turned my suit inside out slightly to show her the mesh part that, for most sane people, indicates that the article of clothing is in fact suitable for swimming.  This did not deter her.

"You should buy a swimming suit here"
"Why should I have to?  I have a good pair of my own"
"You can’t wear it"
"Why not?"

And so on.  This charade continued for a few more minutes and now a small crowd of Chinese were standing around watching our little row. I could not get a sensible answer…at all.  A guy about my age stepped forward and offered to translate.

Me: "Can you ask her why I can’t wear these?"
Him: "She says you can’t"
"Why not?" (slightly raised voice here)
Him: (giggling nervously, in the Chinese style) "You should just buy a suit here"
Me: "I don’t want to buy a suit here.  They’re way too short and too small for me.   Plus they’re ugly". (I even said this in Chinese to make sure the lady understood.  She was not amused)

The Swimming Nazi eyed me warily but she would not budge.  She was clearly quite embarrassed by my displeasure, for I was causing a scene and some serious face was being lost.

I finally said, "Fuck it" and walked past them and jumped into the swimming pool.  It was damn refreshing.  I looked back and saw the Swimming Nazi gesticulating wildly and the Chinese translator shrugging his shoulders. 

I grinned.  You gotta love China sometimes.…

Pre-Season Predictions Revisited

Posted on June 23rd, by matt_schiavenza in Baseball. No Comments

I was going to wait until the All-Star break (or at least the season’s statistical midpoint) to revisit my pre-season predictions, but given my imminent travel plans and departure from Fuzhou I might as well get it over with now.  Here’s a detailed look at what I said in April: and what has actually come to fruition.

The balance of power has definitely shifted to the American League.
There are four teams (New York, Chicago, Cleveland, and Oakland) that
are better than the best NL team (St. Louis).  Maybe their consistent
wins in the All-Star Game are more than just flukes.

This, I think, still holds true.  The AL has been markedly better in interleague games and the NL (aside from the Mets and maybe the Cardinals) has been quite underwhelming.  I still hold that Boston, New York, Chicago, and now Detroit are better than any other NL team with the possible exception of the Mets.  Score this one for me, though really it was a banal observation and I’m not surprised it has played out this way.

I don’t expect the two Florida teams to be any good this year, but both
have exciting rookies who are worth keeping an eye on: Marlins RF
Jeremy Hermida and Devil Rays RF Delmon Young.  Expect the D-Rays to
deal Aubrey Huff to a contending team sometime around mid-season to
make room for the studly younger brother of Dmitri.

The D-Rays remain somewhat lousy due to an absolute absence of pitching (save for the terrific Scott Kazmir).  I doubt Aubrey Huff has any trade value left though he has shown signs of life lately.  Delmon Young’s season was temporarily derailed due to a 50 game suspension.  Looks like another 90 loss season in Tampa-St. Pete.

As for the Marlins, well, winning eighteen out of twenty-four qualifies as "good".  Hermida has actually been the least impressive of all the Florida rookies, though I suspect by the end of the year he’ll have good numbers.  Where the hell did Dan Uggla come from?  Not to mention the success of Josh Johnson, Ricky Nolasco, and Scott Olsen, their three rookie pitchers.  At times Dontrelle Willis has looked like only the fourth best member of the Marlins rotation.  I still think the Phish will phade a bit but they are no longer in jeopardy of losing 100 games.

Don’t count out the Braves just yet.  I still like their balance of
offense and pitching better than the resurgent Mets.  New York has a
number of great players in their lineup: Delgado, Wright, and Beltran
come to mind- but beyond the increasingly fragile Pedro Martinez their
starting rotation is frighteningly thin.  If the Braves do falter, the
absence of underrated SS Rafael Furcal will likely be the culprit.

Oops.  OK- you can count out the Braves.  Sixteen games out of first, thirteen games below .500, and a ten game losing streak means that the Braves amazing run is now over.  How could they have fallen apart this fast?  I don’t think anyone has a clue.  The Mets have been terrific thanks to a revived Carlos Beltran and an ageless Tom Glavine.  The division is theirs and it hasn’t really been close all season.  And as for Furcal?  He’s having a lousy year in LA, far worse than the guy who replaced him (Edgar Renteria).  So this prediction was way off.

My sleeper pick to win 90?  Milwaukee.  The Brewers have the makings of
a very good team.  2B Rickie Weeks, 1B Prince Fielder, and SS J.J.
Hardy will be that much better.  Carlos Lee can still hit a ton.  If
Ben Sheets can stay healthy, then the Brewers have a solid rotation.
Don’t be surprised if they vault past the Cubs and Astros into second
place in the weakened NL Central.

The Brewers are indeed better than the Cubs, but then so is just about every other team in the National League.  They have been hanging in there and are not an embarrassment by any means, but I will be highly surprised if they end up winning 90.  The pitching and defense just aren’t good enough yet. 

The NL West was famously inept last year- but should be better this
year.  I predict a two-team race between- who else?- the Giants and
Dodgers.  For the Giants to win the division, they need at least 120
games from Barry Bonds, and a revival from Jason Schmidt.  The Dodgers
have an interesting ballclub, and a healthy J.D. Drew would give them
one of the better lineups in the league.  Their starting pitching is
questionable, unless Brad Penny fulfills his enormous potential and
Derek Lowe pitches like it’s 2001 again.

The NL West is indeed better this year, but this is a cheap consolation because it really couldn’t have gotten any worse.  At the moment all five teams are still in it as no one has been able to pull away yet.  It looked like the D-Backs had arrived but they’ve been on an extended tailspin and are now in last place.  If I had to put money on it, I’d swallow my pride and bet on the Dodgers but even they have looked pretty damn mediocre a lot of the time.

The Angels have a solid rotation and a loaded farm system, but probably
won’t be able to score enough runs to defend their division title.
The A’s are better and could be great if they keep the combative
Milton Bradley and the mopey Frank Thomas happy.

The Angels have been worse than I had expected, and the A’s have been good but not great.  Given Oakland’s traditional second-half brilliance and a weak division, I expect them to run away with the AL West.

The best team in the majors?  White Sox.  Second?  Yankees, with the
best offense by far.  The Red Sox have taken a step back, and might be
passed by the Blue Jays this year.  The Indians should be primed for a
Wild-Card run but lack the pitching to compete with their division

The White Sox in my view remain the best team in the majors.  The Yankees offense was dealt a serious blow by the twin injuries of Sheffield and Matsui, and now appear weaker than the Red Sox, who by the way haven’t really taken a step back at all.  The Indians have been a major disappointment and are too far back to make a run for it this year I’m afraid.

No- hope division:  Kansas City, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Colorado,
Cincinnati, Florida, Baltimore, Tampa Bay, Seattle, and Washington.

Sorry, Tigers fans…..though I suspect even they are surprised at Detroit’s success.  Nobody really saw it coming, and I have a hard time believing they are going to fade very badly.  The Reds have also been much better than expected- I wouldn’t be surprised to see them slide back toward mediocrity.  The other teams remain hopeless, with the possible exception of Seattle and maaaaaybe Colorado.

So how’s my record?  Not great, I must confess.  Then again, it’s only June and there’s still plenty more baseball to be played before it’s all said and done.  Maybe in a few months I’ll have to write another post revising my latest round of predictions.…

A China Bank Tale

Posted on June 22nd, by matt_schiavenza in China. 1 Comment

There are few aspects of Chinese life more frustrating than dealing with the bureaucracy, and there is no more frustrating aspect of the bureaucracy than dealing with the banks.

In a word?  Chinese banks suck.  A lot.  OK, that was more than one word (writing like my students again…drat) but you get the idea.

To illustrate my rather banal point, I shall now relate an experience my colleague Alan had at the bank recently.

Alan went along with two colleagues and the school’s wonderful foreign affairs liaison to the local Bank of Communications to transfer money from his Chinese account to his New Zealand account.  Whilst waiting in the queue (I’m now British again), Alan decided to head outside to the ATM machine to check his balance (Chinese banks do not issue bank statements- imagine that). 

Alas, he forgot to press the "cancel" button to get his card back, a mistake that just about all of us have made at some point in our lives.  Two minutes later, Al realized what he had done and ran outside only to discover that the ATM machine had swallowed his card.

In his frustration, Alan slammed the machine very hard with his open palm, causing a hell of a racket that alarmed everyone in the bank.   Even the usually inert security guards rushed out and saw what had happened.

The bank manager then suddenly flew into a rage and began shouting at Alan in Chinese, a language which he does not understand.  June (the foreign affairs lady) was translating as best she could, but about all that the man seemed to be saying was, "You broke my machine!".  This was patently false, as Alan demonstrated, but the man was still upset.

So upset, in fact, that he retrieved Alan’s card from the (still-functioning) ATM machine and refused to give it back.  Even though this meant Alan would have to return to the bank again in another attempt to send money.  The bank manager did not realize that his business with the rather large, red-headed foreigner would not be over.

Why did he do this?  It isn’t protocol.  I left my card in the ATM machine last year in Lianyungang and the process was simple- I showed up at the bank with my passport and they gave it back to me.  Had the man possessed any critical thinking skills at all, he would have simply finished the transaction and rid himself of the Kiwi menace.

Such a story isn’t really news in China- nearly everyone I know here has had a frustrating experience at the bank.  Yet by choosing to hold onto his card, the bank manager discovered a way to inconvenience both himself and the person he was feebly attempting to punish.  Amazing.…

Libetarians and Liberals

Posted on June 22nd, by matt_schiavenza in Politics. No Comments

There has been a quite a lively discussion going around the blogosphere recently regarding the possibility of libertarian-minded voters aligning themselves with the Democratic Party.  Jim Henley provides a useful round-up here.

I would describe my own politics as half-libertarian and half-liberal, so I for one would be delighted to see this possibility realized. A fresh dose of libertarian thinking would do wonders for the Democrats and prevent them from acting on their worst impulses.…

Typepad Troubles

Posted on June 22nd, by matt_schiavenza in NBNL. No Comments

Apologies once again for the light posting, and this time it isn’t my fault!  Typepad decided to go on a two or three day holiday and for whatever reason I wasn’t able to log on.  Now it appears to be fine so I might churn out a post or two and get some fresh content on the site while I can.…