Off to Austin

Posted on October 29th, by matt_schiavenza in Travels. 1 Comment

The NBNL American tour continues with a flight tomorrow morning to Austin, Texas, where the venerable Jascha is hosting Jesse, Sean, and I for a three-day Halloween themed rendezvous.  I shall return to California late Wednesday and will post a at least a perfunctory post then.

Hook ‘em horns!…

The Next Step In Smear Campaigning

Posted on October 27th, by matt_schiavenza in Politics. No Comments

This is something: Virginia Senator George Allen, in a heated re-election battle with Democrat James Webb, has taken to combing through a work of Webb’s fiction in order to smear him.  Let that be a lesson to all those novelists out there!  Even the fruits of your imagination are fair game in a political campaign!

Fortunately, the great Radley Balko is on this story like a cheap suit.…

Quote of the Day

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

I don’t usually dip into Ralph Peters Land for the same reason I don’t
usually dip my unsheathed cock into the ass of a dead boy-hustler with
the rusty needle still extruding from the deep dorsal vein of his
penis. It isn’t safe.

The mysterious IOZ- a man showing an obvious displeasure with the hawkish New York Sun columnist.…

Politics As Group-ID

Posted on October 27th, by matt_schiavenza in Politics. 1 Comment

I was watching comedian Dennis Miller on an HBO special the other night and was more intrigued than I thought I’d be.  I’ve always liked Miller’s stuff but this was the first time I’d heard conservative political positions being delivered in such a humorous manner.  Most comics tend to be on the liberal side (see Bill Maher, Jon Stewart, George Carlin, etc.) so hearing a right-wing fellow riff was a novelty. 

Anyway, I remember reading that Miller used to be fairly liberal but was changed by 9/11.  Fair enough.  Quite a few liberals voted for Republicans under the impression that the Elephants handled national security better.  This isn’t odd.

What was odd, however, was that Miller’s act discussed issues like taxes, public schooling, and Clinton’s infidelities more than terrorism or Iraq.  The show came out only last year but it seemed like it could have been seven or eight years old.  Odd.  Miller sounded more like a garden variety conservative than someone who lurched right only after 9/11.

So here’s my question.  For those people who suddenly changed political persuasion after a major event (such as 9/11), do they feel naturally sympathetic to unrelated positions their new party hold?  For example, would a liberal seduced by President Bush’s handling of national security suddenly start feeling better about tax cuts, liberal gun control, and faith-based initiatives?  Would a conservative turned off to Bush due to Iraq begin supporting federal money for public schools, woman’s choice, and gay marriage?

Or do most people hold a hodgepodge of positions and merely choose the political party that best represents their opinions?  In other words, do we feel a certain kinship with fellow Democrats or fellow Republicans, even without knowing their positions on several issues?

Just something to think about……

Fearless Election Predictions

Posted on October 27th, by matt_schiavenza in Politics. No Comments

With election night not two weeks away, here come the fabulously inaccurate NBNL predictions.  Some will be bolder than others…

1. Arnold Schwarzenegger will beat Democrat Phil Angelides by at least 20 points.  If people like me are voting for Ahnuld, then Philly-boy is in a lot of trouble.

2. Democrats will hold the Senate in New Jersey and gain seats in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Montana, and Rhode Island.  Republicans will stave off Democratic challenges in Tennesee and Missouri.  Republicans will control the Senate 51-47-2 (The two independents are Bernie Sanders in Vermont and of course Joe Lieberman in Connecticut.  Both will caucus with the Democrats and Sanders will arguably become the most liberal member of the Body).

3. Democrats will regain the House by a margin of ten seats or so.

4. Bush will somehow, someway, spin it as a Republican moral victory.…

The Great Chinese Firewall at the US Air Force?

Posted on October 26th, by matt_schiavenza in Media. No Comments

Internet addicted expats in China love complaining about The Great Chinese Firewall; i.e. government censorship of politically sensitive and "immoral" sites.  Via Rebecca MacKinnon, it appears the US Airforce has learned a thing or two from its Beijing brethren. 


I wonder if "libertarian" law professor Instapundit
will link to this story under the headline "Crushing of Dissent"?…

More Iraq Thoughts

Posted on October 25th, by matt_schiavenza in War. No Comments

While I was half-asleep last night, I overheard someone on the TV saying that, prior to the invasion, Iraqis had a firm national identity and that religious sectarianism only began in earnest once the US decided to divide the government that way.  Could this be true? 

I’m skeptical.  Wasn’t there a Shia uprising in the waning days of the first Gulf War that was brutally repressed by Saddam?  Aren’t there Sunni/Shia tensions in other Muslim countries, such as Lebanon?

Plus, it wasn’t as if the US had complete control over Iraq and ordered people to stand single file behind their particular religious sect.  In the midst of an anarchic situation, people seemed to band together with their co-religionists, leading to organizations such as Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army and SCIRI’s Badr Corps.

Consider Northern Ireland, a far more developed nation than Iraq.  Their Protestants and Catholics couldn’t get along at all until fairly recently, and this was despite a reasonable degree of prosperity in Ulster.  …

The Lost Year

Posted on October 25th, by matt_schiavenza in War. No Comments

Last night I watched an excellent Frontline documentary on PBS discussing the first year of the US war/occupation of Iraq.  Entitled "The Lost Year", the episode recounts in breathtaking detail the missteps and fuck-ups of the Americans in charge, going from a point in which most Iraqis were genuinely grateful to be liberated from Saddam Hussein to the beginning of the vicious insurgency.

I won’t go into details, but suffice to say anyone who thinks the occupation has gone reasonably well no longer has any credibility whatsoever.   …

The Islamic Veil

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

There are some political issues in which I have little trouble taking a stand.  Drug war = bad.  Iraq War = botched.  Ken Lay = crook. 

Then there are those for which I have also taken sides but am cognizant that good counter-arguments exist.  These include my support for free trade, my support for woman’s choice (with certain restrictions), and my distate for federal agricultural subsidies.  Reasonable people can disagree on these issues.

Then there are those for which I have an extremely difficult time making up my mind.  One such issue is whether Islamic women should be penalized for wearing a full veil.  Both the "for" and "against" arguments are persuasive, and the stakes are high: how might Europe best integrate its billowing Muslim population?

This issue came to a head recently in Yorkshire, England when a British Muslim teacher  wearing a full-body niqab was fired for refusing to remove her veil in the presence of male colleagues.  She appealed and was overruled, but the issue still simmers as partisans fling invective at each other.

Anne Applebaum, writing in Slate, argues that the teacher ought to have respected the customs in her country of residence and removed her veil.  Applebaum’s argument is the most persuasive I’ve read: Westerners living in foreign cultures observe foreign customs, so why shouldn’t Muslims do so in Western cultures?

She cited the example of covering one’s arms and legs when entering a mosque or Hindu temple.  There are millions of others, of course.  A woman of Polynesian origin couldn’t come to work wearing the traditional clothes of her people, and a Chinese man couldn’t petition his place of employment in the for time off for Tomb Sweeping Day or Spring Festival. 

When an individual or family settles in a foreign country, it is imperative that they learn the language and customs of their new home.  Virtually all immigrants to the US, by the second generation at the latest, speak English fluently and have little trouble observing host customs.  As Applebaum notes, a Muslim woman is certainly allowed to wear a niqab in her home if she so chooses, just as we allow individuals to lounge poolside in the nude.  But you can’t go to work naked, and you shouldn’t be able to go to work so covered, either.…

New York Sketches

Posted on October 24th, by matt_schiavenza in Travels. No Comments

As I sat on the steps of the Columbia University Library, I decided to note the next five people who walked past me:

First, there was an elderly Japanese woman pushing a baby in a stroller, whispering softly to the child in her native tongue.  Then, a young Orthodox Jew, wearing a yarmukle, walked past humming a tune.  Next, a middle-aged white man shuffled by conversing on a cell-phone about Shostakovich.  Finally, a pair of young black men in spasmodic laughter over something only they will know. 

Obviously, a university campus is necessarily diverse, but I do not think my observations are out-of-place for New York as a whole.  The diversity is the city’s strongest asset and ammunition for its claim as the global city.  Certainly nowhere else packs such diversity into as small a space.

New Yorkers have a reputation for unfriendliness, but the ones I met on this trip were noticeably outgoing and nice.  Perhaps there has been a PR campaign to improve public manners, China style.  Perhaps not.  Actually, I think the reputation springs from outsiders’ confusion of fast-paced with rudeness.  A woman asked me if I was lost while I was walking in Central Park and offered directions.  Plus, everyone I asked for assistance in navigating the subway system was quite helpful.  Only one man- a dimwitted security guard at NYU- refused to be of any help whatsoever.

I loved the big portions, especially for breakfast.  Yum yum.  They made the sting of high prices go away, if ever so slightly.

I bought the New York Times at a newsstand each morning and made a point to finish at least the front page.  I loved the in-depth reporting of Iraq in particular, something the San Francisco Chronicle does in fits and starts.  Every day, however, there was at least one article telling the New Yorkers how badly Republicans were going to lose in the upcoming elections.  I would like to believe this is true, but something tells me that Democrats may be getting a little too over-confident. It reminded me of Pauline Kael’s famous quip after Richard Nixon defeated George McGovern in a landslide in 1972: "I can’t believe Nixon won.  I don’t know anybody who voted for him".   Indeed, as Matt said to me, "Manhattan warps your sense of reality if you stay here long enough.  For example, I don’t know anyone here who isn’t a Democrat".  Articles like the ones I read on the political race both reflect and dictate the cocooning effect.

Anyway, I loved my four days there but it was nice yesterday to walk outside in such warm, calm weather and realize that paradise is something far closer to home.…