This Is Infinitely Annoying. Literally.

Posted on November 30th, by matt_schiavenza in Language. No Comments

In an otherwise humdrum critique of Virginia Senate-elect James Webb, George Will upbraided the politician for his misuse of the terms "literally" and "infinitely".

Bravo.  "Literally" is a useful word because it neatly distinguishes between hyperbole and reality. "Infinitely" is wonderful as metaphor but ought not be used to describe a quantifiable sum.

Got that?

PS- Dear George: Have you thought about selecting a new photograph to accompany your columns?  The one you use now makes you look like a Math club president who has just had his lunch money stolen.…

Sports Notes

Posted on November 30th, by matt_schiavenza in Sports. No Comments
  • The Old Man and I had a long discussion last night about the Giants’ offseason.  He would like them to make a more concerted effort in signing impact players, while I am more wary of committing too much money to overrated guys, like Carlos Lee.  Of course, the situation is almost moot as most of the key bashers have signed: Lee, Alfonso Soriano, Aramis Ramirez, and soon J.D. Drew.  Since the Giants have so many holes to fill, and since next year’s free agent class is much better, I’d like to see them make incremental signings such as the reported one of Padres outfielder Dave Roberts.  Yes, he’s old, and no, he isn’t a great player- but at 3 years and $15m he’s a much better bargain than Juan Pierre (Dodgers) or Gary Matthews Jr. (Angels).
  • Although young pitching is such a valuable commodity to have, I’d still like the Giants to dangle LHP Noah Lowry a little bit to pitching-starved teams.  Lowry has shown promise in each of the past two seasons but it appeared late this year that the league had begun to figure out his bread-and-butter pitch, the changeup.  Since Lowry doesn’t have much of a fastball it would make sense to get rid of him now before he endures a horrendous year.  If the Devil Rays were to be so kind as to offer Carl Crawford straight up for Noah, Brian Sabean should take that deal faster than it takes him to knock back a bottle of wine.
  • The Warriors look good but caveat: they haven’t played too many games on the road yet and the ones they have played have exposed their weaknesses.  I am encouraged by a few factors, though.  First, the rise of Monta Ellis and Andris Biedrins.  The first gives the Warriors great depth at guard (should they trade Jason Richardson?) and the second gives them a low-post presence who can actually score (unlike the rarely-used Adonal Foyle).  Second, Don Nelson has inspired much improved play from the much-maligned Mike Dunleavy.  Third, Ike Diogu’s eventual return should give the W a second wide-body in the paint who can help keep Biedrins out of foul trouble.  Unfortunately, the West remains awfully strong and the Warriors could suffer the misfortune of missing the playoffs once again even if they win 44 games or so.  December- with its road-heavy schedule- will be the acid test for this bunch.
  • A conversation with a football-fanatic friend (over in China, no less) has convinced me that the officials rule of an illegal forward pass rather than a fumble in last Sunday’s Raiders/Chargers game was correct.  Is the rule stupid?  Of course.  It always seems like the Raiders get burned by obscure and obsolete rules.
  • The 49ers are a much-improved team, but what pieces remain missing? Should they continue building the offensive line?  Should they get a game-breaking wide receiver?  A big-time pass rusher?  A top-notch safety or corner?  How about all four?  The Niners have a lot of picks in next April’s draft and should have sufficient cap space to make a key free agent signing or two.  I believe they are three or four good players away from being a contending team, though I suppose that could be said about every mediocre team in the NFL.

Not Thinking Things Through

Posted on November 30th, by matt_schiavenza in Foreign Affairs. No Comments

Via Doug Bandow, Michael Ledeen of The National Review continues to agitate for the spread of the War on Terror:

There is no escape from this war, and we haven’t even begun to wage
it.  Once we do, we will find that we’ve got many political and
economic weapons, most of them inside our enemies’ lands.  I entirely
agree with Victor that Iran and Syria are fragile, brittle, and
anxious.  They know their people hate them, and they know that
revolution could erupt if we supported it
.

Ledeen’s analysis rests on a very large assumption: that because a particular government is widely unpopular with its citizens, its overthrow by a foreign army will be welcomed.

Let’s consider an example closer to home: The United States.  A majority of Americans (sometimes nearing two thirds) disapproves of President George W. Bush.  Yet imagine if a country like France or Russia were to invade the US, blow up the White House, capture Bush, and occupy the country for an extended period.  I would bet that nearly every American, with the exception of a few hardened leftists, would resist the occupation and end up deeply resenting the occupying country.

Why would Iran or Syria be much different?  I have talked to many foreigners in my lifetime from a variety of different countries and for the most part, they admire America for its ideals like democracy, freedom of speech, political plurality, and economic liberalism while at the same time deeply opposing US foreign policy.   They see the US invasion of Iraq as an attack on the sovereignty of a foreign country in order to aid US interests. 

I don’t advocate a completely isolationist foreign policy.  After all, as President Clinton noted, attitudes toward the US in foreign countries improve when the US assists or leads reconstruction efforts after calamities like earthquakes and tsunamis.  This is a very different thing than overthrowing foreign governments, and analysts with the pedigree of Ledeen ought to know better.

Social Ideas and Such

Posted on November 30th, by matt_schiavenza in China. No Comments

The 88s looks at an interesting topic: why do foreigners (or perhaps just Westerners) living in China find the Chinese "social ideal" to be, well, less than ideal?

The more sociable Chinese I met were unctuous to the extreme: they tried impressing me, asking me too many questions, or simply acting like they wanted to be my friend too much.  I consistently found myself guarded when talking to Chinese people and often came across as being rude or unfriendly because I couldn’t match their enthusiasm at our meeting.

Conversely, the Chinese I liked best were the ones who were themselves around me and didn’t act differently just because they were talking to a laowai.  In addition: the students I identified with the most were ones that were a little unusual: they were brooders, or darkly humored, or imbued with a naughty streak.

What is the American social ideal?  Do we have one?  I honestly have never heard an individual here being praised as such.  With a bit of thought I’m sure we could come up with some examples.…

49ers Blogging

Posted on November 27th, by matt_schiavenza in Sports. No Comments

One thing about the 49ers newfound respectability: there are no moral victories anymore.  Even though you’d have been laughed out of the room last month by suggesting the Niners ought to beat the Rams in St. Louis, today’s 20-17 loss still stings.  A few notes:

- I didn’t care for some of Mike Nolan’s decisions.  Like one might say of a politician, he’s too conservative.  Why can’t the 49ers go for it on 4th and inches, ever?  Especially when your running game is averaging better than five yards a carry?  Electing to kick the field goal deep into the fourth quarter and a one point lead indicated a complete lack of confidence in the offense.  It reminds a certain fan of Elvis Grbac’s fist-pumping charade in a Monday Night game against Green Bay more than a decade ago, when Da Mayor called him a "disgrace to humankind".

- The prevent defense during the Rams game-winning drive was not suitable to the game situation.  The Rams had too much time to nickle-and-dime the Niners to death, resulting in an eminently predictable touchdown with barely half a minute left on the clock.  Had Nolan instituted an aggressive defensive front, he would have had a better shot at containing the Rams’ short passing game.  A big touchdown play would have given the Rams a three point lead but with enough time left for the Niners to at least mount a successful field goal drive to send the game into overtime.

- Great week for Antonio Bryant.  Belligerent DUI boy was flagged for two critical holding penalties, one of which erased a sizeable Frank Gore gain.  At least we can say he isn’t like Randy Moss, who has openly quit for the Raiders (hey Randy, would it kill you to complete your routes?)

- Oh and speaking of the Raiders, they were the victims of perhaps the worst call I’ve ever seen in an NFL game.  On a 4th and 2, Philip Rivers of the Chargers completed a pass to a wide receiver for a gain of about eight yards.  The receiver stood up- without having ever been touched- and intentionally flipped the ball out of his hand.  Players on both teams realized it was a fumble, and a Raider recovered.  The referee first ruled first down for the Raiders, but then inexplicably reversed course.  Instead, he flagged the Charger for an "illegal forward pass" and gave him a five-yard penalty.  The receiver, of course, had no intention whatsoever of passing the ball.  Yet that was the call, and not only did the Chargers keep the ball, they had first down.  Ridiculous.

The Chargers probably would have won anyway, but on a day that the Raiders defense did a great job containing the Rivers/LT attack, it would have been nice for the refs to stay out of the way.…

Yellow Fever Oh No!

Posted on November 27th, by matt_schiavenza in China. 5 comments

There’s quite a salty thread over at The Peking Duck, one that yours truly has contributed to, debating whether or not white men with a strong preference for Asian women are inherently creepy.  I do encourage you all to read the original Village Voice article TPD cites, Ivan’s ensuing commentary, and the comments that follow.  Interesting stuff.

Of course, some white men (NBNL included) have a strong preference for Asian girls.  Some white men are creeps.  Some creepy white men also have a strong preference for Asian girls. 

Then again, some non-creepy white men have a strong preference for Asian girls.  Judging by the article, and Ivan’s support for it, you’d think this latter category simply didn’t exist.  …

Snappy Answers to Silly Questions

Posted on November 27th, by matt_schiavenza in War. 1 Comment

"Molon Labe", writing at Winds of Change, begins a post on the war by presenting a question to the readers:

Are we in fact facing a serious threat from Islamacists? Your answer to
that question will probably determine a great deal about your response
to news articles and existing or proposed diplomatic, military and
legal actions here and abroad.

Really, though, who would answer "no" to the first question?  It is completely obvious that the threat from Islamacists (whom I take to mean Islamic fundamentalist terrorists) is serious.  Their destruction of the World Trade Center and part of the Pentagon demonstrated this threat rather clearly. 

A far better question would be: "Are we facing an existential threat from Islamacists?".  That, I think, would trigger a fair debate. I would argue that the threat was serious but not existential.  A fair amount of people would disagree.  That‘s the crux of the argument, not whether or not the threat is simply serious.

Alice in Chains

Posted on November 27th, by matt_schiavenza in Music. No Comments

I’ve spent the past hour listening to Alice in Chains’ 1996 MTV Unplugged album.  It’s excellent and adds further grist to my contention that the 90s represent an overlooked golden age for rock music.  Consider Alice in Chains.  They’re a great band and better than 99% of the flotsam I hear on modern rock radio.  In their time, though, they weren’t huge because:

1. They were typecast as "just another grunge band" and not quite as accessible as Nirvana, Pearl Jam, or Soundgarden

2.  Their songs are very depressing, dealing primarily with subjects like heroin addiction ("Down In A Hole"), war ("Rooster"), and rage ("Angry Chair").  You wouldn’t exactly enliven a party by putting an Alice in Chains album in your stereo.

3. Their hit songs were spread out over three or four albums, so they didn’t have a Nevermind or Ten to skyrocket them to superstardom. 

Funny how a great band can get lost in the mix sometimes- perhaps under a different set of circumstances Layne Staley’s subsequent death would have received far more attention than it did.…

Back in California

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

Well after four lovely days in Washington and British Columbia, I’m home.  Now commences a period of ritualistic fasting to make up for my gluttonous behavior during the Thanksgiving holiday.  Oy.…

Reunion Dinner

Posted on November 20th, by matt_schiavenza in Personal. 1 Comment

I hung out last night in San Francisco with a handful of friends from my year abroad in Italy.  We were twenty then and a fairly rambunctious group, but who wouldn’t be living in a country known for wine, beautiful people, and style?

Now we’re twenty-five and those of gathered have relocated to San Francisco from points north, south, and east.  I can proudly say that despite the encumbrances of graduate school and careers we are still able to run amok when given the chance.

Among the highlights: getting precise directions to the restaurant from a couple on a Western Addition street who subsequently panhandled us for money, our driver completely forgetting where he parked and requiring a long time to find his car, going fast down one of SF’s grand hills whilst singing Nine Inch Nails’ "Closer" at maximum volume, having a bottle of brandy disappear completely drunken ukelele strumming, drunken crossword puzzle attempting (I discovered that it’s far easier doing a crossword puzzle drunk than when hungover), laughing hysterically recounting scenes from Borat, and plaintively moaning that there wasn’t a dart board in the bar.

Well. 

I should mention that in addition to the drinking we had a wonderful time and it was great seeing everyone.

 …