Quote of the Day

Posted on December 30th, by matt_schiavenza in Ideas. No Comments

"When politicians start citing God as the authority for whatever they
want to do, they are usually promoting some policy that defies human
reason."

- that’s Susan Jacoby, from her Washington Post op-ed examining the bias against atheists and agnostics in American discussions of religion.…

The San Francisco Barrys

Posted on December 29th, by matt_schiavenza in Baseball. 2 comments

The Giants land their first major free agent in fourteen years: Barry Zito.  Some fans are already unhappy: they see Zito as an overrated pitcher on the decline who will not come close to justifying his enormous salary. 

That may be.  But Zito’s signing works for several reasons.  First, he’s only twenty-eight so the length of the deal (seven years) doesn’t carry too far into Zito’s twilight years.  Second, he is one of the most durable pitchers in baseball and is a good bet (given his track record) to give the team 220+ innings per season.  Third, Zito should thrive in AT&T Park: a good pitchers’ park where many long fly balls fall into outfielders’ gloves.  Fourth, signing Zito doesn’t tie down the Giants’ payroll beyond this season because with the departures of Bonds, Vizquel, and Benitez next season, the Giants will have plenty of cash freed up to pursue top offensive players.

And to those wringing their hands over Zito’s enormous salary: wait a few years.  $18m per for a very good pitcher may seem exorbitant today but might look good in the 2009 market.  Plus, he makes only $2m more than the Dodgers are paying Jason Schmidt, who is five years older, far less consistent, and far more injury prone than Zito.  Is that so absurd?

I’m no Sabean cheerleader but I think this is one of his better deals in awhile.…

Volver

Posted on December 27th, by matt_schiavenza in Film. No Comments

I caught Volver tonight, meaning I’ve finally seen all of the movies I want to see that are currently playing in movie theaters.  Volver was vintage Almodovar: cinematographic wizardry, vivid color, sudden violence, and women in distress.  Penelope Cruz is a revelation as Raimunda- working for a fellow Spaniard and speaking her native language allows her to put her considerable acting talent on display.  …

Tanti Auguri

Posted on December 26th, by matt_schiavenza in China. 1 Comment

…and while we’re on the subject of China expats let me extend my congratulations to Chris Waugh, who  left bachelorhood today for the joys of matrimony.  May Chris and his bride lzh live happily ever after.…

Why I’m Moving to Kunming

Posted on December 26th, by matt_schiavenza in China. No Comments

I tend to get blank stares from people when I tell them I plan to move to Kunming.  Few who haven’t traveled before in China have heard of the place.  To help explain my motivation for going there (and not somewhere else) here is a comment I found at Sinosplice:

Kunming has decent food (rice noodles, spicy Sichuan style food), blue
skies and mild weather most fo the year ‘round (could kill for some
blue sky in Shanghai), is cheap (apartment for about 700/rmb per month
you’ll live good, breakfast noodles for about 3 kuai a bowl), has near
limitless travel options and natural scenery galore (Deqin – see
Meilixueshan), and girls are cute and people are friendly. Drawbacks
are Kunming is becoming just like any other city in China, lots of
wrecking crews, but thats everywhere in China. Kunming has a reputation
for being a place where loser western backbackers kinda get lost in
life and waste their years away , so be careful and keep some goals for
yourself in life. But in all, Kunming is a place that is hard to not
like.

Amen.  Will I become a loser Western backpacker who gets lost in life and wastes my years away?  I certainly hope not, and there are plenty of those in Fuzhou, anyway.  I’ll be fine.

True Christmas Spirit

Posted on December 26th, by matt_schiavenza in Ideas. No Comments

James Fallows explains Christmas in Asia- a continent largely bereft of actual worshiping Christians yet full of Christmas spirit.  I actually enjoyed Christmas in China because it presented the holiday in its modern form: commercial, festive, and deliciously pagan.  My family dispensed with going to church some years ago yet Christmas itself remains ever important.  Christmas unites us all: a celebration of commerce and gluttony, and I mean that in the best possible way.…

Christmas Eve

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

For Scandinavians and their relatives in the New World, Christmas Eve eclipses Christmas Day in importance.  Here is a brief introduction to Christmas traditions in Norway, my ancestral home and the birthplace of my mother.

I’m half-Norwegian and half-Italian, so in effect I get to have two Christmases equal in pomp and circumstance.  The food coma never really goes away, I’m happy to report.  Both nights we eat a traditional Western-style meal (usually a pot roast) but with slight ethnic variations, such as the serving of Norwegian rice pudding on Christmas Eve and a first course of ravioli on Christmas Day.

Christmas ultimately is for children, and all of the adults are concerned that my nephews (aged eleven,nine, nine,and one respectively) will soon stop believing in Santa Claus if they haven’t done so already.  My enlightenment occurred one year as my uncle foolishly placed a Christmas gift from Santa under the tree on Christmas Eve, thereby prompting me to question why Santa had visited our house several hours ahead of schedule.  When I confronted my mother about it, I think she took it harder than I did.

Every family has its Christmas disaster stories, and mine is no exception.  I remember a particularly inebriated and lecherous Santa Claus appeared at our door one Christmas Eve and making a series of ribald jokes before being ushered out.  There have also been the obligatory "inappropriate gifts", some better exchanged in private and some highly unsuitable given the age of the recipient.

That said, we do get along and are civil (if not sober) throughout the duration of the evening.  That is something truly worth celebrating.…

Why Third Parties Make Little Sense

Posted on December 25th, by matt_schiavenza in Politics. No Comments

In arguing that the Libertarian Party ill serves small-l libertarian interests, Ilya Somin makes a cogent point about our political system:

If we had a proportional representation electoral system, like many
European countries and Israel, a separate libertarian party would make
excellent strategic sense. The party (if better run than the
dysfunctional LP) could command 10-15% of the vote, thereby winning
roughly that percentage of legislative seats, and would be a potential
part of a ruling political coalition. A libertarian party might also
make sense if one of the major political parties were on the brink of
collapses and the libertarian party stood a chance of taking its place
(as the Republican Party displaced the Whig Party in the 1850s).
However, in the real world, the US is unlikely to move toward
proportional representation, and neither major political party is
likely to collapse anytime soon. Therefore, the cause of libertarianism
will be better off without a separate Libertarian Party

This argument is exactly correct and a useful rejoinder to idealistic Americans (including some friends of mine) who tend to support fringe parties. 

In effect, the Democratic and Republican parties are de facto coalitions of several different interest groups that might form parties of their own in a proportional representation system of government.  Within the Democratic Party itself, there are blue-collar laborers who oppose free trade yet are socially moderate, Clinton-style New Democrats who are fiscally moderate and decidedly upper-middle class, African Americans, Latinos, and so on.  Each group works within the confines of the party to influence policy and promote their goals.  The Republican Party, similarly comprised of several disparate interest groups, functions in the same manner.

Now I personally prefer the PR model over the American one.  But, given that no major politicians in my lifetime have ever proposed junking our Presidentialist system, the possibility of change is very remote.  In the meantime, voters wishing not to marginalize themselves completely ought to pick either the Democrats or the Republicans, as distasteful a choice as that can be.…

Links Links Links

Posted on December 23rd, by matt_schiavenza in Links. No Comments

Salon interviews Dawn Eden, a once-promiscuous woman who dedicated herself to chastity and found happiness thereafter.  A puzzling phenomenon, if you ask me…

George Packer tells us why anthropology neatly explains our difficulties in Iraq.  Well worth reading.

And for a laugh, check out Stanley Kurtz’ creative new way to blame, yes, the liberal media for the Iraq debacle!  These guys never give up, do they?…

A Hundred Flowers Blooming in Cuba?

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

Raul Castro urges debate in Cuba.  Some quick thoughts:

-Could Raul now realize that Cuba’s hard-line Marxist model is no longer sustainable, and that Gorbechev-style glasnost is needed to stave off the regime’s decline?

-Could this be a Mao-style Hundred Flowers Campaign?  In the late 1950s, Mao encouraged intellectuals and students to criticize the regime.  When Mao realized that most of the criticism focused on his iron grip of power, he ended the campaign and persecuted the most vociferous dissidents.  Many scholars now say that the Hundred Flowers campaign was actually a cynical ploy by Mao to root out internal enemies.  Could Castro be taking a page out of Mao’s playbook?

-Or this this much ado about nothing?  Perhaps Raul wants to endear himself to his subjects by creating a warm and fuzzy identity.  Perhaps this is empty rhetoric and nothing will actually change.

The US should call Raul’s bluff.  Offer to kill the embargo in exchange for more openness and human rights.   If it works, then US-Cuba relations instantly improve and Cuba’s economic situation becomes far less dire.  If not, then it’s back to the status quo.

What do we have to lose?…