The Respectable Bigot

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

Is The New Republic, a magazine so entrenched in Washington opinion journal circles that it was once referred to as "in-flight reading on Air Force One", owned and operated by an anti-Arab bigot?

All signs point to….yes.  Glenn Greenwald presents the mercurial tale of one Marty Peretz, whose antipathy to Arabs extends all the way to their inferior vases and carpets. …

Making Sense on Cuba

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

One element of American foreign policy I’ve long had strong objections to is the idiotic, counterproductive embargo of Cuba.  The idea that isolating Castro’s regime would somehow lead to his overthrow and the establishment of a pro-US regime in Havana doesn’t work- yet that has been the US policy since the early 1960s. The principal proponents of the embargo are Cuban emigres living in South Florida and since they’re the only ones who really care all that much about it, nothing ever changes.

So even though I’m not sure it’ll add up to much, I’ll still pleased that libertarian-leaning US Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Az) has introduced legislation relaxing our Cuban policy. Says Flake: the embargo has "done little" to introduce democracy to Cuba and has given Fidel Castro a "convenient scapegoat for his own regime’s failures".

While this point is obvious to anyone who has been paying attention, it’s still nice to see an elected member of Congress say it out loud. 

Zzzzzz….

Posted on January 25th, by matt_schiavenza in China. 1 Comment

Chinese people have the remarkable ability to fall asleep anytime, any place.  I recall during my first visit to Shanghai seeing a man in front of his shop reclining in a wicker chair, fast asleep, while thousands of people were walking by and loudspeakers were blaring.

So I guess it comes as no surprise that this sleepy habit extends to the fine representatives of the provincial People’s Congresses.  ESWN has photographic evidence of several of these politicians openly snoozing during meetings.

If I were in the US Congress, I’d likely have done the same during President Bush’s uneventful and dull address yesterday evening.…

(Cough) Frugal?

Posted on January 25th, by matt_schiavenza in China, Travels. 3 comments

The New York Times travel section has a regular "frugal traveler" feature in which some brave soul is dispatched overseas and forced to survive in a foreign city for a whole weekend with just 500 dollars.

The latest feature (written by Matt Gross) covers Shanghai, China’s marquee tourist city and possessor of the nation’s highest concentration of fine restaurants, pricey bars, and exclusive hotels.  Surely, it wouldn’t be difficult to spend 500 bucks in a weekend if one truly wanted to. But Shanghai is still in China, and 500 bucks is still a lot of cash.  I imagine one could stay in a beautiful hotel, eat very well, catch an acrobat show, and do all of the touristy things and still spend less.  Oh, and acquire a new set of golf clubs, too.

The challenge of actual budget traveling is knowing what to sacrifice. You’d think twice about spending fifteen dollars on the municipal museum if your budget for the day was forty.  Do you splurge on a big dinner or do you eat bread and cheese and instead save your cash for a night out at the bars?  Shanghai is full of inexpensive eateries and reasonable hotels and other options for a traveler without a lot to spend. 

And that’s not just Shanghai.  Hell, it isn’t even difficult to spend a weekend in Tokyo, Manhattan, or London for under 500 bucks.  That’s because 500 is a lot of money.

Here’s an idea.  Why not have a column called "Very Frugal Traveler" in which some poor soul must survive somewhere for 100 bucks in a weekend.  I’ll write it myself.

(hat tip to Shanghaiist, who have other objections to the piece)…

SOTU Thoughts

Posted on January 25th, by matt_schiavenza in Politics. 1 Comment

I didn’t watch the actual State of the Union Speech, as prolonged exposure to President Bush’s semi-coherent ramblings gives me headaches.  As a good citizen, though, I took the time to read his speech as well as Sen. James Webb’s rebuttal.

A one-word reaction?  Yawn. Aside from the proposal to reduce gas consumption, there was precious little new material to chew on.  Iraq was obviously the elephant in the room and I found it telling that Bush waited until the second-half of his speech to mention the war.  Once again, the president’s take on the war seems to be this: "Iraq is a real shitstorm but if we leave, you and your family will be killed in a terrorist attack.  So we can’t leave".

’tis remarkable to think back to the 2002 SOTU.  Bush, buffeted by greater than 80% approval ratings, confidently declared Iraq, Iran, and North Korea to be part of an "axis of evil" and made it clear that Afghanistan would not be the only battle in the War on Terror.  Five years later, with his popularity hovering in Nixon/Carter territory (~30%), Bush lacks the political capital to do much about Iraq anymore, other than hope this "surge" idea bears fruit.  …

The Stupid Bowl

Posted on January 22nd, by matt_schiavenza in Sports. No Comments

Actually, all things considered I can’t complain much about this year’s Super Bowl matchup.  I was happy the Patriots lost though I realize a Colts win means we’ll be seeing a lot more insipid Peyton Manning ads on TV.  I was rooting for the Saints though have nothing against the Bears, so that’s ok too.…

The Final Month

Posted on January 20th, by matt_schiavenza in Personal. No Comments

Hello again.  Apologies for the recent dearth of new material- I have been moderately busy lately and haven’t (to be honest) felt like anything piqued my interest enough to blog about it.  Here’s what’s new with yours truly:

*I took the GRE exam on Tuesday and, to my enormous surprise, scored over 100 points better on the Math section than I did on the verbal section.  I had thought my only chance to get a good score was to nail the verbal and do passably well on the Math, but instead the reverse phenomenon happened.  Oh well- the overall score is what matters, after all.  And mine was acceptable.

I liked the lockdown high security aspect of the test- I felt like a prisoner forfeiting the contents of my pockets and stashing them in a locker.  I’m surprised I was even cited by name- I had expected to have a number instead.  "Number 13000578- proceed to cubicle seven for immediate testing!".  I also enjoyed the tutorial on how to use a computer, which I dearly hope was informative to no one.  "Congratulations!  You have successfully used a mouse!".  How many graduate school applicants- even from poor countries- need lessons in using a mouse?  In any case, I took it as a humorous ice-breaker before the test itself began.

*So with that taken care of, my next project is getting my VISA to go to China.  Alas, this has turned out to be a rather expensive endeavor, as the Chinese Consulate in San Francisco deemed my passport unacceptable.  It does look rather ugly, I must admit.  A heavy rainstorm in Vietnam damaged it (water seeped through my shorts and into my money belt, mind you) and the plethora of stamps and expired VISAs filled every available page.  Besides, it expires in thirteen months so now seemed like as good a time as any to get it renewed, which is where the "rather expensive" part of the equation comes in.  Ordinarily, renewing a passport takes several weeks but since I leave in a month, I had to opt for the "expedited service" which takes three to four business days.  Ugh.  Factor that in with the price of passport photos, the cost of shipping my passport request to Philadelphia (and back, as I paid for the return package) and you’ve got quite a large tab.  Oh, and of course the VISA itself costs 50 bucks and is valid only three months, which means I’ll be hit up with a renewal after being in China awhile.  Anyway…

The Chinese Consulate is quite the place, too.  Located south of Japantown on Laguna St., I nearly tripped over a group of diminutive, aging Falun Gong protestors sitting in the lotus position and praying with one arm raised.  Odd.  Just to remind you of where the stand on the issues, they had an enormous white poster criticizing the Chinese Communist Party for harvesting live organs, a practice which does of course disgusts anyone who really thinks about what that entails.  I could have done without seeing the photos, though, but I guess that’s the point.

* In the meantime, I’ve become somewhat zealous about exercising.  I have fit in a three-mile run nearly every day and have done sixty to seventy crunches as well, though consuming several glasses of wine, pieces of bread, and cubes of chocolate tends to mitigate the positive effect of such exercise.  In any case, it beats drinking tea and smoking cigarettes in the afternoon, which was my routine during my laziest days in China.

* And finally, the odd jobs continue apace.  Today I made fifty bucks picking up a Japanese man at the airport and driving him to the language school I sub at.  Tomorrow, I’ll make ninety proctoring entrance exams.  Life is hard, yes indeedy.…

A Disappointing Finish

Posted on January 16th, by matt_schiavenza in Sports. No Comments

So the Chargers’ season ends with an early postseason defeat to the Patriots, a savvier and smarter if inferior NFL team. How many stupid penalties, questionable coaching decisions, incidents of poor judgment by Philip Rivers, and dropped passes did we see yesterday?  The Chargers did all they could to give the game to the Patriots, and in the end New England finally decided to take it.

One consolation: this might cost Marty Schottenheimer his job. 

So it’s another Patriots/Colts matchup on Sunday, becoming the 2000s version of the Niners and Cowboys.  I’m not sure who to root for.  I like Brady and the Pats, but haven’t they won enough already?  In the NFC, it’s an easy choice: go Saints!

Can’t we fast-forward the NFL draft to the day after the Super Bowl?…

O Say Can You See

Posted on January 13th, by matt_schiavenza in Politics. No Comments

Since the appalling Yale a capella incident in San Francisco, I have been waiting for some conservative blowhard to make the obvious connection that the singers were beaten up because they sang "The Star Spangled Banner" which, as we all know, is completely unacceptable in these parts.

My wait is over!  SFist watches Hannity & Colmes so we don’t have to:

But here’s the thing– no matter what anybody would say, Hannity
would harp on the fact that the group sang the National Anthem as to
him, the reason why the kids were assaulted was because it’s San
Francisco and we hate America. We guess he must think the term "fag"
means "freedom loving patriot." We know we often get that confused too.

When we watched a later run of the show, we couldn’t but help notice
that the story was promoted throughout the show, usually with the tag
"Yale Choir Beaten Up for Singing the National Anthem." One tag even
mentioned it happened in Nancy Pelosi’s city. We’re just wondering, but
would anybody care about this story if the Bakers Dozen sang "Auld Lang
Syne" instead of the National Anthem? Or then would the story be we
hate old traditional songs?

Shhh. Don’t tell Hannity that we hold lynchings of individuals who dare sing the national anthem at our sporting events!…

Humm Baby!

Posted on January 12th, by matt_schiavenza in Baseball. No Comments

An appreciation of the first Giants manager I can remember, Roger Craig.…