Should We Feel Sorry for New York Sports Teams?

Posted on January 21st, by matt_schiavenza in New York, Sports. 4 comments

The New York Times wants us to feel sorry for the fate of New York sports teams, who have had a difficult time winning championships. Except for the Yankees, of course, whose dominance in Major League Baseball history is such that no other team has won even half as many titles as they have. The poor Rangers haven’t won a Stanley Cup since 1994. The Mets haven’t won a World Series since 1986*. The Knicks haven’t won an NBA title since 1973, while the Jets haven’t won a Super Bowl since 1969! How about the New York Giants? Oh yeah, they won a Super Bowl just three years ago.

I suppose one could argue that as the nation’s largest city New York is somehow entitled to a greater share of titles, but the fact is its distribution across the four major sports is not in the slightest bit unusual, and that’s even if you don’t count the New Jersey Devils and New York Islanders, two successful NHL teams who play in the New York metropolitan area.

The problem with this article is that it could have been published in virtually any other newspaper in the country without looking out of place. In the Bay Area, take away the 49ers five Super Bowls and you’re left with four titles by the A’s, two by the Raiders, one each by the Warriors and Giants and none yet by the Sharks. LA’s record seems less impressive without the Lakers, as does Chicago’s without the Bulls or Dallas’ without the Cowboys. Philadelphia’s four sports teams haven’t exactly set the world on fire lately, and the city of Cleveland hasn’t had a championship parade since the 1960s in any sport. The only city that truly seems to punch above its weight is Boston, whose four teams are all among the best in their respective sports.

I realize it’s a slow period for sports but surely the NYT could have done better than that?

*An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that the Mets’ last World Series title came in 1996. It was in 1986, as anyone with a Bill Buckner memory should know.

Washington DC

Posted on January 14th, by matt_schiavenza in Uncategorized. 5 comments

I’m here in Washington DC for a few days attending a career conference organized by SIPA, and while it’s always folly to publish snap judgments about a city after less than 48 hours, what else is blogging for?

A lot of people in my program prefer DC to New York and it isn’t difficult to see why. New York is crowded, loud, and busy, while DC is none of these things. I’m one of the rare birds who likes crowded, loud, and busy- a consequence of living in China for so long- but most people don’t so DC will have an appeal to them. The wide lanes, handsome architecture, and commercial circles do give the city a certain charm. And there are enough independent coffee shops, bookstores, foreign restaurants, and bars to warm the urbanist heart.

DC is a company town- with that company being the federal government, the largest company of all. Most of the people who purposefully move here from somewhere else do so to work for the government in some capacity. Are there artists, novelists, and poets in the city? Does the city have its own, indigenous culture? Are there things in DC that you can’t find somewhere else? Perhaps if I spent enough time here, I’d find that the answer to each of these questions are yes. But off the top of my head, I can’t think of any great works of art originating in DC that are independent from the city’s function as the capital.

I’ve often heard people say that Beijing and DC are analogous while Shanghai is more like New York. I think that this analogy is slightly inapt. DC and Beijing are both the political centers of gravity in their respective countries, as befitting the seats of government power. New York though the cultural and business centers of gravity in the US, while in China Beijing represents the former while Shanghai the latter.

Ultimately though it’s silly to judge a city based on what it isn’t, rather than what it is. And DC is a perfectly fine city. But it doesn’t make me want to hurry up and leave New York.…

Amy Chua and the ‘Chinese’ Model of Parenting

Posted on January 14th, by matt_schiavenza in China Culture, Current Events. 1 Comment

I’m only the millionth person to comment on this story, but I thought I’d comment a bit on Amy Chua’s now infamous Wall Street Journal article entitled ‘Why Chinese Mothers are Superior’. For those of you who haven’t read it yet, Chua describes her uncompromising, dictatorial motherhood model and explains how her children ended up better off as a result. Western parents who coddle their children, consider their feelings, compromise with them, or allow them personal autonomy raise kids who accept mediocrity in their lives. In the op-ed, Chua comes across as brash and unapologetic.

So she’s a horrible bitch, right? I’ll admit that this was my first thought, as well as disappointment that a writer I had admired (Chua’s book World on Fire is excellent) would publish something like this. But wait- let’s take a look at the cover of her new book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, and read the subtitle. What does it say?

This is the story about a mother, two daughters, and two dogs. This was supposed to be the story of how Chinese parents are better at raising kids than Western ones. But instead it’s about a bitter clash of cultures, a fleeting taste of glory, and how I was humbled by a thirteen year-old

This blurb doesn’t seem to jive with the WSJ article. Was this intentional? Chua says that the article was edited without her oversight:

“I was very surprised,” she says. “The Journal basically strung together the most controversial sections of the book. And I had no idea they’d put that kind of a title on it. But the worst thing was, they didn’t even hint that the book is about a journey, and that the person at beginning of the book is different from the person at the end — that I get my comeuppance and retreat from this very strict Chinese parenting model.”

While the Journal article was unquestionably good for sales and awareness of the book, which has already hit #7 on Amazon and is only headed upward, it has been painful for Chua. “I’ve gotten scary messages. Death threats. All from people who haven’t yet read the book,” she says. “And while it’s ultimately my responsibility — my strict Chinese mom told me ‘never blame other people for your problems!’ — the one-sided nature of the excerpt has really led to some major misconceptions about what the book says, and about what I really believe

This doesn’t exonerate Chua from the draconian parenting methods she initially employed, but I do think she deserves credit for grappling with such a personal issue in the public sphere. Plus, her editorial does raise some uncomfortable questions. Do ‘Western’ parents coddle their children too much? Do we allow our children, who may not know any better, too much autonomy in making important decisions? Should we emphasize the value of repetition and memorization more?

In high-school, at a Chinese-American friend’s house, her immigrant mother asked me if I played any instruments. I replied that I played piano until age 12 but quit because I didn’t like it. She looked at me with amazement and said that all 12 year olds, including her daughter, want to quit. But she didn’t let her.

I remember feeling upset at this implication that my parents had somehow failed me. In truth, they tried very hard to get me to reconsider. They said that I would someday wish I hadn’t quit, that someday I would see the utility in all the hard work I put in practicing. They were right, of course, and they knew that they were right. But I’m not sure that relenting was a mistake. There are lessons that cannot be dictated, that must be absorbed through personal experience. This is one of them. When I was 18, I knew that I should have kept it up, but I never blamed my parents for letting me quit. I would have never understood the consequences of my action otherwise.

This reasoning doesn’t apply to everything, of course, but ultimately successful adults have to be able to make judgments based on their own reasoning and experience. I’m not arguing that children raised by “Chinese” parents can’t do this, but that knowing how to bounce back is just as valuable a skill as math and violin.…

The Arizona Shooting

Posted on January 11th, by matt_schiavenza in Current Events, US Politics. No Comments

Kurt Vonnegut once wrote that there’s nothing intelligent to say about a massacre, but you have to try, don’t you? This was a targeted political assassination, long-planned, and I don’t think you can view this event in isolation from the coarsening political climate around the country.

But again, we have the situation where a clearly insane person was able to obtain a gun without difficulty and murder six other individuals while wounding 19 others. One of my Facebook friends wrote that he hoped this shooting wouldn’t lead to further restrictions on guns. Further restrictions? The assassin in this case was deemed too mentally unfit to attend a community college yet passed a gun purchase background check. Why do we take such great pains to license people to drive cars while allowing anyone over a certain age who doesn’t have a criminal record to buy a gun?

The reason, of course, is that a significant percentage of Americans willfully misinterpret the 2nd Amendment and believe it grants them the right to arm themselves at will without restriction. These people, represented by organizations such as the National Rifle Association, fight any act of legislation that they deem to be restrictive of gun use. And they’ve won. Democrats don’t push back on gun control anymore. They’ve essentially ceded the issue in an attempt to attract more rural voters to their side.

A possible solution: why not make the purchase of guns a process one must apply for, complete with interviews, so that only determined and sound-minded people would bother? Why not make the purchase of guns akin to, say, obtaining a drivers’ license? Therefore those Americans who want to own guns badly enough will be able to do so, but that people like Jared Lee Loughner would be turned away once it was determined that he was not the sort of person to trust with a firearm.

Sadly, such a proposal in the American context is altogether too modest to consider.…

Talk on Tuesday

Posted on January 3rd, by matt_schiavenza in Uncategorized. No Comments

On Tuesday January 4th I’ll be giving a short talk about my experience in China at the Museo Italo-Americano in San Francisco. The presentation begins at 7 and will feature a Q&A opportunity at the end. If you’re in the San Francisco Bay Area and would like to drop by, RSVP at 415.673.2200. The event is free but reservations are required. Hope to see some of you there!…

Happy New Year

Posted on January 1st, by matt_schiavenza in Me, Uncategorized. No Comments

It’s the last day of the year. How did that happen? A year ago today I was living in Kunming, feeling a palpable sense of relief that my grad school applications were out of my hands and wondering exactly where I might end up. Now, the first half of my first year of grad school is already over. I have an apartment in New York City and am a student at Columbia University, something that I did not think particularly likely a year ago. For the first time in several years, I am not in China and have no set plans to return. I am a student for the first time since 2004- at least a student in an accredited institution.

A year characterized by a major life transition also contained some wonderful highlights, such as a trip to Laos in July after several false starts. My Giants finally won the World Series, something I never would have expected. I was able to meet several of my “e-friends” in the flesh, both here and in China. At school, I’ve become acquainted with dozens of wonderful new people from around the world, and I am excited that we will be bound together by our common placement at Columbia.

All told I feel like I’m starting 2011 in better shape than 2010, giving me much to be thankful for. Here’s hoping 2011 lives up to it!…