Friday, February 9, 2018

Highway to the Nostalgia Zone

When I was a kid, there was one weekend every summer I looked forward to more than any other.

It wasn't the Fourth of July. It wasn't a birthday. It wasn't even the last day of school.

It was Operation Handshake.

What was Operation Handshake? Glad you asked (and even if you hadn't, I would have explained anyway). It was, at the time, the largest airshow in the United States, attracting about 500,000 visitors over two days. And man, what a show.

I remember seeing one of the first F-15s, back when they were still painted light blue, do a max-performance takeoff into the vertical. I saw an F-117 there for the first time, and a B-2. The airbase where it was held, Richards-Gebaur, was home to a squadron of A-10s, and they never disappointed with an appropriately over-the-top ground attack demo featuring enough pyrotechnics to make Michael Bay blush. My dad was my wingman for most of these, and I have many fond memories of wandering through all the wings and kerosene fumes with him.

I was most definitely in the crowd for this one.

The base closed in the '90s and the airshows stopped around the same time. I haven't been to one since.

Until this week.

I was at the Singapore Airshow, which is more of a trade event than a public relations spectacle, as part of my job. I had a lot of fun and helped with some interesting stories. I even was asked to look directly into the sun and ad-lib an interview about Chinese drones. Yes, I know "Israeli" is not a country. I only got one take, OK?

It was, obviously, a much different experience than the airshows of my childhood. For one, there were weapons being sold everywhere, including this lovely dessert case of 40mm grenades.

Fun for the whole family!

For another, I was working, which meant I didn't get to gawk at the airplanes as much as I'd like. The most common backdrop for my airshow experience was the Media Room, Brought to You By Pratt and Whitney:

There was free food and coffee.

And for a third, Operation Handshake was, even in its later years, an American affair. There were certainly no aircraft from Cold War adversaries. But at the Singapore Airshow, you could watch a Su-30MKM do its thing:

Thrust vectoring makes for great flight demos.

... or a Saab Gripen:

Small, fast, maneuverable and Swedish.

There were also aircraft on display that simply didn't exist when I was younger, like:

The F-22 Raptor.

The F-35 Lightning II.

The RQ-4 Global Hawk.

The F/A-18E/F Super Hornet (although its smaller, older brother, the F/A-18 was around back then).

The WL-2 Wing Loong II, a Chinese strike drone.

The entire suite of Russia's United Aircraft Corporation fighter aircraft, in model form or otherwise.

... among many other things. I got to nerd out, I got to be professional, I got to see a lot of interesting hardware and drink some remarkably bad coffee. Most of the time I was in air conditioning, which is also a big change from the airshows of my youth.

My enjoyment of all things flight-related hasn't changed. The brief bits of the Singapore Airshow where I got to just stand and watch planes in the air brought back a lot of great memories. And maybe, just maybe, I can take my dad to the next one... or take my daughter (but I need to be sure to keep her away from the grenades).

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Happy New Year

I think for a lot of people, 2017 was a year that belongs in the rearview mirror. And it would be easy to spend this post listing the reasons why. In fact, I had written a couple of sentences doing just that before I caught myself.

Starting a new year isn't about looking at all the bad things from the previous you want to avoid in the next one. It's about hope. About a clean sheet and a brand new indelible marker to write with.

Definitely not visible from my window.

Sitting here in a serviced apartment in rainy Singapore, two kids fast asleep and a hectic December behind us, it's hard not to feel like we are poised for a big transition. Temporary housing will give way to a permanent home; we will get to know this city better (why are all the nearby playgrounds closed right now? Don't they know we have restless kids?) and forge ahead. I'll start a new job that will mean days of playtime with the kids and family lunches are back to being weekends-only treats.

All that is certain. I don't need to hope for it; it will happen.

So do I want out of the next year?

It's not hard. I want my family to be healthy, happy and safe. And I want 2018 to exceed 2017 in every way that it can. Is that boring? Maybe. But I won't be disappointed if those hopes are realized.

No matter how you feel about 2017, and no matter where you are or how you're celebrating (I will spare you the details of New Year's Eve: Corporate Housing Edition), I hope your hopes are realized too.

Here's to a bright, new year.

*edited to remove the artifacts of writing while recovering from 2017’s parting gift: a family-wide stomach bug.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

It's Christmas Eve, babe

... and, as always, I hope most fervently that none of you are in the drunk tank. It's been an interesting December, but Christmas has arrived nonetheless. Here's to a great one, and a great finish to an, uh, exciting year.

Happy Christmas, or whatever holiday you celebrate (even if it's just a responsible trip to the bar).

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Revenge of the Return of the Misc Box, Part II: The Boxening

Well, readers, I'm sure you're just as aware as I am that it has been a long time since we've exchanged electrons here on the blog. Like a long time. As usual, I will offer no excuses other than: life has become busier than usual.

Sure, Gerry, you may say. But that's true of all of us out here in the world, watching American democracy teeter and Hollywood greenlight remakes of movies that were great the first time around.

And you're right. We're all busy in our own way.

My particular way of being busy these days is another international move.

Mrs. Blog and I, now joined by Little and Littler Blog, as I guess I'm calling them, are moving to Singapore. And I have a new job, with another global news organization. New climate, new restaurants, new weird-but-iconic statues.

Weird-but-iconic merlion.

It's a whirlwind, moving a family. A real maelstrom of stress, planning and preparation. All you can do is keep putting one foot in front of the other, logistically and mentally speaking, until you're at your new home. At least that's the theory. We haven't arrived at that home yet, so I can't say for sure.

An artifact of previous international moves has been the existence, at the end of a day of packing up a home, of a catchall box. It's not full of one type of thing (like glasses) or even stuff that all goes in the same room (like the kitchen). No, it's a Misc Box that holds stuff you want to take with you but isn't easily categorized.

This time around, it doesn't look like we'll have one of those. That's partly because Mrs. Blog is an expert at organizing, and partly because this move will be the best supported in terms of relocation services. I won't go into the boring details, but it does appear that everything--regardless of categorization--will be neatly packed away, only to rematerialize in our new Singapore pad.

Instead there's a mental Misc Box. We've been here six years--my longest stretch in anyplace that's not Chicago or Kansas City. We have roots and friends and two little kids who were born here. What the movers can't take, but what I'm bringing with me, are those things. Those relationships, memories and experiences--good and bad--we found in Hong Kong. They'll always be with me, even if they defy categorization.

And so off we go. Soon we'll hop on an airplane, shake the dust of the 'Kong from our shoes, and embrace the future (which may or may not be devoid of chewing gum).

Hong Kong hasn't been perfect. But it's been home.

Sic transit gloria mundi.

Or as they say in Hong Kong, "Bye bye!"

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Just like old times

Frank Mason III was fun to watch in college. Not just because he's a Jayhawk (which is awesome) but because he had an uncanny ability, maybe more so than any player since Jacque Vaughn, to take the tiniest crack in a defense and break the whole thing down for a scoring opportunity. It looked a little something like this:

Now he has been drafted--by Sacramento, in the second round--and is trying to play his way into a guaranteed contract in summer league games. A friend posted this clip of highlights from his latest game, and I have to say... it looks like he's doing the same sort of stuff as a pro that he did in college. It's uncanny:

I've never been a huge fan of the NBA, but if Mason sticks, that might change. He's that fun to watch.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

It's America Day again!

Happy Fourth of July, America--things may be a little weird right now, but it's nothing Muppets can't fix.

No breakfast cake this year, but one can always hope for big things in 2018....

Friday, March 10, 2017

Let's talk about health care

I'm old enough to remember 10 years ago, when health care was about insurance, and insurance was so valuable it was often reason enough on its own to take a job.

I'm an expat enough that I've been out of the country for most of the time the Affordable Care Act has been in effect.

I'm cynical enough to understand that "access to health care" is basically meaningless when it is shorthand for, "if you can afford it, you can buy it."

A lot of people smarter than I have written on this topic, so I'll keep this short.

Health care is not a luxury (like, say, a new iPhone) America as a country has strong incentives to have a healthy population--there is close correlation between health and economic productivity. All Americans benefit.

So given that, how do we make sure Americans are healthy? For most of my life, the answer was to have a government program that paid for health care for the very poor (Medicaid) and the old (Medicare), and everyone in between was left to fend for themselves. This was fine as long as you could either a) afford to pay your medical bills on your own, b) could afford insurance on your own or c) had a job that offered insurance.

The reality was that the simple expense of medical care and insurance was too much for many, and so millions of Americans went without either. This is an absurd thing to type considering the U.S. has the largest economy in the world by a huge margin, but there we were.

The Affordable Care Act tried to address that by (in simple terms) making health insurance mandatory and creating a system in which it was affordable. The mechanisms for both are of course incredibly complex. The results were pretty easy to see, with the number of uninsured Americans dropping dramatically.

The current plan to replace the ACA, for no real reason other than partisan spite, uproots a lot of what made the ACA work. It promises "access to health care," and its chief proponent, Paul Ryan, said the problem before was that healthy people subsidize sick people, which is both literally true and spectacularly dumb, considering people whose houses don't burn down subsidize firefighters to help those whose houses do.

Anyway. This brings me to Hong Kong, where I live now. Life expectancy and health in general are good in Hong Kong despite occasionally awful pollution. A large part of that is the public health system, which is staffed by well-trained doctors and is free. There is a private health care system too, as well as an insurance market.

First of all, it's important to note that even though the U.S. economy dwarfs that of Hong Kong, the 'Kong has extra money around because it does not fund a military. The current public medical system is largely a legacy of British colonial times but it is funded by current taxes, and Hong Kong, which is terrible at budgeting efficiently, always has money left over anyway.

The public system is effective. What it's not is friendly. You will feel like a number, you often will wait a long time for non-emergency care and you will not feel particularly comforted by your surroundings. You will also pay nothing, or very little, for your care. (Delivering a child and spending a few days in the hospital costs, all-in, about US$30.)

The private system is effective too--and friendlier, although bedside manner isn't really a thing in Hong Kong. What it's not, is cheap... let alone free. Getting a dose of oral vaccine for your kid at a no-frills clinic will run you about US$250 plus a consultation fee.

In my experience, doctors in the United States are more engaged with their patients and think more critically about their cases. A system that gives all Americans access to their expertise would benefit everyone.

You can see where I'm going with this. A system like Hong Kong's that allows private medical businesses to offer services while also guaranteeing free medical care to anyone who needs it--not just the poor or old--would be a huge positive for America. This is not a full-throated endorsement of medical care in Hong Kong, which can be frustrating and demeaning and even ineffective, but of the system that gives everyone access to a doctor.

Replacing the ACA because it was "the other guy's" idea is dumb and harmful. Improving it so every American gets health care, not just access to it is not.

In my experience, the latter can be done. It's a shame the Congressional majority is too focused on negative partisanship to realize that, or even try.