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.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

It's Christmas Eve, babe

As always, here's to avoiding the drunk tank on this day, and every day. It's been... quite a year. Hope the next one can start on a positive note, just as an otherwise dark song ends on an uplifting one.

Merry Christmas, and happy holidays.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Historic elections

No matter how things go on Nov. 8 in the U.S., the outcome will be a big deal. Either we'll have the first female president, or the first authoritarian; in either event, there is no putting the genie back in the bottle.

As we head toward the vote count, I remember the first "big deal" election I was a part of: 2000, Bush vs. Gore. I was working in Florida, so really about as close to a front-row seat as you could ask. But would you actually want a front-row seat? Here's how my day went down.

At work by 1:30 p.m. That's because our first edition closed at 3:30 p.m. (The St. Petersburg Times basically invented aggressive zoning), not because of any planning for electoral craziness.

Of course as the day went on, electoral craziness materialized. The race was tied! Florida's electoral votes would decide the presidency! But there was a wrinkle: no one knew exactly who had won Florida. Before the first statewide edition closed, however, the networks all called the state for Gore. Whew. Front-page headline could announce his victory, right?

You know how this goes. Those calls were based on exit polls, which turned out to be juuuust a bit outside. The state was anyone's to win, and the front page was ripped up for the final edition.

More profanity-focused options were discarded, apparently.

By this time, back in the days where continuous online coverage was a rarity, our work was more or less done. There would not be any more news before the presses rolled again that night. Off to an election night party at the house of a Co-Worker of the Blog!

Except... it was less of a party and more of an extremely boozy cable news watch marathon. None of us had seen anything like this. That feeling didn't change as the night went on. This was more than a close race, it was a total mystery, and as young journalists I think we were expecting someone, somewhere, to come up with an answer while we watched. That didn't happen.

And when I woke up the next morning, fully clothed, on my couch (OK, I was 22, it was a futon) at home the next morning with MSNBC still on, I was no closer to knowing what was going on than I was the night before, although the size of my headache suggested something terrible had happened. There was also an inexplicable shoeprint--my shoe, fortunately--about 7 feet up on the inside of my front door.

The next few months, well, you know how the story unfolded. Vote counting went on for weeks, chads were hung, court cases were heard, and eventually George W. Bush was officially the president.

It was all literally unprecedented. All of it. And Election Night 2000 remains a singular event in my career and in my memory.

This time around, Election Night in America will be Election Morning in Hong Kong. If there's any sweating out of results, it will happen at an inconvenient time for drinking. Let's hope there's no need for anything but a sigh of relief and removing the bookmark from our browser.

Until 2020.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Information isn't what it used to be

Oh, hello, gentle reader. I didn't see you standing there. Please, come in, sit, make yourself comfortable. It's been a while, I know.

Since my last post, the B-21 has gotten a name, the Raider, which narrowly beat out Nukey McMeltface, I'm told. The 2016 presidential election is well under way. And the Blog Family has grown by one.

Look at that paragraph. The three items there are not equal in value--at least not to me!--but are presented as though they do.

And this is what has been driving me nuts about 2016. I'm not the first person to spill ink, real or electronic, on this and I'm confident I won't be the last. But the fact that statements are more and more being treated as equally true regardless of source is a real, creeping problem with public discourse. "I read it on Twitter" should never have the same weight as "I read it in the Wall Street Journal" and certainly not "I saw it myself." Opinions aren't facts. Innuendo isn't argument.

This isn't limited to fallible humans. Today, a Google search will get you this result:

No, Google. Bad Google.

Happily, a Snopes link is among the top results, but c'mon, Google... that's not news. It's, put charitably, rumor and speculation. (Russia Today is a propaganda arm of the Russian government; True Pundit is a conspiracy website.) A more cynical person might call it outright disinformation. The most cynical person might say this is a result of how we are all subtly being encouraged to only treat as "fact" things that align with our ideology.

So look. All I'm saying is that all information is not created equally. Fact is not subjective. There is such a thing as getting it right, and the *best* sources of information will admit their mistakes.

But please. Don't just take my word for it.