水曜日, 9月 29, 2004

NOBODY should have to pay medical bills AT ALL. There's simply no reason for it. I'm serious here. Capitalism destroys people's lives, especially when it's applied to health care. And ultimately people are left without dignity.

In reply to Jostein's comment here (I didn't want to bicker in Jaquandor's post about his son):

If nobody pays medical bills, we will all pay for them in the form of taxes. Sure, you can then change the tax code so, to exaggerate, the top 10% of income-earners pay 90% of all taxes. Except rich people have an easier time moving to other countries. Except no proper bureaucrat would ignore such a large, unexploited tax base as 90% of the population. Unless you are really at the bottom of the economic ladder, you will still end up paying for yours or someone else's medical care.

Perhaps Jostein means that health care should be provided free of charge to both patient and taxpayer. I don't know how this would work. A lot, if not most, of my friends are premeds; many of them do feel a need to help people. However, I dare to say that most would not go through the sheer torture of med school if it weren't for the money and prestige.* If medical professions do not command a high salary, you just aren't going to get the cream of the crop as doctors. I might be willing to settle for a physician of middling quality, but would a parent wish that for her child?

Even if top doctors would work for free, the equipment itself costs a lot of money. I'm just a college kid playing researcher on afternoons, but a buffer I use costs $55 for 2 mL. When you're measure things in microliters, 2 mL can go quite a long way--but not if you're running a lab with eight full-time researchers. Unless you're going to make medical equipment and supplies for free (and how can that work?), medical care will cost money.

Health care is not a right, and it is not free. You can make it a "right"--you can impose price controls, wage controls, require insurance, heck, nationalize the entire thing. But you won't be getting the best doctors, the best new medicine, the best treatments, and those who can afford will go to where they can. Those who can't will be screwed.

*I base this opinion on the fact that they don't spend much of their free time volunteering to physically help people. Working at a hospital lab or raising money via grant applications are wonderful activities, but neither demonstrates a burning desire to comfort an actual sick person.

Update: Rereading the post, I fully realize how incoherent and unsubstantiated my arguments are. Well, the "Health Care in America" course is slated for next semester. I'll get back to you then.

金曜日, 9月 24, 2004

WTF moment

I went to Best Buy to buy the Star Wars OT DVDs, and the widescreens were ALL sold out. A pathetic number of Pan and Scans languished in the display.

How unfair is that? Unlike the ungrateful OT purists who lambast Lucas at every opportunity, I have stood by the prequels through thick and thin. No summer soldier and sunshine patriot crap for me. But when the time comes to get the _widescreen_ DVDs out, these whiny fanatics get their pure paws on a copy, and I don't? Where's the justice?

Just kidding. :p

Not about the "sold out" part. :(

土曜日, 9月 11, 2004

Dad was channel surfing as we kids prepared for the nightly fight with Mom about bedtime. When he switched to CNN, the screen was dominated by that image of the first tower, its middle shrouded with smoke. A few minutes later, the second plane hit. And, much later after that, CNN told us that they had hit the Pentagon.

It all seemed like something out of a Jerry Bruckheimer movie, some horrible spectacle that just couldn't be happening in real time on the other side of the world. Only much later did I realize that thousands of people had died in front of my eyes. You slow down upon seeing a highway pileup to look at the mangled metal frames, but go too fast to see the blood on the ground. And for that, I will always feel guilty.

金曜日, 9月 10, 2004

Simply Breathtaking:

From Jeff Harrell:
What followed was an unprecedented collaboration involving hundreds of web sites and potentially thousands of Internet users. Readers from all over the world started sending e-mail to the three Power Line contributors. Information started to stream in. IBM did manufacture a line of typewriters that used proportional spacing, but questions remained about whether the typeface of the IBM Executive line matched the typeface used in the CBS memos. Another possible source of the memos was the IBM Selectric Composer, a very expensive and very slow typesetting system; this possibility was quickly dismissed. And so on and so on at a pace that almost overwhelmed the Power Line editors.

The people who sent e-mail to Power Line came from all walks of life and all levels of expertise. One reader, John Risko, said that he worked as a clerk at the Naval Underwater Research Center in 1971. He said, "These documents are forgeries, and not even good ones." Reader John Burgess differed, saying, "By 1969, I was using an IBM Selectric typewriter with proportional type balls. They were widely available in the public sector and thus readily available to the military."

And so it went throughout the day, a dialogue of the kind we've never quite seen before, at least not on this scale. Web logs use a method of cross-referencing each other called "trackbacks." A very popular Web log post might receive as many as a dozen trackbacks, or citations from other Web sites. By midnight Thursday night, Scott Johnson's Power Line post had received 443 trackbacks, meaning that 443 distinct Web sites had cross-referenced his work during the course of the day. As one blogger put it, "That's got to be some kind of record."

My friend Kevin and I recently got into an argument about blogs. He basically sneered at their low-level partisanship and told me that he got all his news straight from the AP (ha!) and Reuters. I was going to email him Instapundit's stats (better than the circulation of most mid-sized newspapers), but this post is even better.

木曜日, 9月 09, 2004

When the appointed day came, I packed an overnight bag, turned off my computer and telephone, caught a cab to Grand Central Station, and boarded a Hudson Line train for Cold Spring. It was hot and rainy in Manhattan and warm and noisy on the train, and I squirmed uncomfortably as I watched the river roll by outside my window, feeling more than a little bit nervous at the thought of all that time on my hands. An hour and ten minutes later, the train pulled into the Cold Spring station. I was the only passenger who got off. I couldn’t see the village through the trees and wasn’t sure what to do next, so I called the inn on my cell phone and asked for directions. Three minutes later, I was standing in front of the Hudson House Inn, looking across the street at the broad, tree-lined river and listening to birds chirping away just over my head. On the far shore was Storm King Mountain, shrouded in the light gray mist of a muggy June afternoon. For no reason at all, my eyes filled with tears.

I checked in—I was the only guest—and took a shower and a nap. Then I went out again and planted myself on a rough-hewn park bench a stone’s throw from the water. Behind me was the inn, before me the mountain, beside me a neatly painted hexagonal bandstand whose cornerstone proclaimed it to have been built in 1929, three years after my father was born. A pier lined with old-fashioned streetlights, all but deserted on that quiet Tuesday afternoon, jutted out into the river. I sat for a half-hour and watched the freight trains rumble down the tracks at the foot of the mountain. A white sailboat glided by in the warm orange sunlight. Some wry impulse had led me to tuck a copy of Isaac Bashevis Singer’s Shadows on the Hudson in my shoulder bag, but I didn’t feel like reading, or using my cell phone to check my messages, or doing anything other than sitting on the bench, gazing in silence at the river and the mountain and the summer sun.
--Terry Teachout

The beauty of American colleges (as opposed to Taiwanese ones) is that they give you so much free time. It'll be another ten years before I can afford to spend two nights at Cold Spring on a whim, but I can easily skip a class, walk to the river, and enjoy an afternoon of doing nothing. And, to be honest, no undergraduate class I took in the past year has changed me as deeply as finishing Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin series. Twenty books, spread out from November through April, and it felt like a lifetime. Correction: two lifetimes. The proper way to enjoy those books is to finish Blue at the Mizzen and start Master and Commander again. You literally feel the weight of those years lift from your heart, and, like Jack and Stephen, you are young again.

水曜日, 9月 08, 2004

Jane Austen and Nietzsche:
On C-SPAN yesterday, Harry Evans, the Brit-born publisher, said that when he revived the Modern Library imprint for Random House, the big sellers were Jane Austen and Nietzsche. I mentioned this to a clever friend, who had these thoughts:
Ubermenschfield Park
Pride and Ressentiment
Also Sprach Emma Wodehouse
and, my favorite:
If there were any truth universally acknowledged, it would be that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a transformation of all values.

火曜日, 9月 07, 2004

I didn't realize how much I loved Kyoto until I left it. Sure, every time my brother and I ventured into Osaka, we found it too crowded, too disorganized, too superficial. Returning to Kyoto was always like taking off the high heels at the end of a long day. Now that I'm in Taiwan, though, I find myself walking on the left side of the road, trying to orient myself around a river that isn't there, hungering for the best eel in the world, listening for the creepy clip-clop of wooden clogs at midnight, and waiting for a glimpse of an ancient culture that doesn't know it's dead.

However, if you'd asked me in late July what thought about Kyoto, I'd say that Japan was getting on my nerves. It was that last miniature garden that pushed me over the edge--I wanted to scream and swim to America. "Purple mountains' majesty" trumps "delicate mound of white sand that symbolizes the insignificance of man". Though I still dream about a nice, hot unagi donburi, there are days when I just want a good chicken quesadilla. However, Kyoto's beautiful bus system beats Boston's ghastly subway any day.

Boston's not a bad city. Sometimes, you can get on the T and climb above ground to cross the Charles at just the right moment, when the sun gilds the waters and that belt of gold trembles before you. But Park Street is the next stop, and you're once again in the darkness.

It's that time of the year again

My brother's been receiving various brochures from American colleges. Looking at these beautifully printed packets of false advertising, I can't help thinking:

--When do I get to be the token Asian in a picture?

--Brochure pictures of the surrounding wilderness should be labeled "Warning: We're in the middle of nowhere."

-- Can they stop showing pictures of snow and instead show pictures of heated tunnels under the snow?

--My professors never smile like that.

--Instead of charts displaying their racial diversity, schools should print charts showing: 1) The local price of a good-sized meal 2) average transportation costs to the nearest mall and 3) the median grade on any class's curve.

--There are creative essay topics, and then there are creative essay topics. And there are essay topics that make no sense whatsoever.

--Brochure students are always grinning. The question is whether or not they're grinning during finals.

File under "Taiwanese Politics"...

2004 has already distinguished itself as one of the most eventful years in the history of Taiwanese politics. In the past eight months, we've seen:

--A very divisive, bitterly contested presidential race, in which incumbent Chen Shui-Bian won against challenger Lien Chan by 0.228% of the vote. (Approximately 300,000 votes were considered invalid, mostly because the opposition KMT/PFP coalition passed a measure severely limiting the kind of votes that would count. Previously, the paper ballot just had to show voter intention. Now, it doesn't count unless one--and only one--stamp is in the box under the face of the candidate.)

--An assassination attempt on the president on March 19, a day before election day. Lien Chan et al. claim that Chen Shui-Bian faked the entire thing to gain sympathy votes. That's unlikely, as there doesn't seem to be many Lien supporters who actually changed their mind because of Chen's wounds. Instead, Lien's supporters were so wound up about the possibility of a staged attempt that they: 1) turned out in droves 2) pissed off Chen supporters with their accusations, and they turned out in droves. As the Taiwan presidency is won by a plurality in the popular vote, the 319 event energized the base on both sides.

--Calls for recounts from Lien Chan and the KMT. Lien Chan and Soong Chu-Yi both ran in the 2000 presidential race; they split the 60% "pan-Blue" vote and lost to the 40% "pan-Green" Chen. After four years of waiting, Lien and Soong partnered up, thinking their 60% should send them straight to the Presidential palace. Instead, they lost by a Jessica Parker-thin margin. The "Blues" raged, raged at the dying of their political dreams and surrounded the Presidential Palace in protest.

--The recounts. It pains me to think of how many lawyers were hired to oversee the counting. Alas for Lien, a majority of the contested invalid ballots were actually for the incumbent. Chen's "pan-Green" coalition relies heavily on uneducated seniors, who didn' t know the new rules. (Example: Some old ladies liked to stamp on their candidate's face instead of in the little box.)

--A lawsuit filed by Lien Chan, asking the Supreme Court to declare the election invalid anyway. His reasoning is that the election should not have gone forward after the 319 shootings. According to the law at that time, however, elections only stop when a candidate is dead. Chen, as much as Lien Chan wishes otherwise, is not dead.

The lawsuit is still in the courts, though, and a decision should come out in September.

--The establishment of a "319 Truth Commission" by the opposition coalition (which holds a majority in the legislature). This isn't surprising (Taiwanese politicians love establishing commissions). What is surprising, though, is that the legislature gave itself all sorts of powers. It commands prosecutors to report to the commission, promises to produce a result in three months, and will be able to overturn court rulings that it doesn't like. In other words, bye bye independent judiciary. The premiere vetoed the "319 Truth Commission" measure and asked the Supreme Court to rule it unconsitutional. We'll see.

--Most important, though, is the recent amendment of the constitution to cut the number of legislators in half. Taiwan will be switching to the Japanese system: every voter gets two votes. You vote for your local representative, and then you vote for a party. Thus, half the legislators will be directly elected, the other half seated based on each party's proportion of the second vote.

This amendment will change the electoral landscape of Taiwan. Basically, we'll be transitioning from a multi-party system to a two-party system. The smaller parties might get seats from the "proportion system"; however, the reduction in available seats means that those from smaller parties will never be directly elected. A current problem is that aborigines and the Fujian province islands (with people who feel closer ties to China) are really overrepresented. We'll probably be seeing the gerrymandering opportunity of a lifetime.

New Look

After neglecting this blog since early spring, I've changed templates to Blogger's "Harbor," then switched background pics. The one in the upper left is from Himeji Castle, one of the best-preserved castles in Japan. The one in the lower right is Taipei 101, currently the tallest building in the world. I spent all of July in Kyoto, a beautiful, cultured city where you live and breathe history. Both June and August were for lounging about in Taiwan. My laptop has 500+ MB of pictures and clips, and I'll try to post the best stuff here. As for pictures of Taiwan...well, I promised a photography enthusiast I know that I'd take some pics for him. *wince* That'll have to wait.