The Hexacoto

Listening to the sound of one hand clapping

Tag: America

Bespoke education and entertainment, or risk it?

bespokeTwo days ago, I was at work transcribing an interview one of the interviewees used the word “bespoke.” That was a word I haven’t heard in a while, and I just shared my thoughts on Facebook, “I think “bespoke” might be my favourite word of the day, today.” It’s a simple word that means something one would not associate with how it looks and sounds: it basically means something that is tailor-made to individual preference.

My friend Kevin Allison, who hosts a podcast and runs the live comedy show The Risk! Show, commented, “I tried to cut it from a recent RISK story because I didn’t know what it meant.” I asked if he could not have simply checked the dictionary and he said something that struck me: “If I don’t know what a damn word means, plenty of listeners won’t either!”

This forced me to think a lot about the role of those delivering informational content, be it via print or broadcast such as newspapers (print/online) or the radio. Is it our role to expand the vocabulary of those watching/reading/listening, or should we create a bespoke program easily digestible and understandable by readers?

I’ve always been impressed with the balance of hefty words and simple terms that the New York Time achieves, and constantly learn new words or remember old ones I’ve forgotten. English is a beautiful language, the bastard amalgamation of some many languages from continental Europe, that in its plenitude are niche, forgotten gems we should celebrate.

But in our consideration of the audience, especially here in America, we (content producers) amputate ourselves to fit the ready-to-serve boxes that the audience expects. As my journalism professor once said, “Why used ‘dollar words’ when a ‘fifty cent’ one suffices?” Maybe because sometimes there is beauty in the complexity contained within the brevity of “dollar words.” The best uses of difficult words are those placed supremely in a sentence where the context allows the readers to read and extract the meaning without having to stumble over it, and upon reflection on the use of the word, appreciates that that word is not run-of-the-mill. Where a “dollar word” is pivotal in the sentence, and the meaning known only to Webster-Merriam, that is untenable. We use many clues in context and morphology to help us understand words we don’t, harkening back to ye ol’ grade school days of “reading from context.” Morphemes like “un,” “mal,” “pro,” etc. contribute to the understanding of the word, even if the reader doesn’t know the word, and writers should take that into consideration when trying to achieve beauty with their words.

But ere we lose the readers in a mire of SAT vocabulary list, there is nothing more exhausting than having to refer to a dictionary every couple of sentences. I think content producers, in an ideal world, should challenge the limits of the audience’s knowledge every now and then, and achieve a balance between inspiration and information.

Always returning home to Asia

By the way, I have started on my job as an editorial fellow at Jing Daily, a publication about China’s luxury business. While not exactly at the top of the list of things I dreamed I’d be writing about, it is a start for my journalism career, I suppose.

There, I write things like:

Sotheby’s World-Record Jadeite Necklace Primed For Top Chinese Bidders

and

Luxury Pushes Hong Kong’s Sky-High Retail Rent To Top Global Spot

It seems that I often write about very Asian-related thing; on this blog a lot about Japan, and now at work, exclusively about China. At one of my previous internships, it was also at Asia Society, which I enjoyed enough, writing about Asian current affairs to an American public.

For a person that took such pains to leave Asia, it seems it has come full circle to bite me in the back by having me write so much about Asian issues. As much as I don’t wish to sell myself as the “That Asian guy writing about Asian news,” that’s what I seem to have been doing lately.

Is that necessarily a bad thing? I’m not sure. I mean, is it a bad thing that I have access to Asian news and understanding, having actually hailed from thence? Maybe one day I’ll get to graduate from writing about Asian news.

So much bad reporting about the Obamacare-Little Sisters brouhaha

Little Sisters of the Poor. Courtesy of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.

Image credit Becket Fund for Religious Liberty

One of the news stories that came out around the turn of 2013/14 was the story of a religious group of nuns, the Little Sisters of the Poor, who aid the elderly. The story reported by many publications basically says this:

Obamacare is forcing a religious group of nuns to provide contraception to their employees! Shame on Obamacare!

Related arguments include: The Obama administration doesn’t think the Little Sisters are religious enough to qualify for church exemptions; the government shouldn’t force religious entities to do anything that goes against their moral beliefs.

Currently, the majority of news sites that tout this stance are mostly Op-Eds, as well as, of course, Fox News, and some others infamous for being less credible news sources, such as the NY Post.

However, given some of the facts of the case that were made available from the beginning of the case that really undermines the Little Sister’s standing, it’s unbelievable that writers are still deliberately ignoring those points and writing pieces with only side of the story — much bad journalism indeed. Well, I suppose sensationalising stories is nothing new, especially with some news sites whose purpose are not so much to enlighten but to build narratives.

However, some sites, such as the Huffington Post and the Denver Post, have also been guilty of reporting only one the side of the story where the Obama administration is being the overpowering encroacher. For them, it shouldn’t have been hard to do a quick search to find out what the facts are, should it?

I’ll summarise the facts and developments of the story:

  • On January 1st, 2014, a mandate from the Affordable Care Act (ACA), popularly known as “Obamacare,” would require employers providing insurance to is employees to include contraception coverage, or face fines.
  • Religious organisations, such as churches and synagogues, are exempt.
  • The Little Sisters of the Poor is a religious-affiliated non-profit, not a religious organisation, so they are still required to provide contraception coverage.
  • However, a provision in the ACA states that religious-affiliated groups, such as the Little Sisters, can opt out by filling out a conscientious objection form.
  • The objection form will then pass the burden of providing contraception coverage onto a third-party insurer.
  • Little Sisters says that even signing the form goes against their religious beliefs, because it makes them complicit in providing of contraception.
  • However, their arguments have a flaw: their employees are using a “church plan” insurance, which pre-dates the ACA, and under the church plan, the Little Sisters doesn’t have to provide contraception coverage anyway.
  • Little Sisters appeals for an injunction of the ACA mandate on them, appeal was rejected. On December 31, one day before the ACA mandate takes effect, Justice Sotomayer grants a stay on the rejection of the appeal, until a decision is reached.
  • The U.S. government has asked the Supreme Courts not to extend the exemption

There is a law, the Employment Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), that sets the standards for benefits provided to employees, should employers choose to provide them, and those under the church plan provision of ERISA don’t have to provide contraception coverage. Since it pre-dates the ACA, it limits the federal government’s authority over the health plan that the Little Sisters has, the Obama administration argues, and under ERISA the Feds couldn’t intervene or penalize it.

“There is no statutory authority to regulate the third-party administrator of a self-insured church plan and no legal compulsion for that administrator to provide contraceptive coverage where an eligible organization with a self-insured church plan invokes the accommodation, ” the government lawyers argued in an earlier Circuit Court brief.

So the Little Sisters is essentially just against the signing of the form, where if they do sign it, nothing changes from status quo — no contraception coverage will be provided, not even by third-party insurers. Yet if the Denver group doesn’t invoke that “accommodation” by self-certifying, it is still subject to hefty fines under the Affordable Care Act, at $6,700 a day, or $4.5 million a year, which comprises a third of their budget. Are they then petitioning against potential spiritual complicity, not even actual spiritual complicity, where signing the form equates to providing for the possibility of complicity, where if I sign, were I not under a church plan, I’d possibly have to provide contraception coverage, and that is against my moral beliefs? Can people actually petition against a counterfactual situation? The Becket Fund for Religious Freedom, which is also defending a similar case for Hobby Lobby, a private company that refused to provide contraception coverage because of their religious values, has taken up the Little Sisters’ case.

There is no deadline for court action, and Sotomayor can make the decision herself or refer it to the whole court, in which case all nine justices will decide.

The Big Apple everyone wants a slice of

How did “New York City” come to be known as the “Big Apple”? Brain Pickings mentions that the book, Does My Goldfish Know Who I Am?explains:

There’s an old American expression “to bet a big apple” and it means to be very certain of what you’re talking about. Then about a hundred years ago the “big apple” started to be applied to horse racing in New York, perhaps because it was the most important center for horse races or because of the value of the prizes. From there the expression grew even wider until it came to describe the city itself, especially during an age when it was one of the most exciting, fast-moving and glamorous places on Earth.

After a time, advertisers started using the words and even the image of a large, glossy, unblemished apple because they realized it was a good way to encourage people to visit the city. It’s true too: New York is like the biggest apple in the world, the shiny object that everybody wants a slice of.

– Philip Gooden, author

Whenever I think of “Big Apple”, two cartons come to mind. The first is this:

While the cartoon doesn’t specify itself to be New York City, but somehow wrecking balls, skyscrapers, theatre, and talent agencies bring New York City to mind. One Froggy Evening (1955) sings of building dreams and of making it big, and of dreams and hopes dashed by an uncooperative frog.

This was probably my first impression of what a big city like New York City would be like, and somehow I likened ragtime and jazz with the city as well. The frog in question, Michael J. Frog, stuck with me for the longest time, even though I didn’t know its name until when I moved to New York City, and I suddenly remembered this frog, whereby I searched up the cartoon and lo! Memories of what I envisioned the city to be, what it represented, and now that I’m in it, how the same exact pitfalls are applying to me.

The next cartoon, of course, is Rhapsody in Blue. Drawn in the iconic style of Al Hirschfeld, I first heard this song in middle school when my music teacher played it in class (on her Playstation 2 which she brought to class, for its DVD playing capabilities, but I suspect mostly to show off her PS2, which was expensive at the time).

My favourite part of the song is when the trumpet fanfare first comes up, since I was a trumpet player myself, but the flutter blare of the trumpets was just so exciting. On one of my first proper internships in the city, where I had to commute on the trains and all that, I played Rhapsody in Blue on the train ride on my first day at work, and it got me very hyped up for the rest of the day.

The song is set in the 30’s Depression era, of a period where dreams and joblessness are rife. Today, we’re coming to the end of 2013, and I still feel like we’re in the throes of the Depression. What with articles everywhere touting us to be in the worst unemployment crisis since the Great Depression, it’s hard not to look at the video and feel blue. But unlike the characters in the video, who miraculously get the life they want, for the rest of us stuck on this side of reality, we can only slog on.

In Search Of The Day Til We Get A Slice

I have been blinded by the sparkles
that bounces off of the Big Apple
that comes from the shining gems and ‘scrapers
of those who have made it
while we the many have to remain content
with the sights we get from lights above,
dreaming of the day that we, too, get a slice

To learn that
the crunch of the bite
are the sounds of those trodden underfoot;
the sheen of red
is painted with the blood of those sacrificed;
in payment for a slice.

Where are Singaporeans living in America?

SingaporeBorn[1]

Image credit Daryl Sng’s blog

Former political counsellor to the Singapore Embassy Daryl Sng created a post on his blog about where Singaporeans are residing in the United States, using ArcGIS, a geographic information system software. He uses county-level data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, 2005-2009, which shows some 26,754 people who claim Singapore as their place of birth. Of course, that includes children of expatriates born in Singapore and Singaporeans who have given up their citizenship. Sng also states that the new 2008-2012 census data was recently released, showing some 29,173 people who indicate Singapore as their place of birth living in the United States.

The above map shows the distribution of these people across the country. Not surprisingly, the highest concentrations are on the East and West coasts, where there are “10,000 living within the Boston-New York-Philadelphia-Washington DC corridor, about 5000 living within 250 miles of L.A., and just under 5000 living within 250 miles of the Bay Area. The next highest concentrations are in Texas and then in Chicago/Ann Arbor.”

I think the most interesting parts of the data are: who are the random specks living in Montana and South Dakota (only dot in the entire state)?

America’s Mood Map: An Interactive Guide to the United States of Attitude

TIME magazine is telling me I shouldn’t be in New York… Well my “critical and quarrelsome” self says “Pooh-pooh to that!”

The whirligig of unemployment

17-UNEMPLOYED-JP1-articleLarge[1]

Image credit to NY Times

Jenner Barrington-Ward says that she has been told, “point-blank to my face, ‘We don’t hire the unemployed.’ ”

If there’s a statement that makes no sense, it’s the quote from above. What’s the point of creating jobs, if not to give to those who are unemployed and looking? Where are these jobs going? The news report that unemployment is slowly ticking down, but the majority of those unemployed aren’t seeing any marked improvements in their joblessness situation.

As reported in the New York Times, those who have been retrenched or jobless for an extended period of time find themselves stuck in a rut:

For Ms. Barrington-Ward, joblessness itself has become a trap, an impediment to finding a job. Economists see it the same way, concerned that joblessness lasting more than six months is a major factor preventing people from getting rehired, with potentially grave consequences for tens of millions of Americans.

What’s the psyche behind not giving people who have been jobless for a while the jobs they are seeking, if they are qualified? The Times speculate that these people tend to be in poorer health, or they might have some sort of strained relations, possibly being a liability on the company. This is a system of employment that holds little pity for those they have kicked out, because it does little to take them back in once they’re out.

As pointed out in the article, leaving these people out in the cold has consequences on the economy, such as “lost production, increased social spending, decreased tax revenue and slower growth.”

But companies who are not hiring are not seeing it that way, are they? They are more concerned with their own financial stability, and the additional hiring of anyone is an additional payroll they have to pay out, and many companies are so concerned with their frugality, that the national-scale impact of their austerity is left to the worries of someone else. But if everyone else is doing that (“I can’t afford to hire anyone; I’ll let someone else the hiring to bolster the economy”), therein lies the eventual self-immolation — no one hires, less people have spending power to buy products, companies see a drop in revenue, they cut down on hiring and perhaps even lay off more people to maintain “fiscal health,” cycle repeats.

Finger on the pulse of the shutdown

Photo credits to Doug Mills/The New York Times

For those who are confused why the shutdown happened, here is a New York Times graphic showing the spending bill that was bounced back and forth between the Senate and the House, and the lack of resolution on the future budget led to the shutdown.

For those who are curious as to which agencies specifically are affected and how many people will be furloughed, here’s a CNN searchable interactive list of all agencies affected, with numbers of furloughed listed as well.

P.S. When I first saw that NY Times picture (posted above), I thought I saw a picture of a guard precariously balancing on guard rails.

Why I choose to do journalism

A friend had dinner with a business partner, and asked me to tag along. I did, and eventually we talked about what I do. I said, I am trying to do journalism, but have had no luck breaking into the field yet.

Inevitably the question of “Why would you want to do journalism?” came up.

Frequently in the past, I would say, “When I was in high school deciding what I wanted to do in college and after that, I sat down and thought about what I liked. I was good at writing, and I liked travelling, and putting the two together, I came to the conclusion of journalism.”

However, that seemed like I wasn’t really all that interested in journalism, and that I was merely treading a path borne out of reasoning from what I was good at, passion notwithstanding. That night, at the dinner, I surprised myself and when I found myself giving a different answer.

“Why did I choose to do journalism? As I did my internships in journalism, and having to do research and keep up with the news, I realise that I really do enjoy knowing things about the world and telling people about it; I guess that makes me a news junkie. Reading and finding information, piecing them together to unravel threads of a story and being able to tell people about it is exciting to me. Only in a career in journalism do I get to grow along with it, and work isn’t merely work but a daily opportunity to learn and grow, and that is ultimately very satisfying to me.”

In this time that I am still not employed in the journalism industry, I am still trying my darndest best to keep abreast of the news, and producing content on this platform, keeping verisimilitude that I am doing journalism, still.

Would it have been easier to fold, and throw in the cards and go back home? Certainly, but I didn’t spend four years in college pursuing journalism (and linguistics) in the United States learning about journalism and the free press, only to go back home in an environment without free press and a general freedom of speech and expression. I didn’t travel over 9000 miles to learn to question, and to find answers, only to go back to a system where reporters have to be wary of reporting the “wrong thing.”

I left to feed my hunger and passion — I’m certainly not going back to kill it.

I remember

I remember a day when I travelled to Australia, the year was 1999. I was in fifth grade, and the school band was going on a trip there for an exchange. We breezed through the gates with nary a snag. Security took minutes; I didn’t have to undo my belts or shoes. I had a bottle of shampoo in my backpack, because I forgot to pack it into my luggage. I didn’t have to throw away my bottle of soda. Kids could even visit the pilots in the cockpit, occasionally, or so I’ve heard.

I came back with lots of souvenirs: I had a model of a sarcophagus with a mummy inside; I had this wooden block toy that unfolded upon itself endlessly, held together by straps; I had a letter opener, fashioned after a sword. I had them all in my backpack.

But then, I remember, two years later, everything changed.

Liquids had to be put into tiny ziploc bags, bottles of water had to be thrown out. A fear of assault by nail clipper gripped airports around the world, and many an errant nail could not be clipped on the flight. Like a polite guest at an Asian household, we had to remove out shoes to enter a doorway that shot invisible waves at us, painting a portrait of us in greens, yellows and reds (if you caught a glimpse of the screen after you’ve stepped through). Belts were undone, pockets had to be emptied, veins were throbbed as frustration and annoyance coursed through them as an ever-expanding line of people waiting in the queue fumed at that one person who had a little trouble repacking his things back into his carry-on at the end of the scanner conveyor belt.

All because on this fateful day, twelve years ago, two skyscrapers came tumbling down, brought down by aeroplanes driven by religious fervour.