Saturday, 25 October 2008

RBI Man in Hall of Fame

A big congratulations to my dad for his induction into the Softball Hall of Fame tonight! That's right, USSSA of Washington state will be honoring John Griffith for all of his achievements on the field in a ceremony this evening. I'm so proud of you dad. You taught me everything I know about baseball and we had a great time at all those Mariner's game during Ken Griffey Jr's rookie year. Good luck on your speech- I'm sure it will be a hit!

Sunday, 28 September 2008

London's Test Kitchen

As many of you may know, there is a baking competition at my work which begs to be taken seriously. Amy graciously lent me her skills last weekend as we turned my flat into a test kitchen to try out some winning recipes. Just as well that it was a test kitchen. On the first batch of cookies melt unhealthily into each other we realised we hadn't converted the recipe to British sizes. Though American sizes are bigger in every other way, in butter measurements, a British stick of butter is almost twice the size of an American one, leaving us with a double the butter batter. We did recover with swift thinking and extra flour, but it was a tense moment. And that's what test kitchens are for.

Prep work.

Arthouse Boston Chocolate Pie.

Amy and Boston Chocolate Pie.

Treating ourselves to a shandy at local pub.

The sun sets on a hard day's baking.

Sunday, 31 August 2008

Summer Round-up

Sorry I suck at blogging in a timely fashion. But I won't let that paralyze me from writing today. Seeing as summer is winding down, I thought I'd give a wrap up of my summer.

Several weeks ago we celebrated Dan's birthday by going to dinner along the banks of the Thames, overlooking the Tower Bridge.

My birthday was the month before and Dan surprised me and took me to Brighton to explore Briton's exotic rocky beaches and enjoy some good vegetarian food.

In June we went home to Seattle to celebrate my dad's 60th birthday. It was also great to see friends and indulge in food American style.

We couldn't visit Washington without a drive to Spokane to visit our friends Jessie and Andrew and their adorable son Jude. The 5 hour road trip was a good way to get back behind the wheel and while in Spokane we visited a massive hunting and fishing centre- here is me with a target practice turkey.

Other than that we've been enjoying the lazy days of the English 'summer', trying to squeeze in tennis and picnics wherever possible. And now that Amy is in town from California (in fact she's typing a paper 10 feet away from me) we've been lucky enough to enjoy her company. Here's to September and the inevitable shortening of days.

Saturday, 2 August 2008


This July 4-14 I was lucky to return to Japan after 4 years, this time doing something slightly more interesting than playing hang-man with the youth of Japan: attending the G8. It was an experience I'll never forget and it felt great to be back in the land of the rising sun, creaking along with my dormant language skills. After the Summit I stayed in Tokyo for a few. Above is the madness of the Shibuya 'scramble' (the world's largest crosswalk).

Ah...sweet Japanese toilet delights. Those bidets are pretty powerful- I thought I'd try one out before a press conference and got completely drenched.

Are you kidding me?! These Japanese Airlines headphones are fantastic. Proof again of Japan's advanced technology.

Plastic food- very helpful.

These drinks machines dot the island nation and are very convenient. But apparently the bane of environmental campaigners lives here for the amount of energy they use.

Here's the G8 media centre. It was supposedly sustainably built and the air conditioning mysteriously powered by snow. I love this place! This trip was ideal: it was long enough to enjoy again the buzz of this country I adore, but also remember why I'm no longer living there. What other country has security guards on segues and dancing robots?!

Sunday, 13 April 2008

Who's afraid of socialised medicine?

By popular demand...

For someone who hates the sight of blood, I sure enjoy talking about healthcare. Health and healthcare are things you take for granted until they fail you, and then they become the axis of your world. As someone who's 'enjoyed' American, Japanese, and British health systems I have a lot to say.

Socialized and market driven healthcare systems aren't as black and white as many politicians would like them to be; both systems have pros and cons. What is black and white to me is that in the US, the richest nation in the world, that spends $505 billion of taxpayers money on defense, 50 million people (16% of the population) have no healthcare (as of 2005). This is a sin. In the richest nation in the world, healthcare should not be a stress or a luxury, but a right and a priority.

In my life growing up in America I've been blessed with excellent health coverage. I've been fortunate to have been given top quality treatment and not need much of it. I've appreciated going to clean, new clinics where I have been treated like a queen. But I also am aware that my America is not everyone else's America, and this standard of treatment is not nationwide.

When I first arrived in the UK 2 1/2 years ago I had high hopes for the NHS. In some ways I wasn't disappointed- I was able to register with a local general practice as soon as I arrived and even get my prescriptions for free. Awesome. But I also attended a practice in one of the most impoverished areas of Birmingham and my views were jaded. From an American point of view, the standard of quality was mediocre at best. The building was dire and the customer service skills were lacking. BUT, as a foreigner (albeit with the correct visa), I was still treated, without having to jump through any hoops. This is how it should be. I've been to other doctor's offices in the UK that have been nicer and I have never had any problems getting what I've needed. I've found the NHS to be grittier than what I was used to beforehand, but still very accessible and helpful.

I always feel the need to correct people when they tell me that the NHS is a free healthcare serivce. This isn't true at all as someone does pay for it, and a portion comes out of my paycheck every month. The distinction however is that even if you aren't earning, you have the same access. So effectively my paycheck outgoings are paying the healthcare of those not working. Outrageous to many, yet merciful and humane to the poor, vulnerable, and 'regular' people between jobs or with unorthodox employment.

The beauty of the NHS is that everyone can access it. This reduces the stress of not being able to afford it (or able to prioritize it anyway). It stops people from getting into debt over medical bills and gives them freedom.

I don't have any policy recommendations for the US (!) and I recognize that America has some of the best healthcare facilities in the world, but at what cost? Does the fact that they aren't accessible to those who really need it offset their existance? Most policy makers in the US have excellent health insurance; the poorest and most vulnerabe aren't always the biggest consideration.

For me what it comes down to right now leads back to our consumerific monster of a society we've built in the US, based on individuals working hard to get the best for themselves. We have the biggest and the best, but still can't take care of those who slip through the cracks, those that the market fails. Our healthcare service works for the strong and makes them stronger (patients, insurance companies, and pharmecuetical companies) but doesn't work for too many people. I've heard that you can judge a nation by how it treats it's most vulnerable, and in that case what we have now doesn't cut it.

I've been thinking a lot since moving to the UK about how much I want vs. how much I need. I believe that ambition and excellence are great qualities that America has, but often they come with a cost. Do I need a higher quality healthcare system that costs vulnerable people any healthcare? Do I need cheap gas that costs the environment? Do I need cheap food as a result of US-based trade agreements and agricultural subsidies that push the poorest countries deeper into poverty? Do I need cheap clothes that cost people their basic human rights? How much do I need when I realize the far reaching consequences of my 'needs', and when what I 'need' is so far removed from what the rest of the world gets.

This I could flesh out for days. In the end I know the NHS wouldn't work in the US. Instead I think that regional or state authorities could be the way forward, with a mix of public and private healthcare. Again, this isn't a policy document but rather my observations.

The NHS is no perfect model by far. But it is a fair model and we would be wise not to fear it. I'd love to hear other people's thoughts on this, especially Amy's as she's endured a broken leg at the NHS!

Sunday, 2 March 2008

British Dental Bliss

With the constant barrage of Amero-skepticism I am forcecd to endure, I feel I reserve the right to maintain some skeptism about British institutions, particularly British health and dental care. Before leaving America I called the British Embassy in Los Angeles to ask whether dental care was covered by the NHS, and their response was, yes, but please get all your dental work done before you leave as there is a noticable quality difference. So I did go to my dentist, and he also pleaded with me to never expose my mouth to UK dentistry. Apparently, the silver almagam filling that is now illegal in the US because it contains bits of mercury is still common practice this side of the pond. I don't claim to have perfect teeth at all, thanks to several childhood spills that left me with two ceramic front teeth, but I still have some sense of dental dignity.

I admist that bad British teeth are probably more of a stereotype than a reality, and flossing is slowly catching on, but I have still been hesitant to visit a dentist here in the last 2 1/2 years. This has undoubtably led to the toothaches I was getting, and because I was positive a cavity was growing, I forced myself to the dentist down the street. I am happy to report back that I was pleasantly surprised.

Of course, I did go to a private South African dentist, but this was as far as I was able to venture into this new territory.

The whole experience of getting two fillings was surpisingly pleasant. They didn't offer me a mask that gave me nitrous oxide to make me feel like I was in outer space and actuallly enjoying the drill in my mouth, but I was given the second best thing: movie goggles! So while the team was drilling away my eyes were focused on Bend it Like Beckham. I enjoyed it so much I'm planning on going back for check ups every 6 months, which is something I've never done since I was a child. I'm not reccomending people start coming here for dental toursim or anything, but fortunately one more ethnocentric fear has been banished.

Sunday, 3 February 2008


Yes, i'ts been a while. I'm not very good at this whole updating thing. But my excuse is that we don't have internet at home and I spend almost 4 hours of my day commuting. I just wanted to say hi and let ou all know that I haven't abandoned ship. I'll be back on hopefully within the week!
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