Sicko, Moore, and Socialized Medicine

I saw Sicko Friday night and I have to say it is Moore’s best film. It’s much less propagandistic than his others. He also does a better job connecting the many idea threads he throws out there.

In the film he relates the horror stories of people who thought they were insured. One woman took her 18-month-old daughter, who was running a very high fever, to King-Drew hospital in L.A. Her insurance company Kaiser Permanente told her they wouldn’t pay for her daughter’s care because she hadn’t taken her to a Kaiser hospital. King-Drew refused to treat because they wouldn’t be paid. The woman demanded treatment. King-Drew threw her out. She took a cab to a Kaiser hospital. By then it was too late. Her daughter had slipped into a coma and then died a half-hour after being brought to the Kaiser hospital. As the father of a toddler, this story hit me very hard in the heart.

Then there are the stories of the 9/11 volunteers who can’t get treatment for their ailments. This filled me with even more outrage.

I do believe there is something morally wrong with the CEO of an insurance company making $22 million a year. Why is it that other Western industrialized nations view health care as essential to human existence (like public education) but not the U.S.? I think the answer has partly to due with the fact that we have so much faith in the free market system that we’re not comfortable ceding control to a centralized system and we have an innate hatred of taxes. The latter despite the fact that health insurance premiums are effectively a tax on people and employers. The former despite the fact that profits don’t measure health or happiness. We’ve also been fed a lot of propaganda about the “deplorable conditions” of European health care systems. Moore does an excellent job of showing the role of the AMA and Ronald Reagan in killing the movement for socialized medicine back in the 1950’s.

So it’s no surprise that I would like to see universal health care in this country.

But I am not a big fan of Michael Moore or his style of “documentary.” His trip with the 9/11 volunteers to Cuba was a stunt. An effective one, allowing Castro to stick it to the U.S., no matter how irrational our foreign policy towards Cuba. Did Moore really think that if he showed up with a camera crew the Cuban government was going to deny treatment to those people? Of course not.

I have followed the debate between CNN’s Sanjay Gupta and Michael Moore himself. (You can read about it here, here, here, here, and here.

Even with the disagreements over figures and sources, CNN did not (nor could they or anyone else) dispute Moore’s fundamental argument: the U.S. Health care system is a mess that leaves over 40 million people without care, does not provide efficient needed care to those people who pay for health insurance, and is run for profit at the expense of the insured.

One thing Moore doesn’t do in the film is get the point of view of the insurance companies. A documentary (a dispassionate, non-grandstanding take) would have done so. For me, this is a big weakness. Insurance companies often help to negotiate down the prices hospitals charge for services. In some ways they are the only check against doctors over-prescribing or performing unneeded tests and procedures.

That said, I think I’m like a lot of people, who either have had first hand bad experiences with health insurance companies or have family and friends who have had bad experiences with health insurance companies.

Unfortunately, Moore takes a selective look at the health care systems of Canada, Britain, and France. He picks the worst examples from our system and compares them to the best examples from their systems. I’m sure someone could easily find the worst cases from those systems and compare them with the best of ours. He does not present a balanced view of socialized medicine nor of our own health care system. If we’re going to reform our system, then we need a more balanced, clear-eyed, view of both systems.

Go see “Sicko.” It is worth it. You’ll be rightly outraged at the failures of the U.S. health care system. Just keep in mind that Moore is a polemicist and provocateur not a documentary filmmaker.


Dana Gioia’s Commencement Speech

Dana Gioia, the chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, gave the commencement address at Stanford University. He said, in part,

Art is an irreplaceable way of understanding and expressing the world–equal to but distinct from scientific and conceptual methods. Art addresses us in the fullness of our being–simultaneously speaking to our intellect, emotions, intuition, imagination, memory and physical senses. There are some truths about life that can be expressed only as stories or songs or images.

And I couldn’t agree more.

Harry Potter and Literature

I am probably one of the few people who hasn’t actually read a Harry Potter book. It is not because I don’t want to or am turned off by the hype. It has more to do with my TBR list than anything else. I have enjoyed the movies so far and hope to embark on reading through the entire series at some point.

Meanwhile, with the fifth movie out and the final book coming out in a few days, people are predictably sniping about the series and its success. But Charles Taylor has a very thoughtful piece of commentary in the L.A. Times defending the series.

And that’s why those who ascribe the popularity of the Potter books to nothing more than the bad taste of the masses are so off the mark. The most prominent of those naysayers, that drooping defender of the canon, Harold Bloom, has, in his attacks on Rowling, provided us with fine examples of another reason for the Potter books’ popularity: the insularity of a literary culture that willfully ignores what it is that makes people readers in the first place.

Critics like Bloom are from what I call the Literature As Medicine crowd. Yes, there are difficult works like “Ulysses” that are rewarding to read (I happen to be a fan of Joyce). But the Literature As Medicine crowd always seems to be trying to suck the fun and life out of reading. Or be completely clueless to the fact that people read a bit of everything: from “genre” fiction to literary fiction. Readers are readers. They might go from Hemingway to Cartland to King and then to Morrison, depnding on their moods.

Hemingway’s House in Cuba

Ernest Hemingway’s house is falling apart. Many lovers of his work would like to assist in its preservation. But because the house is in Cuba, sanctions are making it nearly impossible for Americans to contribute.
Finca Vigia, or Lookout Farm, 10 miles east of Havana, is the place Ernest Hemingway called home from 1939 to 1960, and it is there that the author’s abundant tastes, in literature and in life, are on display. Visitors can see where Hemingway wrote The Old Man and the Sea, where he dined with Errol Flynn and where Ava Gardner was reported to have skinnydipped.

Hemingway liked trouble, and the chances are he would have enjoyed the fact that he is still creating it almost 50 years after his death. Finca Vigia has become a symbol of the struggle between the US and Cuba.

For the past two years, a group of American organisations has been working to restore the battered house and save the manuscripts and books. But US sanctions against Cuba have hindered the group’s attempts to collaborate with the Cuban government. The Bush administration’s response has been mixed, flitting between acquiescence and obstruction.

Okay, I’m no fan of Fidel Castro or of his policies toward and treatment of the Cuban people, but something is seriously wrong with our our foreign policy when we can’t even preserve the home of one of the most important writers in the English language. As if Cuba still posed a serious threat to our national security. Whatever.

(Moore’s publicity stunt in Sicko, which I haven’t seen yet, is yet another trap the Left often falls into with the brutal but saavy dictator down there.)

Be sure to check out the accompanying slide show in the Guardian’s article. Needless to say, there are a lot of mounted animal heads.

"One Wild Crazy Thing"

Who says California has the market cornered on weirdness?

During the six years I lived in L.A., I came across some of the lovely weirdness that is particular to that region of the country. This included people extolling the virtues of colonics, people with fake boobs, fake lips, and fake pecs, the televised car chases, women who wear size 2 who worry they’re fat, a person sentenced to community service who told his friends to wave to him if they saw him cleaning up along the 10 freeway on their way to work, people who claim to hate L.A. but insist on living there anyway, and once I saw a guy on Sunset just up and shout “It’s tough being me!”

But nothing like what this man did down in Jackson County, south of where I live.

A man who was sentenced to 30 days in jail for taking his daily run while wearing only a stocking cap, gloves and reflective tape said that the nude jogging made him “feel alive,” according to police.

Russell Rotta, 49, told police that he had been running naked since he was a teenager and that he generally woke up each day around 4 a.m. to conceal the activity from his wife.

Rotta reported running in the nude six miles a day every day, weather permitting.

Yes, nude jogging. A one-man-fad.

Review – Homes of the Heart

My review of Homes of the Heart: A Ramallah Chronicle is up over at PopMatters.

Elegant, though it often is, Homes of the Heart is inconsistent as a memoir. Its chapters are short and often broken up into veritable snippets. The story meanders as the unnamed narrator, a writer much like Wadi, meanders around Ramallah on foot. The sights of structures as he remembers them versus how they are now causes him to ruminate on his childhood, his schooling, his friends, his teachers, his family, their neighbors, and the complex history of and relationship between the twin towns of Ramallah and al-Bireh. His reminiscences read as singular short reports rather than one engaging narrative. Still, moments shine, as in the narrator’s forced comparisons between the Ramallah he remembers, the one he loves, longs for, and used in his fiction, to the Ramallah he now sees. What the narrator finds very quickly is that everywhere it seems is “quite different from what I’d stored up in my memory.”