Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Health Care Consensus

I'd venture to guess that 80-90% of Americans agree with the following statements:

1. If you lose your job you should be able to purchase health insurance without consideration of pre-existing conditions.

2. Your health insurance should not be taken away from you because you are sick.

3. Americans should feel secure about being able to afford health insurance over their entire life. The Medicare consensus derives from this statement.

This list could go on, and probably includes the idea that some reform is needed to take care of these issues. I am not claiming that there is any consensus about how to address these issues.

So why aren't we arguing (even passionately arguing) about how to solve these problems? Instead, we're being sidetracked by bogus arguments which seem only to be aimed at illogically aligning the healthcare debate with America's neverending culture wars. The only conclusion I can reach is that the powerful health insurance industry knows that if we seriously address these consensus issues, the logical solutions will be intolerable to them

In the 80's I used to tell my liberal friends (I considered myself liberal as well) that sometimes the Reaganites were pointing out real problems (e.g. the culture of welfare, absurd regulations), and that if we didn't come up with liberal solutions to these problems, they were going to be solved for us in a way that we wouldn't like. Conservatives be warned. If you're not part of the solution, these problems will be solved for you. And you're not going to like it.

The Lair Food Song

I wrote this song for the Camp Blue Revue at the Lair of the Golden Bear Summer Camp. It's sung to the tune of The Trolley Song from the movie Meet Me at St. Louis. Grace and others have requested that I post the lyrics. The first two stanzas are sung to the tune of the song's introduction, which you won't possibly remember unless you listen to a recording. Most of the humor is summer camp generic, but there are a few references that might be difficult to get if you're not a Lair camper.

With my good intentions
And my hiking shorts
I came here meaning to reduce
I signed up for the outings
And planned on some Pilates
But instead I was seduced

When I came to Lair
I was in despair
I was shaped sort of like a ball
I lacked will power
At happy hour
And here comes my downfall

Clang, clang, clang time for Lair food
Ding, dong, ding goes the bell
Growl, growl, growl goes my tummy
As I trudge up or down Camp Blue hill.

On the first day its turkey
Sunday its barbeque lunch
All the rest’s a bit blurry
Except for tri-tip which we love a bunch

Three times a day
In our blue trays
The food never changes year to year
Once in a while it’s a bit vile
But you’re so hungry you just swallow it with cheer.

Clang, clang, clang time for Lair food
Ding, dong, ding goes the bell
Growl, growl, growl goes my tummy
As I trudge up or down Camp Blue hill.

One thing that you all must do
Please stop and use the wash stand
Cause if we get Camp Blue flu
We’ll spend our whole week on the can

When first bell sounds
It means last rounds
On every happy hour scattered through Camp Blue
So drink up quicker
To get shicker
And to your children be an example that is true

Lair food’s not served on china
Mich-lin won’t give it a look
Still there is nothing finer
Than not ever having to cook.

Clang, Clang, Clang, mealtime’s over
With a whimper not a clang
Full, full full is my tummy
So I grab some dessert
And I stop to hear dirt
Bout the staff
It really makes me laugh
Then I pick up my tray
And I go on my way
And I make double time
to the end of the line.

A few notes:
-- In the last stanza, the lyric was supposed to read (instead of I stop to hear dirt ...):
And perhaps stop and flirt
With the staff
It only makes them laugh
Iris objected to these lyrics. She didn't feel it was appropriate for an 8-year old to be singing them.
-- I was told not to refer to the Camp Blue Revue as a talent show. Some felt that talent was rarely on display.
-- I've written a song for next year sung to the tune of the Cole Porter classic It's too Darn Hot. We'll see if it makes it pass the Camp Blue censor board.
-- My informal survey indicated that most campers did not know what the word shicker means. It's Yiddish for drunk, and Yiddish words are always funnier than English words. Maybe we should be camping in the Catskills.

Why I stopped blogging

Some people have asked me why I stopped blogging, including my entire following of about 5 people. I enjoyed blogging, but it was cutting into my other recreational pursuits such as reading and movie watching. More importantly, I only had time for blogging in the evening and I found it stimulating. I couldn't rest until a post was finished, and even then the process of writing and editing left me wide awake. In contrast, more passive activities leave me more rested, and often can't be completed because they prepare me so well for sleep.

So why this post? Grace has persuaded me to submit a few posts, and besides I just felt like it. We'll see where things go from here.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Israelis, Palestinians and Sibling Fights

While I'm sympathetic to the plight of Palestinian victims of the latest Israeli incursion into Gaza, I place the blame on the Hamas leadership. The dynamics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict remind of the fights between pre-teen siblings. In these fights, the younger or weaker sibling will pester the stronger sibling. Since the stronger sibling knows that a fight would not be fair, he holds back. The problem is that the entire point of the weaker sibling's attack is to provoke a response, so the weaker sibling escalates until he gets a response. The stronger sibling doesn't really like having to respond, so he makes sure that the response is sufficiently forceful so the attacks will stop. How does the weaker sibling respond? "Mommy, my older brother is hitting me again"!

I don't know much about game theory, but I'd be interested to know when theorists think the optimal time is to respond. The stronger sibling knows that he will have to respond at some time because the attacker will not relent until he gets the desired response. However, the stronger sibling does not want to expend unnecessary effort responding to every provocation and also wants to keep his parents (the world community) happy.

My dream is that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could evolve to the more adult form of sibling rivalry. At present, the Palestinians wouldn't do so well on the equivalent of competitions over who has the higher salary, the nicer car or the hotter spouse; however, their interest in competing on that level (instead of the six-year old level) would be welcomed by most of the world and impress the Israelis as well (as it did when they so briefly showed signs of building a real nation in the mid-90s).

For an exceptionally enlightening view on the conflict from the Israeli side, check out today's op-ed by Yossi Klein Halevi.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Ratatouille and the future of Pixar

After seeing the by the numbers Shrek the Third and the overblown Pirates 3, I was losing hope for summer movies. Fortunately my bad streak has ended with Ratatouille, from the ever dependable Pixar (who are now eight for eight in my book). However, the relatively low opening weekend box office returns (< $50 million vs. > $125 million for Shrek 3, Spiderman 3 or Pirates 3) for Ratatouille had me a bit depressed. Won't Pixar now be pressured into producing lowest common denominator movies and sequels as the only possible way that Disney can recover the gazillions they paid out?

Fortunately Pixar's reply to this question is a defiant "never", and this message is not so subtly encoded in the film's plot. The following discussion is for people who have already seen the film; however, I'll provide enough information so anyone can follow and will include mild spoilers. My thesis is that the story of Ratatouille is actually the Disney-Pixar story. Because Brad Bird and Pixar are mostly concerned with making a superb movie, they don't push the allegory too far; however, the message is there and it is defiant.

The primary action in Ratatouille takes place in Gousteau's restaurant. Gousteau was the greatest chef in Paris, and had a populist streak appearing on television to explain the tricks of his trade to the public. After Gousteau's death the restaurant was never the same, despite the good efforts of many in the kitchen. Gousteau's restaurant sounds a bit like Walt Disney Studios with Gousteau as Walt. The new chef, Skinner (Michael Eisner perhaps?), is mainly interested in extracting as much money as possible from Gousteau's name and is about to market a variety of rather cheesy sounding frozen food products (direct-to-video sequels?).

The hero of the movie, Remy the rat, is a true artist in the kitchen and he single handedly turns Gousteau's around through his innovations in the kitchen. When the staff discovers that Remy is responsible for the restaurant's new success, they quit en masse, and Remy must employ his entire rat colony in the enterprise. Although the rats create a masterpiece for the critic Anton Ego (voiced by Peter O'Toole), the restaurant is closed after the health inspector discovers rats in the kitchen. However, in the happy ending the heroes of the film open a bistro for both rats and humans, where excellent food is prepared and Anton Ego is a regular.

Incidentally, the process where seemingly hundreds of rats prepare the meal is not unlike the process of animation itself, where countless people make small but fundamental contributions to the painstaking process with the artist, Remy (Brad Bird?), in charge.

There are two major lessons which are spelled out for us by the film; the fact they are so blatantly spelled out is one of the few bits of pandering the movie makes to the younger set. The first is that pursuing ones calling as an artist must take supremacy over most other considerations - it's better to pursue excellence in a bistro than mediocrity in a fine dining establishment. To me, this moral is defiantly telling the viewer that Pixar will resist the temptation to sink to the lowest common denominator, and will create art on their own terms. The second lesson is that although not everyone can create great art, great art can come from anyone and anywhere. This lesson has nothing to do with the Pixar-Disney situation, but in part addresses the rivalry between animators (the rats) and live-action filmmakers (the human cooks). The reflexive dismissal of animation as an inferior art is attacked in this message, but the most effective attack is presented by the existence of this wonderful film.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Top Ten Movies that aren't on your List

Compared to the other film enthusiasts in the blogosphere, I'm an amateur among amateurs; however, among my friends, I'm the movie expert. I'm often asked about my favorite movies. Many of my favorites are pretty standard: Sunset Boulevard, Lawrence of Arabia, Chinatown, etc. It's almost pointless to list them. Here are 10 of the best American movies that most people don't put on their lists. I'll have to think some more about favorite foreign films.

1. Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933). The Busby Berkeley boxed set came out a year ago and it was a revelation. I'd heard about these movies and seen clips, but nothing quite prepared me. Between the pre-code shenanigans and the choreographed human kaleidoscopes, this movie is simply a good time. 42nd Street and Footlight Parade were close contenders for this spot.

2. The Lady Eve (1942). Sullivan's Travels is most often cited as Sturges' masterpiece, but its sentimental streak keeps it from being ranked among my favorites, which include this choice, The Miracle of Morgan's Creek (which brilliantly outmaneuvers the Hays code), and The Palm Beach Story. The Lady Eve wins out because of the star appeal of Henry Fonda and Barbara Stanwyck. See this and you'll weep over the current state of the romantic comedy genre (you may want to support this cause)

3. White Heat (1949). The early gangster movies (The Public Enemy, Scarface, and Little Caesar) are fun to watch, but seem like cultural artifacts compared to White Heat, which gets to us at a visceral level. James Cagney plays the psychopathic Cody Jarrett who may love his mother a little too much.

4. Strangers on a Train (1951) The equal of any of the usually cited Hitchcock masterpieces (e.g. Psycho, Vertigo), this may be his most perfectly constructed thriller. Robert Walker is Hitchcock's greatest villain (not only does he love his mother, he wants Farley Granger to kill his father). Hitchcock hits all of his obsessions: mothers, an innocent man wrongfully accused, and the darkness within us all.

5. Sweet Smell of Success (1957) "A cookie filled with arsenic" is used by Sidney Falco (Tony Curtis) to describe J. J. Hunsecker (Burt Lancaster), but the phrase is also an apt description of this especially dark and cynical noir tale. James Wong Howe's black and white cinematography, Ernest Lehman's script, Elmer Bernstein's jazzy score, Ernest Lehman's sharp script and Alexander Mackendrick's (who didn't make enough movies) direction prove that film is a collaborative medium.

6. The Music Man (1962). I wanted to include one movie you can watch with your three year old (Dumbo was my second choice). Conventional wisdom is that the musical died when the Arthur Freed unit closed down at MGM, and the big 3-hour cinemascope Broadway-based extravaganzas killed the musical. Actually, they kept the musical alive financially, and a few of them were pretty good. This one (along with the more commonly listed My Fair Lady) is nearly perfect, and preserves Robert Preston's career defining role for all time.

7. One, Two, Three (1962). One of funniest movies ever made, its frenetic pace and total irreverence was ahead of its time, foreshadowing the work of Mel Brooks and the Zucker-Abrahams team. Billy Wilder tackles many of the issues he explored as a screenwriter for Ninotchka (an also ran for this list), skewering both communism and capitalism but saving his most vicious digs for the Germans (all of whom claim to have been part of the resistance). James Cagney fires off the mile minute jokes as a Coca-Cola executive in Berlin. How Billy Wilder got Coca-Cola to go along with this movie is a complete mystery.

8. All that Jazz (1979). 1979 was the year I first got interested in movies as something more than entertainment. In addition to the classics, I remember loving All that Jazz (which I saw twice in its opening month), Apocalypse Now, Being There and Manhattan. All that Jazz is Bob Fosse's 8 and 1/2, except Fosse uses fantasy and musical sequences to draw us in at an emotional level, whereas Fellini's fantasies just make us wonder what the hell he's trying to get at.

9. Repo Man (1984). I don't know if it's my advancing age or the decline of the repertory cinema, but it seems they don't make cult movies like they used to. This is the best of them.

10. The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985). From 1980 to 1999, one of the events I looked forward to most was the opening of the year's Woody Allen movie. Even when his movies weren't up to snuff, they never felt like a waste of time. Strangely, his latest efforts have been both less ambitious and less likely to fulfill their ambitions. Allen doesn't appear in this one; Mia Farrow is his surrogate, a star struck fan who is literally drawn into the fantasy world of a depression era movie. The under-appreciated Radio Days was another candidate for this spot.

11. A. I. (2001) This is number 11, but who's counting? Spielberg’s amazing run of great movies in the 2000's is reminiscent of Hitchcock in the 1950's; A. I. is Spielberg’s Vertigo, an under-appreciated masterpiece that will eventually be revered. With the exception of an ill-advised coda, this is a great movie about what it means to be human with a chilling and heartbreaking performance by Haley Joel Osment.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Of Faggots and Presidents

Ann Coulter just defended her schoolyard taunt of John Edwards by claiming that it's OK because he's not actually a homosexual; she was just accusing him of being effeminate. In 1999 left-of-center columnist Maureen Dowd wrote about Al Gore,
Al Gore is so feminized and diversified and ecologically correct, he's practically lactating.
The only Democratic candidate who will probably never be accused of being too feminine is Hillary Clinton! What everyone has failed to explain is why feminine characteristics create bad Presidents.

It turns out that our nation has had a long history of faggot Presidents (effeminate men who may or may not be homosexuals). My recent readings about George Washington reveal that he was obsessed with creating fabulous military uniforms and maintaining perfect appearance. However, the real proof of a testosterone deficiency is revealed in his orders regarding torture.
Treat them with humanity, and Let them have no reason to Complain of our Copying the brutal example of the British army in their Treatment of our unfortunate brethren.
The he-men of our current administration would never stoop so low.

By now, most of us have read the theories that Lincoln was a closeted (was there any other kind in 1860?) homosexual. Further evidence lies in his self doubt and his willingness to have dissenters in his cabinet (real men dismiss everyone who isn't a yes man - what's the point of listening to incorrect arguments?). Finally, there's the question of Lincoln's flip-flopping (I don't want to be too graphic about why this might be associated with being effeminate) -- first he doesn't want to free the slaves, then he does.

Adams (both of them), Jefferson, Madison, Teddy Roosevelt and Wilson are immediately suspect because they were public intellectuals. Ann Coulter would have a field day with them; they all wrote volumes full of sentences and phrases that can be lifted from their context. Teddy tried to cover his feminine side with all of his manly activities; however, if you've seen Brokeback Mountain you know the real reason men like to go out camping with their buddies.

If you want testosterone vote for Rudy Giulani, he can give more testosterone in one blood donation than is available in the entire democratic field - and I'm including Hillary. As for me, if effeminate means a little less moral clarity, an end to "my way or the highway" diplomacy, and a dose of humility before both God and the American people, I say bring the faggots on.

Editor's Note from Bad Mom, Good Mom:
His sarcasm light is flashing, but you have to be looking at him to see it. So don't even bother flaming him. He's flaming enough as it is. I have it on good authority that his DVD collection identifies him as a faggot. It has to be true because a major movie studio paid for the marketing research.

Response to Editor:
The Editor just says things like this when she wants me to prove otherwise. That means I better get going RIGHT NOW!