Friday, August 14, 2009

That Damned Caveman

Will those stupid GEICO commercials never end. They were lame before the ill-fated sitcom. At this point, they're endless repetitions of the same setup and payoff. Uptight caveman starts to relax, lets down his guard, and then sees the GEICO slogan, which crushes his spirit so that he has to stop doing whatever pleasant thing he was doing. So . . . GEICO ruins lives? Maybe the message is supposed to be that only overly sensitive buzz-kill types dislike GEICO.

Also, while I'm complaining about things I can't control: Interwebs is not clever or funny. Stop writing it, people. The meme was over long ago, when clueless people like me were still nonplussed by it.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

No One Knows

This I know: no one knows. I support better healthcare. That's easy. I support universal coverage. Another easy one. After that, I have no clue. We are overprescribed/Europe is underprescribed. We have cruel deficiencies that punish the poor/the Europeans have to wait years for their procedures. If you have insurance, it's fairly easy to see a specialist/in European systems, seeing a specialist means more waiting.

In order to cover the poor, must those with the best coverage disgorge some of their coverage? If we went to a single payer system, this is what would happen. Less healthcare for the well off, and more for the poor. That's socialism right there (*everyone gasps*). And that's never going to happen here. For one, the political will is not there. For two, bringing those with no medical insurance into the fold need not mean the end of Mr. Monopoly seeing a specialist every time he has a tickle in his ear.

Obama's plan, as I (I am sure poorly) understand it, tries to fill most of the coverage gaps while ostensibly allowing everyone to keep the insurance they already have. I guess that's a political necessity, but I'm not sure it's s a viable solution. If there is a public option that employers can choose that is cheaper than private, then companies will go public. Remember when HMOs came into fashion? Most of us working folk ended up with HMO insurance although technically, we all (our employers) had a choice as to what type of health insurance to purchase. I suppose the competition could drive the private insurers to offer more reasonable plans, but it also seems possible the private insurers would be obsolete.

What seems most likely is that we will end up with a two-tier system that is an incremental improvement on the present lack thereof. Professionals who demand premium perks will still get premium health coverage through their employers. So too will members of unions still powerful enough (and in industries still viable enough) to demand premium coverage.

It's true that those in the lower end of the earning spectrum will not be able to see a specialist. But they can't do it now. Crappy government insurance is presumably better than a trip to the emergency room. Those in the upper echelon will continue to enjoy the quality of care they already have. As long as we have rich people willing to pay, the service will be there for them.

So it seems to me that the present plan may decrease the quality of coverage for a portion of working people who receive coverage through their employers. But if the competition drives costs down, it could put more money in the workers' pockets' and keep their employers' financially healthier. Perhaps more small businesses would be able to provide healthcare as a benefit and more people will be covered overall. So while the individual quality might drop for some working people, the overall quality would spike dramatically by virtue of so many people going from uninsured to insured.

So we have a compromise healthcare bill. Of course. It's the only thing we could have. Obama is a law professor who comes out of the Chicago political machine. He knows how sausages are made. He knows the legislation game. It doesn't mean he'll win the game, but he seems to have a much better chance of succeeding than Clinton did.

I think the biggest question is: where is the funding coming from? New taxes. I support more taxes to achieve 100% coverage, but most people don't. We are a nation that demands reward without sacrifice. And, from the richest to the poorest, we want others to do well, so long as it doesn't impair us in the least.

Which brings me back to the title of this post: no one knows. We can know the basic premises and we can understand the basic contours of proposed reform, but the legislation is so complex, as is the universe it attempts to redress, that a layperson cannot begin to understand what the truth of the matter is. We are forced to rely on experts, pundits, and politicians, who overestimate their expertise, twist facts to meet their agendas, and lie outright for money and power.

So I am left with this (weak) conclusion: we need coverage for the poor in this nation. I am willing to swollow the bloat and inefficiency that must come with it, as part of a higher tax burden, and perhaps even lowered quality of my personal coverage, because this nay be the only chance for some time that any legislation, no matter how flawed, has a chance to pass. I also don't see how to overcome the insurance lobby and staunch opposition from free-marketeers without leaving private insurers largely intact. I don't see a better way in this political climate.

I hope that the present wrangling over the bill will improve it, though it seems to me that the more time the money has to pound away at the bill, the weaker it will get. I just hope something happens, and that the something that happens is even slightly better than the nothing so many have now.

Hurt Locker

In my last post, I praised Funny People. By all means, see Funny People. But see Hurt Locker first. It follows a US military bomb disarming team. Nearly every second is tense. Set in 2004 Iraq, it maintains the tension and suspense of an old-fashioned thriller or horror movie. Unlike a horror movie, the stakes are so real and the characters so finely drawn that every near-death experience is emotionally draining. Despite being obvious fiction, it has the ring of truth. It's a tough but rewarding 2:20 that left me emotionally raw, with an unstable lower lip, and a heart that kept pounding some time after the credits had rolled. It is punishing viewing, but well worth the pain. Not only is it one of the best war movies I've seen, it's one of the best movies I've seen in some time, and up there with the finest I have ever seen.

It's easy to forget that we've been in Iraq for six years now, and that every day, soldiers and civilians risk their lives. I know I often prefer not to think about it. I forget how lucky I am that I get to sit here in an easy chair with my laptop while war blooms around the world and people live in various hells created by avarice and fear.

. . .

Two days in a row I've posted now. Perhaps I'll get back up to a once a week average or something like it.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

The Other Side

The bar exam is over. Three years of law school followed by three months of intensive bar review, and for the first time in a long time, there is nothing law-related to make me anxious. I get two weeks off before I start a job I am actually excited to have. It's a blessing to have a job right out of school, and even more of a blessing to have a job I am excited to do.

So I have hundreds of flashcards and binders full of outlines that I would like to throw away, but I'll hang on to them for just a bit longer. Like until November when I find out whether I passed the bar exam. I feel confident that I did pass, but I'll hang on to my study materials nonetheless.

Honestly, the summer was not too bad until the last three weeks leading up to the test. I knew from previous takers that working furiously from day one was not necessary. I did a few hours of homework most days, and then, from July 10th or so forward, I studied almost all day every day. I knew I would pass, but failure would be such a burden that I had plenty of incentive to work. I don't think I would get fired if I failed once, but it wouldn't look good; and even worse, I'd have to study and take it again with seriously dented confidence. It was not intellectually difficult, but more of a grind. The volume of information one needs to be familiar with is great, even though one need not have great depth of knowledge, and even though a comparatively small amount is tested on each exam. I spent a whole lot of time learning about corporations, which I didn't take in law school, and it didn't show up on the exam at all.

Did it seem awful sometimes? Sure. But being in a position to take the bar exam is a privilege, and the work required is not so onerous compared to, say, working on a factory floor. I tried to remind myself each morning that I was lucky to be able to spend the day studying.

If I was lucky then, I am smack in the lap of luxury now.

Mrs. Beckett and I even got to see a movie yesterday: Funny People. It was only $15 for the two of us with a matinee price. Ah, small town living. In NYC, you can never get the matinee price on the day the movie premiers.

The movie is darker than the trailers would lead one to believe, and it's a little long (over two hours), but it's worth seeing. The NY Times review (written by the most pretentious of the Times' reviewers) is not kind to the film, but the review is misguided. For one, it claims that Adam Sandler is overmatched by the part. On the contrary, I'd say that Sandler lives the part. He is right on target throughout.

So far, Sandler has acquitted himself well as a "serious" actor. He is excellent in Punch Drunk Love (a movie many people think is a disaster, but that I love), and is just as compelling playing a very different character in Funny People. In both films, it is clear he is coming from a very true place in himself. He knows awkward and anxious, and he knows celebrity self-loathing, and he's not afraid to bare his shame and darkness onscreen. That is truth in acting.

Eric Bana is pitch-perfect as well.

Funny People
is not a great movie, but it's a very good movie, and the stand-up sequences are simply great (though there were a few too many dick jokes for Mrs. Beckett's taste). The plot keeps going places you don't expect, and doesn't settle for easy tie-ups, even as it also doesn't end as cruelly as it might.

. . .

La Misma, thank you for reminding me about this little blog. It's very nice to have a reader. I will get in touch with Glen. We have not communicated in some time, but I'll see how he's doing and if he'd like to contribute again.