The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Sicko and Hairspray

Watched Michael Moore’s “Sicko” over the weekend. Man, is he a slick propagandist. Manipulative as hell, no doubt. Still, the question remains in my mind…
I hated South Africa with a passion during its Apartheid days. In conversations with Jerry (naturally) I mentioned my standards for the health of a people: Infant mortality rate, and life expectancy. He suggested, in defense of South Africa, that I compare black statistics in these two areas with surrounding black countries. I did, and had to admit that they were higher. On a physical level, blacks were healthier in South Africa, despite what I saw as the damaging effects of Apartheid. I didn’t hide and run from the facts, as uncomfortable as they were.

Now, when I try to apply the same standards to the question of our own health here in America, opponents of a Universal Health Plan strike me as…well, as arguing backwards from the premise that it’s a bad idea. Again, I propose looking at sweeping statistics: Infant Mortality Rate, Life Expectancy. We could add: Average time to see a doctor, Subjective patient satisfaction. How about Percentage of GNP devoted to medical research? Those five stats, crunched properly, should give us a damned good indication of whether our medical system stacks up against the rest of the Western world. Otherwise…hell, you can find anecdotal evidence to support anything, including a Flat Earth and co-existence of Man and Dinosaurs.
My meditation this morning was way cooler than the last few days. My body feels cool and light. My “little boy” image and my “warrior” image were standing side by side, laughing at me. I love it. The light isn’t as bright as it could be, but it’s getting there.
The rope jumping experiment is way interesting. I have one of Buddy Lee’s Aerospeed jump ropes (how cool is it to get an absolute world-class top-of-the-line piece of sports equipment for about thirty bucks?) and am working on a pattern of 100 jumps/one FlowFit rep for five sets. Interesting balancing the aerobic/anaerobic power/coordination requirements of that. If I do FlowFit 1, it takes me about 10 minutes. My 100 jumps are clumsy the first set—too much tripping, leading to a set time of about 50 seconds. After that, coordination improves, but cumulative fatigue from the FlowFit sets in. I have to use easier and easier versions of it to stay within a 60 second window. The trick is going to be to get the jumps down to 30 seconds for 100 reps while simultaneously doing one set of FlowFit 2 in 60 seconds, for five sets—total work time of about 7.5 minutes. I end my workout with this, and trust me, I’m ready. Right now, to do the Jump/FlowFit 2 routine for five sets takes me almost 24 minutes. Pitiful. But fun. Man oh man, you have to concentrate. Keeping the Be Breathed pattern while putting yourself through this is like solving a Rubik’s Cube while running from a lion. Jesus. When I’ve got my time down to, say, 10 minutes, I’ll start working on more complex jumping patterns.
And by the way: I can now do sets of 20 Gama Casts with the Bruiser. I remember when I couldn’t do even one. Wow. Thanks, Scott!
Watched “Hairspray” last night. The musical, not the original John Waters film. What a fun film. And I actually teared up a couple of times. Nikki Blonsky, the chubby wonder who stars as the dance-struck teenager caught in social revolution, is absolutely adorable. Wow. She floats. I hope she has a terrific career waiting for her. She just radiates everything good in life. Who ever thought that John Waters, who brought us the spectacle of a 300 pound transvestite eating poodle poo, would one day birth a PG family-friendly musical? I do wish it had been PG-13, however: the dancing could have been a little hotter. And the little Taylor Parks, who played Queen Latifah’s daughter Inez, really wasn’t that hot a dancer. They should have trained her harder. She was adorable, though…and overall, the movie is surprisingly heartfelt.
In working with the chakras, I am reminded that Survival and Sex are down below Tribe. If racism works on the level of tribe, even if you seek to override it by including, say, blacks as members of your group, deeper autonomic patterns still crop up. This doesn’t mean that we won’t pass that magic 100 million dollar mark—I expect that to happen within the next 24 months. It means that the stats will never be even. I have to be willing to do whatever I can to keep a hand out to anyone caught in the system who has the heart and mind to rise above. Truly, we’re all in this together. I’ll never turn my back on anyone genuinely committed to self-improvement (yeah, I know, there is no “self.” Sigh. Whatcha gonna do?) but while not limiting myself to any racial tribe I have to remember that I have a special gift to offer there. As rare as my interests, experiences and skills are in the wider world, I’m virtually a singularity in the black community. And I cant discount my impact as a role model. MAN is it important that I not fuck up! Strange when you feel you don’t belong to yourself any more…


Steve Perry said...

Well, you know, the top highest grossing movies of all time, the black guys didn't get laid, but they didn't get particularly killed, either -- unless you count Samuel L. Jackson in his Star Wars role, but I don't, because all the Jedi got wiped out, save for Yoda and Obi-wan.

The dinosaurs in Jurassic Park ate everybody save the hero and the kids, albeit they saved the white meat for supper instead of lunch.

And only one black male lead carrying any of these, Will Smith. Didn't get laid. But didn't die ...

Of course, to be fair, there weren't that many black folks in any of these movies, either. Wouldn't let them on the Titanic, and Eddie Murphy was a donkey in Shrek.

Nobody got laid in Star Wars until the last couple, and he got burned up real good for that, even though he was a white boy.

1. "Titanic" $600,743,440 1997
2. "Star Wars" (1) $460,987,469 1977
3. "Shrek 2" $436,471,036 2004
4. "E.T. – The Extra-Terrestrial" (8) $434,949,459 1982
5. "Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace" $431,065,444 1999
6. "Spider-Man" $405,692,151 2002
7. "Star Wars: Episode III -- Revenge of the Sith" $380,262,555 2005
8. "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" $377,019,252 2003
9. "Spider-Man 2" $373,377,893 2004
10. "The Passion of the Christ" $370,270,943 2004
11. "Jurassic Park" $356,839,725 1993
12. "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" $340,478,898 2002
13. "Finding Nemo" $339,714,367 2003
14. "Forrest Gump" $329,690,974 1994
15. "The Lion King" (9) $328,539,505 1994
16. "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" $317,557,891 2001
17. "Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" $313,837,577 2001
18. "Star Wars: Episode II -- Attack of the Clones" $310,675,583 2002
19. "Return of the Jedi" (3) $309,205,079 1983
20. "Independence Day" $306,169,255 199

Steven Barnes said...

Look at every movie above 100 million, not just the top 20. And you're wrong there, too, Steve: Leonardo got laid in Titanic, and (I'm only joking a bit here) the Lion King got some when his little girl friend found him with his animal pals. In Jurassic Park, there were LOTS of white (and an Asian) character who waltzed into the movie, and out before the dinosaurs ate them. And Hammond, who created the park, survived. I never said that no black people ever survived movies. My comment is that they die disproportunately. My major comment, completely unassailable, is that if you look at films that earn over 100 million, the proportion of them with black or Asian stars is approximately the same as the general population, but that the rate at which they have sex is ZERO.
Shall we take a look just at your movie sample, however, about black deaths? There are substantive black characters in the three Star Wars Movies, Jurassic Park, Forrest Gump, and Independence Day. All but Will Smith's character die. That's what, 85%? Is that too picky, considering that Sam Jackson survives the first two Star Wars films? All right, then, 50% of the black characters die. Please compare that with the percentage of white leads who die. And this is your sample, Steve. Sorry, try again.

Steven Barnes said...

Oops! I meant to say "no blacks" have sex in films over 100 million. One Asian did--in "Crouching Tiger." But counting only American films, neither Blacks nor Asians. Just wanna be clear.

Anonymous said...

Hi Steve,

Regarding your comment on healthcare for black South Africans vs. the rest of Africa, I have been hearing statements similar to the one your friend Jerry made since forever. They boil down to, "Blacks are better off here, wherever here is, than they are elsewhere." My answer to that is, I don't live "there", I live "here", and I compare myself and whatever group I belong to, to everyone else who lives "here", not "there".

How insulting is the notion that I should consider myself satisfied as long as I'm better off than folks who look like me in another country? I'm an American, and I compare myself to other Americans, just like white people do. The next time your conservative friends complain about the many things they think they need to complain about, can you imagine telling them they should be satisfied because they are so much better off than white Russians or Romanians?

Try it, I'd be curious to hear the results.

Your fan,

Steven Barnes said...

Actually, the discussion really was about South Africa. I can't clearly remember Jerry ever using the argument that blacks were better off here than in Africa.

Steve Perry said...

All the Jedi got wiped out -- black, green, purple, white, blue -- save two, a greenie and a whitey, so you don't get that one.

When did Lando Calrissian die? Did I miss that?

If you count the Lion King as getting laid, then you have to count Donkey in Shrek, who also got it on with a dragon, producing offspring.

I wasn't saying no white guys got laid in those movies, only that in most of them, *nobody* got laid. Leo in Titanic; one guy in all six Star Wars; LOTR, wasn't a lot of The Nasty going on; Zero in Passion of the Christ.

Finding Nemo, Forrest Gump, I can't recall Jurrasic Park, but nothing tumescent springs to mind. Harry Potter? No.

Independence Day, nope. Spiderman? Were there any black people in those not spear carriers?

What the top twenty list mostly show me is that science fiction and fantasy movies rule. Save for Titanic, which might considered an historical (hysterical) love story with SFX, and Forrest Gump, which is an allegory and as much a fantasy as Star Wars in its own way, all the top twenty are SF&F. (And in fact, most of the rest of the top three hundred movies that grossed over 100 mil were also F&SF. Some spies thrown in, cop pictures, cartoons, sharks, like that.)

And fanboys never liked to see all that kissing stuff no matter who does it ...

Yeah, yeah, I'm being facetious, and your point stands. I'm just interested in seeing some of the other facts about the big blockbusters.

Steven Barnes said...

Right! Lando was in "Empire." I missed that. But remember that my core point had nothing to do with that--I said "movies over 100 million" as a way of getting a large enough sample. There are about 300 of them. The top 20 movies are very short on sex (I was joking about LION KING. Lady and the Tramp, however...) So, again, my point was never about the "top movies" and black men dying--only that they die disproportionately in movies across the board. And reducing the sample does produce less sex overall--the very top films tend to be family films. You'd need a sample with more than 10 sex scenes for the lack of color to be noticed. By reducing it, there's no time for the statistical blip to show up. Ah, you clever red-neck, you...

Anonymous said...

My daddy said he saw Lenny Bruce in Minneapolis in the fifties. Once. He wasn't impressed. Fair material- timing was off.
Later I heard the old showbiz principle (and realized he'd been talking around it): working blue fucks your timing.
There's less sex in the top movies because overt sex is bad for story. On the other hand, why do I think the biggest money-makers are the best movies?

Steven Barnes said...

Overt sex is no more bad for movies than overt violence or overt eating. Anything out of phase with the story is bad. The reason the top movies tend not to have sex is that they can be seen by the whole family, and by kids without their parents. Sex presented as a natural by-product of attraction and/or love, if that is a central theme, is appropriate. The only reason that that wouldn't be true is if there is something "nasty" or "bad" about sex--and of course, for many in our culture, that's exactly how they feel. Kindly justify THAT position, and the rest of the "sex doesn't belong" argument might make sense. Without such a justification, comedians like Lenny Bruce are deliberately attacking taboos--which is a legitimate thing for a jester to do, pointing out the absurdity of our attitudes.

Frank said...

Steve says opponents of a Universal Health Plan strike me as…well, as arguing backwards from the premise that it’s a bad idea.

This is primarily because most opponents of Universal Health Care are extremely leery of having the government in charge of making health care decisions. I, for one, simply do not understand why anyone would think allowing even the hint of a political agenda to be part of the the health care rationing calculus.

Didn't work out well for people deemed non-Aryans in Nazi Germany.

Here are a few facts that I deem indisputable: We can not keep everyone alive forever.

We can not afford the demand to try to keep everyone alive forever.

Now when these facts are accepted, AND we decide that the Government should make policies on who gets how much health care when, I think we set ourselves on a very dangerous course.

For example, there is a branch of medical ethics known as Utilitarian Bioethics. It is not a fringe branch. It's principles are stated thus:

[It] espouses directing medical resources where they will contribute most to the sum of the number of happy people in the world....

As with much of utilitarianism, Utilitarian Bioethics is internally coherent only if one takes as proven the concept that the economic distribution of resources is a zero-sum game. Then, it makes sense to evaluate society as the aggregate of each person's total future economic value, their chance of survival from the present, and the cost of keeping them alive indefinitely. If we end up with too many people whose cost of medical maintenance outweighs their total future economic value (because they are terminally ill, are no longer productive, and have no reasonable chance of becoming productive in the foreseeable future), then it may be economically efficient to encourage them to voluntarily self-terminate in order to end their own suffering and to free up scarce medical resources. That is, there are only so many healthy people who can take care of the sick (and do all the other things that keep civilization running), and if there are simply too many unproductive sick people, then providing care for them will inevitably be detrimental to the healthy. To put this more bluntly, every nurse who spends their days caring for a terminally ill Alzheimer's or cancer patient, a comatose individual, or for an individual in a vegetative state, is one more nurse who will not be taking care of a sick baby or a 12-year-old gunshot victim.

Now consider the Netherlands, which, of course, has Government run health care. And consider their so-called Groningen Protocol, whereby it is written that:

if doctors at the hospital think a child is suffering unbearably from a terminal condition, they have the authority to end the child's life. The protocol is likely to be used primarily for newborns, but it covers any child up to age 12....

A parent's role is limited under the protocol. While experts and critics familiar with the policy said a parent's wishes to let a child live or die naturally most likely would be considered, they note that the decision must be professional, so rests with doctors.

Now you may trust Democrats, or may trust Republicans, at at some point, someone you don't trust will be in charge of this mechanism.

Is this idea really appealing to you?

Steve Perry said...

So, what do you do in the U.S. if you get sick or hurt and you don't have health insurance?

You go to the E.R.

And so people with a sprained ankle or the flu clog the waiting room while doctors triage and try to save those having heart attacks or strokes. Sometimes, a patient keels over who could have been saved because some poor soul who works for minimum wage with food poisoning is occupying the M.D. who has to rule out something that could potentially be fatal.

And the cost of health care in the U.S. is twice what it is in any other civilized country on Earth.

So, you want to just shove the old or sick off the sled for the wolves? The children of the poor?

A nation as rich as we are damnsure ought to be taking better care of its people on matter of health.

If you are waiting for the free market and corporations to step up and voluntarily do the job, you are living in Sleeping Beauty's castle. That's like asking people to observe a voluntary speed limit.

Or voluntary racial integration. See how well that worked.

Any presidential candidate who doesn't offer some kind of realistic health care plan ought not be elected.

Money will always talk. But not having it ought not to be a death sentence in the United States.

Steven Barnes said...

Even more: the emergency room is the most expensive place to care for health. Preventative care is vastly more efficient and effective. But our society is losing this perspective: taking medication for back pain rather than yoga before it starts. Eating right and adjusting lifestyles rather than crash diets or liposuction. Jail rather than youth intervention programs. It's shaving off pimples rather than avoiding fatty foods, and it's sick . And doomed. We're going to have Universal Health care if it works. I'm waiting for statistical evidence it doesn't--at this point I think it does. And the only people who profit by the current approach is the medical/HMO establishment, and I think they've invested billions preying on the fears of good people, getting them to vote against their own interests and spiritual ethics. But when it changes...and it many will have the honesty to admit they were wrong?

Steve Perry said...

Mm. If you go to worldwide gross, it's interesting to see some shifting. Wesley makes it into the 100-mil category, 'cause Blade did better overseas than it did here.

Fewer problems with black leading men in Europe and Asia, so it would seem.

Frank said...

Steve Perry says A nation as rich as we are damnsure ought to be taking better care of its people on matter of health.

I am not arguing against the Government having a role in providing Health Care, I am arguing against the Government being the only provider of health care.

Now prepare yourself, some may go into convulsions when I say this, but I think Clinton's Health Care proposal is reasonable.

We do need a way to help everyone have health care. We do not want people's only access to health care being through the ER.

But we do not want to have the government being the sole provider.

Hasn't worked so well for our Vets yet.

And I would argue that part of the high cost of health care in this country has a lot to do with Americans subsidizing the cost of drugs for countries like Canada and Europe in general. We pay higher prices because they aren't allowed to charge more for the drugs elsewhere.

But regardless, my arguments regarding the danger of having a political agenda potentially controlling health care decisions were side-stepped in both yours and Steve's response.

Perhaps you can gloss over them, but it's an important consideration for this voter.

Steven Barnes said...

I agree that I wouldn't want the government to be the "only provider of health care." Is the government the only provider of police forces? Or armed forces? Or schools? Or road building? No. There are private alternatives to all these things. And a wealthy and/or middle class person being able to pay for MORE or DIFFERENT care...go right ahead. Build a two-tier system. And remain a concerned citizen and change that law in the Netherlands. but I think that a safety net for all is reasonable.
So make it like the school system: public scho---- for all, private schools for those who can afford them. No problem by me.
And again, I think it's more valid to look at broad statistics than individual heart-tugging cases. Either side can generate plenty of those. I'll see your Netherland law and raise you granny dumped out of County General onto skid row. THAT conversation has no end.

Frank said...

Steve Barnes said I'll see your Netherland law and raise you granny dumped out of County General onto skid row.

Ah! Terrible as the Granny case might be, it is fundamentally different regardless of the statistics.

The Groningen Protocol is frightening in and of itself just by the fact that the Parent's essentially have no say and no options. They can't go somewhere else even if they had money. At least not in the Netherlands. If the doctors (i.e. the government) decide that the cost of medical maintenance outweighs their total future economic value that's it, the kids a goner. And there is no appeal.

Now let's say for the sake of argument (and I don't think this is at all far-fetched) that part of government provided health care is comprehensive mental-health care.

And let's further speculate a nefarious administration taking advantage of this to remove political miscreants.

Presto! You have a mechanism for re-education camps

There is something Scroogeish about a poor granny getting the shove from some local hospital and it is heartbreaking and we rail against the corporate bastards.

But there is something downright evil about a government making life and death choices that result in a dispassionate board deciding the terminal fate of an infant, or 12 year-old while the child's parents cry and wail in frustration.

I suppose not everyone will see the difference, perhaps, but it is quite clear in my mind.

Steve Perry said...

"Political agenda" sidestepped? Oh, that dog won't hunt -- it had any more straw in it, it'd be barreling down the yellow brick road hoping to find a brain.

Every law, every board, every agency in the country had, has, and will have a political agenda. You all of a sudden want to make this the only program that doesn't?

Ypu got to do better than that ...

Steven Barnes said...

All organizations, all people, all living things have an agenda. That of commercial organizations is to make money. Perhaps by providing the best service. Perhaps by eliminating competition. Perhaps by cutting corners--but making money is ALWAYS a motivation.
Like I said, the obvious answer is to work it the way you work schools: public for everyone, private for those who can afford it. Please tell me what is wrong with that idea. Concentrating on the evils of a system without private healthcare is PERHAPS missing the point that the difficulty can be avoided...or perhaps the point is to scare people from even considering what seems an easy, rational alternative.

Frank said...

Steve Barnes said Like I said, the obvious answer is to work it the way you work schools: public for everyone, private for those who can afford it. Please tell me what is wrong with that idea.

I don't find this solution awful; it's one I could live with if I had to.

The solution I prefer? How about having the total amount people spend on medical insurance deducted from their gross income and what is left is taxible income? I could live with that. You still might have to cover some folks but that's doable.

But failing that, I think Clinton's plan is a good one. From her web site:

If you have a plan you like, you keep it. If you want to change plans or aren't currently covered, you can choose from dozens of the same plans available to members of Congress, or you can opt into a public plan option like Medicare. And working families will get tax credits to help pay their premiums.

What I like about it is that it keeps health care in the public sector but uses government to defray that costs in such a way that it's affordable for everyone.

Of course the devil is in the details, but the general concept is one I can live with.

With regards to your idea, NPR today on All Things Considered had a piece about Thailand that has a system just like you describe. And there are a few problems

The problem is money. Doctors don't get paid much for working at public hospitals, so many won't. The ones who do tend to moonlight at private facilities.

The best doctors leave the low-paying government employ for the private hospitals

After medical school, most of them have to work in a provincial hospital for at least a couple of years. Wibulpolprasert says once that's done, they tend to head for the private sector.

"And this is the so-called river of no return," he says. "They never go back."

The doctor shortage isn't a new problem for Thailand.

I'm not saying this can't be solved, but even if you are not talking about the medical field, Government Service isn't known as a place in which to get rich.

But I have no problem with government helping people obtain affordable health care.

And despite what any of you think, I believe that having government be the sole provider of health care is both dangerous and inefficient.

Steven Barnes said...

"And despite what any of you think, I believe that having government be the sole provider of health care is both dangerous and inefficient."
Frank: Straw Man alert. Who here has proposed that government be the "sole provider"? I would think that keeping some good doctors in the public sector wouldn't be that hard--tax credits, school loans (or grants!) tied to service, etc could handle that.

Frank said...

Steve Barnes writes Straw Man alert. Who here has proposed that government be the "sole provider"?

It has been my understanding of the term Universal Health Care (the term you used) that it commonly means a Canadian, or European style, government provided, single-payer system of health care delivery.

Straw man you say?

Then what was your challenge about? You said I propose looking at sweeping statistics: Infant Mortality Rate, Life Expectancy. We could add: Average time to see a doctor, Subjective patient satisfaction. How about Percentage of GNP devoted to medical research? Those five stats, crunched properly, should give us a damned good indication of whether our medical system stacks up against the rest of the Western world.

I understood this to mean you wanted a comparison between our system and a government-run health-care system. If you didn't mean that, what precisely were the parameters of your comparison?

Perhaps I misunderstood.

Steven Barnes said...

Frank, I think you're right. When I said "Universal Health Care" in that way, it is perfectly reasonable for you to assume government as sole provider, IF that is the way it's working in Europe. I apologize. I personally have no problem with a two-tier system, with private doctors for those who wish to pay outside the "system."

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