Archive for December, 2009

OK, Linus made his list first, and I follow in turn…

Ratatouille – Ah, the portrait of the artist as a young rat. There are so many angles to take with this film (objectivism? animal rights? artistry?) and focus instead on the food. I mean, this is a film about food in which the food looks good. Really good. Every dish is concocted with the glorious food-porn close-ups of a celebrity cookbook. The attention to detail in the textures, colors and luster of food fulfills the movie’s premise — that the rat can, in fact, cook. Without it, what is the artistry of the rat, or of the filmmaker for that matter?

Cache – Michael Haneke’s grueling picture about surveillance, paranoia and the fear-based culture we inhabit is one of the best responses to 9/11 out there, and I don’t even think it was intended that way. The problem of Iago — the motiveless malignancy — comes back to haunt Daniel Auteuil and Juliette Binoche’s perfectly cold couple. What is it that they did? What did they do to deserve the menacing videotapes left on their doorstep? Without massive bloodletting or violence, as one sees in much of the rest of Haneke’s work, he deals his most devastating blow.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind – Science fiction films tend toward the slick or the dystopic (or both). This is neither. It is a world that looks and feels a lot like our world, with memory-erasure using the same cheap ads as back hair removal. Also in a departure from usual sci-fi, it has human characters, giving us personalities rather than a litany of personality traits and archetypes. Without explicit mentions of fate and free will, we have arguably the most potent display of the problem of free will and responsibility in modern cinema, simply because it does not deal in the abstract. We are the sum of our acts, and no amount of technology can take that from us. Jim Carrey sells the movie’s human core with his best ever performance.

Before Sunset – As a fan of the lost art of conversation, I could not help but be bowled over by this 90-minute ode to conversation and the power it can have on our lives. How deeply the right word can cut. Each word in the conversation is a part of the whole, tying back to and dancing around the issue at hand — a life unfulfilled. Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy do a great job creating what appears to be a seamless conversation picking up right where they left off seven years earlier, but the passage of time has changed their outlook on life and each other. Nobody gets a second chance.


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The truth about cancer

As a grad student, I am naturally drawn to PhD Comics, which details aspects of life in ways that only scientists would find humorous. But here is a comic in which Jorge Cham really gets to the heart of what makes researching cancer so difficult. It’s one of the most poignant comic panels I’ve seen. And it’s a good thing to keep in the back of your mind anytime you read about a potential “cure” for “cancer.”

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Merry Christmas and happy holidays and all that jazz, folks.

Before I left to go see Avatar today, I saw a news blurb about someone trying to light “fireworks” in a plane. Odd, I thought, but I didn’t think much more, and I had some place to be. But now I get back and I see White House officials are saying it was an attempted terorist attack to blow up the plane. Oh boy. Here we go again.

Obviously, this story is still unfolding, so we’ll see the details soon enough. But after the most recent times people have tried to do this, we all have had to take our shoes off or keep our shampoo in bottles of no more than 3.4 ounces. We’ll see what new policy they adopt this time, but whatever it is, I’m sure it will be security theater, not actual security.

Security theater is anything designed to make people feel more secure, but doesn’t actually make them more secure. Some examples of this are detailed in this article here, where Jeffrey Goldberg openly flouts security rules and gets away with it. It’s easy to imagine that today’s scenario, as I expect we might learn, made a mockery of the liquids rule. We’ll see.

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We have thus far steered clear of the Tiger Woods hullaballoo, but this open letter from Ron Artest is too good to pass up:

There are a lot of sports announcers and regular reporters who are not perfect in their own homes, yet they want to bring you down.

You have done so much for people, the sport of golf, and your family and you gave your wife a life that people can’t even dream of.

I thought you were 36 or 37 until I read the news today. A 33-year-old man who has been a model citizen with so much at stake. This is your first publicly known issue since you started your career, compared to my 50 or more publicly known issues and mistakes.

Thanks, Ron.

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As Stendhal hinted, I do indeed come to the opposite conclusion than he does: this health care bill should fail. To begin, let me say that there are indeed some progressives who are so pissed at what has happened to the bill, that they are wishing defeat on the bill out of spite and are not seeing the big picture. This claim feels more true when people like Greg Sargent point out that it tends to be the wonks (Ezra, Benen, Yglesias) who still support the bill while party operatives and activists (Dean, Kos) are now wishing its failure. Thus, let me unequivocally state that while, yes, the actions of Lieberman, Obama and friends are infuriating, the reason I want this bill to fail is because I think its passage would make America worse. Here’s why.

A mandate for coverage without any mechanism to control health care costs is both bad politics and unethical. There are tens of millions of people in the country who don’t have insurance. These people don’t get it from their employer, and choose not to buy it themselves either because they’ve decided they can’t afford it or for other reasons. This bill requires them to buy insurance or else face a fine of thousands per year. But it is wrong for the government to force people to buy insurance without ensuring that it will be both affordable and high quality. The bill doesn’t “cover” 30 million Americans so much as make them criminals if they don’t buy bad insurance that many of them cant afford.


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Unlike many (including Howard Dean and the Great Orange Satan and probably Linus) who say that we should “kill the Senate bill,” I believe that a flawed bill is better than nothing.

Let’s take a trip down memory lane to, oh let’s say, 2004. Some left-wing New England governor, who was something of a health care wonk and touted as a viable progressive alternative to John Kerry, proposed a daring health care overhaul. His plan would increase coverage to 26 million more Americans, but it had no public plan, co-op or anything similar. It did have a federal employees health plan, similar to the one currently in the Senate bill. It did not eliminate rescission or regulate insurers’ ability to refuse patients with pre-existing conditions.

This plan belonged, of course, to lefty progressive hero Howard Dean.

The current Senate health care bill would pay for more people’s coverage, would cover more people, and would regulate insurers to force them to stop their most egregious cost-cutting tactics. Instead of a tax increase, it has an individual mandate, which in the end will function the same way.

(For a more comprehensive list of what we still get, check Kevin Drum.)

Put another way, the current Senate health care bill is arguably to the left of the Howard Dean health care plan of 2004.

Yes, we are in a more progressive moment. Yes, we should have a better chance than we did in 2004. But a setback here will be a setback for another generation. If this bill fails to pass, 40 million Americans still won’t have health insurance, no matter how much pride the progressive wing of the Democratic party has saved. I am pissed at Joe Lieberman, Ben Nelson, and the rest. I’m pissed at the filibuster. I’m pissed at the horse-race-obsessed media. I’m pissed at Obama for not taking a more progressive stance. The fact that I am pissed will not make anyone get health insurance. This bill will.

When a student talks during a test, I give the student automatically half-off. Usually, the student pouts and throws his/her test on the floor, exclaiming “If all I can get is half, I don’t want to take your stupid test!”

I pick up the paper off the floor, and gently ask the student, “You still have 25 minutes left. If you choose not to finish, that’s your choice. But think about this one question: Is something better than nothing?”

The student sits there, thinking. Eventually, the student finishes.

Something is better than nothing.

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The lede on this NYT article begins “In a surprise setback for Democratic leaders,” and then goes on to describe how Joe Lieberman has said he will not vote for the health care bill, even in its current form: a watered-down compromise of a compromise of a compromise. And all I can think is, which idiots are surprised by this? I have been saying for months that there will be no health care bill passed by Obama, not now or ever. Stendhal, commenters on this blog, and smart people like Ezra Klein have all insisted that I was wrong this whole time. I thought, perhaps I was. But the bottom line is that the perversion of Senate rules require 60 votes for everything, and there are simply not 60 senators who support health care reform in any form whatsoever. There are 58, max. What am I missing?

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