What I've Been Doing Besides Blogging

Wall-to-wall carp petting!

[Me and Carp]

Taken at Fuller Gardens in North Hampton, NH, by my lovely and talented sister.

Last Modified 2012-10-19 6:10 AM EDT

Review of a Review: Sicko

Do they give an Oscar for "Most Unintentionally Hilarious Movie Review?" No? Well, they should. And this year has already given us a clear frontrunner for that category: David Denby's review of Michael Moore's Sicko, appearing in a recent issue of the New Yorker magazine.

The New Yorker is kind of a bastion of "respectable" not-quite-Nation left-liberalism. And Michael Moore's movie is (as near as I can tell without actually seeing it) a tidy bit of agitprop for a long wished-for on that end of the spectrum: socialized health care in the USA. So you might expect a rave review.

But David Denby, as it turns out, has had it:

Michael Moore has teased and bullied his way to some brilliant highs in his career as a political entertainer, but he scrapes bottom in his new documentary, "Sicko."
Oh, no! A bully? A tease? You just noticed? What's wrong?
Moore … zeroes in on the situation of three volunteer Ground Zero rescue workers, who have trouble breathing or who suffer from stress and can't get assistance from the federal government.
Moore takes those Ground Zero workers, along with some other allegedly sick people, off to Cuba: first stopping at Guantánamo Bay to get the same (socialized) healthcare for the workers that's offered to the various terrorists held there. Denied access, Moore continues on to Havana, to get "care" from Cuba's government.

Now, for what it's worth: Jane Galt points out that "everyone who worked at Ground Zero has multiple medical programmes itching to cover any and every possibl[e] site-related illness." Had Denby known about that he might have been able to make an intelligent quibble: doesn't Moore show that "programmes" run by the government are remarkably ineffective at producing patient satisfaction?

But no. Instead, Denby says:

Hauling off seriously ill people to a military base where they won't receive treatment is a dumb prank.
"Wait a minute," we say. "Isn't David Denby aware that "dumb pranks" are exactly what Michael Moore does all the time?"
And the insensitivity isn't much relieved …
"And isn't David Denby aware that Michael Moore is approximately as sensitive as a three hundred pound lump of visceral fat?"
… by the piece of whimsy that comes next: Moore and the rescue workers (the other sick voyagers having mysteriously disappeared) wander onto the streets of Havana and ask some guys playing dominoes if there's a doctor nearby. They go to a pharmacy and then to a hospital, where the Americans are admitted and treated.
Whew! But, wait, Denby has problems with all this!
Few people in Moore's audience are likely to be displeased that they receive help from a Communist system.
So is Denby saying that "Moore's audience" is cheered when a Commie system is "shown" to be superior to ours? "Holy crap," we say. "This is the kind of allegation that we are used to seeing from Ann Coulter. Yet here it is in the New Yorker!"
But what is the point of Moore's fiction …"
"Whoa," we say. "Denby's finally noticing that Moore's métier is in relating the 'fictitious'!"
… of a desperate, wandering quest for medicine on the streets, as if he hadn't known in advance that Cuba has free health care? Why not tell us what really happened on the trip—for instance, what part Cuban officials played in receiving the American patients?
"Whoa," we say. "Denby's finally noticing that Moore leaves out important and relevant information when producing his 'documentaries'!"
After the early tales of the system's failure, "Sicko" becomes feeble, even inane.
"Whoa," we say. "Denby just noticed that Moore's works become feeble and inane if you approach them with the teensyest bit of skepticism!"
A recent poll shows that a majority of Americans not only favor a national health service but are willing to pay higher taxes for it. In that case, wouldn't it have made sense for Moore to find out what features of universal care in other countries could be adapted to America?
"Ah," we say. "Denby's real problem is that Michael Moore is off-message. He's not being policy-wonkish enough!"
Instead of sorting through any of this, Moore and his crew go from place to place—to Canada, England, and France, as well as Cuba—and, at every stop, he pulls the same silly stunt of pretending to be astonished that health care is free. How much do people pay here in France? Nothing? You've got to be kidding. But isn't everyone taxed to death to pay for health care? Well, here's a nice, two-income French couple who have a great apartment and collect sand from the deserts of the world. Not only haven't they been impoverished by taxation; they travel. And so on.
"Again," we say, "for anyone who's been paying attention to the Mooreian ouvre, this is very old news. Moore's argument-by-anecdote is unconvincing except to those whose are already convinced."
In each country, Moore interviews doctors who speak proudly of how well their country's system works. But the candor of these doctors is no more impressive than that of the corporate spokesmen Moore has confronted in the past.
If there's a criticism here, it seems to be that Moore has become an ineffective propagandist for socialism. Why, the government employees we're supposed to take at face value sound just like the corporate employees we're supposed to giggle at! What's next? Will Moore start reading from The Road to Serfdom?
No one mentions the delays or the instances of less than first-rate care. We find out that a doctor in Great Britain makes a good income (about two hundred thousand dollars), but not how medical care in, say, Toronto might differ from that in a distant rural area, or how shortages may have affected the quality of Cuban health care. Moore winds up treating the audience the same way that, he says, powerful people treat the weak in America—as dopes easily satisfied with fairy tales and bland reassurances.
"Denby," we say. "Michael Moore hasn't changed. This is what he does. The difference is that you've just started to notice his tactics."

So why is that? Well, take a good guess:

And since he doesn't interview any of the countless Americans who have been mulling over ways to reform our system, we're supposed to come away from "Sicko" believing that sane thinking on these issues is unknown here. In the actual political world, the major Democratic Presidential candidates …
… light dawns …
… have already offered, or will soon offer, plans for reform. A shift to the left, or, at least, to the center, has overtaken Michael Moore, yielding an irony more striking than any he turns up: the changes in political consciousness that Moore himself has helped produce have rendered his latest film almost superfluous.
Michael Moore, it appears, has failed to genuflect properly to the "plans for reform" from "the major Democratic Presidential candidates." This is sufficient reason for the scales to drop from David Denby's eyes. He's no longer an efficient anti-Republican propagandist! No more plum seats at the Democratic National Convention for you, Mr. Moore!

Last Modified 2017-12-05 12:16 PM EDT

Evan Almighty

[Amazon Link] [3.0
stars] [IMDb Link]

No, I haven't seen Spider-Man 3 yet. Nor have I seen Shrek 3, or Pirates 3. Not even Die Hard 4. Noooo. Instead I go see Bruce Almighty 2, actual title being Evan Almighty, because both Jim Carrey and Jennifer Aniston decided to do other things. So minor character Evan Baxter, played by Steve Carell in the previous movie, steps up to play out the seemingly random choice by God (reprised by Morgan Freeman) to build an ark and change the world.

Let me get the negative stuff out of the way first: the first thirty minutes or so of this movie are laugh-free. The slimy-politician-rapes-the-environment-for-mere-profit plot driver is beyond cliché. It is every little bit as sappily sentimental as you can imagine.

But speaking of imagination: try imagining the number of animal-poop jokes that one movie could possibly hold.

This movie has twice that number of animal-poop jokes. And, just to mix things up a bit, there's an alpaca-spit joke near the end. Ho!

But, in spite of myself, I had a decent time. Because (a) I can really believe that Morgan Freeman is God, even if he's much more of a touchy-feely type God than the actual Old Testament guy; (b) Steve Carell can (eventually) make any old crap funny if he tries; (c) Wanda Sykes is funny even when she's not trying; (d) animals are cute; (e) I suspended disbelief, and found myself saying: yeah, if God decided to redo the Noah story, it probably would go something like that.

So I can't recommend it, but if the family consensus is to go, you won't have a bad time.

Last Modified 2014-12-01 5:35 AM EDT

Bangkok 8

[Amazon Link]

Perusing my book postings over the last few iterations, one might think that I almost never read outside a small number of my favorite genre writers. Not so! This is a totally different author, John Burdett, and a totally different kind of mystery. (Indeed, when I looked for Burdett's books at the local Barnes & Noble, they were in the "Fiction and Literature" shelves instead of "Mystery". Fine, I can read "Fiction and Literature" if provoked.)

The protagonist is one Sonchai Jitpleecheep, a detective in Bangkok, son of a Thai prostitute and an unknown American serviceman. Within the first eight pages, an American marine has been murdered, as has Sonchai's partner and "soul brother" Pichai. Sonchai starts off on a mission of revenge.

What's here is lots of matter-of-fact sex, commercialized and catering to just about every hidden kink you could imagine, and—assuming you're the straight and upstanding person I think you probably are—some you probably couldn't, and wouldn't want to. Mixed in: drugs, jewelry, corruption, Buddhism, and culture clash, mostly between American and Thai. Not a bad read, maybe a little don't-call-me-a-mystery pretentious; only thing is, you'll maybe want to read some Hardy Boys afterward to pull your mind out of the gutter.

Last Modified 2012-10-19 5:40 AM EDT