Saturday, October 31, 2009

A Life Worth Noting

Photographer Robert C. Lautman.
...The Army made him a combat photographer in the Pacific. He volunteered to parachute onto Corregidor, although he had never before made a jump. He landed safely, shot combat scenes and ran under fire all the way to deliver his film to a PT boat. He twice received the Bronze Star Medal for his work on Corregidor and for volunteering with a band of Army Rangers who conducted a daring raid of the Cabanatuan prison camp in the Philippines, liberating 513 prisoners of the Japanese.
In 1954, Mr. Lautman was called before the House Committee on Un-American Activities. He was one of 11 area residents who refused to answer the committee's questions that year on constitutional grounds....


Two Writers

Throughout the health care finance debate, I've been impressed with Timothy Noah's articles. He covers both the economics of the issue and the political processes that decide policy. Today's column on the Congressional Budget Office evaluation of the House Democrats' health finance bill is about the best discussion yet. Noah clearly describes what "bending the cost curve"--that Holy Grail of this year's debate--means and what the CBO's numbers mean in that context.

Noah makes, as did the Association of Health Insurance Plans, an implicit case for a single, universal system, divorced from profit-seeking. That case is the profit-seekers' incentive to maximize profit and shed liabilities that reduce that profit. A public option that becomes the last resort for unprofitable, costly individuals may well cost a lot more than projected. Short of strictly limiting premiums and medical fees, for which the votes don't exist as Noah points out, the public option may be doomed even if it actually becomes law.

In contrast to Noah's commentary, which is the here and now of the current debate, , I am also reading T.R. Reid's The Healing of America. Reid is another writer who explains policy well. In this book Reid uses his injured shoulder as a template for exploring health care in other countries. I am only through France, Germany and Japan so far. One common thread is that these nations have essentially a single system for establishing medical fees and payments, a system that limits the income of health providers in those countries.

Reid's prologue tips his hand: he believes America can learn from the experiences of other nations. One of the ideas Reid describes is France's Le Carte Vitale. A plastic card with an embedded microchip, Le Carte Vitale, carries a person's complete medical history and serves as the basis for French medical billing and payment. Reid finds no record rooms and back office staff in the French medical clinics he visits. They are unnecessary. He notes that the French take a certain amount of pride in coming up with the Vital Card before America did.

Between Reid and Noah, I can safely predict that the health care finance bill that passes this year will not be the last. I can also hope that whatever jury-rigged, compromised and bartered system emerges from this year's debate will further demonstrate the inherent contradictions of a profit-driven health care finance. Maybe then we will seriously address the issue. The rest of the developed world has done so.


Sunday, October 25, 2009

God and Crumb (Reprise)

Another reviewer reminds us that R. Crumb's body of work has nothing on the Book of Genesis when it comes to depravity and weirdness.
On this one, he played it (mostly) straight. And why not? If you have never read Genesis from start to finish, you might not be aware that the stories are as full of sexual perversity and surreal plot points as any comic book. Genesis has lust, inebriation, nudity, polygamy, harlots, men pimping their wives, masturbation, penis cutting, sex with a 90-year-old woman who gives birth, sodomy, incest and a father who offers his virgin daughters up for strangers to rape.

That's a lot of great material for an artist like Crumb, and the genius of his Genesis is that he portrays it all - every word and every illustration is given equal weight. That's not how they taught it to us back in Sunday school. Our Bible coloring books had only selected scenes: Noah and his animals, but never Noah lying passed out drunk and naked in his tent. And even when we outgrew the Sunday school cookies and punch and graduated to wafers and wine, we still never heard about Abraham selling his wife Sarah to Pharaoh in exchange for cattle, gold and slaves. It was a kind of scam for the couple, and they did it more than once, targeting King Abimelech of Gerar next and getting cattle, sheep, slaves and land in return.

Crumb's compositions are cinematic and the rendering of detail is deliciously fine. One is amazed at how well the text adapts to the comic book form with its speech balloons and narrative boxes. The "sweet" Crumb comes through here with tenderly drawn and emotionally insightful expressions. And the faces! Where did he get them all? Each individual in the "begats" is unique. They are all raw, rich and human.