Using his typical set pieces, Moore contrasts the American system with those in Canada, the UK, France, and, to the consternation of those on the right and a number of mainstream media critics, Cuba, to show that in wealthy peer countries, as well as in the small, extremely poor, Caribbean nation, people not only receive equal or better treatment than our far more costly, often inadequate offerings, but pay little to nothing in direct fees, either for treatment or for medicine. In the case of Canada or Britain, the often decried waiting periods, Moore suggests, are no longer than many patients experience in the US, and in the case of France, which has one of the best health care systems in the world, the added benefits are so extensive that they may lead some to book a one-way ticket for Paris when they leave the theater. Moore does engage in a stunt when he takes several former 9/11 responders to the gates of Guantánamo Naval Base to see if he can get the same free, allegedly excellent treatment for them as the prisoners interned there, but this bit ends quickly and doesn't detract from the overall film; instead, it poses the absurd question of why people who have been (falsely in far too many cases) been deemed by W to be "the worst of the worst" terrorists we face are receiving medical care superior not only to "heroes," but to millions of Americans.
There was little in terms of the film's content, both horror stories and the positive aspects of the foreign health care systems, that I wasn't already familiar with, save the extent of France's social benefits, which verged at points on the fantastic--someone to do your laundry while you're out on maternity leave? That didn't blunt the cumulative effect of seeing so much easily preventable suffering and inhumanity. Why should citizens (or anyone) living in the richest country on earth have to choose which finger to have reattached or plead to have an ill child seen by a competent physician or lose their home and become penniless because of an illness? Why should 50 million people have almost no options whatsoever? Moore's film ultimately underlines how unconscionable and untenable our current system is, and how radically it needs to be changed. A fully funded single-payer system that emphasized prevention, and in which people could also purchase private care, seems to be the best option. But we can't have anything like it if we keep allowing our representatives to enable disastrous policies like the Iraq War.
In terms of specific criticisms, I wish that Moore had featured the experiences of people living medium-sized cities and rural areas in the foreign countries he visited. London and Paris are national capitals, and Toronto is Canada's largest city (though he did venture out to London, Ontario), but what would sorts of services and amenities would be available to people in Blackpool, Toulon, or Saskatoon? In terms of Cuba, would the kinds of excellent, free service Moore's troop received be an option for any non-Cuban? And what about in the even poorer parts of the country outside the capital city, Havana? I also wish he'd featured a few more comparison-style charts to make some of his points as clear as possible, and even incorporated a short debate between a proponent of our current broken system and someone who was advocating something better, fairer and more humane. Finally, Moore presented no solutions--except through implication--and the fact remains that each of the competing foreign systems he cites has its pros and cons, the major con being the kinds of higher taxes that a portion of this country's opinion makers congenitally rail against. (Unless, of course, they're paid by the lower middle and working classes.) Those critiques aside, SiCKO is one of the more powerful rhetorical weapons in the battle to improve our health care system; it will not be simple, because the opponents have both the money and the power, but it must and eventually will be done.
Addendum: Princeton economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman once again clearly lays out the problems today.
I'm going to confess that I have not finished even one of J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter books. I attempted to read the first one some years after C, who's read all of them, was starting on the fourth or fifth one, but I think I just wasn't in the right mood or mode. Though I rarely read young adult fiction, the narrative itself was enjoyable enough. But I only made minimal progress before putting it down and picking up--who knows what? A large percentage--a majority?--of my students have read all of them, however, so I consider my having not finished even the first to be a bit of a lacuna. (A year and half ago I completed Susanna Clarke's huge and deeply magical Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, and earlier this month I finished Philip Pullman's superb His Dark Materials trilogy, which several students had been touting, earlier this month, but neither Clarke's magicians nor Pullman's "new Eve" Lyra Belacqua is the beloved teen wizard Harry Potter.) I still, however, believe that Rowling's series is a major achievement, and one of these days, I will get around to it (just as I will read more of Proust's A la recherche du temps perdu beyond Swann's Way (A Côté Chez Swann), for example). Everyone I know who has read the books rhapsodizes about them--well, everyone except my former prof Harold Bloom, who went into extreme contrarian mode about the texts, though he exacted no damage to Rowling.
Bloom, it appears, is not alone. As the fifth installment of the film series (most of which I've seen and enjoyed) dominates box offices and the seventh and final (?) volume is set to appear this upcoming week, Washington Post critic Ron Charles issues a note of dissent, entitled "Harry Potter and the Death of Reading." He has tired of the novels and is glad that his daughter has too. He also sounds off about the saddening state--well, for writers, readers and lovers of the literary arts--of the blockbuster book business in this country, lamenting that the series have hardly succeeded in cultivating reading, not only among children, as various people have claimed since the first volume appeared, but among the series' many adult readers.
To quote Charles:
In "The Long Tail," Wired editor Chris Anderson suggested that new methods of distribution would shatter the grip of blockbusters. Niche markets would evolve and thrive as never before, creating a long, vital line of products from small producers who never could have profited in the past. It's a cheering notion, but alas, the big head still pretty much overrules the long tail. Like the basilisk that terrorized students at Hogwarts in Book II, "Harry Potter" and a few other much-hyped books devour everyone's attention, leaving most readers paralyzed in praise, apparently incapable of reading much else.
According to a study by Alan Sorensen at Stanford University, "In 1994, over 70 percent of total fiction sales were accounted for by a mere five authors." There's not much reason to think that things have changed. As Albert Greco of the Institute for Publishing Research puts it: "People who read fiction want to read hits written by known authors who are there year after year."
So we're experiencing the literary equivalent of a loss of biodiversity. All those people carrying around an 800-page novel looks like a great thing for American literacy, but it's as ominous as a Forbidden Forest with only one species of tree. Since Harry Potter first Apparated into our lives a decade ago, the number of stand-alone book sections in major metropolitan newspapers has decreased by half -- silencing critical voices that once helped a wide variety of authors around the country get noticed.
That's only a snippet; do check out the entire article.
Update: Audiologo, in the comments section, pointed out this Motoko Rich NY Times piece about Harry Potter's limited effect on children's reading.
After years of drifting by mostly on toxic videos, Comic View, a handful of films, recycled news, infomercials, and a few series (like College Hill), Black Entertainment Television (BET), now part of the Viacom behemoth, is set to introduce a host of new shows, according to its entertainment president, filmmaker Reginald Hudlin. (One that has yet to appear, Hot Ghetto Mess, is already provoking a media firestorm, with sponsors pulling out and critics decrying what they see as yet another opportunity for negative stereotypes and portrayals.) We caught one of the first offerings, Baldwin Hills, a new reality show set in Los Angeles's eponymous, upper-middle-class Black neighborhood. For whatever reason--skimming, rather than reading the New York Times article, most likely--I thought the show was going to be a dramatic series covering a wide range of characters, but in fact it focuses on a cohort of very attractive teenagers and young adults primarily from Baldwin Hills, along with one or two from the nearby, rougher neighborhood of Crenshaw, whose lives intersect with the Baldwin Hillites. The young people's parents make brief appearances, but the emphasis is on the 18-to-20 somethings.
All of the participants, who fill out the usual reality show "types," are appealing, have good heads on their shoulders (to trot out that tiresome cliché) and, as far as I can tell, none appears headed for the kinds of violence-laden drama that has become a feature of College Hill. We see generous dollops of real bourginess (one young woman, Garnette, I automatically labeled a future head of Jack and Jill), but given the usual representations of Black people, particularly Black youth, on TV, I'm not complaining. What I most liked about the show, which I may or may not watch again, is how self-conscious everyone--except actress Vanessa Bell Calloway, mother of one of the young women--is before the camera. These young folks, as much as they've grown up in a media-saturated environment, still make it clear, through awkward pauses, self-monitored statements, and so on, that they know the world is watching. And as young Black middle and upper-middle-class people, no matter how much they refer to "pimping" (which one character, thankfully, described as a negative thing) or sass back at their parents (and there's a surprising, at least for me, amount of that), they still are aware of the need to act like they have home trainingand good sense. I.e., respectable. Everything changes, but at least among these denizens of Baldwin Hills, less so than the media might lead us to believe.