Wednesday, March 24, 2010

This Might Be A Reason To Get Mad

Earlier this week, the Health Care Reform bill was signed into law. I expressed my misgivings with the bill in my last post. I also expressed in my earlier post about M&M's that I think it is generally a bad idea for Congress to pass laws that are so huge that no one has read them in their entirety. I'd like to convey the fact that even if I supported everything in the bill, I would not happy with the way that it was passed. Backroom political deals, complete disinterest in the opinions of those who a representative represents, and faith in Presidential executive orders that are completely non-binding in legal terms are not the way business is supposed to be done in Washington. We should demand better from our elected officials. After all, they work for us, not vice versa.
Still, the real sticking point for me is the whole issue of mandating health insurance. The bill has a section in which all adults are required to purchase health insurance or pay a fine. (Partly this is problematic because since the fine will be lower than what many private companies charge for insurance, and the bill also is supposed to remove any restrictions on companies turning people down for pre-existing conditions, a lot of penny-pinchers will simply wait until they are ill or injured to buy an insurance plan, which somewhat defeats the purpose of buying insurance in the first place.) Think about that: the federal government is going to require you to buy something. If you don't, you are breaking the law.
Now, some of you may not think that's such a bad idea. Everyone has to contribute to the pot for everyone to receive the benefits, right? When you choose to buy insurance, after all, that's what happens. You pay in a small part, and people who need it benefit from your payment. When you need the money, you benefit from what other people have paid in. If you never use it, you have no benefit except the peace of mind that comes from having a safety net. Maybe you noticed that I emphasized the word "choose" up there. That's right, before this bill passed there was a choice. That choice is effectively gone. Sure, you can choose which one to buy, but the buying itself is no longer in question. You will buy health insurance, or you will pay a penalty. They're getting your money one way or the other.
Besides, you have to buy car insurance, right? Well, not if you don't drive. Not if you don't own/rent a car. Also, car insurance mandates come from the states, not the federal government, and each state has different requirements for its policies. If you really get burned on your state's auto insurance laws, you do have the choice to go to a different state where the requirements suit you. Whereas when the government tells you to do something, there is nowhere else to go as long as you're a citizen of the US. This is almost like the government telling you to buy a car. (Maybe they can just ban imports; this will improve market conditions for US auto manufacturers.)
Now, if you still don't see the problem that I have, let's take this a bit further. (After all, I'm sure you can think of one or two programs from Washington that have been abused and expanded a lot since they were first enacted.) This bill sets a precedent that the federal government can require you to buy something from the private sector, and they will track which purchase you make. Now imagine that someone ginned up enough support to pass a bill that mandates that you buy one gallon of chocolate ice cream once a month to support the dairy industry. Don't get me wrong--I love chocolate ice cream. But some of the joy of eating it might vanish when I have seven gallons sitting in my freezer because I can't eat that much in a month and still maintain my physical condition for being in the Army. Not to mention, I might have preferred to buy cookies and cream, but I only have so much money for ice cream and I must fill my chocolate quota first. Maybe I'll skip the next couple of months, but then they'll fine me, and not only might that cause consequences with my federal military employment, but that's money that I wanted to save for a plane ticket to visit my family back home, despite the fact that they're getting sick of chocolate ice cream too.
Let's step on a few more toes, shall we? The Bill of Rights says that I have a right to keep and bear arms. Suppose the NRA lobbies successfully to mandate that everyone reinforce that right by purchasing a firearm. Now you have to buy a gun or rifle, register it, and keep it on your property. And let's not forget that a firearm is just an expensive club unless you have ammunition, so you must have a full box of appropriate ammo for your weapon of choice. And if you have kids, you have to buy safety locks to keep it out of their curious hands. All of the sudden, something that was supposed to secure freedom has become an obstacle to freedom instead. At least if your neighbor accidentally shoots you with his government-mandated Colt .45, they've thought ahead by making you get insured.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Random Typing

Sometimes there are things I just have to get out of me. Fortunately, blogging is a convenient way to do just that! So here goes....

-Sometimes people with political, social, or religious views different from yours act like jerks. That does not mean that all the people who agree with their views are jerks also. It also does not excuse you if you act like a jerk in response.

-Grammar Nazi moment: Could have: a way of stating a possible result, I could have bought a new car if I had saved my money. Could of does not mean ANYTHING AT ALL. Please stop using it, all you people who do.

-Most of the problems I have encountered as a teacher, student, soldier, boyfriend, son, brother, citizen, etc. result from people not communicating. We spend most of our lives around other people, talking, writing, reading, interacting, and yet so often we are absolutely miserable at communicating and frustration, suspicion, distrust, and unhappiness are the result.

-If you support the "Tea Party" movement, don't have a knee-jerk response that anyone who questions you is a socialist or communist. Respond to detractors with logic and sound arguments, not names. If you don't support the "Tea Party" movement, don't call people who do "teabaggers." "Socalist" and "communist" are not insults; "teabagger" is. It is crude, inappropriate, and will not do anything to change anyone's mind. Grow up. Grow up.

-I'm sad to notice that all the commercials on the radio or TV talking about the importance of the 2010 Census do not mention at all the ONE reason why a census is mandated in the Constitution: to determine the population so that states may be properly represented in Congress (Article 1, section 2). To me it seems like that is a far more important reason than any of the other things they bring up, all of which can be addressed locally most of the time.

-Grammar Nazi Moment: Lose means the act of misplacing an item or being defeated in a contest, loose means not securely fastened or of low moral standing. I wish I had ten dollars for every time I've seen the first word spelled like the second. By professionals. Adults with college degrees. English is your language. Learn to use it properly!!!

-Most things are cheaper a few weeks or months after they become available. Often, patience results in saved money.

-I've seen some commentators deride certain public figures for not attending a prestigious, private or Ivy League university. These same people are staunch advocates of public school unions and harshly criticize independent grade schools, charter schools, and home schools. I am waiting for some of these people to notice the contradiction.

-No one likes a know-it-all. Fortunately, we have blogs that you can choose to ignore.

-During a break at work today, I caught some of an ESPN show where several people were discussing the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament. It hit me, these people are passionately arguing who is right or wrong about what they think will happen in a basketball game. And they get really worked up about it. The more I contemplate this, the more bizarre it seems. We don't take the Psychic Friends Network seriously, but people will wager hundreds of dollars based on what these folks say. And for all their experience and knowledge of basketball, their odds of being right are about the same as what the Psychic Friends will give you.

-For the record, I think nationalized health care is a bad idea. Here's why: I know people in wheelchairs, with cancer, with multiple sclerosis, all sorts of unfortunate conditions. I like the idea that if a particular provider or insurance company doesn't provide good service, they have the option to look elsewhere. Most people agree that, well-intentioned as it was, No Child Left Behind created more problems than it solved in the educational system. Odds are that massive health care legislation will do the same thing. After all, how many other government programs run more efficiently and cost less than the experts predict? Zero. Every single time.

-Along the same line, the President was a lawyer, and is married to a lawyer. A lot of lawyers are way, way overpaid. In fact, the outrageous fees in malpractice lawsuits are one reason why medical costs are so high, because doctors must pay high costs for malpractice insurance. The President has demonized bankers for being overpaid. He has demonized doctors for being overpaid. He has demonized insurance companies for being overpaid. But he hasn't said a word about the overpaid malpractice lawyers. Coincidence? You decide. I won't say anymore on this subject since the President is, legally, my boss. (Also, not trying to pick on lawyers; just stating facts.)

-Some folks criticize religious people for their prohibitions or limitations on drinking, or premarital sex, or foul language, or kosher diets, or why certain holidays are observed. Yet we are bombarded with news flashes on why certain foods cause cancer, certain drinks make you fat, why smoking will kill you, cell phones will kill you, television will kill you, driving will kill you, flying will kill you, why you aren't exercising enough, and why you shouldn't exercise too much. I guess no matter what you believe or how you live, some people just can't resist trying to tell you how you should.

-The above statement does not express a belief in a relativistic world view, far from it. I'm actually just making an observation about common trends in our culture from different ideological viewpoints.

-Tennessee is a football school. Kentucky is a basketball school. The difference between the two is that Tennessee still occasionally defeats Kentucky in basketball.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

When Oscar's Wrong

Well, yet again I've taken quite a while to write another blog entry. I've been busy--traveling to New York City to see the Vienna Philharmonic again, traveling to Nashville after the birth of my niece Kaitlin, staying busy at work, watching the Olympics, bargain-shopping for new additions to my Blu-Ray collection...the first couple of months of 2010 have been a bit crazy.

But it's March, and to a film buff like me, that means Oscar time! This period of the year always drives me nuts, and there are numerous reasons why. As usual, there are a whole lot of nominated films that I haven't yet seen, though several are on my to-do list. Then there's my irritation at the pomposity of Hollywood: they get all dressed up to award golden statuettes to...themselves, they wear ribbons to show the world that "they care" about causes (but not enough to give up any large percentage of their wealth in contributing to solutions), they decide that excellence as entertainers means that a show about awarding movies is also a political commentary, a social commentary, an emotional triumph, a grand spectacle, and a comedy routine. (And that's just the opening number.) So concerned are they with the glamor that they give themselves a red carpet to walk down, as if pretending to be something you're not makes you some kind of royalty. And yet for so many film fans, including me, Oscar night still is worth paying attention to; we love the idea that somehow recognizing excellence in film elevates the art form, and also elevates those of us who love watching movies. So here are some of my thoughts about this year's awards from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

They have expanded the Best Picture category to ten films this year, largely in reaction to the displeasure that many critics have had that popular films are often ignored by the Academy. Of the Top 25 grossing movies of all time, only six have received Best Picture nominations (*winners): Avatar (nominated this year), Titanic*, The Return of the King*, The Two Towers, The Fellowship of the Ring, and Star Wars. In the next ten top-grossing films, only this year's Up and E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial got nods. The turning point seems to have been the exclusion of last year's biggest hit The Dark Knight, and so the Academy has doubled the field, and sure enough this year's list includes films like District 9 and Up that probably wouldn't have made the cut otherwise. (I was proud that some critics thought that Star Trek merited inclusion, but alas, it probably placed eleventh in the balloting.) Still, the upshot is that while more films can brag of being Best Picture nominees, only three films are considered as likely contenders: Avatar (the reigning box office champion), The Hurt Locker (a favorite of the critics that performed poorly at the box office but has won most of the important "predictive" awards, including the Producer's Guild and Director's Guild), and Inglourious Basterds (winner of the SAG award).

Interestingly, James Cameron was (deservedly) ignored in the original screenplay category for Avatar. His Best Picture-winning Titanic also was left out of this category, a rare film to win top honors while the script couldn't make the top five. You can check out my review of Avatar for a more thorough analysis, but suffice to say that while he is a visionary filmmaker who pushes the limits of technology and makes greatly entertaining movies, Cameron is lousy at writing dialogue. (He shares this trait with George Lucas, but at least Star Wars got a screenplay nomination. Woody Allen's Annie Hall deserved to beat Lucas in that category, but Star Wars should have won Best Director and Best Picture.)

I'm sorry to say I haven't seen any of the Best Actress nominees this year. Most are predicting Sandra Bullock for The Blind Side, but I'm still pulling for Carey Mulligan in An Education. This is largely because she was great as Sally Sparrow in the Hugo-winning Doctor Who episode "Blink." (For my money, that's the best time travel story EVER.) Also, I would like to have seen a Supporting Actress nomination for Diane Kruger or Melanie Laurent in Inglourious Basterds. Still, at least we can be certain that Supporting Actor nominee Christoph Waltz will walk away victorious; since the film came out critics have proclaimed the nomination a mere formality--he is responsible for one of the few convincingly evil yet charming psychopaths in film history.

Michael Giacchino should have received nominations for his musical scores for The Incredibles and Star Trek, so I hope he takes one home for Up.

Speaking of which, Up is the second animated film to get a Best Picture nomination, after Beauty and the Beast in 1991. It is the first computer-generated film to be so honored. It won't win, but it has the Best Animated Feature category, something Beauty did not have. I like to think Beauty placed a close second to Silence of the Lambs, but there's no way to prove it.

Star Trek's best hope is in the Best Makeup category, the only one where it isn't competing with Avatar. (Star Trek VI should have won this over the oft-Oscared Terminator 2 in my opinion.) I think it has the edge not only for its complex aliens, tattooed Romulans, and making Zachary Quinto look like young Leonard Nimoy, but because Rachel Nichols is hot even when she's green.

And now for some thoughts on Oscar stuff from years past:
Anthony Hopkins won Best Actor for The Silence of the Lambs despite having less screen time than Supporting Actor winner Tommy Lee Jones of The Fugitive or Supporting nominee Haley Joel Osment in The Sixth Sense, who I think deserved to win.

Though it's often said to be the best of the series, The Empire Strikes Back did not receive a Best Picture nomination like Star Wars did. Revenge of the Sith is the only film in the series that did not get a Special Visual Effects nomination, though it certainly deserved one. It was nominated for Best Makeup. It didn't win. (In fact, none of the prequel films won an Oscar; all of the original trilogy picked up at least one.)

The Godfather Part II and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King are the only sequels to win Best Picture. (One could argue that Avatar is a futuristic sequel to Dances With Wolves.)

, Dances With Wolves, and Unforgiven are the only Westerns to win the top award. Most critics believe Cimarron benefited from a weak year (1931); it is not considered one of the better Best Pictures. Perhaps more impressive is that Cecil B. DeMille's The Greatest Show on Earth managed to grab the top prize in 1952 over films that are generally acknowledged as superior: The Quiet Man, High Noon, and Singin' in the Rain.

Only one James Bond film won an Oscar: Thunderball for its visual effects in 1965. Though the series is famous for its opening theme songs, only three had Best Song nominations: Live and Let Die (performed by Paul McCartney and Wings), The Spy Who Loved Me ("Nobody Does It Better," sung by Carly Simon), and For Your Eyes Only (sung by Sheena Easton, the only singer to appear on-screen during the credits). It's a shame that Goldfinger, You Only Live Twice, From Russia With Love, On Her Majesty's Secret Service (with Louis Armstrong's "We Have All the Time In the World"), Goldeneye, and Casino Royale (Chris Cornell's "You Know My Name") weren't considered, especially given the ridiculously weak quality of the Best Song category in recent years.

On the same topic, it is hard to imagine that none of the Beatles' original songs for A Hard Day's Night or Help! were nominated, though George Martin was nominated for his orchestral arrangements for the first film. A Best Song Score Oscar was awarded to The Beatles in 1970 for Let It Be, though unfortunately this was not a big enough incentive for the group to get back together.

And of course this blog wouldn't be complete without recognizing great films that didn't win Best Picture (even if they lost to another worthy film): Citizen Kane, The Wizard of Oz, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, Saving Private Ryan, Empire of the Sun, A Few Good Men, North By Northwest, Rear Window, It's A Wonderful Life, The Passion of the Christ, The Sixth Sense, The Ten Commandments, 2001: A Space Odyssey. Any additions you'd like to make to this list? Leave comments below!