Friday, March 26, 2010

These Gnarly Beasts - Boo! / Evil Glitch

I assembled a music collective online in February to participate in FAWM. We called ourselves These Gnarly Beasts, and our first single release is now officially out via Bandcamp:

Boo! / Evil Glitch (Single)

Take a listen and let us know what you think. Pass it along to your friends if you like it!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Awkward Photo Award

From our latest newsletter at work. The photo caption says he "...symbolically passes the torch of leadership..." That looks like a pretty literal torch pass to me.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Passages from the Iraqi Constitution

"The current constitution was approved by a referendum that took place on 15 October 2005." [Wiki]

Article 30:

First: The State shall guarantee to the individual and the family - especially children and women – social and health security, the basic requirements for living a free and decent life, and shall secure for them suitable income and appropriate housing.

Second: The State shall guarantee social and health security to Iraqis in cases of old age, sickness, employment disability, homelessness, orphanhood, or unemployment, shall work to protect them from ignorance, fear and poverty, and shall provide them housing and special programs of care and rehabilitation, and this shall be regulated by law.

Article 31:

First: Every citizen has the right to health care. The State shall maintain public health and provide the means of prevention and treatment by building different types of hospitals and health institutions.

Second: Individuals and entities have the right to build hospitals, clinics, or private health care centers under the supervision of the State, and this shall be regulated by law.


Wednesday, March 10, 2010

82nd Annual Academy Awards

In the classic David versus Goliath scenario, a lower budget film about a bomb squad in Iraq beat out one of the most expensive and highest grossing films of all time. To sweeten the defeat, it should be mentioned that the two filmmakers vying for top honors in the 82nd Annual Academy Awards were once married.

Yes, director Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker managed to trump James Cameron's domineering blue beast, Avatar, for awards in Best Director and Best Picture Sunday night in Hollywood. The two categories are hardly ever split between different films (about three-quarters of all films that have won Best Picture have also won Best Director), a fact that was highlighted by Tom Hank's brief, anticlimactic announcement of the winner in the Best Picture category immediately after Bigelow had been escorted, visibly shaken, off the stage after winning the Oscar for Best Director.

Bigelow was the first woman to receive the directing award from the Academy. This should not come as much of a surprise: the story about the "battle of the exes" made for good copy, and the Academy took every chance it could to remind the audience during the awards ceremony that Bigelow could be the first woman to win, and fellow director nominee Lee Daniels (nominated for Push) could be the first African American to win.

Cameron's epic Avatar was nominated nine times, but only took home three statues - for Art Direction, Cinematography, and Visual Effects. Compare this to his haul in 1997 with Titanic: there were 14 nominations for that film, and it received 11 (including the coveted directing and best picture awards). But there's still some comfort left for Cameron: his last two major motion pictures have each broken the record for highest-grossing film, bringing in billions of dollars - though some people like to put an asterisk next to Avatar for charging higher prices for its 3-D showings.

The Academy does relish underdogs and surprises from time to time. The category for Actress In A Leading Role is a good representation of this: revered actresses Dame Helen Mirren and Meryl Streep were pitted against rising stars Gabourey Sidibe and Carey Mulligan. Squarely in the center of all that was the prolific Sandra Bullock, whose film The Blind Side was surprisingly nominated for only her role and for Best Picture. The heartwarming tale of mentorship in sports has been seen many times before, but Bullock managed to win the Academy over in her role as the firm-yet-loving Leigh Anne Tuohy.

Hosted by Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin, the awards were mostly playful. The hosts and presenters gently ribbed Meryl Streep for her total number of nominations - with 16, she is the most nominated actor in history. Ben Stiller appeared in an Avatar costume to announce the category for Best Makeup, admitting that he should have brought his Spock ears instead, since Avatar wasn't even nominated for that category. Star Trek, in fact, did win, for its transformations of Zachary Quinto into Spock, Eric Bana into Nero, and the other alien spectacles. Speaking of alien, did anyone else see that set of interpretative dances by The Legion of Extraordinary Dancers introducing the category for Best Score? Didn't think so.

Live television is a gift, though, and the 82nd Awards weren't without their awkward moments. Best Documentary winners The Cove were doing fine with their acceptance speech, until one member unfurled a sign telling the audience to text the word dolphin to some unexplained number. The camera cut away and didn't return until the guilty parties were being escorted offstage. Later, when tradition called for Sean Penn, the winner of the 2008 award for Best Actor for his role in Milk, to announce this year's winner for Best Actress, he managed to suck the energy out of the announcement by saying that he was not a member of the Academy and by making an obscure reference to the Academy overlooking certain actresses. Right.

The Oscars touted a list of 10 nominees for their highest prize this year - the first time since Casablanca won in 1943 that the Best Picture category has been this large. Since 2009 was not significantly better than any other year for films, it seems like an attempt for the traditionally built awards show to draw attention. It's also a way for the Academy to recognise more films without dishing out more awards - nominees like The Blind Side, District 9, and A Serious Man would have been hard pressed to make it into a list five. And yet another Oscar media soundbyte came in the form of Up's nomination for Best Picture - everyone seemed thrilled about this recognition, though no one in their right mind expected it to win against Avatar, Precious, or The Hurt Locker.

Otherwise, the Awards seemed fairly straightforward. The Academy continued its love of Pixar by awarding Up with the Animated Feature Film award, bringing the company's total number of awards to 22. Both Mo'Nique and Cristoph Waltz seemed like standout winners for their supporting roles in Precious and Inglourious Basterds, respectively. The only other true contest was for Best Actor. Jeff Bridges, nominated a handful of times since 1971's The Last Picture Show, finally took home the golden statue for his portrayal of down-and-out country singer Bad Blake, beating out George Clooney's charming role in Up in the Air, and more serious roles from Morgan Freeman, Jeremy Renner, and Colin Firth.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Sarah Palin sought healthcare in Canada?

The following is part of a thread on Facebook discussing this article:

Palin: While Growing Up, My Family Would Seek Health Care In Canada

The names involved might throw you off: "Shae" is the first commenter listed here, and the following comments are from the original poster. I didn't want to go in and clean up or edit anything. Hopefully my re-posting of this won't upset anyone involved (if it does, I'll remove it).

Nothing wrong with her statement - and nothing wrong her parents seeking out the best health care available. If you've ever been to Skagway you know that there is practically nothing there - no hospital and, back in the 60's maybe no real doctor. This is a complete non-story, manufactured by people who are obsessed with Palin.

Meanwhile, here's a story of someone facing bankruptcy owing to medical costs. The twist is he's Canadian. From the Toronto Sun:

"Suffering from brain cancer, Kent Pankow was literally forced to go to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. for lifesaving surgery--at a cost to family and friends of $106,000--after the health-care system in Alberta left him hanging in bureaucratic limbo for 16 crucial days, his tumour meanwhile migrating to an unreachable part of the brain, while it dithered over his case file, ultimately deciding he was not surgery worthy.

Now, with the Mayo Clinic having done what the Alberta Cancer Board wouldn't authorize or even explain, but with the tumour unable to be totally removed, the province will now not fund the expensive drug, Avastin, that the Mayo prescribed to keep him alive and keep the remaining tumour from increasing in size--despite the costs of the drug being totally funded by the province for other forms of cancer.

Kent Pankow, as it turns out, has the right disease but he has it in the wrong place.

Had he lung cancer, breast cancer, or colon cancer, then the cost of the drug--$4,555 per treatment, two times a month--would be totally covered by Alberta's version of OHIP [Ontario Health Insurance Plan].

But he doesn't.

And so he is not only a victim of brain cancer, he is also a victim of arbitrary discrimination."

The good news is that President Obama remains committed to bringing U.S. health care into line with Canadian standards. If he succeeds, sick Canadians will eventually be set free from the ruinous temptations of places like the Mayo Clinic.

I am sorry Mr. Pankow is so ill. My mother died of breast cancer that moved into her brain. It is an awful illness, an awful death. But the focus of this thread is Palin and universal health care, not an exceptional case cut and pasted from a news story.

As for Palin, I do not blame her parents for getting care for their children where they could; the point is what Sarah Palin is saying now and how she is trying to obfuscate the health care debate.

Former governor Palin is trying to affect public policy and become president.

She has raised the specter of death panels, eugenics, the mercy killing of her son, rationing, socialized medicine and communism. She is red-baiting and Hitler-baiting, not talking about policy.

She continues to mess with the truth, rearrange history, and reduce serious intellectual debate to populist twaddle.

She is a major public figure who plays fast and loose with the truth and like it or not, when she shoots her mouth off it is news.

Fasten your seat belts. Shae and I talked about the Palin comment via email yesterday and he has brought it to Facebook. Here is what I wrote him. It may be more than you need to know about the history of universal health care in Canada and Sarah Palin's contradictions, but you might find it helpful:

Shae, you are right to point out that the Palins lived in Skagway from the time Sarah was 3 months old until she was 6 or so, when they moved to Eagle River and eventually Wasilla. This means that the family lived in Skagway from 1964 to about 1970.

And yes, Skagway is remote--about a 100 miles from Whitehorse, about a 100 miles from Juneau--the two closest "big" towns. The Juneau trip requires a ferry ride, probably pretty time consuming and iffy, depending on the ferry schedule. The drive up to Whitehorse was probably not easy either and probably pretty much impassable a lot of the winter.

And if my kid burned himself, I'd try to get him to the nearest nurse, doctor, clinic or hospital. Can't blame 'em there.

But let's look at the history of health care in Canada. Canada is a big, spread out country. A lack of doctors and uneven access to care had long been a problem, so in the late 1940s and early 1950s provincial governments began to take matters into their own hands, subsidizing doctors, clinics and hospitals in remote areas. Tommy Douglas, the Premier (similar to governor) of Saskatchewan at the time, was the leader in this effort. Douglas was a prairie populist, indeed a social democrat, who helped found the New Democratic Party (NDP). The NDP is not unlike the Minnesota Farmer-Labor Party that my grandmother helped organize and that gave us Hubert Humphrey, Orville Freeman, Walter Mondale, Paul Wellstone and now, Al Franken, politicians that horrify Shae. But I digress. Under Douglas's leadership Saskatchewan in 1946 passed the Saskatchewan Hospitalization Act, guaranteeing hospital care to most citizens. Alberta followed suit in 1950. The plans were popular and the rest of the country wanted in. The Hospital Insurance and Diagnostic Services Act was passed in 1957 to extend something similar to the whole country. Under this act the federal government would fund 50% of the cost of health services to any province as long as the province agreed to five conditions: public administration, comprehensiveness, universality, portability, and accessibility. It's not socialized medicine (they have that in Great Britain, but not Canada) but it's definitely a federally subsidized plan to provide universal health care. In July of 1960, the Yukon signed onto this plan, helping fund health care in Whitehorse.

And the Palins apparently benefited from that health care in the late 1960s.

Or did they?

The Anchorage Daily News is now reporting that Palin told a different version of the story about her brother's burned foot a while back to the Skagway paper, the Skagway News. That time around she said they took the ferry to Juneau.

So, who knows what's really going on, but it sounds to me like the former governor either benefited from the Canadian system or told yet another fib.

Or both.

I do know for sure that Canadians like Tommy Douglas. Ya, you betcha they like that Tommy. They voted him Greatest Canadian of All Time in a poll organized by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in 2004:

Here are the links to the Alaskan papers:

Here's a Canadian government time line that outlines the history of its health care system: