Monday, February 22, 2010

Weekend Update; U.S. Hockey Victory; Shutter Island; Dumb Poll;

Well, I had a good weekend, but it went by way too quickly. In no particular order, I took Cassidy to the park, watched the U.S. beat the supposedly awesome Canadians in Olympic hockey, had band practice, went to see Shutter Island, and hung out at Steans Manor. Also played some guitar on my own and watched some TV. Like I said, it was a good weekend.

I'm not a huge hockey fan, in general, (there are some elements of lacrosse in there, but, in general, the whole ice skating thing just seems alien to me, and I tend to get sort of annoyed with the constant fighting and cheap fouls), but somehow in the context of the Olympics, the sport just seems to make more sense (I tend to appreciate the international rivalries, and I like the idea of spirited competition between players representing their countries). Anyway, the game between the U.S. and Canada last night was a hard fought, good game. The Canadians were apparently the big favorites, with many of their players coming over from their careers as veterans in the NHL to compete on behalf of Canada in the Olympics. The U.S. team, of course, had its share of NHL players as well, although the U.S. fielded a younger team that had less experience than the Canadians. Anyway, given the fact that the game was being played in Vancouver, the audience was largely filled with loyal Canadian hockey fans who really sort of expected to see their team win. The U.S. ended up winning by a five to three score, but the Canadians kept the pressure on the U.S. defense throughout the game, and closed the gap to a one point difference toward the latter part of the game, with the U.S. finally scoring another goal to seal the victory in the final minutes.
Cool win.

Shutter Island was pretty good, but it was, of course, also dark and depressing. (sort of mild, vague spoilers to follow) I mean, anyone who saw the previews for the thing new that it wasn't going to involve a lot of rainbows and giggles (given that the plot synopsis involves a federal marshall who's hunting for an escaped convict at an asylum for the criminally insane), but I guess the movie ended up being less scary than I thought and, instead, was a little more depressing and unsettling. Still, it was a pretty good movie.
Strangely enough, Shutter Island ended up reminding me not so much of a bunch of other movies as of a creepy videogame that I've played. I don't say this as a slight against Shutter Island, since the game that came to mind was particularly well conceived and well executed. The Suffering was a game on the ol' Playstation 2 console that involved an escaped convict on a prison island. The game was filled with dark, menacing atmosphere, a protagonist who wasn't sure about the nature of his crimes or his reason for being on the island, and lots of terrifying enemies- some of whom may or may not have been hallucinations. The Suffering was one of those rare games that I turned around and played a second time immediately after completing it the first time. I almost never do that.
Anyway, Shutter Island turned out to be more than a simple horror flick. I sort of figured out some of the puzzles of the movie long before the movie provided answers, but solving the riddles didn't really diminish my enjoyment. The movie is definitely about characters as much as it's about plot twists, and it has some genuine points to make. Also, I've come to realize over the years that sometimes Leonardo DiCaprio bugs me (e.g., Titanic, The Man in the Iron Mask, Romeo + Juliet), but sometimes not as much (e.g., Gangs of New York, Body of Lies, The Departed). I guess I was okay with him in this movie.
I'm definitely not saying it's the best movie ever, but it was good enough to keep me engaged and to keep me thinking about it after I had left the theater.

What else? Apparently there's a new CNN poll saying that 86% of Americans think that our government is broken. Wow. Looks like there's at least one bipartisan issue that everyone can agree on. I fail to see in any way that this is a surprise, though. It would be a lot more interesting to see follow up questions in the same poll about whether people would be willing to let their elected leaders pursue bipartisan efforts (i.e., negotiating with people who have opposing viewpoints) to get some things done without threatening to vote those officials out of office.
Frankly, I don't care all that much about what the public wants when they're just being asked to complain and bellyache without any sort of discussion about what sort of compromises or sacrifices that they're willing to accept in order to fix the problems. The fact that Americans are world class complainers is already well documented and firmly established. The bigger question is what they're willing to do or accept in terms of solutions. (Note: I'm not saying that the government isn't broken. I'm just saying that a big part of the reason why it's broken is because our politicians are beholden to a bitterly divided, uncompromising public who seem very willing to turn upon their elected officials if they cross party lines or make compromises. Everyone wants the problems fixed, but everyone wants them fixed by exclusively doing things their own way. Everyone hates the ineffectiveness of Congress, but everyone supports their own elected officials from their own districts. People are up in arms and want change, but no one wants to be grown up enough to engage in the sort of give and take compromise that's necessary in order to actually get things done.)
Anyway, it just struck me as sort of dumb that CNN has been making such a big deal out of this poll. It's easy and pointless to just stand there and complain. What would be far more important and meaningful would be some polls asking Americans what sort of things they would be willing to compromise on in order to get government moving again.

And last, but not least, in advance of a health care summit on Thursday which will be attended by top congressional leaders, President Obama has offered a health care reform bill which seeks to control premium hikes, insure coverage for people with pre-existing conditions, limit out-of-pocket expenses, lower premiums and provide subsidies for middle and working class families, and taxes expensive "Cadillac" health care plans in order to help defray the cost of coverage for everyone else. Obama's team is encouraging the GOP to come to Thursday's summit with a detailed plan of their own so that both sides can having valid starting points for negotiation.
I guess that in some ways I applaud Obama's effort to try to salvage this whole health care reform debacle, but I really don't see how a whole lot has changed with the presentation of this new bill. Republicans and some conservative Democrats still remain beholden to the health care industry, and I think the final objective for far too many of them is to simply prevent any sort of meaningful change from occurring at all. The GOP still sees the death of health care reform as a victory over the Democrats, and no matter what shape the reform bill takes, they're going to continue to try to hammer at it as being fiscally irresponsible, frivolous waste.
Personally, I think that health care reform is by no means frivolous, and I think that if it's done properly and responsibly, it can actually end up saving the U.S. some money in the long run (I say this because other countries already have systems which are rated as being more effective than the one in the U.S., and they're doing a much better job of controlling their costs).
Anyway, good luck to President Obama, but, once again, I wouldn't hold my breath on the whole bipartisanship thing. The only sort of reform that the Republicans really seem interested in are caps on medical malpractice suits- a reform which might be somewhat needed in some areas, but which doesn't come close to addressing the rising health care costs that we continue to see (but a viewpoint which continues to help the GOP continue to curry favor with a lawsuit wary health care industry).

Well, that's about it. They're predicting snow in Austin tomorrow. I've heard it all before, so I'm trying not to get my hopes up, but it would be fun to get some of that mysterious white stuff here in Austin!


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