What She Said

"Perhaps all unhappy families are unhappy in their own ways, but in any home where one person usurps or is given more than a fair share of the oxygen, the others must find ways to go on breathing: denial, secrets, control, use, anger... As a writer, no question my anxiety, my concern for my children, my sometimes longing to escape and leave no forwarding address, were the initial energies that caused me to try to make this world on the page, but right from the beginning, the story came to me
as a novel ..." -- Ginnah Howard, author of Night Navigation

Yet More Sixties!

Ang Lee's Taking Woodstock opens tomorrow.

Synopsis (from the review): It tells the story of Elliot Teichberg (played by Demetri Martin), a semi-closeted New York City painter who returns to the Catskills in the summer of 1969 to help his crotchety Russian Jewish immigrant parents (Henry Goodman and Imelda Staunton) revive their fleabag motel. When the nearby town of Wallkill pulls the plug on the Woodstock festival, Elliot steps in, bringing peace, mud, flower children, the cream of late-'60s rock 'n' roll and a dose of enlightenment to his parents' backyard.

(Hmm. I'm not so sure about the "dose of enlightenment" part ... enlightenment doesn't come in premeasured doses like medicine... )

Along with the review, the NYT has run an incredible slideshow of actual photographs from Woodstock, culled from readers' submissions.


Journey without Maps

"You want to be a map fetishist, help yourself. I'm gone." -- Iain Sinclair, Landor's Tower


Soulful dog.

Originally uploaded by quiet.eye.

Would like to eat your slippers.

The Sixties Reconsidered

The NYT reviews Fred Kaplan's new book, 1959: The Year Everything Changed, in which he argues that the transformations of the late 1960s built on groundwork laid a decade before by innovators like Gregory Pincus and Barney Rosset.

I would add Thomas Kuhn to the mix though I am not sure Kaplan does. Though Kuhn's Structure of Scientific Revolutions was required reading for the 60s counterculture, it appeared much earlier, in 1962. Interestingly, Kaplan's take on the Sixties situates him as a long-view historian, someone for whom the idea of a cultural revolution, or Kuhn's idea of it anyway, would be a hard sell.


Spirit of '69 ca. 1972

The NYT runs a first-person account of being just slightly too late for the late (iconic) Sixties. A fresh spin. Nuances.

I've got Pynchon's latest on my desk, plus the new Colum McCann. Pynchon's is set in this era; McCann's is set slightly later, but the book is about coming out of the penumbra of 1969.

It's like the zeitgeist has gone all meta, saying: time to reconsider that other zeitgeist, when zeitgeist was everything.


Kseniya Simonova

If Picasso had had the Internet, Guernica might have looked like this.

via Vika and Moonrat

John Mackey, Grocer, Knows How To Fix Health Care

Lotta buzz about Whole Foods CEO John Mackey's WSJ article on how to reform US healthcare.

I wish Mackey would stay out of the papers and just stick to groceries. I like shopping at Whole Foods, but he just makes it more and more difficult to do.

Despite the buzz it's generating, the article is mostly fluff -- "Enact Medicare reform," Mackey says, as if this were simple. "Eat better," he says, as if the answer to healthcare inequities is a matter of just not getting sick in the first place. And some of it is just common sense: insurance companies should be forced to compete across state lines and it is astonishing that they are protected in this way. Healthcare costs should be transparent, just as the tax code should not be inscrutable to anyone but a lawyer. Fine.

But the most pernicious bit is his argument for HSAs and high deductible insurance plans, the most concrete part of his argument and also the bit that might seem like the most sensible alternative Obama's healthcare plan. Except that it isn't. Not really.

In order to avoid "healthcare rationing" (which, in order to scare his readers, Mackey sees as all but inevitable under nationalized heathcare) Mackey thinks every employer should offer HSAs and high-deductible insurance plans. This sounds like a great idea, except when you look at what this actually means for individual employees, insurance companies, and corporations. Of the three, guess who gets the fuzzy end of the lollipop.

At Whole Foods, folks who work 30 hours per week, or near full-time, are entitled to $1800 per year to spend on healthcare. That's their HSA. It is unclear if this $1800 is just given to them by Whole Foods or if this is the maximum allowable pre-tax amount they can deposit into an HSA. In which case, they are still paying the $1800, but the money goes a bit further because they use pre-tax dollars and in theory can take advantage of certain economies of scale by participating in the HSA/insurance plan in the first place.

Regardless of where that $1800 comes from, the actual deductible is much higher. Mackey isn't clear about this in his article but it looks like the deductible is $2500 per year in addition to the $1800 in the HSA. So even Whole Foods employees on the top-of-the-line version of the plan must still cover their healthcare expenses to the tune of several thousands dollars per year.

Say you're making $10/hr, 30 hrs per week at WF. That's $1200/month gross, or a little less than $15K per year. Even if WF fronts you the $1800 in the HSA, you are still responsible for $2500 of your healthcare costs. Now, if you're young, white, single, and otherwise healthy, you probably won't need to spend more than what's in the HSA. But say you get sick -- not sick enough to go on disability, and not sick enough to lose your job, but sick enough to require a trip to the emergency room, where you'll need an MRI, blood tests and other labs, and possibly a prescription. That's $2500, right there.

And you make $1200 per month. Before taxes.

Now, say the person who happens to get sick and need the emergency MRI is your kid.

Mackey doesn't say anything about dependents. Nor does he talk about Whole Foods employees who are not working 30+ hours per week, which I expect would include all the single parents on his payroll. (Who can work at Whole Foods AND afford childcare for 30 hours per week?) A fair assessment of the HSA-plus-high-deductible plan would have to include some discussion of how these sorts of situations are handled. Not everyone is young and single, and young single people tend to require the least health insurance anyway. The members of Mackey's insured workforce may not be representative of the typical situation, and his solution may only work for young single people. Obama's plan needs to solve many more complicated problems, including what to do about common "exceptions" to this rule, like single-income families with dependents and people caring for older dependent adults who themselves need insurance.

Mackey says the HSA-plus-high-deductible structure makes people "careful" about how they spend their healthcare dollars. I would say this just is rationing, except that it is the sick person who is now burdened with the decision to seek care, knowing exactly how much that care is going to cost out-of-pocket. Gee, if I've got an infection but my kid needs soccer shoes and vegetables for the week, what am I going to do? I think I'm going to let that infection alone, to heal or fester as it will, and buy the kid what she needs. The whole point of healthcare reform is to minimize the situations where this sort of choice is unavoidable. Under the HSA-plus-high-deductible scheme, corporations will continue to enjoy tax relief for offering even insufficient healthcare plans to their employees (and then only to some of them), and insurance companies still enjoy the premiums paid by said corporations.

Mackey says, eat right, exercise, choose wisely and you'll live to be 100. What he means is: Sickness only happens to people who deserve it, and they should pay through the nose for failing to stay well.

The Bridge of the Golden Horn

The Bridge of the Golden Horn, a novel by
by Emine Sevgi Ozdamar, a Turkish woman who migrated to Germany in the 1960s as a "guest worker" and whom I've mentioned here before, is just out in translation from Serpent's Tail.



Forgotten Outtake from Lost in the Cosmos

Recently, a team of historians of American literature unearthed a draft of what appears to be a forgotten -- or, perhaps, omitted -- outtake from Walker Percy's Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book:

The Pile of Crap Questionnaire

You are faced with a pile of crap. What is your response?

a) "That is not crap." (Denial.)

b) "Let us run some tests to see if it is indeed a pile of crap." (Empirical-scientific view of world.)

c) "That is not crap, but merely the illusion of crap." (Veil-of-Maya view of world.)

d) "Crap is nature's way of keeping us on track evolutionarily." (Sociobiology explains it all.)

e) "That's a pile of carp, not crap." (Dyslexia explains it all.)

f) "You think that's crap? I'll show you crap." (Superego explains it all, beatings included no extra charge.)

g) "Historico-epistemically speaking..." (Egghead Delusion, soon to be appear in the DSM-V.)

h) "OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG" (Hysteria. Requires Blackberry, Twitter account, sedatives.)

i) "My shovel, please." (Heroic pragmatism, can-do attitude.)

j) "How about you shovel, and I'll pay you later, maybe." (Late capitalism.)

k) "Lucky are those who find their bliss in the ordinary." (Inverted snobbery.)

l) "You wouldn't know crap if it hit you in the face." (Ordinary snobbery. May not be good enough for some people.)

m) "Ew." (You know who thinks this.)

n) "This doesn't go in the compost, does it?" (Enviro-anxiety.)

o) "Let's set it on fire. (Pyromania. Maybe just mania.)

Later: I read the list to Jane, and she interrupted me at "c": "Just what sort of crap are we talking about here, exactly?"


Ten Years

They said marriage wouldn't be all beer and skittles. We understood this to mean: When in doubt, add beer. Also skittles. Raise a glass! Been married ten years today.


RIP, Scott Wesley Buchholz Sanchez

RIP, Scott Wesley Buchholz Sanchez, murdered by his mother, who was suffering from postpartum depression, schizophrenia, and the chaos of being partnered with someone also suffering from schizophrenia. In the weeks after giving birth, it seems she succumbed to pressure to breastfeed, which meant going off her meds.

I doubt Sanchez's mother was a "killer mom," though this is the media meme. In fact she sounds like a mother who really wanted to do the right thing for her baby. She was under a lot of pressure, due to circumstances and illness. She may have been overly trusting, or confused, or desperate. And she got some bad advice.

Breastfeeding might be the right choice for some mothers and babies, depending on the mother, the baby, and the circumstances. But it is not the only way to feed a baby. I don't think I'm going too far out on a limb to suggest that it was not the right choice for Otty and Scott Sanchez.

One line from the article really stuck out: "When in doubt, many [doctors] are reluctant to prescribe drugs, especially ones considered optional, like antidepressants, to pregnant or nursing women."

This woman suffered from psychosis! How about formula-feeding while keeping her on her meds?

Substitute "chemotherapy" for "antidepressants" in that quote and there's the crux of the problem. Since when is treatment for mental illness optional?