Weekly musings on the arts and current events.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Uncle Vincent

We know so little about Vincent Van Gogh. Wednesday was the anniversary of his death in 1890. He'd shot himself two days earlier, but it's not even clear that he intended to kill himself. Was he self-destructive? There's been speculation recently that he didn't cut off his ear; Gauguin did. Vincent took the rap to keep Paul, whom he loved like a brother, out of jail.

Van Gogh was a gregarious, idealistic, and loving man who suffered deeply from the many who shunned him. When Theo and Johanna named their newborn Vincent, in February 1890, he immediately began this painting for the baby's room. The work was slow, interrupted by periods of incapacity. "I felt ill at the time I was doing the almond blossoms...Now the trees in blossom are almost over; really I have no luck." However, he must have felt great satisfaction when Johanna wrote him: "What he does do is look at Uncle Vincent's pictures with a good deal of interest--the tree in blossom especially, which is hanging over his bed, seems to enthrall him."

The baby had an excellent eye for uncles.

Almond Blossoms, 1890. Click on the picture for a closer look.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Seven Thoughts About Health Care

1) The critics are right: government run health care is a thing to be feared. I see the VA hospital system as an example. My treatment by a VA dentist resulted in permanent damage to my jaw. He was a nice guy, but I'll bet he graduated last in his class and that's why he was drilling for the government.

2) A government run health care delivery system would be vulnerable to political influence in hiring and promotion, supply purchases, location and construction of facilities, maintenance contracts, transplant waiting lists, perhaps even triage.

3) And can we ever forget those rats that infested Walter Reed?

4) But Harry & Louise type critics are disingenuous when they claim that health care reform will insert bureaucrats between the doctor and the patient. The bureaucrats are already there, courtesy of the insurance companies, and they're ever alert to rationales for denying benefits to the sick.

5) If we don't address the problem, health care will bankrupt us. I noticed in my recent out-patient surgery that there were nine profit centers in for a slice: the surgeon, the anesthesiologist, the hospital, the medical laboratory, the hospital pharmacy, the retail pharmacy, my physician and his medical group, Blue Cross-Anthem HMO, and a sub-contractor whose sole function was to process the paperwork. Mind you, in this case there was no assistant surgeon, no imaging or diagnostic testing, no physical therapist, no nurse-practitioner visiting my home, no prosthetics, and no hospital stay, just to name a few items that could have ramped up the cost.

6) I still get solicitations from insurance companies for cockamamie policies that target single diseases, such as certain cancers or "death and dismemberment". Such policies turn insurance into a crapshoot wherein the client bets on how he is most likely to die. They don't tell people that the number one cause of death is heart disease, not cancer, and that the most common debilitating ailment is back injury, not amputation.

7) I have three good friends walking around right now with no insurance and no prospect of ever getting insurance due to pre-existing conditions. I say three, but I fear the real number is much higher. Having no insurance is not something people want known.

Sketch for "The Pharmacist" by Norman Rockwell, 1939. Click on the picture for a closer look.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Have To Be There

Too bad a couple of sub-par pictures can't make a good one. The snapshot is one I took of the General Grant tree. The painting is by the great Hudson River landscapist gone west, Albert Bierstadt.

I'm long due for another pilgrimage to the redwoods. The groves remind me of cathedrals--people talk in hushed tones when they visit. They take their photos discreetly so as not to disturb anyone's meditation on these, some of the world's largest and oldest inhabitants.

My photo lacks the richness of the sequoia's rust colored bark. Bierstadt's painting missed their stateliness. With his habit of improving on nature, he turned his tree into a tart.

Summer is here; time for a visit to the big trees to see what they're really like. I know the best camping sites in Sequoia National Forest, so who will come with me?

Click on the pictures for a closer look.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Leap of Faith

Candidates are nominated by the bases of their respective parties, but presidents are elected by the middle. Sarah Palin is enamored by the right wing of the Republicans, but she has yet to make a dent among moderates, much less Democrats. And the strange thing is that she doesn't seem to fully grasp this.

She's spurned the advice of the many who told her to go back to Alaska, do a good job, study the issues, and strive to enhance her credibility among a larger constituency. She has chosen instead to galvanize her followers and perhaps champion a movement.

Supporters of hers, like William Kristol, believe her resignation as Governor of Alaska is a strategic move, while critics, like Ed Rollins, describe it as impulsive and "idiotic". I suggest it is both and it is neither.

Her decision is evidence of an amor fati, urging her to believe that out of execration will come triumph. And therefore, I expect she will continue to court controversy and invite criticism as she improvises an eccentric path to her Apocalypse.