31 March 2010

Healthcare Debates with Non-Comrade Papa

My wonderful, intelligent, Libertarian father and I have been having a spirited discussion about Obamacare--we both see the problems with the bill that was passed, but our views sharply diverge from there. Recently he sent me this article from Mises.org. An excerpt:

The United States once had the finest health-care system in the world, one based on the principles of economic liberty and the free market. That changed in a big way in 1965, when liberal statist Lyndon Baines Johnson secured passage of Medicare and Medicaid, socialistic programs that provided "free" medical care for the poor and elderly.

What Medicare and Medicaid did, decade after decade, was to place an inordinate demand on health care, producing a concomitant rise in prices all across the board. When government makes things "free," people tend to over-consume, which causes prices to go up.

The idea of "overconsumption" of healthcare is a bit vague in the article. It's disturbing to me that the idea of overconsumption of healthcare seems to be directly correlated to income level -- it seems that only poor people and poor elderly people are capable of "overconsuming" healthcare. The article suggests that once government policies were put in place to allow the poor to afford more healthcare, they immediately started overconsuming. So their healthcare consumption level was appropriate before, when their access to healthcare was radically restricted by their access to wealth? Therefore, if a wealthy person has multiple plastic surgeries, that's not overconsumption, but if a poor person has help paying for treatment of Type 1 diabetes, that's over (i.e. unnecessary, excessive, shouldn't happen) consumption?

It sounds to me like a value judgment that explicitly ties one's access to something necessary for life to one's access to wealth; people who have succeeded in making money have the right to access whatever healthcare they want to preserve and enhance their lives, while people who are from the less fortunate class are infringing upon others in their "overconsumption" of even basic healthcare.

I realize that the author of the article might be talking about things like excessive spending in end-of-life care, or excessive use of antibiotics, or other specific type of overconsumption. However, that's never stated in the article, and the inference is that even such "excesses" would be perfectly acceptable if they were the choice of someone with money. So really, it's not specific, expensive, and perhaps unnecessary medical practices that are the culprit; overconsumption of healthcare seems like a euphemistic way of saying "poor people who can't afford care should die rather than receive government funded access."

From the article, I see a class system in which only certain people have the right to live and the others are doomed to die unless some individual or group of individuals decides, out of their magnanimity, to help these unfortunates gain access to something to which they would otherwise have no right. Of course there are grayer scenarios where life and death are not in the balance; however, the article offers no provision for protecting the lives of people who don't have access to wealth and the advantages it confers...therefore, the question of access to healthcare is a question of life and death.

Am I missing something? How is "overconsumption" of healthcare defined? Who gets to define it, and for who?

23 March 2010

Changing Names

Apparently, women who keep their last names are still really, really, really freaking radical. Newsflash for me! Some background before the point of my story:

I grew up with a mother who had kept her "maiden" (father's) name for personal, not political, reasons. There were hassles trying to explain the different last names, and hassles because her father refused to acknowledge that her legal name did not match her husband's. However, overall it was mostly a non-issue, and I liked the sense that I was part of a forward-thinking family. Also, because she didn't go by my father's name, my mother couldn't be called Mrs. and that gave me an early respect for Ms. as my honorific of choice.

Now that I'm getting close to getting married myself, I started to think about whether or not to change my name. I assumed that simply keeping my (father's) name was not political enough, since it's still a man's name rather than my own (see Godard's Weekend). I contemplated creating my own last name, seeing if my fiance would want to create a name together (no dice there, he likes the connection to his father, and fair enough), or whether I'd change my name for the ease of having the same last name. Because we're post-feminism, right?

I was literally rendered speechless in a critique class last week when I showed a rough cut of a film that includes my maternal grandfather, my mother, my brother and myself. Grandfather and mother share a last name, my brother and I share our father's last name. Obviously my mother simply didn't change her name, right?

In comments from about 4 classmates and a professor (~5 out of ~16) there was a disturbing consensus that:

1.) it was confusing that my grandfather and I have different last names (what?)
2.) it was extremely confusing that my mother and I have different last names (even though it was clear that my mother and my grandfather have the same last name)
3.) it was really distracting, they didn't know what to think about it, and assumed that some deep family dysfunction was at the root of all that craziness.

So I guess I'm keeping my (father's) name when I get married. It's still apparently plenty radical for a woman to simply not change her name.

What century is this again?

20 March 2010

Why Citations are Important

Isn't it great when an argument that seems to be undermining one's own position in a debate is demonstrated to be based upon faulty research? Or, in this case, deceptive (and I hope not intentionally deceptive) citations.

Zuska's excellent post on "femsplaining" -- the mistaken notion that some men have that women who see sexism often in daily life are somehow overreacting or imagining it -- resulted in a debate in which Michael Hawkins persistently insisted that the feminists listen to him expound upon the importance of Kant. Or as he puts it, "Kant and co." I'd like to know which philosophers he includes in the "and co." but that's a question for another day.

Intentions are important, Hawkins argues, using Kant to support his argument. Therefore, when my 60-year-old professor insisted on kissing me on the cheek on the first day of class, his intention to give a friendly greeting (if that was his intention) overrides my interpretation of his gesture as sexist (he did not kiss the male students, only the [two] female students [ah, gender balance in film school]).

I suggested that Hawkins check out Jane Flax's paper "Is the Enlightenment Emancipatory?" on the gendered metaphors that inform Kant's writings, from her monograph "Disputed Subjects." With all due respect to Kant, I find her reading of his work to be particularly interesting because she doesn't simply point to his infamous assertion that women cannot participate in the Enlightenment:
The guardians who have so benevolently taken over the supervision of men have carefully seen to it that the far greatest part of them (including the entire fair sex) regard taking the step to maturity as very dangerous, not to mention difficult.
Kant, "What is Enlightenment"
...but conducts an analysis of the way language is employed and the assumptions about binary oppositions which pit qualities overdetermined as feminine (domesticity, the bodily, the private world, and dependence) against those overdetermined as masculine (the public world, the mind, thought, independence). Therefore, her conclusion that Kant's writings are in some senses problematic doesn't just stem from that one simple phrase that can be written off as a product of his time, but addresses our current mental models of maturity and adulthood (many of which came into play in Hawkins' discussion with those at Zuska's blog, in which he insisted that describing a woman as "screeching" had nothing to do with sexism because it was an infantilizing adjective rather than a sexist one).

When I read Hawkins response to my reading recommendation, I was struck by the fact that the quote he pulled from Flax in his rejection of her position seemed to roundly contradict what I know of her work. I wondered if it was from a different book, or if it was from a part of the article I overlooked in my enthusiasm for the analysis of language. However, when I looked at the pdf he linked to through Flax's name, I found that it was an article by Ruth Dawson that paraphrases Flax once ... only to distance Dawson's argument from Flax's position on the Enlightenment. While Flax is concerned with the underpinnings of the philosophy itself, Dawson is interested in the historical portrait of women's lives at the time. Both interests are equally valid -- but Dawson's article has nothing to do with Flax's analysis.

And thus Hawkins rebuttal of Flax's position doesn't only falter -- it goes up in flames.

A story I can tell my students when they want to know why proper citations matter.

07 March 2010

Event Co-ordinating

I'm sitting in the empty screening room waiting for an audience (hopefully!) and the director (already running a bit late) who are supposed to be here in 25 minutes for a screening and Q&A it was my honor/headache/achievement(?) to plan. A series of small disasters required changing the time of the screening, last minute appeals to the Dean for transportation money for our non-budgeted series, and various other stress-inducing nightmares. Why? Because my "collaborator" changed his plans without any notice -- or any attempt to make up for his absence.

This experience has taught me:

1.) that I can write killer letters to beg for understanding, help, money, etc. (did I mention that I managed to get the director to waive the usual $500 screening fee -- we're getting the film for free!)

2.) that if I get involved in anything, I need to try to get a team around me, and failing that, I must simply be prepared to shoulder everything -- just in case

3.) always have work done ahead of time so that these kinds of emergencies (this particular one took up my whole week) won't set me so far back in my writing again

4.) don't rely on that particular team-member again -- no matter how nice and engaging and creative he is.

The thing that has bothered me most, perhaps, is that this activity that has taken over my whole life for a week, and was seriously impinging upon my life for months beforehand (oh, did I mention this is a weekly series of screenings, several with famous-ish guest speakers?) is something that most of the other people in my department are barely aware of -- and those who are aware of it don't realize that I'm actually organizing it all by myself.

But then what else is new? I remember when I started a theater company as a teen, everyone thought my mother ran the company. Sigh. At least I don't have to worry about others judging me as an over-achiever for once!