Posts Tagged ‘america’

Life and Death Row

Wednesday, June 8th, 2016 | Distractions

life-and-death-row

Life and Death Row is a BBC documentary series looking at young people on Death Row. Unsurprisingly, it paints quite a gloomy picture. A man with a history of depression insists on having the death penalty. A another man is executed for beating eight members of his family to death: how is that possible without any of them fighting back or escaping?

In another episode, the documentary looks at the Death Penalty Clinic, a department run by the University of Houston. Undergraduate law students come together to try and put in appeals for convicts about to be executed. It was at least heartening to see people fighting.

Details can be found on the BBC website.

The Revenant

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2016 | Distractions

The-Revenant

The Revenant is a film based on the Michael Punke’s novel of the same title. That in itself is based on the true story of someone called Hugh Glass in 1823, though exactly how much historical truth there actually is in it I am not sure. It stars Leonardo DiCaprio.

I was not aware of this when I watched the film. I did so off a recommendation, so I didn’t really know what it was about. I had seen the trailer during the screening of Star Wars: The Force Awakens but it is hardly enlightening.

The problem is that this leaves you without really knowing what is going on. There isn’t much in the way of a plot to follow. Some people get killed, some guy is injured, he doesn’t die, he somehow makes it home to take revenge on someone else. It’s not very clear.

Nor is the dialogue. The actors attempt to use authentic accents which makes it almost intelligible to Elina.

Some of it seems simply unbelievable. I can accept that you can survive being attacked by a grizzly bear. Elina questions whether you would have all your limbs in tact though. The survival after this is where it breaks down for me though. If he was too ill to stop his son being murdered, how did he then recover enough to find food? How did his leg heal so quickly? How do you spend so much time in a river running through snow-covered mountains, with no change of clothes, and not die of hypothermia?

All of that said, I did actually quite enjoy the movie.

The Wayward Bus

Thursday, February 18th, 2016 | Books

The Wayward Bus is a 1947 novel by John Steinbeck. Many of Steinbeck’s novels are long-ranging affairs, some taking place over several generations. In contrast, The Wayward Bus takes place over a single day.

What is the novel about? Well, it’s about a bus that gets stuck in the mud. This only happens towards the end of the novel. The rest is build up to the bus getting stuck in the mud. Looking back now, I am not sure entirely sure how Steinbeck spun out an entire novel based on that. He did though, and it was interesting.

One thing I have always enjoyed about Steinbeck’s work is his ability to create emotion within me. With The Gapes of Wrath I felt a small sampling of the frustration felt by the farmers who were victims of the financial system. With The Wayward Bus I experienced if only for a moment, the frustration of being trapped in a small town with dreams of getting out.

The-Wayward-Bus

The Sound and the Fury

Sunday, July 5th, 2015 | Books

Sometimes I can make it quite a way into a novel before I can work out what it is actually about. Very occasionally, I get the whole way through. This is one of those times.

For the first chapter, I wouldn’t even work out who the characters work. I thought they might be anthropomorphised animals. It eventually turned out they were children. That is about all I got until I read through the Wikipedia article.

It reminds me a lot of Ulysses and indeed does use the stream of consciousness narrative employed by Joyce. However, unlike Joyce, who paints a beautiful and linguistically-inspiring picture which his rambles, William Faulkner failed to capture my imagination, leaving only the barely-intelligible plot.

From a literary perspective, it is certainly interesting. However, it ranks 6th on Modern Library’s list of 100 best novels. Is that justified on a list that puts The Grapes of Wrath at 10th and Nineteen Eighty-Four at 14th? No.

The-Sound-and-the-Fury

Travels with Charley

Friday, July 3rd, 2015 | Books

Travels with Charley is a non-fiction book by John Steinbeck about his travels across America. Indeed it is titled “In search of America”.

He is not a man who messes around. When he decided to go travelling he wrote to the truck company and design him a special truck. They did. When his boat was in danger he jumped into the stormy water and swam out to it. It was a time when men were real men, women were real women, and everyone suffered because of gender inequality.

He does not go alone however. He takes his dog, Charley, who is as much a part of the story as Steinbeck himself. He begins by driving across the northern states (Steinbeck, not Charley, who does none of the driving) and then comes down the west coast and back across.

It is an interesting story. Steinbeck writes about his experiences in the colourful and descriptive way you would expect.

It is not, however, a description of Americana. Probably because, as Steinbeck points out, summing it up would be impossible. However, it is more a collection of anecdotes in sequence than a description of the areas he passes through.

It also all gets a bit horrible near the end when he visits the southern states and runs into a lot of racists. He quickly falls out with them. Thankfully he is then on the road again heading back to New York.

Travels with Charley

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Sunday, May 31st, 2015 | Books

Ah, The Great American Novel. Mark Twain chronicles the adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Jim, a runaway slave, as they raft down the Mississippi River. Some would see it as an epic tale of the people the two meet while travelling. I, with my in no way biased brain, saw it as the story of Finn deciding between being racially tolerant or following his religion.

Tom Sawyer is an odd character. He just does stupid stuff so that it can be like the movies. Or at least that is the term he would have used if movies had existed in 1884.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

I didn’t have the manga edition. But it looks cool.

Cannery Row

Saturday, May 30th, 2015 | Books

John Steinbeck is better known for his serious and deeply-moving novels, notably The Grapes of Wrath. However, he did have a sense of humour too and wrote several darkly satirical novels, one of which was Cannery Row.

Set in a working sea-front town in the Great Depression, Cannery Row reminded me every much of Catch-22. Probably because both of the audiobooks I have had the same author. But Heller and Steinbeck display the same utterly dry sense of humour when it comes to writing about less-than-ideal conditions for humans to live in.

It’s fairly short, especially compared to some of his other works, and wanders around with a much more relaxed feel to the plot line.

cannery-row

Catastrophic Care

Saturday, May 16th, 2015 | Books

Catastrophic Care: Why Everything We Think We Know about Health Care Is Wrong is a book by David Goldhill about the American healthcare system.

Their healthcare is comparable to that provided by the NHS. However we rank better because we spend only a third of the money the US does. Someone told me they spend more tax money than we do, even before the insurance costs, though I do not have a source for that.

Goldhill points out a number of problems, some common across all healthcare systems, others specific to America:

  • Holistic care, phsycholical factors in recovery and control of infections are often overlooked – for example making the ward look nice, keeping records electronically and emptying the bins before they overflow.
  • Insurance systems do not make sense because healthcare is not a risk, it is an inevitability.
  • There are incentives to take medication – you can take statins to lower your blood pressure, or you can lead a healthy and active lifestyle. Your insurance pays for the former but not the latter.
  • There is little focus on cost in insurance-based systems.
  • 68% of hospital beds in America are provided by non-profit hospitals, yet they do not produce better results than for-profit ones.
  • Medical errors, hospital-acquired infection and over-treatment kill as many people as many major medical conditions

His solution is to crap the insurance system and replace it with a loan based system. A typical American will spend around $1,300,000 on healthcare over their life-system so Goldhill suggests giving them that as fund, with a small insurance system for catastrophic conditions that cost more (though he argues nobody would charge more in a market-based system).

On a tangent, he also talks about how state assistance to buy a house actually helps rich home-owners rather than first-time buyers. I blogged about this in June.

Reading it, it made me glad we have the NHS. Of course, it may be a case of the grass is always greener where you live (which is now a thing) as the NHS is proving highly ineffective for me at the moment. Overall, as I said at the start though, we probably get the better deal spending far less on health care for a slightly better life expectancy.

Catastrophic-Care

American Gods

Wednesday, March 4th, 2015 | Books

American Gods is a novel by Neil Gaiman. I’ve read Good Omens which was a collaboration between Gaiman and Pratchett, but this was the first entirely Gaiman novel I have read. It follows the tail of a man named Shadow as he travels around America meeting gods, old and new.

From Gaiman’s introduction, I was expecting a story about some kind of road trip exploring American culture. To an extent, it probably was that, but America is such a diverse place that you can only really do small parts of it justice.

Its clever story arc makes for a very satisfying ending.

American Gods

Louis Theroux’s LA Stories

Sunday, April 20th, 2014 | Distractions, Thoughts

Louis Theroux is my favourite documentary maker. When I read in the BBC Magazine that he had moved to LA and was planning on making some documentaries on his experiences there, I awaited them with much anticipation.

They were not my favourite documentaries he has ever done, but still enjoyable. The dogs one was fairly predictable. It also puts in perspective the destruction of a giraffe in Denmark. One pound in South LA is killing dogs by the dozen on a regular basis. Why are people not up in arms about that? Not to mention all the animals we eat…

End-of-life care helped explain how the United States manages to blow quite so much money on healthcare. Some of the people in there were correct – why not try everything to fight for life if you have the choice? But on a societal level, you do have to wonder whether those resources could be better spent elsewhere. It must be a tough decision for the people who make those kind of budget calls.

The most thought provoking I found was the sex offenders episode. It was pretty clear that nobody thinks these people deserve a second chance. However, if you are going to adopt that kind of attitude, why let them out of prison in the first place? Or put them to death. That is something the US still does of course.

I do not know how this compares to the UK system. I can, for example, get a list of all the sex offenders in my area from a handy site called “UK Paedos Exposed”. However, this seems to be built from user submissions, rather than state-published data. That is a pretty sick website, but not on the same level as the state-run database you can find in the US.

This is available from the UK government, but only if you are a parent or carer and want to check a specific individual. However, The Sun newspaper claim to have plotted every convicted sex offender on a map.

Meanwhile the open access in the US, as Theroux points out, leads to apps like “Offender Locator” that allow you to find them.

offender-locator