Thursday, December 31, 2009

Sherlock Holmes: Steampunk Pugilist?

The new Sherlock Holmes movie is rollicking, steampunkish, and artfully dark and bleak in its cinematographic depiction of Victorian London. The fast-moving plot calls to mind old-time, Saturday-at-the-movies serials. The gothic darkness reminds me of the first Batman movie with Michael Keaton.

This production goes over the top with its amount (rather than severity) of cartoonish fisticuffs and James Bond-like physical predicaments. Not the about-to-be-caught-with-Miss Moneypenny, sexy-fun kind of predicaments but the about-to-be-sawn-in-half, always-in-peril kind of predicaments. The Holmes-Watson relationship in the film has been much discussed, but it's really only suggested rather than explicit. The critics may have it otherwise, but this is no Brokeback Baker Street.

The dialogue is quick, mumbling, and often hard to hear with a loud, action-movie soundtrack behind it. For that reason alone, those with reduced hearing capability will find the movie's wit and subtleties -- and there are plenty of both -- difficult to follow.

Robert Downey Jr. chews the scenery, of course, and Jude Law's version of Dr. Watson shows deeper depth than some other Watson depictions. This Irene Adler is a fetching but shallow character, as is Watson's fiancee, Mary. The dark-caped villain Lord Blackwell, an antagonist of evil intent, calls to mind the dark Don Giovanni figure in Amadeus, or even Darth Vader. Have I mentioned that the movie is dark?

Appropriately, we saw Sherlock Holmes at a holiday week matinee. We enjoyed it but were glad for the early show discount. I hope these facts provide you with enough clues to deduce our summary rating.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Healthcare Reform: It's All About the Benjamins

My continuing objection to the U.S. healthcare model, with or without the currently proposed reform legislation, is that it relies upon an obsolete, anti-growth employment model that includes four invalid, or soon-to-be invalid, assumptions:

(1) Employment is continuous, or at least sequential, and each job has a duration on the order of several months or more;

(2) Employment compensation consists of only traditional salary or wages that correspond to time served rather than value added;

(3) Employment occurs, and healthcare benefits therefore accrue, within a single political jurisdiction;

(4) Ability to pay healthcare costs and insurance premiums depends upon one's salary or wages rather than one's accumulated wealth (as does the income tax, for that matter).

In a truly innovative, venture-based economy, creative contributors might work several hours for one client, work a month and a half for another, and have an intermittent gig with a third -- and that's only in one's main line of business. There might also be a side project or two, perhaps some online sales, investment income, capital gains, etc. Or perhaps a high-mobility worker travels from jobsite to jobsite, his or her geographic flexibility across state and national boundaries, going to where the work is, representing a crucial contribution to an efficiently operating global economic system.

Having healthcare benefits associated with traditional, full-time employment makes little sense in the current economy in which traditional employment describes the circumstances of fewer and fewer citizens. The high-volatility economy simply doesn't square with the traditional workplace assumptions underlying the healthcare debate. To reconcile healthcare reform efforts with modern workplace realities, a historical perspective may, ironically, provide the most illumination.

Consider that, similar to today's venture-driven economy, many of the nation's founders, including Washington, Franklin, and Jefferson, pursued multiple lines of entrepreneurial business, often simultaneously. This suggests a conceptual litmus test for evaluating today's healthcare reform proposals: would any proposed system under discussion that is still based on salary and wage income have covered Washington's leeches, Franklin's syphilis treatments, and Jefferson's extended family?


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