Thursday, August 21, 2008

Men and Trains

The California Trolley and Railroad Corporation,, is having their volunteer recognition dinner this evening. I plan to attend (as a spouse of a volunteer).

This is a wonderful organization that is dedicated to restoring steam locomotives. I have attended some of their meetings. The meetings are usually all male, and the men are usually over 40 years old. They are really dedicated to their trains. They know a lot about them and they seem to be fascinated by their inner workings.

These men track the history of these trains. They know about the updates and retrofits. They spend weekends cleaning off layers of grease on parts and repainting them.

So what exactly is the appeal of these old trains? I think we live in an electronic age, but prior to that we lived in a mechanical age. Mechanical engineering is a wonder and that's what fascinates them.

The Diving Bell and the Buttterfly - a film about the Fabulous French Medical System

The idea of this film is much more interesting and beautiful than the reality of this film. It is not a very good story, although it has wonderful cinematography and Mathieu Almaric is an excellent actor with great allure.

So, how can the idea be so much better than the reality?

The film is based on the auto-biography of a well-known, successful French man who has a massive stroke and becomes completely paralyzed and only has the use of one eye to blink. He is only 43 years old and has three children. He never married the mother of his children and he seems to have lots of affairs. He is self-centered and kind of a jerk. His name is Jean-Do.

I have not read the auto-biography, but it apparently sold well in France. Assuming the book and film are roughly equivalent, then to what do we attribute the success of the book and the subsequent film?

The general public loves to see the high and mighty, the rich and successful, fall down. I think that's it. Jean-Do had everything; he lost everything. Most of us have a little and aspire to more; so we love it when the haves don't have it anymore.

Jean-Do provides few meaningful insights into his condition nor does he have anything terribly inspirational to say. What can you say when you have lived a life of selfishness? Well he does say "I screwed up. I was selfish and now I cannot make it up to anyone anymore." So he has deep regret. That's something.

Jean-Do decides to write a book, communicating letter by letter, with eye blinks, to an extremely patient secretary who writes it all down. At least near the end, he tried to do something productive and not abuse and belittle the staff.

The real story of this film is the fabulously fantastic French medical system. Jean-Do had excellent medical care. He had specialists, neurologists, physical therapists, speech therapists. The hospital is in Calais, on the French coast, with its stunning views. No one in his family is on the phone to Aetna, Humana, Healthnet, arguing over the bills, the copayments, the mistakes, and so on. He had his own private room. After his stroke, he only lived two years, and with all the doctors and staff attending him, the cost must have been close to $3 million.

Go France! Show us all how universal medical care can work!