Thursday, November 21, 2013

(a)Musings: Korean vs. American Healthcare

Now, this post actually started out as a Facebook comment that expanded to ridiculous proportions, so don't think I'm presenting and structuring a well thought-out and convincing argument complete with multiple citations here. These (a)Musings posts, that's what they are - just rants.

I saw a post about universal single-payer healthcare systems existing in a long list of countries, some of which I wanted to know more about, including that of the country I'm in currently. Certainly the quality of the coverage in Korea doesn't compare to that of many other developed nations, but it's still superior to that of the U.S. At the end of the day, Koreans spend an average of 7.2% GDP on healthcare and related costs, while Americans spend 17.9%. That's coming up on 1/5 of all yo money, bitches. WTF? 

The national insurance of Canada and various European countries covers up to 90% of all necessary medical costs, but in Korea, it's only about 55%. I've mostly paid out of pocket for things here, especially dental work, because fillings, inlays and crowns (the most common things, I would think) aren't covered on the national plan, and STILL, STILL it is SO much better than the U.S. system.

One example is that of my coworker's wife, who's just given birth. She spent about a month at specialty maternity hospital receiving round-the-clock care (apparently giving birth is a 2-month process for Koreans) in plush accommodations for less than $600 per week. It's reputed to be the best maternity hospital in the country.

Let that sink in for a minute and ask yourself how much it would cost to stay in the hospital for an extra week in America because of complications following the birth of your child.

If you have a severe mental illness in Korea you either have a rich family and will live as a perpetual child or you will end up in the subway or on the roadside begging when your parents die. That's it. There's no system to take care of these people because no one wants the stigma of something like a learning disability, ADHD, autism or mild retardation associated with their family. These things are broadly undiagnosed and kids with them are usually just tossed into the general population. Depression and anxiety? Let's not even go there. In many public schools no one is allowed to talk about suicides, under threat of expulsion. Didn't happen. The famous "fan death" superstition is just a euphemism for things like "overdosed on pills", much like people (around 3/4 of all women in Seoul) have never gotten plastic surgery, they just "turned 20 and got prettier", "went on a really effective new diet", etc. 

The U.S. is obsessed with overdiagnosing and overmedicating all of the above because there's so much money to be made doing it. My point in all this is that Korea is in many ways socially regressive and fucked in the head (since hardly anyone's being treated for that), and they STILL have a universal single-payer system worked out that's better than ours. 


Couple this with our failings in the areas of education and infrastructure and soon people will no longer be able to say things like, "Yeah, well, our quality of life is still way better than most people in the world, though". No. It's not. Compared to other developed nations, our population is ignorant and uneducated, healthcare and many aspects of living in general are astronomically expensive to the point of being laughably unaffordable, and our barely-acceptable aging infrastructure has been crumbling for years because no one's willing to allocate enough funding to fucking fix it. If you don't own a car where I'm from, you're barely a person. Because how do you get to work? Even if you give yourself an extra two hours to get there (when it would take maybe 25 minutes by car, let's say) there's no guarantee you'll get there on time. If the woefully unreliable bus does come sometime within an hour of when it's supposed to, it is slow, filthy, and quite dangerous.

Additionally, I'd just like to tack on how incredibly quickly Koreans do things. With one exception where I waited in an extremely busy English-speaking specialty clinic on a Saturday morning for nearly 2 hours after my appointment time to see a doctor, you're in an out before you even know what happened. I've waited like that in the U.S. just to see my GP more than once, to the point where I just had to leave again without being seen and without a prescription because I had to go back to work or school. Even in Korean hospitals you can mostly walk in, get a consultation, and walk back out in less than an hour. And it'll cost you, like, $8. 
For the most part bedside manner is sorely lacking, especially with male Korean physicians, but you can't argue with 40-minute out-patient procedures that would have taken like 3 hours in the States and cost 10 times as much. 
Prescriptions are the other great thing about this system - they're super cheap. Sure they come packaged in little individual plastic baggies or other suspicious containers, but shit, you can afford them easily. You don't have to worry about how much any basic prescription costs. You don't have to choose between medicine and groceries. Unless you want tomatoes or strawberries or something. 

Point is, everyone should have done it this way from the beginning and then improved upon the system as time went on. Leaving room for competition and mega-high earning potential is healthy and fosters the development of new techniques and technologies and all that great stuff, but who cares if only 17 people in the whole damn country can afford to use them? International recognition is only worth something if what you've developed is applicable or has the potential to be so.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Aleksandr Petrov

Lately I've been finding various light-hearted, cheerful things to occupy my time in an attempt to stave off disillusionment and despair, such as avoiding food, attempting to practice drawing angsty faces from different perspectives, drinking to excess, and reading Dostoyevsky while listening to things like Shostakovich. It's basically fun for the whole family. Bring a razor blade.

Actually, it's not all that bad. I'm just a bit gloomy. You know who else is a bit gloomy? An award-winning Russian animator who is one of only a few in the world to use the rare and difficult technique of creating animated cels out of wet oil paintings on glass that are altered by hand for each movement. I found out about him today because he did very successfully adapted Dostoyevsky's The Dream of a Ridiculous Man into a 20-minute moving canvas.

It's a story about a guy who decides he's going to kill himself. While walking home - his disgust with life and humanity weighing on his mind - a little girl runs up to him, grabs his arm and breathlessly starts begging him for help. It's clear that her mother is sick or injured or something nearby. He shakes her off and keeps going. He figures, "What does it matter? I'm just going to kill myself in a couple of hours anyway, and nothing will exist for me anymore".

He decides he's going to put his pistol to his right temple. While he's sitting in his armchair at the table mulling everything over, though, he just falls asleep, which he's never done before. A formless being takes him through space to another, alternate Earth where the people are pure, filled with love and completely ignorant of suffering. At first he thinks them naive and somewhat inferior in some ways for lacking things Russians are particularly proud of, such as logical sensibilities, science and probably pessimism. But then, he reasons, many beings live without having to explain life to themselves and teach it to others. They just exist and fall into a natural harmony with their surroundings.  

These angelic pseudo-humans don't understand the ridiculous man's inner turmoil when he tries to talk to them about it: absolutely hating people but not being able to stop loving them, and vice versa. But they listen anyway. He spends maybe a thousand or more years among them, and eventually, from being exposed to his nature, they learn to lie. And they enjoy it. Things escalate pretty quickly from there, and soon the first blood is shed. Shocked, the people no longer trust each other, separate, build walls, and start speaking different languages. Animals with whom they had once lived in Biblical-esque harmony fear and hate them, and retreat into the forest. 

The man desperately tries to stop them from doing these things but can't; he's unintentionally corrupted them completely. Eventually they do develop things such as science to understand their lives and create codices of laws by which to govern themselves, having come to understand from an intellectual rather than intuitive standpoint the virtues they once had and lost. They think the ridiculous man mad and threaten to have him put away if he doesn't stop ranting at them.

At that point he wakes up, vindicated of his previous thoughts and with a renewed appreciation for life. It says at the end that he goes out and finds the girl, and that he himself will go on. Kind of like the Russian It's a Wonderful Life, da?

The Mermaid is based on Slavic folktales of mermaids who are actually the spirits of girls who have drowned themselves, usually after being jilted or abused by a man. I like that these, Greek and Japanese mermaids are traditionally very dark and frightening. In the story, a young novice monk sees and rescues what he thinks is a girl who's fallen into an icy river. He continues seeing her and is beguiled. When his elderly master hears her voice, though, he suddenly gets a dramatic flashback of a lover he betrayed when he married another woman, and it's implied that she did indeed drown herself because of it. The mermaid sees the elderly monk and exacts revenge.

His most recognised work, though, is his adaptation of Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea. It took him more than two years to paint the over 29,000 frames on glass sheets four times larger an A4 size, winning him an Academy Award and making it the first large-scale animated film ever. 

Finally, My Love, his most recent film, is based on one of the works of a Russian writer "best known for his idyllic recreations of the pre-revolutionary past" and was criticised not only for seemingly placing technical achievement above creativity, but for being trite, overly sentimental and a "waste" of Petrov's talents. I don't know about all that, though.. It's not exactly horrible. Maybe he's just paying homage to his roots or something.

Sadly, the global economic crisis coupled with the Russian government's cutting of funds for animation studios has meant that, for the last few years, people like this guy have been out of work. This article explains in a bit more detail and warns that, if all of the remaining Soviet generation animators leave or die without passing on their techniques to new ones, it'll have a "scorched earth" effect on their animation market. I guess it's not too soon for WWII references, but that sort of language does imbue the situation with a sense of urgency if it's true.
If there were still a market in the U.S. for traditional styles of animation as opposed to all of this cheap generic CG garbage we've been seeing for the last ten years I'm sure studios would welcome a wave of desperate Russian masters with open arms and we could all pretend it was the 90's again, but I guess they'll have to go somewhere else. 
Hopefully this isn't the last we see of this type of animation. That'd be pretty shitty.