Iraq bills . . .

I'm happy Michael Moore accumulated a small fortune out of $119 million grossed from his infamous documentary, Fahrenheit 9/11, a discursive screed against the neocons and George Bush. After Sicko, a trenchant look at the health care industry in the US, if he ever tries to enter an HMO-affiliated hospital in the states, he may be sent home. At least he can buy himself private care.

Sicko has not the narrow-minded playfulness of Roger & Me and Bowling for Columbine either: It is a measured, anecdotal reflection on the sad state of health affairs in the US for the 50 million without insurance and those with insurance who live through the calculated denials of service by companies whose mantra could be Nixon's observation, "The less care they give them, the more money they make."

This time around, Moore wisely changes tactics by effacing himself in favor of the real people's words. He does appear and does a modicum of his usual grandstanding but not as the Colombo-like, shabby but savvy interlocutor. This time he is a low-key agent provocateur, letting the victims tell their stories.

But even more effective is telling stories in countries such as France (rated number one by the World Health Organization), England, Canada, and Cuba, all of whose health care is happily provided by the government and happily received by a populace more at ease with their healthy future than we. Cuba, the poorest of the Western countries featured, has a healthy population living longer than the wealthy one a few miles north.

I don't hold Michael Moore to the standards of research I might Al Gore, whose global warming diatribe, An Inconvenient Truth, relies on statistics to make its cogent case. Moore wants to promote discussion about our health care, and although he is certifiably liberal on that matter, he makes no claim to serious research. And incite discussion he does?our film critics talked at length after the film about the subject, not about the truth of the documentary but the truth of our own experiences and impressions of the US health care empire.

Moore is a filmmaker first and an entertainer second who knows how to provoke, not a researcher trying to impress. Although he can be faulted for rarely nodding to the other side, he can never be condemned for being boring. In the end, Democrats or Republicans may equally shout about other countries' care, "Why can't we do that?" Well, Iraq bills need to be paid . . . .