This blog contains the literature reviews, political rants, and literary doings of Steven Wittenberg Gordon, the Editor of Songs of Eretz Poetry Review.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Health Care Crisis Solved by Steve

In light of recent events, I was asked by a friend of mine what I would do to solve the health care crisis.  Apparently, I am the only physician he knows with whom he does not have a doctor-patient relationship.  After answering him in private, I have decided to post my solution here in public, quixotic though my hopes and dreams may be.  Here is my solution:

- Repeal Social Security and replace it with nothing.  Those relying on it now would have to re-enter the workforce or otherwise cope with the loss.  Those who have paid into it and not yet received any benefits would have to cut their losses.  Yes, that includes me.

- Repeal Medicare and replace it with nothing.  Those relying on it now would have to find other means to pay for their health care.  Yes, that includes my own octogenarian mother.  Those who have paid into it and not yet received benefits would have to cut their losses.  Yes, that includes me.

-  Repeal Medicaid and replace it with nothing.  Those relying on it now would have to find other means to pay for health care, such as charity.

- Repeal Obamacare and replace it with nothing.  Those relying on it now would have to find other ways to obtain health insurance.

- Repeal the federal income tax, abolish the IRS, and replace them with nothing.  This should be quite affordable once all of the above is accomplished.

- Congress should invoke its enumerated power of control over interstate commerce to pass a law that forces the states to allow insurance companies to sell insurance across state lines and that would allow the big insurance companies such as Prudential, MetLife, StateFarm, Nationwide &c to offer health insurance options.  Using the already proven automobile insurance model, Congress should force insurance companies to offer insurance to all who want it (no mandate to purchase).  Those deemed high risk would be put in a high risk pool and assigned to an insurance company by lottery--the unlucky insurance company would be allowed to charge high risk individuals higher premiums, but not outrageously higher.  Again, just like car insurance.

- Congress (again using the interstate commerce clause) should force insurance companies to allow "balance billing" and to force the patients, NOT the doctors, to be responsible for submitting claims--just as it is true for car insurance.  Congress should force insurance companies to allow doctors to collect fees upfront.  In addition, Congress should force insurance companies to pay only the patient, not the doctors, and to make payments in advance, just as car insurance does.  The patient could use the insurance money for ANYTHING, not just for health care.  For example, if a patient had a bad knee, the insurance company would pay X dollars for the knee.  The patient could use the money to fix his knee or not.  This is analogous to a car insurance company paying for collision damage.  The car owner can use the money to repair the car or not.

- Again under the interstate commerce clause, Congress should force states to allow malpractice insurance to be sold across state lines and place caps on awards for non-ecconomic damages.  Furthermore, malpractice suits involving surgery would have to meet an almost impossible standard of egregiously gross negligence (EGN) in order to be brought in the first place.  An example of EGN would be removal of the wrong body part.  Lawsuits for bad obstetrical outcomes would not be allowed AT ALL.

Once all of the above is passed, the federal government would have little control over the delivery of health care--which is as it should be.  Then, the states should do the following.

- Stop taxing food & non-luxury clothing.

- Tax currently exempt religious institutions and earmark that money to provide medical care for the poor.  Churches could avoid the tax by stepping up and doing this themselves.

- In states that have a state income tax, allow tax-free HSAs with no deposit limits.

Problem solved!

You're welcome,


Saturday, March 4, 2017

Review of Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

At my (then) teenaged son’s urging, I put Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (First Harper Perennial Modern Classics edition, 2006, first published by Harper & Brothers, 1932) on my reading list.  He had been required to read it for a high school English class and was deeply moved and disturbed by it.  The book finally rose to the top of my reading queue, and I can see why, as my son is a fine artist (painting and illustration), he felt the way he did about the novel.

As a poet, I share my son’s revulsion at the dystopian world depicted in the novel, but as a scientist and physician I am impressed by Huxley’s prescience.  In the world of the novel, war, disease, famine, poverty, and even the effects of aging and the fear of death have been eradicated by an all-powerful world order ruled by a loyal elite.  Through a disturbingly accurate prediction of the direction of biology, eugenics, and psychology for someone writing in 1932, the inhabitants of Huxley’s world also are devoid of jealousy, romantic love, appreciation of high art and literature, personal ambition, and loneliness.  Taking a psychedelic wonder drug called soma solves any rare breakthrough dysphoria.  There is also no room in this world for God as we understand Him.  His role has been replaced by the reverence of Henry Ford; the cross of Christ replaced by the T (a reference to Ford’s model T).

There are no family ties or obligations in this “brave new world,” as all its human inhabitants are bred in laboratories.  Acceptance of one’s assigned lot in life (there is a strict caste system) is bred into each individual.  This acceptance is hypnotically reinforced, and any residual rebelliousness is quashed by soma.  Happiness (of a sort) is therefore universal, and since “everybody belongs to everybody,” meaningless sex with anyone one desires is easily sought and freely given.

The novel really gets interesting when the bastard son of a high-ranking official is discovered in one of the uncivilized reservations of humanity, who basically live as the American Indians did long ago.  “John Savage,” or simply “The Savage,” an eighteen-year-old who has read all of the works of Shakespeare (one of many forbidden authors), is brought to civilization as an experiment.  He becomes an immediate curiosity and sensation and is given immediate and unwanted celebrity.  He is at once fascinated and filled with revulsion by the civilized world, and his inability to adjust eventually leads to a self-imposed exile.

The edition of Brave New World that I read is fortunate to have a “PS” containing a transcription of a letter from Huxley to George Orwell from 1949, the year 1984 was published.  In it, Huxley predicts that humanity is headed toward something Orwellian in the not-too-distant future, but that such a world will be temporary, a stepping-stone.  Huxley predicts that rule by the threat and application of pain depicted by Orwell will eventually evolve into rule by the elimination of pain.  This “utopia” will come at the terrible price described--a world without passion, poetry, painting, politics, personality, and preference--a cowardly new world.  Ford forbid!

Monday, February 27, 2017

Review of Elfslayer by Nathan Long

I had the guilty pleasure of reading a rare, autographed copy of Elfslayer by Nathan Long (Black Library Publications, 2008).  The book is currently out of print but may be found on ebay or in used bookstores for various prices (some quite high). 

Nathan Long took over the helm of writing the Felix and Gotrek novels from William King, the original creator of the grim dwarf Slayer Gotrek Gurnisson and his hapless human companion poet warrior Felix Jaeger, somewhere in the middle of the Third Omnibus edition containing Giantslayer, Orcslayer, and Manslayer.  I was skeptical that Long could be true to King’s legacy but must admit that the transition was all but seamless.

Another thing that worried me (needlessly as it turned out) is the whole idea of slaying elves.  Having grown up with Tolkien’s version of the elder race, the thought of slaying an elf was anathema.  However, in the world of Felix and Gotrek, there are two distinct kinds of elves--light and dark.  The dark elves of Long’s world are akin to the anti-paladins of Dungeons & Dragons--unspeakably beautiful and unspeakably cruel and decadent.  These elves could use a bit o’ slayin’!

The duo forays into the dark world of the dark elves in order to recover a stolen magic harp, which in the wrong hands could be used to destroy the world.  Dogging (or ratting) their every move is their secret nemesis, the rat man Grey Seer Thanquol of the skaven and his mutant companion Boneripper.

Elfslayer is formulaic, derivative, and melodramatic, but somehow original and just a plain old great read at the same time.  I wish I knew how King and now Long accomplished this, but their Felix and Gotrek stories have always sung to me, and Elfslayer was no exception.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Review of Writers & Their Reading by the Editors of Glimmer Train

I write mostly poetry but when I do compose a short story I send it to Glimmer Train if at all possible. I admire and respect the co-editors of Glimmer Train, Susan Burmeister-Brown and Linda Swanson-Davies.  As I do with all submissions to Songs of Eretz (regular and contest), these sisters read and personally respond to every submission to the many submissions that their magazine receives every year.  Glimmer Train pays seven hundred dollars for every story it accepts for publication; contest winners are awarded between two and three thousand dollars.  Glimmer Trains’ fee for a non-contest submission is only two dollars and its fee for contests is only eighteen dollars.  Find out more about the offerings of Glimmer Train here:  www.GlimmerTrain.com.

As a thank you bonus for entering a Glimmer Train contest, the entrant may choose from several scholarly works from its sister publication, Writers Ask.  After entering a contest myself, I chose to receive and had the pleasure to enjoy the forty-page educational collection of interviews Writers & Their Reading.  The collection compiles the responses of several dozen writers as to what books influenced their writing and how important reading is for them and for writers in general.  The universal answer was that not just reading but voracious reading of quality literature is essential if one is ever to succeed as a writer.  Every writer stressed this, even the few that curtailed their reading while they themselves were engaged in writing so as not to have another author’s voice influence their own voices.

Sadly, reading and the concentration and focus it requires to do properly may have become a lost art.  Interviewee Steve Almond laments that if people from our era were to be transported 150 years back in time they would all be considered to have Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD or hyperactivity).  He postulates that members of our screen worshiping generation would certainly become restless and fidgety if forced to sit in the parlor to listen to the latest stories being read aloud or to read to themselves the recent works of some of the great authors of that time.  That is a wake up call if I have ever heard one!

Review of Neil Gaiman's 'Make Good Art' speech

I had the distinct pleasure of reading Neil Gaiman’s ‘Make Good Art’ speech illustrated by graphic artist Chip Kidd (William Morrow 2013, small hardcover, $12.99), a word-for-word copy of the speech keynote speaker Neil Gaiman gave to the University of the Arts in Philadelphia graduating class of 2012. 

The speech took
nineteen minutes
for Gaiman
to deliver

and took me
about ten minutes
to read. 

I would estimate that the speech contains about 2,500 words
--an essay more than a book--

s p r e a d  o u t  o v e r  a b o u t  f o r t y  p a p e r b a c k - s i z e d  p a g e s . 

Kidd uses his graphic design skills to make the spread out words look artsy, poetic, and colorful (literally and figuratively).

The advice imparted is nothing really new and may be summarized thus: 
Pursue Your Dreams! 

Gaiman states this advice in various different ways, such as:
believe in yourself,
think outside the box,
don’t be afraid to fail,
learn from your mistakes,
and other old chestnuts and clich├ęs.  

I found myself at once inspired and annoyed that $12.99 was spent on this book.  
The real take home message is this: 
Once you make a name for yourself,
you can get away with cleverly packaging a bit of autobiography or trite wisdom,
and you will still make a mint just because
you have made a name for yourself.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Review of Deja Dead by Kathy Reichs

My family and I are big fans of the television series Bones (although my daughter recently abandoned watching).  Accordingly, I jumped at the opportunity to meet the inspiration behind the show, authoress and real life forensic anthropologist Kathy Reichs, at a lecture and book-signing event sponsored by Rainy Day Books in Kansas City.  I purchased an autographed copy of the 10th Anniversary Edition of Deja Dead for fifteen dollar and immediately noted that in real life Reichs looks more like the mother of the sexy young lady pictured on the back of her 411-page book.  The irony of this observation will become apparent at the conclusion of this review.

If you watch Bones because you enjoy the interplay between the savant, Spock-like Temperance Brennan and the manly yet emotional Sealy Booth, as well as the side stories about the unique and interesting supporting characters, you may be disappointed with Deja Dead.  The story takes place in Montreal where forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan, here a recovering alcoholic and single mother of an adult daughter, works alone out of a small, smelly post mortem laboratory room located in a large government building.  There are no vast, open spaces of a Jeffersonian Institute, nor are there any interesting major characters who assist Brennan in her scientific sleuthing, although there are two minor characters who assist a little bit.

The first one hundred pages or so are pretty boring--I almost stopped reading at that point.  After that, the plot slowly but relentlessly accelerates to a nail biting wow climax.  The plot centers around Brennan who is convinced that there are links between several gruesome murders and must resort to investigating on her own and out of her depth in the bad parts of Montreal in order to convince the skeptical all-male police that there is a serial killer on the loose in the city.

The book is as much about a woman trying to hold her own and to be recognized as competent in a world dominated by men as it is a murder mystery--and boy does the authoress of the book make sure the reader knows it!  The policemen are either depicted as macho stereotypes, sex objects, or both.  There are frequent scenes of Brennan having to assert herself among the men to the point of being melodramatically and annoyingly aggressive.  And in case that is not enough cliche feminist claptrap for you, at one point Brennan laments that she needs a certain thing “about as much as a yeast infection” as if we needed reminding that the lead character, and presumably the authoress, have vaginas.  Blech!

I will be so bold as to speak on behalf of the average red-blooded American male and say that the overt, in your face feminism in Deja Dead is enough to ruin an otherwise enjoyable reading experience for you; probably the same would be true of most female readers, who probably would not mind a little more femininity and a lot less feminism.  So, if you are an annoying feminist, you will enjoy Deja Dead.  If you can get through the first one hundred pages and hold your nose through the feminist parts, you may still enjoy Deja Dead.  However, for the general readership, I will recommend watching Bones and giving the book a miss.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Review of Fool by Christopher Moore

It's Monty Python meets William Shakespeare in Fool, a novel by Christopher Moore (Harper Collins 2009).  Moore retells the story of Shakespeare's King Lear from the perspective of Lear's court Fool, Pocket.  In doing so, Moore takes certain liberties with the plot, making the erstwhile insignificant Fool into a scheming behind-the-scenes political conspiratorial starter of wars and maker of kings.

The narrative style chosen by the American-born Moore is filled with amusing pseudo-British slang and spoof in addition to over-the-top lewdness bordering on outright pornography.  Shakespeare would have had a good laugh, though, I am sure--he was equally bawdy if much more subtle and witty.  Moore also mixes in some hilarious anachronisms and parts of the plots of other Shakespeare plays.

If you chose to read Fool, do not skip the informative Author's Note at the end entitled "You Cheeky Git."  There is some fascinating reading there about the history of King "Leir" (as the name was historically spelled) and the anachronisms to be found in the Shakespeare version of the story.  The Note also may make some readers feel better about the happy (well, happier) ending of the Moore version, as apparently there are other extant versions of the Lear/Leir story that share that particular plot point.

Salary Parity: The Reality of Trump and the Hypocrisy of Clinton

Donald Trump has been labeled a misogynist because he occasionally uses language that disparages individual women.  While the charge may be politically expedient for his opponents, it does not hold up to even the most cursory scrutiny.  Trump does not disparage ALL women.  He has called CERTAIN women disparaging names, but it is a stretch to extrapolate that he therefore believes ALL women fit the colorful monickers that he directs toward only a few.  On the issue of equal pay for equal work, the facts speak for themselves.

Women like working for Trump.  He pays well.  He currently has more female executives than male, and the females are paid MORE than their male counterparts. (1)  So, he may call a gal fatty or honey or doggie or piggy.  That is just his way and the way of many of the affluent businessmen of his generation. The use of such language is impolitic, for sure.  But unless the speaker means the terms to be universally applied, it is not sexist.

Let's contrast Trump's actual championing of the cause of equal pay for equal work with Hillary Clinton's hypocritical lip service to the cause.  When she was Secretary of State (amazing that she did not object to the title "Secretary"), female employees in the State Department received 28% less pay than their male counterparts. (2)  Worse, the Clinton Foundation CURRENTLY pays its female workers 38% less. (3)

For a poetic take on this issue, see today's Special Feature in Songs of Eretz Poetry Review http://eretzsongs.blogspot.com/2016/04/poetry-review-special-feature-she-talks.html.

(1) https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/donald-trump-a-champion-of-women-his-female-employees-think-so/2015/11/23/7eafac80-88da-11e5-9a07-453018f9a0ec_story.html 
(2) http://www.ijreview.com/2015/02/257200-hillary-clinton-paid-female-staff-28-percent-less-men/
(3) http://townhall.com/tipsheet/guybenson/2016/04/14/of-course-clinton-foundation-pays-female-executives-38-percent-less-than-male-counterparts-n2148105

Monday, April 4, 2016

Review of The Tempest by William Shakespeare

I recently had the displeasure of reading a previously undiscovered (for me) Shakespeare play that was, to be charitable, subpar for the Bard (The Winter’s Tale, see my review http://stevesofgrass.blogspot.com/2016/03/review-of-winters-tale-by-william.html).  So, it was with a healthy bit of skepticism that I picked up yet another previously undiscovered (again, for me) Shakespeare play, The Tempest.  My edition was published by the Folger Shakespeare Library, edited by Barbara Mowat and Paul Werstine.

While not a complete stinker like The Winter’s Tale, I still found The Tempest disappointing--certainly not Shakespeare’s best effort.  The main character, the betrayed and exiled Duke cum sorcerer Prospero, is the main source of this disappointment (all plays-on-words intended).  Shakespeare could not seem to make up his mind about Prospero’s motivation or basic character, and the play really does suffer as a result.

Prospero does not hesitate to use his own beloved daughter to the furtherance of his vengeance, even though it causes her psychological torment--this does not do much to make him loveable.  Using his magical powers, he enslaves an innocent island native, Caliban (an anagram cannibal--well, almost), as well as an innocent spirit and makes them do his bidding--the former hard labor, the latter paranormal pranks against his enemies.  This makes him unlikeable, even despicable, despite any sympathy for his unjust betrayal and banishment.

There might have been a chance for Prospero to become a sympathetic anti-hero or even a likeable villain, but then, bafflingly, Shakespeare has Prospero abandon all of his revenge schemes, forgive his betrayers, allow plotting assassins to go unpunished, and tops this off by having him marry his daughter literally to the first man she meets.  Pick a side, Shakespeare! 

Anyway, if you have a chance to see this one, it might not be worth your time.  I’m not sure it would have been worth my time to read it, but for my son having to read it for a college lit course.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Purim Reflections

Upon this Purim Day, my mind could not help but turn to the recent tragedy in Brussels and to the even more tragic lack of response by the POTUS.  Literally choosing to fiddle while Rome burns, Barack Obama barely paused in his meeting with one of the world's most awful dictators to express any sorrow and chose "dancing with the stars" over offering any comfort to the families of the American and allied dead and wounded.

I invite you to read today's offering in Songs of Eretz Poetry Review for my poetic turn on the subject:  http://eretzsongs.blogspot.com/2016/03/poem-of-day-purim-2016-by-editor.html.  Barack Obama is the Haman of our Age--there, I said it.  May a Queen arise to drown out his name forever (and I don't mean Hillary).