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Archive for October, 2005

This is a pet peeve of mine! I read the New Yorker to get the big picture and I don’t want narrowly focused issues. I have the Food issue, the Fashion issue and now the Art and Architecture issue sitting around. They have all come out in the last two months and I haven’t even taken the plastic off the fashion issue. Okay, but I am a foodie; you might think that I would enjoy the food issue, but I still haven’t finished last year’s! I do enjoy many of the articles about food, but it’s not the true New Yorker experience, and it’s not why I read the New Yorker! These specialized issues do not give me the well-rounded magazine-reading experience that I crave. I blame Tina Brown for starting this, but she’s long gone and now they seem to be adding more specialty issues.

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The latest Michael Connelly

I spent two days reading “The Closers”: the latest book by Michael Connelly. While the writing isn’t the best, he does a consistently great job with his characters and setting. After reading this series of books, I feel like I know Los Angeles intimately. The character of Harry Bosch seems to expand a bit with each book and the minor characters are always done well. Plus he earns the reader’s interest with his attention to detail. You are down in the trenches with Harry – getting a coffee, driving the freeway, answering a cell phone call. It’s all very real.

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Let’s face it: they’re short. They don’t have the luxury of a novel which, if done well, creates a whole world for the reader to inhabit. So, my informal test of a short story is when something from it stays with you, it leaves a bit of itself behind; rather than being consumed and forgotten, it adds to your worldview. So, I have to add a recent Thomas McGuane story entitled “Cowboy” (NYer, 9/19 – drowning Bush administration on cover) to those worth reading. It reminded me of Alice Munro because of the sense of being of a certain time and place as well as the underlying humanity of the writing. I was also reminded of Annie Proulx (who wrote so eloquently about ranch hands and drifters in some New Yorker short stories a few years back).

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George Saunders does it again with another incredible, out-of-the-box short story entitled “Commcomm”. As always, it takes the reader some time to get oriented in the world Suanders conjures up, usually some kind of futuristic dystopia where ordinary people struggle to find value and meaning or even a foothold in reality. Like “Sea Oak”, the first Saunders story I read, “Commcomm” uses a bizarre premise along with a matter-of-fact tone to draw the reader into the hellish world of overblown consumerism or corporate megalomania that rules the lives of his characters. As in “Sea Oak” the ending of “Commcomm” is a somehow plausible leap to a higher plane.

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The article entitled “The Moral-Hazard Myth” by Malcolm Gladwell should be required reading for everyone, because it exposes policies that are being put in place that will have an effect on everyone’s well-being. Gladwell begins with a graphic description of tooth decay, leading up to the point that people who can’t afford dental insurance end up not going to the dentist. He concludes that bad teeth have become “an outward marker of caste.” He quotes from the book by Susan Starr Sered and Rushika Fernandopulle, “Uninsured in America” that the U.S. health-care system “has created a group of people who increasingly look different than others and suffer in ways that others do not.” He explains that one reason health-care is such a mess is an idea known as ‘moral hazard’ that seems to come out of think tanks and other places where policies are formulated. The idea is that people with health insurance spend more on health-care and this is true, but those without health care cut back on useful as well as frivolous care, whatever that is! I don’t believe that most people go to the doctor just because they can. But many don’t go if they have to pay for the full cost out-of-pocket. Recently, my family was offered a health savings account, which is how the Bush Administration wants to solve the health-care problem in this country. Under this plan, we would get catastrophic insurance only and pay for our own health-care out of a tax-free savings account into which an amount equal to the plan deductible, $5000 plus, could be deposited. Once we have paid out the deductible, we would be covered by the plan. If we don’t use the money, it stays in our account and can be rolled over into the next year’s plan. Sounds great, right? The problem is that it undermines the whole idea of ‘social insurance’, that is spreading the risk out among everyone. Under social insurance, healthy people pay into the system to subsidize the care of the sick and rely upon others to subsidize their care when needed. Under the new plan, the sick will pay more than the healthy. As Gladwell concludes, “in the rest of the industrialized world, it is assumed that the more equally and widely the burdens of illness are shared, the better off the population as a whole is likely to be.” In addition, the U.S. has 45 million people who are uninsured. The health care savings account does nothing to address this problem.

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