Thursday, August 13, 2009

Howard Dean's Prescription for Real Healthcare Reform

Written with Igor Volsky and Faiz Shakir

A review copy was provided free by the Amazon Vine program, however the biggest influence on this review was my party affiliation, strong support of healthcare reform, and my great admiration for Dr. Howard Dean.

I thought I was a little smarter than the average bear when it came to understanding healthcare reform, since I worked in employee benefits for more than 10 years in the 70s and 80s when cost-containment (but not yet issues of denied coverage) had just become a major issue. However, I still learned quite a bit from Dr. Dean's book about the past history of healthcare reform, what is included in Obama's plan, and what other countries do. I highlighted huge portions to quote for healthcare reform blog.

Though obviously put together quickly, including a few typos and awkward sentences, it is still quite interesting and easy to read. At the same time, I'd say it is as objective as it needs to be in this fight that has turned into a shouting match. When opponents of reform are spouting outright lies--which they are--there isn't room for much deference. On the other hand, what some are touting as a plan from the far left, actually pays great homage to our free enterprise system. Dean repeats over and over that Americans wouldn't accept a plan without choice, though I'm not so sure that is true.

However, as originally a strong advocate of single payer, I was amazed to learn that most of the countries providing universal healthcare are not single payer but a system of competing private plans with guaranteed coverage and community rating with most either providing some form of public option for those who can't afford private coverage or a mandate on what private insurers can charge. As I can't see anyone in this country accepting regulation of what a private insurer can charge as premiums, the public option now appears to me as the most reasonable way to go.

I was a little vague on how much of what Dean outlines is actually part of the Obama reform plan and how much is what he, Dr. Dean, would like to see. But there's no doubt that, as a physician and former governor who successfully reformed Vermont's healthcare system, he is knowledgeable on the subject and his ideas should be considered seriously.

Even if you think you already know where you stand on this subject, I suggest you read this book. It could change your mind.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Power of the Dog by Thomas Savage

I looked up Thomas Savage's books on Amazon after reading about him in the Winter 2008 issue of Montana, the Magazine of Western History. Born in Dillon, Montana and publishing 13 novels between 1944 and 1988, Savage is rarely listed among contemporary western writers like Wallace Stegner, Ivan Doig, or Larry McMurtry, possibly because only a few of his books take place in the west, and he didn't begin writing until he'd settled in New England. He also had a certain cosmopolitan flamboyance at odds with the stereotypical western personality. Consequently, thinking I'd discovered a "forgotten" writer––or one Montana had rediscovered for me––I was surprised when the edition I ordered turned out to have been reissued in 2001 and had an afterward by Annie Proulx. Though it's not a surprise that Proulx would have been drawn to the subject matter of repressed homosexuality in the cowboy west. This time the novel was written in the 60s and takes place in the 20s.

The Power of the Dog is a most unusual novel. One thing I enjoy about most Western writers, both contemporary and those from the past like Willa Cather, is the way the western landscape becomes a character in itself. This is not so much the case with this novel. Nor would I say the writing is particularly stand out. What does stand out, though, in this novel where a grown man and a young boy eventually turn into two opposing forces battling for supremacy, is the psychological depth of the characters, their contrasting personalities, and the scheming and plotting, handled so deftly that it did not seem at all over-the-top. And while, on my zine writer blog, I often warn new writers to avoid a "twist" at the end, this one worked well.

Reading the article in Montana, which should eventually become available online, one wonders if Savage didn't hide his own homosexuality behind a wife and children as so many did in those times and if this didn't provide the depth of insight into his characters. But while Phil and his step-nephew Peter dominate the story, all the characters are well developed down to the parents who really play only a minor roll.

This is the kind of book you are drawn to read in one sitting. It really pulls you in, and, when it becomes available, I highly recommend the Montana article Thomas Savage for greater insight into the author and his times.