Not my area of expertise, but…

The other day I sent my first (e-mail) Letter to the Editor to The New York Review of Books. Its form response that it received far too many letters to respond personally, plus my assessment that amount-of-humor-within seemed not a factor in determining which letters saw print, plus my calculated guess that no editor of the NYRB read my blog (or else why wouldn’t I have already been asked to contribute to it?) and disqualify my letter due to prior publication, I decided to post it here and avoid my effort being lost to posterity. Plus I’d run it by my consultant on all matters of medical policy, Dr Philth, and he said that while the issue was “complex,” he enjoyed my concluding paragraph. So here goes:

The statistic that jumped out at me from Lara Gotein’s supportive review of Kenneth M. Ludmerer’ “Let Me Heal” lamentation for the vanished mentor-trainee relationship that once linked senior medical staff and residents in teaching hospitals is that the average hospital stay for patients has declined from sixteen to five days in the last forty years. Speaking as a patient, whose interest Ludmerer (and Gotein) recognize is to be “placed… above all else,” the instruct seems to be that we have been well served by having senior docs concentrate on sharpening their clinical skills and pursuing research interests while residents were left ordering tests this research had led to, ensuring they hadn’t “miss(ed) anything,” instead of having troops of white coats poke and palpate us like we were visual aides.
Professional bonding be damned. I’d rather get my ass home.

On Israel

Not that many of you will care what I think but recently a friend who has swung hard right, since being slightly right in college, asked me what I thought about Israel. Here is how I replied, slightly edited. (Some of this, some readers, will have heard before.)

I think it all comes down to tribes squabbling over dirt. (This applies to Israel vs. Palestinians, Russia vs. Ukrania, and any other disputes you care to name.) Unless we recognize we are all one tribe (people) on one patch of dirt (Earth), we are doomed. +++What I think that what went on with “Palestine,” which is the name the Ottoman’s gave to part of the dirt they controlled, which, along with much else, was wrested from them by the Brits in WW I, is that the Zionists, who wanted a piece of it, out-muscled, thru a variety of means, the Arabs who wanted it all. Most of the Arabs who were there fled, or were driven out. Most of the Jews in Arab countries fled or were driven out. Israel took in the Jews. The Arabs out-foxed them by not taking in the Arabs. They hung around, multiplying, waiting to get back where they’d been. Then 1967 rolled around and Israel grabbed more dirt and the Arabs living on it. Now you’ve got two tribes contesting the same dirt, large numbers of each believing God gave it to them. What each side needs is a Nelson Mandala, but each side has so many crazies that before anyone could get very far, someone would probably kill one or both. Also, each side thinks its God gave this dirt to them, so unless these Gods or someone else’s God works this out, matters will remain sticky.
Anyway, I think Israel has the right to stay where it is, because it won it. (That’s how any country gets to be where it is, the USA, France, ISIS even. Some tribe wins some dirt and declares itself a country.) They can keep it until someone takes it away. How they treat the people who live there meanwhile is another matter, and one the Israelis aren’t doing very well with in my opinion. (Michael Ignatieff, in the NYRB, discusses a book by Michael Walzer which argues that Israel, like India and Algeria, are failed attempts at secular liberation movements because they underestimated the religious extremism at too many of their citizens’ core.) Personally, I would do away with countries. This would be tough on the Olympics, but we’d stil have the NBA and MMA. Israel’s problem is that it is surrounded by all these other tribes who want to destroy it. There are many more of them, and probably some day, once they to stop killing each other, they will succeed. I won’t be around then, and since I don’t have any children, it’s not even secondarily my problem. Being Jewish though, I confess to having this irrational rooting interest in the situation, similar to my old rooting interest in Jewish athletes or Philadelphia teams or bald guys.

Kafka in the Hot Tub

My latest is up at

I thought Renee was trying to drive me crazy with her quotation marks. Sometimes she didn’t use them. Okay, William Gaddis didn’t either. But sometimes they were in the same story that they were not. And sometimes there was a “ but no ”. And sometimes, springing up unexpected, like a toadstool on a sidewalk, was a ” when there was no “, unless you counted the last unanswered “ several pages before; but that could not be because she had several paired “ ”s between.

The Wild One is Thirty-eight

My latest piece is up at (Again I apologize for my inability to provide a clickable link.)

It begins

The first story in the comic The Adventures of Tad Martin, #Sick Sick Six ((Teenage Dinosaur and Profanity Hill. 2015), by Casanova Frankenstein, “the artist, formally (sic) known as Al Frank,” is entitled “Tad Martin Vs. Popeye Rape-Whistle in The Secrets of Corpse-Fucking.” The publisher believed me the perfect person to review it. One week later, a journal editor had the same idea. I was flattered by the attention. At the same time, I thought, How the hell did Creative Writing 101a get me here?

I just finished…

…”Conflicts and Contradictions” by Meron Benvinisti. Actually, I had finished it once before, a year ago, after my brother-in-law Gordie, who has taught about Israel/Palestine at Amherst for decades, called it the best book written on the subject. When Gordie said this again recently, I planned to buy the book, but Moe’s didn’t have a copy. Then I noticed it on my “Recently Read” shelf and realized that, not only had I read it, but I didn’t remember a word.

To remedy the situation, I read it again. When I had read it before, I had been reading a number of books about Israel/Palestine. The others had been “history” books about decades or wars, studded with facts to which my brain could easily attach. But Benvenisti’s book is more a personal essay. To distill it to its essence — or perhaps less than its essence — he seems to be saying that the problem is that you have these two groups of people sharing the same patch of land, each believing equally they are entitled to it because their god gave it to them.

I am not counting on either of these gods — or anybody else’s for that matter — to straighten this out.

The Greatest

I apologize for not knowing how to provide a link that can be directly clicked upon, but I received this yesterday, and it is probably the finest compilation of photos anyone has ever connected me too.

I don’t know what “beauty she is” is exactly — but it’s great stuff. (WARNING: a couple are x-rated.) I wouldn’t try going thru them all at once, but I do recommend clicking on the music as you get to each number.

I just finished…

…”The Savage Professor” by Robert Roper. Bud, as I have known him for 40+ years, has authored several fine novels and notable non-fiction works. This, his first crime thriller, concerns a world-renown epidemiologist, who returns to his Berkeley hills home to find the nude, dead body of a former colleague/lover in his bed. And that is only the beginning of his corpse-rich problems. The ride through them includes a flurry of jabs at Berkeley places, personnages, and lifestyle quirks, several grizzly desecrations, and a stirring knife — well actually scalpel-vs.-straight-razor — fight. When I singled some of the more gore-soaked moments out for praise, he said, “You know, some of my readers thought I overdid things there.”

When you are talking to a guy who was recently singled out to review “Tad Martin vs. Popeye Rape-Whistle In: The Secrets of Corpse-Fucking,” you are not going to have that as a problem.

I just finished…

Feather Crowns, by Bobbie Ann Mason. I’d liked Mason’s early short stories. I’d liked In Country, book and movie, too. But I hadn’t read anything by her since, until I plucked this out of a take one/leave one box. (I left one on ESP, which someone else took.) Anyway, this was quite fun. No brain twists or jolts but many affectionate sounds and smiles. One momentous event happens and then a second and lives are shaken and stirred. Most of the action takes place in rural 1900 Kentucky, with one dip back in time, and two brief, separate ones ahead. Mason imagines her way through this for her central character in ways that left me shaking my head in appreciation of her skill. A fine reminder of the pleasures a well-done, traditional novel can provide.

The Marvel and the Albatross

My latest is up:

It begins:
Maybe 30-years ago the jazz pianist Jessica Williams speculated to a Downbeat interviewer about what she did. It couldn’t be a profession, Williams said. It didn’t pay enough. Was it a disease, she wondered. A mania? A curse? A calling imposed by heredity or the gods? I suppose most artists who can’t keep up the Honda payments ask themselves that in one form or another. Misleidys Pedroso may not, but her work, tempura and watercolor on paper, displayed through the rest of this month at New York City’s Christian Berst Gallery, raises the question of why one creates with a unique volume and clarity.
Pedroso will turn 30 in September. She has lived her entire life, with her parents and older brother, in Guines, a city of 70,000, 30 miles southeast of Havana, in a Soviet-era concrete apartment building, which faces the sea. Born deaf, she does not speak, read or write. She expresses her needs or feelings through the simplest signs. She spends most of each day at home.

I just finished…

…Tom Clark’s biography of Charles Olson.
Lately, I’ve been letting randomness influence my reading selections by picking the Best Available out of the Free Little Library boxes that have sprung up around my neighborhood, and this was the first I finished. It was instructive enough that some of my thoughts influenced and were incorporated into a piece I just submitted for publication, but here is where they began.

Olson was a terrible husband, and awful father, and not much of a friend. He had a good stint with the OWI, as a civil servant during WW II, but he flopped as an academic, and while attracting a small swarm of acolytes, his stint as an administrator at Black Mountain College led, through his whacky ideas, to its demise. He doesn’t even seem to have had it together enough for social welfare benefits, preferring to leech off those he knew for support in his final years.

I know Olson is considered a great poet, but I couldn’t make heads or tails out of the selections Clark presented, nor of the prose which is highly regarded (esp. by other poets I don’t read). Clark never makes clear, either by his own words analysis or the words of others, what is important about Olson’s work, so I was left absorbed by the calamity of his life.

The man was unable to find help for himself and he didn’t exist within a community which could find it for him. That was more compelling to me than his work.