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Title: Blog by Novelist William S. Frankl, MD

Archive for September, 2008

Who’s to Blame?

Tuesday, September 30th, 2008

In the present financial crisis we’re in, there’s been a great deal of finger-pointing about who was responsible for the mess. It’s necessary to set the record straight. The mess began in 1977, when the Carter administration and the Democrat Congress developed the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA), which mandated that all banks meet the credit needs of their entire community. The CRA was developed in order to open the mortgage market for individuals with low incomes. Thus, the CRA lay the groundwork for the subprime mortgage debacle. In 1995, the Clinton administration imposed strong regulations and performance tests that coerced banks to increase their loans to low income poverty area borrowers or face fines or possible restrictions on expansion. This allowed securitzation of CRA loans containing subprime mortgages. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were also created to handle these mortgages. They became multi-billion dollar creatures of the Congress, a hybrid institution, both private and public. They mishandled billions of dollars of loans, utilized suspect accounting practices, and were protected from significant oversight by Rep. Barney Frank(D) of Massachusetts and Senator Christopher Dodd (D) of Connecticut, both of whom received huge sums of money for their campaigns from Fannie and Freddie. In 2004 and 2005, when President Bush, Senator McCain, and Fed Chairman Greenspan attempted to impose tight regulations on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, they were stonewalled by the Democrats in Congress, including Frank and Dodd. I might add that Johnson and Raines, the disgraced CEO’S of Freddie and Fannie respectively, are major financial advisers to Senator Obama, who also recived large campaign gifts from these institutions. So who’s to blame? You tell me.

Crises

Monday, September 29th, 2008

Lately, I suppose most Americans have been focusing on the great financial drama that is playing out across the country. To muddle up the financial crisis, we have a presidential election going on as well, and so politics are even more obvious than usual. However, it would be well to look upon all of this through the prism of history and our literature. I’ve just been re-reading Nathaniel Hawthorne’s great novel The House of the Seven Gables, published and 1851, less than a decade before the beginning of the Civil War. I’d like to quote the following from early in the novel:

“In this republican country (of course, Hawthorne is referring to the United States as a republic, not our present-day Republican Party), amid the fluctuating waves of our social life, somebody is always at the drowning-point. The tragedy is enacted with as continual a repetition as that of a popular drama on a holiday, and, nevertheless, is felt as deeply, as well as when an hereditary noble sinks below his order. More deeply; since, with us, rank is the grosser substance of wealth and a splendid establishment, and has no spiritual existence after the death of these, but dies hopelessly along with them.”

I guess what I’m attempting to say is that there’s always been a crisis around somewhere –––– personal ( as in the Hawthorne quote), local, national, or international. Some of these are worse than others, and perhaps can only be truly assessed after they end. In any event, lets hope this big one we’re now experiencing ends soon.

A Cardiac Surgery Fiasco

Sunday, September 21st, 2008

In the Thursday, Philadelphia Inquirer, September 18, 2008 there is an article on ” Taking the pulse of surgery at region’s heart hospitals ” What a joke! There are 22 hospitals in the Philadelphia region doing cardiac surgery.  There should be only nine or ten, at most, performing these procedures in our area. Due to the unconscionable political  machinations of the Ridge  administration in 1996-1997, the certificate of need for such programs was allowed to sunset, allowing for 13-14 new cardiac surgical programs to be established here. Many  of these hospitals are performing less than 100 operations for year.  Those numbers are below what the surgical societies believe are sufficient to maintain quality.  What a travesty! When politicians become involved in medical matters, the quality of care falls and the cost of everything rises.  I know, because I was on the State Committee that concluded that no new program should be instituted.  We were stonewalled and despite our efforts, the certificate of need was allowed to go out of existence and we presently have the atrocious situation which will ultimately impact the public most severely in quality and cost. So be careful what you wish for when the presidential candidates mouth off about their plans to reform health care.

Hurricanes

Saturday, September 13th, 2008

Today Hurricane IKE smashed into Galveston and Houston. So  far no deaths, but lots of damage. Will Man ever learn to control these angry outbursts of Nature? Probably not, and that’s both good and bad–––bad that these storms cause so much death and devastation; good that they demonstrate the impotence of Man before Nature, thus occasionally stemming temporarily his/her overweening hubris.

Edgar Huntly

Tuesday, September 9th, 2008

When I finally finished reading Edgar Huntly, by Charles Brockden Brown, I sighed, shrugged, and threw the book halfway across the room–– a tough and aggravating book, filled with archaic language, recurrent loss of focus due to shifting points of view, and annoying repetitiveness.
Nevertheless, Edgar Huntly is important as one of America’s first Gothic novels. It was published in 1799, right here in Philadelphia.
The one episode that seemed most important to me occurred in the last section of the book, extending from the end of Chapter 23 to the end of Chapter 26 (pages 227-259). Here the many disjointed elements of the story were finally clarified by the surgeon, Sarsefield in his encounter with Huntly. Sarsefield was mentioned only in passing early in the novel.However, in this last third of the book, he served as a bridge between himself, Huntly, the depraved Clithero, the somnobolistic ramblings of Huntly, the loss of Waldegrave’s papers, and certain elements in Huntly’s many travails. However, most revealing in this section was the illumination of Sarsefield’s character. I found him to be a cold, unpleasant, and somewhat sinister figure, a kind of eminence gris, which added to the darkness of the novel.
Did Sarsefield secretly wish to kill Huntly?: “Thirty bullets were aimed at your head, by marks-men celebrated for the exactness of their sight. I myself was of the number, and I never missed what I desire to hit.” (page 233).
His excuse for leaving Huntly for dead and instead turning his attention to the girl that Huntly had saved was absurd: “My acquaintance with wounds would have taught me to regard sunken muscles, lividness and cessation of the pulse as mere indications of a swoon, and not as tokens of death”(page 246).
His apparent inability to recognize Huntly as the body on the ledge was unconvincing: “I marked the appearance of some one stretched upon the ground where you lay. No domestic animal would wander hither and place himself upon this spot. There was something likewise in the appearance of the object that bespoke it to be man, but if it were man, it was, incontrovertibly, a savage and a foe. I determined therefore to rouse you by a bullet.” (page 248).
And finally: “Instead of recognizing and affording you relief, I compelled you to leap into the river, from a perilous height, and had desisted from my persecution only when I had bereaved you of life, and plunged you to the bottom of the gulf.”( Page 249)
Sarsefield protested too much, trying, I think inadequately to explain his role in almost killing Huntly. And later he demonstrated his cold and unpleasant nature by refusing to provide medical care to Clithero, and his dismissal of Huntly at the end via a letter, with the last cold, dismissive word, “Farewell.”
The novel does provide a vivid portrayal of life in late 17th century America–––– the forbidding wilderness, the ever-present danger of Indian attacks, the perilous economic status of many of the people, the lack of roads, and the vast distances between the homes and farms of the colonists. This difficult, dangerous, often uncharted milieu was frequently transformative––– allowing some men, like Huntly, to become unrecognizable sub-human creatures. This was vividly and poignantly described in a physical depiction of him that, in a sense, served as a metaphor for all of Huntly’s bloody experiences and his degradation:
“I could not but reflect on the effect which my appearance would produce upon the family. The sleek locks, neat apparel, pacific guise, sobriety and gentleness of aspect by which I was customarily distinguished, would in vain be sought in the apparition which would now present itself before them. My legs, neck and bosom were bare, and their native hue were exchanged for the livid marks of bruises and scarrifications. An horrid scar upon my cheek, and my uncombed locks; hollow eyes, made ghastly by abstinence and cold, and the ruthless passions of which my mind had been the theatre, added to the musquet which I carried in my hand, would prepossess them with the notion of a maniac or ruffian”( page 227).

The book provides lots of terror, but not much horror, in a dark, dreary, unpleasant, and sometimes gory picture of life in colonial America. It’s difficult to read, but worth the effort.


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