EVOLVING PANDEMICS

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Mysteries of the Microscopic World

By: Bruce E. Fleury (Great Courses)

Lecturer-Professor Bruce E. Fleury

Bruce E. Fleury (Professor of Practice in the Dept. of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Tulane University)

“Mysteries of the Microscopic World” is a reflection on the “The Invisible Realm”, the world of bacteria, viruses, fungi, and protozoa. 

It is somewhat dated because of today’s history of Covid19.  However, Fleury offers a modern understanding of pandemics and the role germs play in human life.

Antonie van Leeuwenhoek (1632-1723)

Fleury explores a world unseen until the 17th century.  Antony van Leeuwenhoek is identified as the first to see the “…Microscopic World” in 1683. 

However, the microscopic world was not considered important until the 19th century when puerperal fever was found to be caused by germs.  A germ theory of disease originated with Ignaz Semmelweis, a Hungarian physician in the 1840s. Many babies were dying from puerperal fever because doctors were going straight from deceased patients’ autopsies to delivery operating rooms. 

An interesting side note by Fleury is Semmelweis’s germ theory required careful hand washing before delivering babies.  Washing hands is still not carefully followed, even by the medical profession.  Fleury suggests only 50% of doctors and nurses properly wash their hands.

In the late 1850s Louis Pasteur suggested the spread of microorganisms (germs) could explain infectious disease.  Pasteur, and later Robert Koch, began to isolate bacteria of diseases like anthrax, TB, and cholera.  The race for understanding the microscopic world’s relationship to disease is launched.

Fleury explains this microscopic world is not only a disease producer.  It also aids human existence by offering microorganisms that get rid of wastes and remove toxic chemicals from the body.  Fleury notes some humans die from microorganisms, but they cannot live without them.

Fleury explains how the microscopic world follows the same Darwinian evolutionary path as the macroscopic world.  The microscopic world, like the animal world, evolves with random adaptation that sustains all life.

The two edges of this microscopic world can cure or kill.  Fleury explains how this unseen world evolves in the same way the animal kingdom evolves.    Today’s Covid19 virus changes to preserve itself.  Covid19 evolves like any life force to become resistant to current drug treatment. Pfizer and other drug manufacturers are tasked with modification of their drug formulas to defeat viral and bacterial evolution.

In Fleury’s history of pandemics, listeners/readers will find interesting facts that parallel today’s Covid19’ experience.  A striking parallel is the 1918 Flu pandemic. It killed an estimated 50-100 million people. 

Today the world has lost over 2.5 million people from Covid19, but it pales against the 1918 pandemic’ loss of an estimated 50 to 100 million people.

The 1918 world population is estimated at 1.8 billion.   The world’s population today is at 7.674 billion, over a six-fold increase.  Today’s 2.5 million people lost from Covid19 could become several times greater based on today’s population.

This reminds one of the Texas and Mississippi governors’ choice to return to business as usual with no mask mandates and reopened businesses.

It may be that medical science and vaccination is so much better today than in 1918, but these governors are gambling with American lives.  Covid19 may kill many more.

Fleury reminds reader/listeners of the history of wars and how the microscopic world of poisons, and disease-producing germs were used to defeat combatants.  He notes how small armies were able to defeat large armies.  Fleury tells stories of smaller military forces throwing bags filled with poisonous snakes into enemy camps to create chaos and death, lethal gas use in explosive devices that are thrown into enemy foxholes, and deadly smallpox impregnated blankets given to native Americans by American settlers.  He notes how small expeditionary invasions decimated empires by introducing germs that came from their home countries.  Explorers and soldiers were carriers of germs that had never been seen in the new world.  Millions have died from this newly weaponized unseen world.  Fleury notes that biological research and warfare are ongoing threats to the human race.

In the Sunday NYT’s on 3/7/21, an article criticizes the use of public funds to stockpile an Anthrax vaccine when so many problems have arisen in the fight against Covid19. The complaint largely revolves around one company’s high profitability and government influence in preparing an anthrax antidote stockpile to protect against biological attack by terrorists.

Fleury notes that anthrax bacterium is “…a perennial favorite in every nation’s biological arsenal.” Anthrax causes a rapid and painful death within 12-24 hours and the bacterium can last for 40-80 years in soil.

One has to wonder why can’t government “chew gum and walk” at the same time. Stockpiling an Anthrax antidote and being prepared for a Covid19 type of pandemic could be done at the same time. After all, America is the richest nation in the world.

Many presume Aids has been cured because it is not in the press like it used to be.  Something not widely known is that Aids has no known cure.  It remains a killer.  Only palliative treatment has been found to extend life and Fleury notes the treatment is quite expensive.  Aids is caused by a germ that attacks the immune system.  It is introduced through sexual contact or re-use of hypodermic needles. 

Aids eventually kills nearly all Aids carriers, either from cancer or some other disease that takes advantage of a carrier’s compromised immune system.  Fleury notes an exception is a small minority of carriers with a genetic variation that allows them to live a long life.

Fleury explains there is a race between microbes and humans.  As antibiotic treatment improves, microbes mutate into strains that resist treatment.  What worked yesterday may not work tomorrow.  Fleury implies there is a natural balance among all living things.  Humans may be destined for extinction, but Fleury reminds us of the myth of Pandora.  She left hope in the bottom of the box when all the evils were unloosed on the world.

CORPORATE AMERICA

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Homeland Elegies: A Novel

By: Ayad Akhtar

Narrated by Ayad Akhtar

Ayad Akhtar (American author, playwright, novelist, and screenwriter-received 2013 Pulitzer for Drama.)

When listening to “Homeland Elegies”, one must remind oneself it is a novel.  It is written by an author and screenwriter who can create characters with singular insight and theoretical power to change the world.  Though there have been such people in history, they are never recognized in real time.  Extraordinary people are only found in the perspective of history or in fictional stories by creative writers. 

Many in history might be considered in the category of extraordinary people.  They were not perfect, but they changed America, and in some cases the world, for the better.  Extraordinary people are either revivified historic figures, or imaginary characters created by authors like Ayad Akhtar.

Pakistan, to many Americans, is a riddle wrapped in an enigma (a phrase Churchill used to describe Russia in the 1930s).  The author manages to reveal some of that riddle in “Homeland Elegies”. 

Without delving into the history of the author, the author’s main character is named Akhtar.  One gathers from his novel, that Akhtar is an American, but his parents are from Pakistan.  Akhtar is born into an upper-middle class family whose father is a renowned cardiologist. 

Akhtar’s father sees Trump as a man like himself.  Akhtar’s father is flawed in ways like Trump.  Both Trump and Akhtar’s father look at life’s decisions as transactions with winners and losers. 

Trump and Akhtar’s father’s mutual history of dalliance with prostitutes, their failure as business investors, and their unshakeable belief in the value of capitalist self-interest make Akhtar’s father and Trump brothers in both character and ambition. 

Politically, the character Akhtar and his father are opposites.  Akhtar’s father appears to have voted for Trump in the 2016 election; in part because of a brief medical encounter with Trump long before he became President. Akhtar argues with his father about Trump’s public persona. Trump’s lack of empathy, and his transactional domestic and foreign policy actions are “red flags” to his son.  Though Akhtar loves his father, he attempts to bully him into changing his mind about Trump.

The author shows why Trump appeals to many Americans.  The “…Elegies” help explain why disparaged American minorities (both nonwhites, and extreme libertarians), as well as white voters, support Trump. 

Trump’s support crosses all strata of American life, including the rich, poor, educated, and un-schooled.  Many Americans vote for and revere Trump.  Trump’s appeal is not to any precise citizen category. His appeal is to every American that wants to be rich enough to be left alone by government or any outside interference.

One of several serious reflections by the characters in the “…Elegies” is an American Pakistani who uses Trump’s memes to punish anti-Islamist local governments that deny American Pakistani equality.  This character is a brilliant strategist and wealthy investor.  This super-wealthy investor, a born-in-America Pakistani, creates a hedge fund to be sold to communities that formerly denied Muslim equality in their cities. 

This hedge fund creator concocts a hedge fund scheme to make money at the expense of anti-Muslim American city governments.  Greed of government public fund’ investors blinds them to carefully worded risks in the hedge fund prospectus.  In the end, these city bureaucrats nearly bankrupt their cities because of their failure to read the fine print.  The cities governments sue the creator of the hedge-fund but are unsuccessful because the prospectus clearly explains the fund’s risk. The hedge-fund profits even more by having hedged against the fund because they knew what would happen to the original investment.

In a trip to Argentina last year, our guide suggested the same hedge-fund profiteering occurred in their country. Argentina fell prey to the same corporate shenanigan. Corporate investors profited twice (first in selling bonds and second from hedging against default). The Argentine people paid the price through inflated consumer prices and devalued currency.

The hedge fund creator has no empathy for citizens who are pawns in a scheme bought into by their local representatives. 

The hedge fund creator’s primary objective is to punish local governments that had discriminated against creation of Muslim places of worship.  The hedge fund creator exhibits the same characteristic that many ascribe to former President, Donald Trump.  Trump shows little empathy for the public while focusing on those he wants to punish, regardless of collateral damage to innocent bystanders.

Two interesting perspectives come from this elegy of a super-wealthy American Pakistani investor.   

  1. He explains why Eastern and Western cultures had such different economic histories. He notes corporations led to accumulation of wealth in Western nations.  In contrast, in the hay days of the Muslim Empire, individual wealth was disbursed to relatives who steadily diminished capital and retarded the general welfare of the Empire.  Eastern nations failed to adopt the idea of corporations for 300 years.  In that 300 years, accumulated wealth in corporations allowed Western economies to grow while the East foundered.
  2. His second message is ironic. Individual managers of corporate wealth diminished the moral center of Western nation’ capitalism.  The human flaw of greed became good.

The underlying theme of “Homeland Elegies” is that corporations have diminished the ideals of Adam Smiths’ theory of capitalism. 

All races, colors, creeds, and religions succumb to the Hobbesian faults of being human.  Only empathy for others can blunt the ill effects of corporatism and the wealth machine that feeds on the lives of the poor and near poor.

The author expands this argument in the elegy of a wealthy Black American who understands why Trump will win the 2016 election.  This wealthy lawyer recognizes the link between corporate wealth and discrimination.  He can see Trump will be elected in 2016 because White America wishes to maintain control of corporate wealth. 

The counter to Trumpism in this American’s mind is to fight for control of corporate wealth; not to empathize with the poor, homeless, and non-white populations because it is a waste of time.

The S.P.A.C. (special, purpose acquisition company) movement reinforces this Black American’s argument.

Corporate wealth is a superpower created by the faults of human nature (namely greed).  Citizens are not seen empathetically but only as transactions between company and customer.

Corporations see individual citizens and consuming customers as fodder for economic growth. 

The author abandons a central corporatist distortion of reality with elegies of his personal sexual experience.  The character of Akhtar falls somewhere between caring and transactional sexual relationships.  In one encounter, it seems there is care for another; in most others, sex seems simply a pleasurable transaction.  The inference is that casual sex is the equivalent of corporate greed.

The author’s main character sees sexual experience is often a transactional rather than caring experience between adults. 

Ayad Akhtar is an insightful writer that gives listener/readers much to think about; not the least of which is unfair treatment of American citizens born here by former immigrant parents.  One might look forward to seeing Akhtar’s theatrical production for better understanding of American culture.

MINDING YOUR BRAIN

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The Disordered Mind (What Unusual Brains Tell Us About Ourselves)

By: Eric R. Kandel

Narrated by David Stifel

Eric Kandel (Author, Austrian-American MD, Neuroscientist. recipient of the 2000 Nobel Prize in Physiology)

In “The Disordered Mind”, Dr. Kandel offers an explanation of what is known about the physiology of the human brain.  What is thinking?  How does the brain work?  What is consciousness?  What causes brain dysfunction?  What is mental illness? How can mental illness be diagnosed and treated?

Most know there are two distinct halves of the human brain.  What is less well known is that the left and right brain hemispheres conflict with each other.

Kandel explains that right brain activity generates much of human creativity while the left brain is tasked with logic.  It is not that the two halves of the brain never cooperate with each other.  However, regions of the brain frequently interfere with each hemisphere’s understanding of what humans see, feel, hear, and think. With those senses, human thought and action is affected.

MAPPING THE BRAIN

Damage or disease of either side of the brain is a proximate cause of psychiatric disorder but the interconnection of the two sides makes diagnosis and cure a hit and miss proposition.  The physiology of the brain is complex and difficult for today’s practitioners. To diagnose or cure symptoms of brain injury or disease requires precise information about location and physiological characteristics of brain function.  Kandel notes that brain imaging has been a boon to understanding how the brain functions and where thought and action originates and initiates, but interconnectedness thwarts precise understanding.

Kandel informs us of symptoms of various brain injuries and diseases and how science searches, stumbles, and recovers to find ways to ameliorate physical and mental disorders caused by brain dysfunction.  He explains how too much or too little of naturally produced chemicals like dopamine and melatonin affect brain function.  Kandel notes how normal behavior becomes unbalanced with excess or diminishment of brain chemistry.

The origin of artist creativity is explored by Kandel.  Kandel implies the dada movement reflects bizarre subconscious images that titillate the public because they resonate with one’s own subconscious.   

Artists are exhibiting right brain evocations.  This reminds one of Edmund Munches’ Scream and his note hidden in the painting that says, “Could Only Have Been Painted by a Madman”. Kandel dismisses that characterization of artists.  Kandel suggests they are simply magnifying right brain neural activity.

Kandel notes the progress that has been made in abating, if not curing, psychiatric disorder.  It is surprising to find how many treatments have been discovered accidently.  This is not meant to diminish leaps of science in mapping the brain, or creating medicinal treatments for psychosis and neuropathy but it discloses much of the luck that leads to palliative, if not curative, care. 

Kandel notes a fundamental cause of certain psychiatric disorders have been found to be misfolded proteins that negatively affect biological activity and, in some cases, increase neuronal toxicity. This misfolding is considered to be a cause of antitrypsin-associated emphysema, cystic fibrosis, and other maladies.

A somewhat surprising disclosure by Kandel is that physical change of the brain is shown from use of psychotherapy as well as physical or chemical intervention.  Kandel suggests psychotherapy is an important part of treatment for patients being treated with drugs or surgical intervention.  Kandel infers physiological change in the brain can be as consequential with psychotherapy as with drug or surgical treatment.  However, he suggests both forms of treatment offer more lasting success.

There is a lot to unpack in Kandel’s book about “The Disordered Mind”.  Many who read/listen to this book will conclude that treatment of drug addiction and other psychological imbalances need more scientific research and better diagnosis and treatment.

GRAVATATIONAL WAVES

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Black Hole Blues and Other Songs from Outer Space

By: Janna Levin

Narrated by Janna Levin

Janna J. Levin (Author, American theoretical cosmologist and professor of physics.)

Janna Levin writes a brief history of the invention of the Laser, Interferometer, Gravitational-Wave Observatory, LIGO for short.

Janna Levin is a professor of physics and a theoretical cosmologist.  Obviously, a well-educated and intelligent person but not an accomplished writer.  Levin’s history fails to capture a coherent picture of what LIGO is or who the scientists were that pursued understanding of gravitational waves.  The many scientists involved are a confused jumble of characters who are never clearly described except as scientists in pursuit of an elusive discovery. Levin does offer character quirks of many of these scientists but fails to bring them to life. The significance of gravitational waves in Levin’s story seems less stellar because it is given little context in the world of science.

The best one can say about Levin’s story is that it sparks interest in a layman’s understanding of Einstein’s theory of gravitational waves. 

Levin offers some understanding of the subject but misses a succinct description without a listener having to turn to other sources for clarification. Gravitational waves are air particles–that vibrate like a guitar string when it is strummed, or a drum is beat. That is as close as Levin gets to a definition.  Einstein predicted cosmic’ gravitational waves are created when phenomenon like black holes, or “Big Bangs” occur.

One reason Levin’s story holds interest to this critic is that two LIGO’ observatories had to be created to confirm Einstein’s theory.  One was in eastern Washington, the Hanford nuclear reservation, and the other was in Louisiana.  I lived in the Hanford area in the seventies, not as a scientist but as a project manager for a local developer. 

It has always been something of a mystery that eastern Washington continued to develop after WWII when Hanford played a big role in the science of nuclear fission that led to Hiroshima’s and Nagasaki’s bombing.  One thought Hanford’s nuclear program would wind down with mitigation of nuclear contamination in the area, but the area continues to grow.  LIGO is one of the reasons Richland, Kennewick, and Pasco (known locally as the Tri-Cities where Hanford is located) continues to grow.

One must acknowledge Levin’s story offers some personal insight to the nature of scientific discovery.  She shows how a community of scientists is plagued by the same insecurities and ambitions of any human organization.  There are always organization struggles over who is in charge, how internal conflict is resolved, and how money, power, and prestige affect productivity.

Levin implies conflict may be more intense in scientific pursuit because personal motivation is different.  She seems to imply scientists are more motivated by power and prestige than money.  One doubts that is true because humans within any organization have degrees of desire based on all three motives.

The beginning of Levin’s story is with Rainer Weiss, a professor of physics at MIT.  Weiss’s interest in gravitational waves began with his interest in radio waves and refinement of phonographic reproduction. 

As a child, Weiss experimented with speaker systems and refined reproduction through tinkering with how records reproduce music.  Levin suggest Weiss’s personality is deeply affected by his families experience with authority in Germany during the Nazi’s rise to power. 

Weiss pursues his interest in gravitational waves with Soviet scientists, and two Scots named Ronald Drever and James Hough.  Levin imprecisely explains their collaboration and how each conflict with the other over control of the science of gravitational waves.  Drever is a brilliant tinkerer who designs a rudimentary gravitational wave detector.  In 1980, the National Science Foundation funds a large interferometer study at MIT.

Ronald Drever (1931-2017, Scottish pioneer on laser measurment and gravitational wave observation.)

After fits and starts, Rochus Vogt is appointed as director of the development at the LIGO project.  Levin, also a family victim of Nazism, notes that Vogt is an important first director because of his ability to organize scientific research.  However, Vogt is noted as an authoritarian that often conflicts with other scientists (like Drever) who worked on LIGO.

Levin explains Vogt was a manager who resented authority of any kind but had a high degree of organizational skill. Levin suggests Vogt’s family experience with Nazism fed his dislike of supervision or direction from others.

Levin notes that Vogt had a great deal to do with successfully raising funds for LIGO’s early development. However, he was eventually fired for his authoritarian way of dismissing other team members ideas and his objection to superiors’ oversight.

Levin notes the massive size and cost of the project which finally locates in two states, Washington, and Louisiana.  Funding is key to its development and is delayed for various reasons.  The politics of science research is touched on by Levin but not clearly defined.  One surmises from Levin’s book that location of expensive projects are as much a political as science-based decision.

There are many pessimists and a few optimists on the value of this research. The time it took to confirm or deny the theory of cosmic gravitational waves is long, expensive, and seemingly serendipitous.  Attempts to prove Einstein’s 1916 theory began in the 1960s, but it takes over 50 years to even begin to prove the existence of gravitational waves.  In the end, Levin recounts the success of these scientists’ efforts on February 22, 2016. 

A gravitational wave is recorded on September 14, 2015 when two black holes collide light years away.  In the following year, the gravitational wave’s finding is fully recognized. The record of the wave confirms Einstein’s theory of gravitational waves.

Without Levin’s final chapter, “Black Hole Blues…” would be a literary failure.  However, with this chapter Levin redeems her story.  Without science, the world would remain in the dark ages; burdened by myth and superstition that distorts the true value of being human.

AMERICAN POLITICS

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

These Truths (A History of the United States)

By: Jill Lepore

Narrated by Jill Lepore

Jill Lepore (Author, historian, winner of the Guggenheim Fellowship, & Bancroft Prize.)

Jill Lepore offers a view of U.S. history in “These Truths”.  “These Truths” is a review of American politics and its tumultuous history.

What makes “These Truths” interesting is its perspective.  Lepore looks at American history through the eyes of slavery, religion, Indian rights, women’s rights, industrialization, and technology.  Its 29-hour narration is daunting but “These Truths” helps one understand the trauma America is going through today.  Trump is not the first President to roil the waters of American democracy.

The author begins with Europe’s search for a new continent.  One might go back to the 10th century but the substantive beginning for Lepore is the 15th century with Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish exploration. The French, and English governments follow earlier explorers in the 16th with the English culture becoming the bedrock upon which America grows.

Initially, exploration is based on finding new riches for already wealthy countries.  Natural resources were coveted by wealthy European monarchies.  However, as new land is discovered, colonization becomes a way for European countries to expand their empires. 

Lepore notes many reasons for colonization. 

The first among the many is natural resource acquisition but escape from religious persecution, desire for freedom from government control, and opportunity for economic independence also motivated colonization of unclaimed territory.

The years 1776 and 1787 mark the formation of the United States and its historic Constitution. 

With President Washington as the first President of the United States, three branches of government are formed with the belief that a President could never be a King, a Supreme Court could have no power to legislate, and national legislation could only be proposed and written in Congress by representatives of respective States.  Over time each of these Constitutional restrictions are violated.

Some would argue a few Presidents acted as though they were Kings.

At times, the Supreme Court issued Constitution’ interpretations that read like new legislation

As years passed, Congress abdicated much of their legislative work to influential lobbyists.

The American revolution and Constitution set the table for 245 years of political discord, re-definition of powers, and sporadic violence. The storming of the American capitol on January 6, 2021 is somewhat unique but not surprising in view of Lepore’s history of the United States.

Jill Lepore argues “These Truths” in the Declaration of Independence and Constitution are mangled by slavery. Lepore argues slavery is as an issue that permeates all the faults of American Democracy.  Lepore implies the idea of human beings as property infects every well-intentioned tenant of the Constitution and Bill of Rights. 

In accepting slavery as a God-given, bible-written right, religion is corrupted.

With the persistence of slavery, Lepore argues the door is opened to unequal treatment of Indians and women. The idea of humans as property makes eviction of Indians from their inherited, designated, and stolen land possible.  Eviction led to the Indian’ “Trail of Tears” during the Jackson Presidency.

Words have power and the principle of “all men are created equal” diminishes the role of women. Lepore implies–just as slaves were disenfranchised and subject to their masters, women could not vote and were subject to their husbands.

Industrialization and technology magnify the best and worst characteristics of America’s political history.  Both improve human productivity but at a cost of jobs and economic disruption that exacerbate poverty and hunger. In 2020 and 2021, Covid19 amplifies American disruption, poverty, and hunger.

It is striking to note how many Americans who reinforced the meme “America First” were on the wrong side of history. Woodrow Wilson, Henry Ford, Joseph Kennedy Sr., Charles Lindbergh, William Randolph Hearst, and Donald Trump insisted on “America First” regardless of its consequence.

President Wilson campaigned for President on the basis of staying out of WWI. Joseph Kennedy, Sr. believed American entry into the WWII was unnecessary. He argued that Hitler could be negotiated out of a war as a rational business transaction. Charles Lindbergh was a Nazi sympathizer and anti-Semite even as he was viewed as an American hero. Lindbergh was the first to cross the Atlantic in an airplane. Hearst Jr. and his publishing empire looked at Hitler as a newsmaker and no threat to America. Donald Trump based his campaign for President on the slogan “America First”. He reinforced his belief by starting a trade war and alienating America’s long held European allies.

In listening to Lepore’s history of the United States, one will regard Donald Trump’s rise and fall as a minor chapter in America’s history.  Trump seems a reincarnation of the worst characteristics of American Democracy, but America survives its past.  America remains the best chance for democracies to advance individual rights, economic freedom, prosperity, and the general welfare of its followers.

TERRORISM

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Agent Storm

By: Morten Storm, Paul Cruickshank, Tim Lister

Narrated by Neil Shah

On the one hand, “Agent Storm” outlines terrorism; its origin, its practitioners, and where it comes from.  On the other, “Agent Storm” sounds like a comic book.  With co-authorship of two CNN newsmen, Morten Storm’s story offers insight, but its credibility is challenging.

Morten Storm is “Agent Storm”. He is a Danish citizen who becomes a religious convert as a young man but abandons his Muslim faith in his late twenties. Storm is born into a family broken by a father’s abuse.  He turns to religion for refuge.

Morten Storm looks for a substitute home. He finds it in a thobe (long dress worn by Muslim men).

Morten Storm’s story is like many told about lost children–looking for belonging and acceptance in the world.  Abused children look for solace by finding substitutes for uncaring parents.  

For lost children, finding religion is one end of a spectrum: the other is gang life.  “Agent Storm” is a story combining both ends in religious zeal and gangsterism.

The authors of “Agent Storm” show how a young person can become a Jihadist.  One wonders–is Storm’s journey different than what one may find in the Catholic crusades of the eleventh and thirteenth centuries? 

Religion has been a rallying flag many times for children who are lost and wish to be found. Religion attracts the highly educated, as well as the unschooled, based on wanting to be part of something greater than oneself.

Storm attaches himself to the sport of boxing but either because of lack of discipline or skill, Storm becomes attracted to religion. 

The Muslim faith is under attack in the 20th century and today. The Muslim religion offers a refuge and acceptance to Storm. His acceptance connects him to radical practitioners of the faith that terrorize the world.  Storm’s early world view is the view held by Osama bin Laden and other distorters of the Muslim faith.

 The killing of innocents appears to be a turning point for Storm who becomes a spy for the English and then American governments.  Storm becomes an agent for identification of terrorists that hide behind interpretations of Koranic teaching.

To some, Storm’s sudden conversion may seem disingenuous.  However, he does help Denmark, England, and America in its fight against terrorism.  What is somewhat galling about Storm’s story is its formulaic meme of changing sides. Storm’s story might be told of any converted religious zealot who finally rejects false interpretation of religious text.  Whether Christian, Muslim, Jew, or Protestant, killing or harming innocents is wrong.

Though Morten Storm may have become a better person, he sounds more like a lost boy-man.  How many Jihadists, Catholic crusaders, or Protestant reformers will come to the realization that their way is not the only way?

HARBINGER OF A FUTURE

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The Inevitable (Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future)

By: Kevin Kelly

Narrated by George Newbern

Kevin Kelly (Author, co-founding executive of Wired magazine).

Kevin Kelly’s book is a Libertarian’s guide to minimalist government. Kelly paints a clear picture of today’s internet of things and the direction in which it seems to be heading. If sharing replaces ownership, American Democracy must change or die. 

Kelly implies the evolution of technology will make all but defense of country the sole purpose of government.  This is a Libertarian dream.  What Kelly glosses over is the disinformation system of a sharing economy that misleads the public and foments anarchy.

Kelly argues block chain technology decentralizes the last bastion of government oversight by producing value (bit coin) based on an algorithm. Kelly infers there is no need for a Federal Reserve, or a bureaucracy to assure value of exchange, if currency is based on a mathematical formula.

Without the oversight of government, which includes bureaucratic regulations, a sharing economy diminishes the role of checks and balances.  Kelly correctly outlines what is happening in this technological world, but his extrapolation is frightening. 

In Kelly’s vision of a sharing economy, democracy is at risk of anarchy like that seen on January 6, 2021.

The public puts its head in the sand if they ignore Kelly’s view of the 12 technological forces in play today.

He describes flowing, screening, accessing, sharing, filtering, remixing, tracking, and questioning as the twelve technological forces that make the public codependent.  His observations reflect the “now” that presages a future.

The terror in Kelly’s observation is that human nature is not going to change in a sharing economy where nothing is owned but only shared.  Humans will game the system either by raiding the block chain vault or manipulating code to enrich their lives at the expense of others. 

Without a degree of centralized oversight (government), anarchy replaces equal rights and rule of law.

Any realization of codependence is anathema to the tradition of America. Human beings do not interpret the truth of facts in the same way.  Each has their own view of the world and their place in it. 

There will always be climate deniers, tree huggers, gun lovers and gun haters.

Kelly acknowledges there is need for some oversight of a sharing economy but implies the inclusion of everyone’s expression or belief will result in balanced self-governance and companionable A.I. for societal improvement. One may have a difference of opinion based on the events of January 6, 2021. That event’s aftermath will offer further clues to American Democracy’s future.

Decentralization of culture by the internet of things and A.I. dependence may be as “…Inevitable” as Kelly suggests.  The question today has to do with what can be done to allay its negative consequences.

INDIAN INVISIBILITY

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The Night Watchman

By: Louise Erdrich

Narrated by Louise Erdrich

Louise Erdrich (Author, National Book Award winner plus other honorifics.)

(Louise Erdrich grew up in Wahpeton, North Dakota. Erdrich’s parents, a Chippewa mother and German father, taught at the “Bureau of Indian Affairs” in Wahpeton.  She is a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians and her husband was the director of “Native American Studies” at Dartmouth.)

Like Ellison’s “…Invisible Man”, Louise Erdrich offers “The Night Watchman” to show how invisible native Indians are in America. 

The headline in the 1/4/21 “New York Times” National page is “Indian Country Loses a Hospital at a Crucial Moment–Tribe Members Feel Abandoned as the U.S. Turns a New Mexico Facility Into a Clinic”–today’s example of Indian invisibility.

“The Night Watchman” is not Erdrich’s first attempt at explaining Indian’ invisibility.  She also wrote the best seller “The Round House”.  Both reveal the ignorance and unfairness of Indian reservation life and American government attempts to subsume Indian culture.

Erdrich notes “The Night Watchman” is a true story with names changed to hide American political shamefulness and abhorrent treatment of a young Indian woman.  On the one hand, her story may be distorted because of truth written as fiction.  On the other, Erdrich offers a distinctive picture of Indian reservation life and reminds reader/listeners of American power’s treatment of Indian people.

Erdrich offers a distinctive picture of Indian reservation life and reminds one of American power’s ill treatment of Indian people.

America’s history of violating contractual agreements with Indian tribes is well documented.  A part of Erdrich’s story shows how those contractual agreements are broken.

(This is a photo copy of a Senate Agreement with Crow Indians for Sale of Their Reservation in Montana-1891)

An elected official submits a bill to a state legislature suggesting native Indians have achieved equality before the law and that they have become Americans who should not be restricted to reservations (a euphemism for break-up of Indian culture and land confiscation).  The submitted bill gives no value to the tradition and history of Indian culture.  The bill might offer compensation to a tribe for the taking of the land, but at an unspecified price.

The people of the reservation are legally notified of the prospective legislative bill.  People on the reservation are offered a public hearing to discuss the bill. 

There is no offer of financial help for traveling to the hearing or for legal defense of Indian contractual rights to the reservation land. 

In Erdrich’s story, effort to organize and pay for travel and legal expense is left to reservation people who have no money to spare. What money they have is to survive, to have a roof over their head, and food on the table.

“The Night Watchman” is a story of big government against “invisible” Indians. 

The bill is created by a Mormon legislator in the state whose family settled in the area in the 19th century.  He argues reservation land was a temporary holding until Indians were integrated into American culture.  The legislator reasons the day for full integration into American culture had come.  He reasoned job availability, education, and welfare of tribal populations had reached the same level available to all Americans.  It is the same lie offered to women and minorities in the history of the world.

Erdrich’s story begins with vignettes of Indian life on the reservation.  This is somewhat confusing but gains momentum as her characters are fully developed.  The night watchman is an Indian named Thomas Wahhashk.  He works off the reservation at an industrial plant.

Patrice Paranteau is an Indian who works at the same plant as Thomas.  She has a sister named Vera who has left the reservation to live in the city.  Vera disappears.  Patrice goes to the city to find Vera but only finds Vera’s baby who appears abandoned. 

The disappearance of Vera is one of the drivers of Erdrich’s story.  What happens to Vera is unconscionable.  She is kidnapped and held in a ship’s hold to be abused by its sailors.

There is a burgeoning love story threaded into Erdrich’s story that reflects the striving of an Patrice to become an equal partner in life.  Patrice chooses her own path to become an independent woman in a world defined by government and men.

Erdrich’s story reminds one of Ellison’s invisible Black who identifies with a personal culture while wanting to be treated as an equal in American culture. 

Minorities do not wish to lose their identity but to be equal participants in a wider culture. It should not be difficult to be a Black, Hispanic, Asian, Indian, or other American and enjoy the benefits of democracy’s freedom.

Erdrich combines the theme of cultural identity with a story of human relationship, hardship, success, and failure.  Erdrich offers a glimpse of our hard it is to be an Indian in a culture dominated by a largely white American culture. 

Erdrich, like Ellison, shows how multiculturalism is denied by a country that purports to believe in equality of opportunity for all. 

Like Ellison pictures what it is like to be Black in America, Erdrich shows what it is like to be Indian in America.

LIBERTARIANISM

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

All It Takes Is Guts (A Minority View)

By: Walter E. Williams

Narrated by Peter Kjenaas

Walter E. Williams (1936-2020, Economist, essayist, political pundit)

Walter E. Williams addresses the conflict between what he perceives as “reality” and “darkness” in essays on Libertarianism.  Williams essays were written in the 1980s, but they resonate with Libertarians today. 

The focus of Libertarians’ is on individual freedom and objection to any coercion by government to compel actions of an individual for the good of society. They generally endorse individual liberty and private property. They defend civil liberties like equal rights for all; some argue for decriminalization of drugs, and open borders. They oppose most military interventions.

To some, Williams is a hero of democratic, capitalist freedom. To others, Williams is a nihilist like Kurtz in “The Heart of Darkness” who implies there is little difference between most government representatives (“civilized” people in Kurtz’s world) and savages.  Williams argues that government regulation distorts the American constitution’s explicit guarantee of freedom.

Williams consistently argues that any government tax collections promoting the general welfare of Americans is stealing from one American to give to another.  He suggests individual liberty and defense are the only Constitutionally mandated requirements of American government. To Williams and many Libertarians, taxes should only be collected for those two fundamental purposes. 

However, in 1937 the Supreme Court defined “the welfare clause” of the Constitution as a right of the federal government to legislate welfare for American citizens.

Benjamin N. Cardozo (1870- 1938, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, Wrote 7-2 majority opinion on the welfare clause of the Constitution.)

Williams joins an elite cadre of educated Black Americans that have achieved success in America. Like avid abolitionist Frederick Douglas, fellow economist Thomas Sowell, and Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, Williams is a convert to Libertarianism.  They feel they have the right to their Libertarian arguments because of their achievement.  They infer their success is available to anyone who exercises their right to freedom of choice.

Libertarian Americans believe American government should not legislate or promote equality based on race, ethnicity, or any measure of human difference. Government should only legislate or promote based on public defense and individual freedom.

Williams argues public education, food stamps, care for the homeless or disabled should not be paid by government because it denies individual freedom of choice and reinforces perpetual economic dependence. Williams’ argument is based on the belief that American economic prosperity and common good come from capitalists’ freedom to choose. 

Libertarians argue for no government legislation that provides help to the unemployed, homeless, and indigent. They suggest legislation that supports such service should be abolished. Libertarians believe that “individual freedom of choice” made America the richest country in the world. Libertarians believe any infringement on individual rights diminishes America’s competitive spirit, innovation, and economic opportunity.

To a Libertarian, a rising economic tide raises all boats. 

Williams implies the poor are poor because of their choices; not because of their genetic makeup, economic circumstance, or discrimination. Williams and other Libertarians argue that choices made by government to help others diminishes freedom and steals money from tax-paying citizens.

One must ask oneself, what would have happened to America without President Roosevelt’s government intervention in the depression? What would have happened without George Bush’s decision to bail out America in 2007? What would have happened without Barack Obama’s rescue of General Motors, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac in his first term in office? What would have happened if the federal government had responded more forcefully when the pandemic infected America?

What would have happened if President Trump had managed the beginning of Covid19 better?

Some are pleased by William’s argument; others are appalled.  The “some” that are pleased are those who have overcome life’s challenges.  The “some” that are appalled suggest genetic circumstance is a matter of luck and birth.

Drive for equality of opportunity and treatment is affected by genetics and how one is raised. Genetics, family love, and life’s challenges are affected by economic well-being, homelessness, education, and health that can be positively influenced by good government.

Overcoming adversity is the sine non quo of Williams’ argument. Williams aptly observes the waste that is inherit in America’s legislative system.  Pork barrel negotiations between the Senate and House of Representatives create legislation that reminds one of blind men touching an elephant. Each describes a different image–a tree trunk, a hose, a feather duster; with none realizing it is an elephant. 

Omnibus Congressional legislation regularly stretches to more than 1,000 pages which few elected representatives fully read or understand. 

This is a part of a Libertarian’s objection to use of tax dollars for the common good.  It often benefits the few rather than the many, and inevitably has unintended consequence.

One might agree with the legislative’ waste argument of a Libertarian, but legislation that serves the homeless, the hapless, the ill, and the hungry throws out valuable help when circumstances are beyond their control.

The Covid19 pandemic is an example of circumstances beyond individual human control. 

America is the richest country in the world.  Capitalist democracy is messy, but freedom is only part of America’s history of economic prosperity.  We are free but freedom has always been qualified. 

Every American who survives and prospers from American democracy deserves their success, but each has an obligation to help those who are failing.   Democracy is too complicated for a singular person or company to provide for health, education, and welfare of a nation. 

Williams essays leave out good government as an essential ingredient of success for any Democracy. Taxes are the obligation of every American to insure that success. There should be no homeless, uneducated, or hungry citizens in America, the richest nation in the world.

INTERNATIONAL IDEALISM

Personal Observation

Author: Chet Yarbrough

Qualifications: None

Idealism is a fine quality within the borders of one’s own country.

America should drive to be the best democracy in the world. However, idealism outside the borders of one’s own country leads to disaster, not peace or prosperity.

Barack Obama’s tenure as President of the United States made America a better country.

Because of idealism, Obama succeeded in improving race relations, medical treatment for millions of uninsured citizens, and return of some American’ international respect.

However, Obama’s success in international intervention is arguably less exemplary. That is true of many Presidents of the United States who fail to gain the explicit cooperation of other sovereign nations when intervening militarily in another country.

Our intervention in Libya had 4 U.N. abstentions for U.S. bombing of the country. After America’s intervention, Muammar Gaddafi is murdered by the Libyan people. This is not to say Gaddafi did not deserve his fate, but American intervention left Libya a failed state that remains failed 9 years later.

With the exception of WWI and WWII, America’s history of military intervention is abysmal. One must ask oneself–are Bosnia/Herzegovina, Afghanistan, Libya, Iraq, Iran, or Korea better off today than before American intervention? Idealism is not exportable, whether it is America, Germany, China, United Kingdom, France, Russia, or any other militarily powerful sovereignty.

Though people of the world may have similar ambitions and motivations, they are raised in countries that have their own cultural traditions, religions, legal systems, and histories. Even if all humans have a desire for money, power, and prestige; they are bound by their own country’s history and culture.

One might argue Khadafy, Saddam Hussein, Ayatollah Khomeini, Hosni Mubarak, Xi, Putin, and Kim Jong-un either led or are leading the most repressive and authoritarian countries in the world. Their reigns are readily associated with imprisonment, torture, and murder. (Some would argue America has a history of the same transgressions.)

In America’s recent history, with the exception of H. W. Bush’s ejection of Hussein from Kuwait, American Presidents have improperly intervened in other countries’ sovereignty.

H.W. chose not to eliminate Hussein once America achieved its objective of removing Iraqi forces from Kuwait.

Clinton’s intervention in Bosnia/Herzegovinian, George Bush’s intervention in Iraq, and Obama’s intervention in Libya are three examples of countries that remain in turmoil. America had little effect on meaningful change from American intervention in these countries.

Sovereign idealism is not exportable. Only national examples can be set for sovereign nations to show how their form of government is better than another’s. “Example” is the best one country can do for another. In the world of realpolitik military intervention, without overwhelming international cooperation, is a fool’s errand.

This is not to argue that international influence and political diplomacy should not be used to fight against false imprisonment, torture, rape, and murder but sovereign nations must be respected for their own choices. Only a sovereign nation’s citizens can make right or wrong decisions about their country’s leadership.

This is not to argue for isolation but to realize no nation has a right to invade another nation’s sovereignty. It is up to each nation to choose their own path.

Every sovereign nation has a right to condemn another through national example, economic sanction, economic support, or political persuasion. But, American military intervention in a sovereign country is an error of immense consequence. In the case of Iraq—American soldier’s deaths, injuries, and American dollars are wasted. The evidence of that waste is in the Iraqi government’s continued dysfunction.