CHURCH AND STATE

Audio-book Review
           By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

White Too Long (The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity)

By: Robert Jones

Narrated by: Holter Graham

Robert P. Jones (Author, Founder of Public Religion Institute, Baptist Theological Seminary Graduate, Ph.D. in religion from Emory Univ.)

Though history shows Americans have wavered, freedom (within the limits of rule-of-law) has progressed.

Fundamentally, “White too Long” is about equal rights for all Americans in the face of white privilege and white supremacy. Jones argument is a powerful explanation of how inequality is institutionalized by American Catholic and Protestant religions.

Jones focus is on discrimination against people of color in the south, but his evidence applies to many states-of-affair and every State in America. Raised in the south, born in 1968 and educated as a seminarian, Jones has intimate knowledge of religion and its practice.

Robert Jones reflects on institutionalization of racism by Christian religions in the United States.

Images of Christ as “God’s offspring” are of a white man in most (if not all) Christian religions. Christ is rarely identified as a person of color, or obviously as a woman. God as the Father is presumed by white America to be male and to be white.

It seems fair to say Americans have made progress in reducing racism and improving equal rights, but it has been two steps forward and one back. A basic tenant in the formation of the United States is separation of church and State.

The concern that America had in its beginning is government sanctioning of a particular religion for any state or jurisdiction. To keep that from happening, the Constitution stipulated separation of state and religion.

What Jones focuses on is the south’s history of slavery in “White Too Long”. Jones offers a detailed history of how religion reinforces white supremacy in the South. He argues that southern leaders of various religious denominations assumed beliefs in white supremacy and spread that belief through their religious preaching. They preached to white audiences constituting the bulk of Americans in the first 200 years of American history.

He notes the 2015 murder of 9 Black church members in Charleston S.C. as a turning point for the south. Dylann Roof walks into a Black church and murders the minister and 9 members of the church. Of course, the south is not the only source of white supremacists’ violence against people of color. There is the horrendous “Tops Market” murder of ten non-white citizens in Buffalo N.Y. in 2022 by Payton Gendron.

Jones notes how southern white America justified slavery as their right as a superior race. He recounts numerous stories of his experience in the south and his awakening to the subtle ways white superiority became an assumed right of his white friends. Preachers preached the gospel of white superiority. Jones notes how belief in white superiority became real to white Americans. Any opposition to that belief would be met with violence, before and after the civil war.

Though it is not part of Jones’ book, America’s religions also institutionalize discrimination against women. Like people of color, women of all races are treated unequally. Recent action by the Supreme Court in a woman’s right to choose whether to give birth is a case in point.

The Supreme Court’s decision in “Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization” is a step backward from equal opportunity for women in the United States.

Some would say abortion is different because it involves taking a life and not being punished. Is that different than the lives of people of color who have been hung, mutilated, and discarded by white supremacy and not punished? Some would say yes because a baby is innocent. Being innocent and born to a mother who does not care destroys both a mother’s and baby’s innocence. America does not have a good record for taking care of the homeless, let alone poorly cared for children.

In view of Jones education, one presumes Jones would not condone abortion but his argument of religions’ role in institutional racism seems equally applicable to women’s rights. The conservative tone of today’s Supreme Court bodes ill for American equal rights. Separation of church and State is a fundamental tenant of the U.S. Constitution.

Jones has written a damning and enlightening report on white supremacy, and its tacit perpetuation by Christian religions.

The most difficult chapters of Jones book are at its end. When one accepts that America has been “White Too Long”, what can we do about it? The author’s answer is to come to grips with truth, repent, and offer restitution to descendants of slavery. Jones recalls the story of Cain and Abel and identifies white Americans as the embodiment of Cain.

In Jones belief forgiveness only comes from truth, repentance, and restitution. Most rational white Americans accept the idea of truth and repentance, but restitution is derided by powerful Americans like Mitch McConnell who resist the idea of restitution because it is too difficult to trace descendants of slavery.

One might ask oneself-how difficult is it to offer native Americans restitution for the theft of their land? Reservations, and the right to create income producing properties have been a haphazard solution but they have been steps toward restitution.

Jones suggests some first steps have been taken by organizations that have set up endowments for restitution for slavery’s descendants. He argues, only with restitution can the stain of slavery be removed from the conscience of White America.

While one may ignore the issue of restitution, today’s American Supreme Court encroaches on separation of church and State by choosing to change support for Christian schools and “Roe v. Wade”. Erosion of church and State separation sets a table for more American violence. Unequal treatment cannot be sustained in a world of demographic change.

PULP FICTION

Audio-book Review
           By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The Persian Gamble

By: Joel C. Rosenberg

Narrated by: Various

Joel C. Rosenberg (Author of novels, political strategist.)

Two requirements of good fiction are suspension of disbelief and identification with its created characters. For this critic, “The Persian Gamble” does not make the cut. Joel Rosenberg is a popular novelist and his experience as a Middle East strategist for Israel suggests he knows something about counterintelligence. However, “The Persian Gamble” seems implausible and his main character is an odd evangelical that believes the gospel while condoning mayhem.

The writer is purported by some to believe the “end of times” is near because the bible suggests it will begin in the Middle East.

One who is skeptical of organized religion would suggest the bible is about the beginnings of religion, not an inviolable guide to life and humanity’s end. It is no surprise that the bible would suggest the end would come in the Middle East when its religions began in the Middle East.

Rosenberg’s story is in the idea of a political agreement between Iran, North Korea, and Russia to begin a nuclear war.

The Iranian, North Korean, and Russian leaders collude to obscure the origin of a first nuclear strike. At the very least, the implausibility of cooperation between Iran, North Korea and Russia makes the story unbelievable.

To an Iranian mullah, a nuclear strike would be deserved punishment for un-believers. To North Korea, it would demonstrate their power and influence in the world. To Russia it would offer an opportunity for hegemonic control of the world. Iran’s leader agrees to the conspiracy because he is near death and believes all un-believers should join him in death and depart from him to hell. North Korea agrees because their leader wants to punch above its weight. Russia agrees because they want to eliminate hegemonic rivals.

Rosenberg’s hero is Marcus Ryker. Ryker, as most novelist heroes, is unkillable.

He exhibits the ability to fly a jet when his only experience as a pilot is with a propeller-driven plane. The jet he confiscates is shot down while he puts a parachute on himself, grabs a wounded and unconscious CIA agent, and miraculously saves himself and the agent.

To thwart Russia’s plan, a close Russian relation of the President assassinates Russia’s President and Vice President. Ryker, without realizing the President and Vice President were going to be shot, helps the assassin escape. The problem is Russia’s plan is only modified, not stopped. A deal is struck to sell Russian nuclear war heads to Iran at a higher price and on an accelerated time frame. It is unclear what Russian leader is behind the revised plan because the originator of the plan, the assassinated Russian President, is dead.

The nuclear war heads are intercepted at sea by American forces and the transport vessel is sunk before delivery to Iran. Ryker is enlisted by the President of the United States to be a part of the interception. Ryker accepts the President’s enlistment in return for immunity for being an unsanctioned participant in the assassination of Russia’s leaders.

The lack of nation-state objectivity, and the Q-Anon flavor of Rosenberg’s imagination is off-putting. There is so much to know from books and so little time. This time was not well spent.

INTERVENTIONIST FOLLY

Audio-book Review
           By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

No Good Men Among the Living (America, the Taliban, and the War Through Afghan Eyes)

By: Anand Gopal

Narrated by: Assaf Cohen

Anand Gopal (Author, Journalist, formally embedded with the Taliban in Afghanistan.)

“No Good Men Among the Living” should be read or listened to by Presidents, Senators, Representatives, and Ambassadors of the United States. Anand Gopal gives a journalist eye view of errors and consequences of America’s intervention in Afghanistan where neither language nor culture are understood.

In the beginning of Gopal’s book, one is skeptical of its objectivity. However, as Gopal’s interviews of Afghan Taliban and non-aligned Afghanis accumulate, a listener begins to believe what is being said and reported.

The trials of Afghan women are appalling to Americans. What is missed is the struggle younger Afghan women have with the older generation.

Grandparents are appalled by what they perceive is abandonment of a life of duty to Allah and men in their families, whether fathers, husbands, or sons. This duty is based on generations of a culture that protect the tradition of male and female relationship. That protection is anathema to freedom, which is an inviolable tradition in America, but not Afghanistan.

The experience of Russian intervention and American training of the mujahideen led to a culture of non-Islamic terrorism.

Gopal notes Afghani women were raped and killed by American trained Mujahadeen after Russia was expelled. The Taliban restored order. Later, when America chose to dismantle the Taliban because of the Afghanistan leader’s refusal to release bin Laden, Afghanis began to see America as a new occupier rather than liberator.

Afghanis began to see America as a new occupier rather than liberator. The Taliban secretly regained power and influence as the perception of America’s intervention changed.

The cause of the change in perception of America as an occupier grew because of its dependence on self-interested tribal Afghanis who used American forces to eliminate rivals. All a respected Afghani translator had to do was identify a rival as a Taliban ally. America would arrest, jail, or kill the translator’s rival.

America presumes it is helping rid Afghanistan of Taliban control when in fact it is only serving a translator who has a tribal self-interest.

Internecine tribal conflict in Afghanistan creates an all-against-all culture with survival of the fittest as an objective, i.e., fertile ground for Taliban resurgence. The Taliban could maintain a level of peace between tribal interests; America could not. America’s lack of understanding Afghan culture and American dependence on self-interested translators assures its failure.

America’s ignominious Afghan abandonment is a tragedy for both countries.

The fault lies with America’s failure to define a limited objective, execute a plan, and leave when a defined objective is achieved. It is unrealistic to believe an interventionist country can understand another country’s culture well enough to offer benefit to both invader and invaded.

The sad consequence from America’s view is that women will continue to be suppressed in Afghanistan.

There is a slender hope drawn from Gopal’s interviews of a young Afghan woman. She becomes a regional representative in Afghanistan despite the murder of her husband by the Taliban. She is supported by a tribal leader who respects her independence. The road traveled by women in Afghanistan is certainly more difficult now that America has left, but Gopal shows there is a road. However, Gopal infers help can only come from those who understand the culture in which they live.

Without a precise and achievable interventionist objective and an immediate withdrawal plan, military intervention historically leads to national tragedy, both for perpetrator and victim.

With the qualified exception of Korea, America’s interventions in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan are national tragedies for both interventionist and subject nations. Today’s contest is in Ukraine with Russia, once again, testing intervention.

FREEDOM’S LIMITS

Audio-book Review
           By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Let Them Eat Tweets: How the Right Rules in an Age of Extreme Inequality

By: Jacob S. Hacker, Paul Pierson

Narrated by: Peter Berkrot

One doubts this book will be read or listened to by most Americans based on its clear allusion to the 18th century phrase “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche” (“let them eat bread”–allegedly said by Marie Antoinette during the French revolution).

Marie Antoinette (1755-1793, Louis XVI’s Queen Consort of France.)

Just as Marie Antoinette is unlikely to have said “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche”, it is an allusion unworthy of Hacker’s and Pierson’s ivory-tower educations.

The co-authors detail a current crisis in America that is well detailed by others in this century.

There is an appalling and growing gap between rich and poor in America. However, though the gap is real, most rational Americans have no interest in beggaring their neighbor.

In the 17th century, Hobbes clearly recognized the pitfall of democracy when not constrained by rule of law. Freedom is a harsh master and has been recognized as such from American Democracy’s beginnings.

Human beings are driven by the desire for money, power, and prestige. Hacker and Pierson note many actions taken by American politicians, appointees, government bureaucrats, and corporate moguls have had the unintended consequence of beggaring their neighbors.

Rule of law has simply not kept up with the fundamental tenant of American freedom.

Four relevant issues raised by Hacker and Pierson are

  1. Taxation,

Congressional leaders focus on re-election as a part of their right to freely choose a profession. To be re-elected requires a campaign funding. That funding largely comes from wealthy Americans and corporations interested in reducing their taxes. Corporate taxes have been legislatively reduced with the rationalization that reinvestment by private industry and the wealthy will create more income for wage-dependent Americans. This is “trickle down” economics that is a fiction. History shows the effect has been to reduce American wages and increase income for the wealthy.

2. Rule-of-Law,

Corporations in the Supreme Court’s decision in “Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission” expanded rights of Corporations as individuals to finance candidates of their choice that compounds elected official bias for reduced corporate taxes.

3. Extremism,

Frustration by the rising gap between rich and poor in America increases extremism because wage-earners see cost-of-living exceeding their ability to accumulate wealth.

4. Institutionalization of Tyranny

Elective office is not serving the public because congressional self-interest is based on a cycle of re-election dependent on wealthy donors who are equally self-interested.

Unless or until a more equitable relationship between the rich and poor is achieved, extremism will continue to roil American Democracy. Freedom is an essential ingredient in America’s economic history, but freedom has always been limited. Only with rebalance between the rich and poor will extremism and institutional tyranny be ameliorated.

ISLAM

Audio-book Review
           By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

God’s Shadow (Sultan Selim, His Ottoman Empire, and the Making of the Modern World)

By: Alan Mikhail

Narrated by: James Cameron Stewart

Alan Mikhail (Author, Chace Family Professor of History, Chair Dept. of History at Yale.)

Alan Mikhails’s “God’s Shadow” speculates on the historic impact of the Ottoman Empire on the rise of the Islamic religion and its conflict with Christianity. His book is well received by the public but panned by some who believe Mikhail’s scholarship is more speculative than factual. That criticism seems well earned when the last chapter of Mikahail’s book summarizes his opinion about Islam’s past and future.

What is surprising to this reviewer is not Mikhails’s speculation about Islam’s future but his failure to explore Ottoman history’s success in diminishing Shite Muslim growth while hugely increasing Sunni Muslim Islamic influence.

When Muhammed, the founder of Islam, dies, he leaves no heir to Allah’s teaching. In not leaving an heir, a split occurs between those who argue only a direct descendant of Muhammed, not a mere follower, can be a leader of the faith.

Shite Muslims believe an heir to Muhammed’s leadership can only be to a male descendant of the Muhammed’ family. Sunni’s argue Islamic leadership is based on any man who demonstrates success and ability to spread the faith.

It is estimated that 85% to 90% of religious believers in the Islamic faith are Sunni. Only Iran and Iraq have a Shite majority while other nation-states are principally Sunni.

Sultan Bayezid II (1447-1512, reign 1481-1512.)

The spread of the Muslim religion is laid at the feet of Sultan Selim I. He is one of the sons of Sultan Bayezid II who gains control of what is known as the Ottoman Empire.

“God’s Shadow” recounts the rise of the Ottoman Empire which is the primary cause of Sunni growth in the Middle East. A major part of Mikhail’s book is about Selim I because he is the leader that conquers and combines most of the Muslim world into the Ottoman Empire.

An interesting opinion of Mikhail is the role of harems in the Islamic world. He argues male heirs are a primary function of the harem. Once a male is born to a concubine of a Sultan, Mikhail suggests further conjugal relations cease. Every born male is a potential Sultan.

This naturally leads to a competition and often death of male heirs who are chosen by the acting Sultan to be his replacement. “God’s Shadow” tells the history of a younger son who disagrees with Sultan Bayezid II’s choice and successfully replaces that choice by force. Selim I ascends the throne of Sultan despite his father’s choice of heir. Selim’s road to hegemonic Sultan is through the conquering of nations beyond Istanbul and the Balkans, to Hungary on the north, Egypt on the south, Algeria on the west, and Iraq on the East.

Selim I (1470-1520, 9th Sultan of the Ottoman Empire-reigned from April 1512-September 1520.)

An apocryphal story told by Mikhail is that, in the earlier years of Selim I’s conquests, he is presented a colored map of the then-known world that shows nations beyond the Ottoman Empire. Selim I  tears the map in half because he is satisfied with what he has done. Mikhail notes that incident occurs in Selim’s earlier years because when a later map shows the Americas, Selim suggests more is to be done. A fundamental argument made by Mikhail is that the growth of the Ottoman Empire is the precursor of modern governance.

In the final chapter of Mikhail’s book, a step beyond reason or history is taken. Mikhail posits Selim’s reign and the rise of the Islamic religion presages future dominance of Islam in the world. He argues by 2070 Islam will be the dominant religion of the world. That seems hyperbolic when the role of religion in the world is arguably in decline. Mikhail compounds hyperbola by suggesting the world’s reaction to Islam has been a foil to create Christian and democratic nations. The growth of Christianity and democracy are patently more than a reaction to the religion of Islam.

This is an unfortunate digression for Mikhail because he makes a good historical case for the Islamic religion’s tolerance of other faiths in the face of historically murderous Catholic Crusades. On the other hand, many atrocities accompany Selim I’s expansion of the Ottoman Empire. Mikhail notes Selim’s soldiers are compensated by plunder and rape when ordered to invade new territories. And of course, there is the faction of the Muslim faith that carried out the death of over 2,000 people on 9/11/21 in America.

Interestingly, Mikhail offers an encomium to President Erdogan in Turkey by praising him for resurrecting the legend of Selim I in a bridge dedication.

Erdogan is revivifying the Islamic religion in Turkey even though its history was dramatically changed by Ataturk who turned Turkey into a secular rather than Islamic state.

Erdogan seems an odd choice for comparison to Selim I’s Islamic reign based on a personal perception of this critic’s visit to Turkey. Erdogan seems much less a revered leader by the public than Ataturk, let alone Selim I depicted in “God’s Shadow”.

ARAB DISUNITY

Audio-book Review
           By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Arabs (A 3,000-Year History of Peoples, Tribes, and Empires)

By: Tim Mackintosh-Smith

Narrated by: Ralph Lister

Tim Mackintosh-Smith (Author, British historian living in Yemen.)

Tim Mackintosh-Smith attempts to unravel a complicated political, and ethnic history of a society broadly identified as Arab. One begins Mackintosh-Smith’s book with a hope to understand the complex socio-economic ambition of the Middle East. In the end, the author shows there is an unresolvable contradiction that historically guarantees Arab disunity.  

To be Arab, Mackintosh-Smith explains it is necessary to understand the intricacies of Arab language because language is what maintains and sustains Arab’ culture. He notes language holds Arabic culture together, but its use reveals an unresolvable contradiction, a desire for unity without human leadership.

The faults of human nature, the drive for money, power, and prestige generate Arab distrust of leaders. Of course, that distrust is evident in every ethnic culture, but Mackintosh-Smith suggests that distrust demands supernatural intervention for any chance of Arab unity.

Supernatural intervention came in the form of Muhammad as the messenger of Allah in the seventh century.

Muhammad ibn Abdullah (570 AD-632 AD, Arab religious, social, and political leader, founder of the Islamic religion.)

Jesus, in contrast to Muhammed, separates religion from politics. The devil allegedly offered earth’s rulership to Jesus, but Jesus refused. In Mark 10:42-45, Jesus speaks to his followers, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

One might believe that is true for believers of other faiths, but the difference is that Muhammad ibn Abdullah chose to take Allah’s words as a political as well as religious mandate.

Muhammad did not refuse a political life and chose leadership to create a better world by using the word of Allah, as later revealed in the Koran. Arab experience and distrust of human leadership demands belief in a divinity. As an Arab, Muhammad recognizes the importance of the supernatural in being a leader and chose to take political leadership as an obligation to spread the word and practice of Allah on earth.

The course of Arab history is shown by Mackintosh-Smith to reinforce the importance of divinity in Arab unity. Most great leaders in Arab history led by the sword and the word of Allah, as revealed by interpretation of the Koran. The principle of “great” is not meant to be good or bad but only powerful enough to unite a community of Arabs. These leaders came from disparate backgrounds and nations. The first seven “great” leaders (with exception of Timur and Babur) of the Arabs came from different areas of the Middle East.

1 – Tariq Bin Ziyad (670? – 720) Persia 2 – Harun al-Rashid (763?-809) Iran 3 – Mahmud of Ghazni (971 – 1030) Afghanistan 4 – Saladin (1137/38 – 1193) Egypt 5 – Timur (1336 – 1405) Uzbekistan 6 – Mehmed II (1432 – 1481) Corner of Bulgaria, Turkey & Greece 7– Babur (1483 – 1530) Uzbekistan

Mackintosh-Smith’s history reveals how many Arab countries boundaries were determined after WWII with France and England intent on creating spheres of influence. These boundaries became solidified with the discovery of oil reserves.

The 19 Arab Countries are: Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.

These 19 Arab countries, some of which are thousands of years old, and others like Bahrain, Qatar, Yemen, Tunisia, and the United Arab Emirates did not become independent nations until the middle to late 1900s.

Mackintosh-Smith notes the Arabic language, despite its many 21st century dialects, remains the glue that holds the concept of Arab together. However, dialects and geographic boundaries reinforced by oil reserves recreate the tribalist instincts of the past.

With the brief rise and fall of Gamal Abdel Nasser in Egypt, Mackintosh-Smith suggests there have been no Arab leaders to rally nationalist feeling in the 20th or 21st centuries that could blunt Arab tribalism.

Gamal Abdel Nasser. (1918-1970, overthrows the Egyptian monarchy in 1952, President from 1954 until his death.)

The internecine conflicts between great powers like Shite Iran and predominantly Sunni Arab countries, like Saudi Arabia, is missing from Mackintosh-Smith’s book. On the one hand he makes it clear that religion is a motive force in Arab culture, but the history of the Muslim split is largely unexplored. On the other hand, the author’s detailed explanation of Arab tribalism and its resurgence is a valuable contribution to one’s understanding of Middle Eastern history.

There is a minor note of optimism in the future of Arab culture in Tunisia. But, overall, after wading through this long narration, it seems the Middle East is destined to remain a fragmented tribalist culture for centuries to come.

THOREAU

Audio-book Review
           By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Now Comes Good Sailing (Writers Reflect on Henry David Thoreau)

By: Andrew Blauner

Narrated by: William Hope, Barbara Barnes, Kaliswa Brewster, Kate Harper, Peter Marinker, Ako Mitchell

Andrew Blauner (Founder of Blauner Books Literary Agency, Editor of anthologies.)

Blauner’s compilation of essays about Thoreau’s life and philosophy is broken into five sections.

  1. Excursions Near and Far.
  2. Deliberate Living.
  3. Direction of His Dreams.
  4. Practicalities.
  5. At Walden.

David Henry Thoreau (1817-1862, Writer, environmentalist, ecologist, philosopher.)

An apocryphal saying by Thoreau on his death bed is “Now Comes Good Sailing”.

The first section is ironically titled “Near and Far”.

Thoreau lives a narrow parochial life which explains “Near”, but his writing reflects a wide philosophical understanding of nature. Of course, Thoreau’s most famous book is “Walden”.

“Walden” is a short book about Thoreau’s two-year experience in his self-built house beside a Massachusetts’s pond.

Thoreau’s observations about nature’s fragility, beauty, and rebirth resonate with many who fear global warming and environmental destruction.

The essayists in the first section of the book lauds Thoreau’s view of solitude and peace that come from communing with nature, away from the hustle of everyday life. One living in this time is discomfited in some ways by these essays of Thoreau’s sabbatical because most who wish to live a life of solitude and peace have bills to pay and children to raise. Thoreau’s answer is “simplify your life”.

A few Americans seem to have interpreted “simplify” to mean one should become a vagrant, live in a tent, and ask charity from others who work for a living. That is not the story of these essays.

Thoreau works as a surveyor, builds his own house, and chooses self-sufficiency as a goal for living within one’s means. He did not look for hand-outs as a way of simplifying his life. He chose to live a simple life, not a life dependent on other’s charity.

When young there is little understanding of who we are or what we can do. As we age, Thoreau argues for understanding yourself and living deliberately with choices based on one’s self-understanding.

Deliberate living is living within one’s means and capabilities. Alan Lightman, a physicist, and writer, recognizes his life is slower now than when he was young. He chooses to live deliberately based on what his life has become, not on what life was when he was young. He obviously misses that fast pace but deliberation, careful consideration of life as it is now, compels deliberative recalibration.

Jennifer Boylan (Author, transgender activist, professor at Barnard College.)

Jennifer Boylan’s essay about Thoreau reveals how much better life is when you are who you are rather than what others think you should be. Boylan chooses to live a deliberative life.

“Directions of His Dreams” is a personal speculation by essayists of Thoreau’s feelings about love and life. James Marcus suggests Thoreau is in love with Ralph Waldo Emerson’s wife. He bases that speculation on scant evidence in Thoreau’s written correspondence. Whether Thoreau is gay, bi, or hetero seems superfluous whether in dreams or reality. Marcus’s speculation seems more titillation than revelation.

“As for Clothing” Amor Towles and Adam Gopnik note Thoreau finds comfort and utility as a measure of value for what one wears.

The point is that clothes made for a King that are only worn once have little comfort and no value. In contrast, Thoreau would suggest clothes that keep one warm when it is cold, comfortable from long wearing, and useful for work have great value.

Geoff Wisner (Author, editor of Thoreau’s Animals.)

Geoff Wisner suggests Thoreau’s measure of “what is worth doing” is based on answering the question of “Is It Worth the While”.

The last section of the essays reflects on independence and political risks Thoreau chooses in his short 44 years of life. Thoreau actively supports abolition by physically participating in the underground railroad with help for escaping slaves. Thoreau wrote about and actively participated in civil disobedience. He went to jail for non-payment of taxes (eventually paid by Emerson) because he disagreed with government policy.

Thoreau aides one of the participants in the abolitionist uprising by John Brown in the 1859 Harper’s Ferry raid. (Brown was hung for his action.)

There are reasons to admire Thoreau in these essays whether one has read “Walden” or not. Equally, there are reasons to question interpretation of Thoreau’s thoughts by 21st century essayists.

CHINA’S FUTURE

Audio-book Review
           By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

   China’s Great Wall of Debt (Shadow Banks, Ghost Cities, Massive Loans, and the End of the Chinese Miracle.)

By: Dinny McMahon

         Narrated by: Jaimie Jackson

Dinny McMahon (Author, former reporter for the Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones Newswires, and former fellow of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.)

Dinny McMahon lived in China for ten years before writing “China’s Great Wall of Debt”. He is neither the first nor undoubtedly the last chronicler of modern China’s future.

Taking his observation of China’s remarkable advance in the last 27 years, McMahon joins others who argue China is at the precipice of a cyclical economic trough.
Visiting China for the first time, one is amazed at the modern look of Beijing. Its bullet trains, wide boulevards, and streetscapes remind one of model cities like other storied capitols of the world.
On the other hand, outlying suburbs, and cities fit the description of McMahon’s “Ghost Cities” with block-to-block, mid-rise apartment buildings, no tenants, and slap-dash HVAC wall-units.

Wealth is a function of the have and have-nots in China. This is a familiar refrain to many who believe it equally describes America’s economy.

McMahon explains how the last twenty years of economic growth in China is a function of real-estate monetization that has reached a mortgage nadir, teetering on the edge of collapse. McMahon notes the difference between America’s real estate booms and busts and China’s is that it has taken America two hundred years to reach its present prosperity while China has done it in less than 3o years. He implies that time difference has benefited America by giving it more tools than China for dealing with economic inequality.

Adding to McMahon’s note about the time difference is the political difference between America and China.  America’s political system is tested by checks and balances, both by party and governmental organization.

China has a singular party with one leader who has few checks and balances, with a singularly authoritarian governmental organization.

When leadership changes in America, political and economic policies are only incrementally adjusted. In leadership change in China, political and economic policies may be dramatically altered or even abandoned. That truth is evident in China’s transition from Chiang Kai-shek to Mao to Deng Xiaoping, to Xi Jinping.

McMahon’s fundamental point is China’s rapid economic growth is founded on a financial structure dependent on real estate financed by the state and a poorly governed semi-private banking system that artificially inflates China’s assets.

McMahon notes there was pent-up demand for private real estate ownership when all land was owned by the government. That pent-up demand is the source of China’s rapid economic growth. However, in the current market, McMahon suggests real value in that real estate is diminished by a public that is not wealthy enough to afford it. A kind of Ponzi scheme is growing with consumers that are buying land without real collateral but with a ghost banking system that is condoned, if not supported, by the state.

McMahon leaves some doubt about China’s near future collapse because of adjustments President Xi is making in reducing bureaucratic corruption that allows ghost banks to prosper. McMahon also notes that President Xi is addressing the domestic needs of China’s citizens by emphasizing economic growth within China to make them less dependent on international trade. However, McMahon notes Xi Jinping is a singular leader. The question is—what happens when Xi Jinping is no longer China’s leader?

McMahon is not alone in suggesting China may be headed for trouble. Whether shadow banks, ghost cities, and massive loans will be the end of the Chinese Miracle seems less important than what a Chinese economic collapse would mean to the rest of the world.

A STEP TOO FAR

Audio-book Review
           By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

   We the Corporations (How American Businesses Won Their Civil Rights)

By Adam Winkler

         Narrated by: William Hughes

Adam Winkler (Author, Connell Professor of Law at UCLA.)

If only minorities could have kept pace with corporations’ pursuit of and success for civil rights, American society may have become more equal.

However, American corporations had wealth, minorities did not.

It may be a surprise to many that corporate pursuit of civil rights dates to the early beginnings of American history. The first battle for corporate civil rights began with Alexander Hamilton’s drive to create the first American bank. His major political opponent is Thomas Jefferson. 

Jefferson opposes a national bank because he believes it diminishes State’s rights by ceding too much control to the national government. Winkler notes the irony of Jefferson’s objection in that Jefferson relies on national bank loans to subsidize his profligate lifestyle.

Winkler notes some level of civil rights for corporations is needed to protect the public from exploitation. If a corporation is not recognized as a singular public body, individual Americans could not sue for redress. Harm from unfair or harmful practices of corporations could not be tried in a court of law. However, Winkler explains an underlying concern is the gain of personhood for corporations. By being recognized as a person, corporations gain political influence beyond any individual person’s rights.

To many Americans, a 21st century Supreme Court decision on corporate civil rights is a step too far.

With the decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the Supreme Court allows unlimited corporate donations to Americans running for political office.

Money is power, particularly in a capitalist economy. Elected officials become beholding to corporations rather than private citizens when running for office.

A prime example is the pharmaceutical and gun lobbies that have dominated both Democratic and Republican parties.

The rights of these corporate enterprises distort the benefits and dangers of both drugs and guns in American society. Over prescribed drugs and opiates advertised to the public by the pharmaceutical industry are more widely spread than ever before. If elected officials were not so beholding to gun lobbies, national background checks and red flag laws would not be so difficult for Congress to pass.

The opiate epidemic and the 5.25.22 Uvalde murder of 19 children and 2 adults is evidence of the harm done by granting too many civil rights to corporations.

Winkler’s book about corporate pursuit of personhood is burdened by legal explanations for non-lawyer listeners. However, his history gives one a deep appreciation of how civil rights can bring both good and harm to American society.

SOCIAL DYSFUNTION

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

   Separate (The Story of Plessy V. Ferguson, and America’s Journey from Slavery to Segregation)

By Steve Luxenberg

         Narrated by: Donald Corren

Steve Luxenberg (Author, associate editor The Washington Post.)

“Separate” is a disheartening history of American social dysfunction. It is largely a biographic picture of two Americans, John Harlan and Albion Tourgée. Both play a pivotal role in the transition of American slavery to American segregation. Both are against the iniquity of segregation but fail as civil war veterans and public servants to eradicate America’s belief in a “separate but equal” doctrine.

Their social positions are quite different in that Harlan is from a relatively wealthy slave holding Kentucky family while Tourgée is from a small Ohio farming family.  Both become Republicans that serve in the union army during the civil war. Harlan’s family is politically connected in Kentucky while Tourgée has no interest in politics until he goes to college. Both men become lawyers, but Tourgée is a much less successful lawyer while becoming a noted writer. In contrast John Harlan gains reputation as an astute lawyer who evolves into a well-known dissenter on the Supreme Court of the United States.

Harlan serves as an officer in the Union army and recruits a Kentucky militia that fights for the union.  Interestingly, though Harlan becomes a Republican, he is opposed to Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. Tourgée initially enters the Union army as a volunteer in New York.

Tourgée is seriously wounded in the First Battle of Bull Run in an accident. After recovery, he reenlists as an officer in the 105th Ohio Volunteer infantry and is wounded again, captured, and imprisoned in Richmond, Virginia. He is freed in a prisoner exchange and rejoins the Union army, fights in two more battles, and resigns his commission in 1863.

Tourgée gains a reputation as a staunch defender of equal rights for what then were classified as colored Americans.

To this listener, the contrast between Harlan and Tourgée are the most interesting part of Luxenberg’s history. Harlan changes his view of slavery and segregation during his life. Tourgée never changes.

Harlan grows to recognize the inherent inequality of segregation. In Harlan’s changed beliefs, he becomes well regarded by famous black orators like Frederick Douglas.

Tourgée becomes a noted and self-proclaimed “carpet bagger” from the north. He is vilified throughout the south for his beliefs and writing about equality of all races. Tourgée settles in North Carolina with his wife, and they take in a young black girl who is raised and educated at the expense of the Tourgée’s.

An interesting note by the author that gives a listener an inkling of Tourgée’s failure as a lawyer is the defense used for a soldier who is accused of stealing money from the government. Tourgée loses the case. However, the soldier is later exonerated by testimony and affirmations from fellow soldiers. This is early in Tourgée’s career as a lawyer, but it presages his loss of the important Plessy vs. Ferguson decision that reaffirms “separate but equal” precedent. Tourgée’s legal augments get lost in a forest of trees with too many ideas that do not hold the attention of his judges.

The decision by the Supreme Court in Plessy v. Ferguson is 7 to 1 which affirms the principle of separate as equal. The lone dissenter is John Marshall Harlan.

Harlan’s dissent presages today’s consequence of the mistaken belief that separate can be equal. The nature of humankind makes separate but equal impossible.

The only enforced legal truth of separate is not equal is the decision of Brown v. Board of Education, but there are many who continue to disagree.

It has been social pressure, not legal standing, that has changed the lie of “separate but equal” in America. Plessy v. Ferguson has never been overturned except for education. Of course, the problem now is that education is not being adequately provided for reasons too numerous to detail. That problem is not the subject of Luxenberg’s history.