EFFECT OF LIGHT

Audio-book Review
 By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog: awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Mad Enchantment: Claude Monet and the Painting of the Water Lilies

By: Ross King

Narrated by: Joel Richards

Ross King (Canadian Author of books on Italian, French and Canadian Art and History.)

Ross King refreshes one’s interest in the history of WWI while revealing much of the mystery and appeal of Claude Monet and his art. Monet’s diminutive size contrasts with his giant impact on impressionism. As a founding father of impressionism, Monet’s passion is to show the effect of light on life and nature.

Monet lived in Giverny, France in a modest house with a well-maintained lily pond and garden that served as a subject of his art.

Having read biographies of Leonardo da Vinci and Caravaggio, Monet is certainly not the first to have had a passion for the effect of light on a subject. Monet produces light that moves an admirer from objective observation to subjective pleasure.

In 1874, Monet exhibited “Impression Sunrise” that received hostile reviews. That painting exemplified the beginning of Impressionism. King shows Monet insists on his vision and the era of modern art is born.

YOUNG MONET AND MATURED MONET AS PAINTED AND LATER PHOTOED.

King recounts Monet’s relationship with Clemenceau, known in France as the tiger before WWI, and the Father of Victory at its end. King explains Clemenceau is a duelist in his early years who becomes a physician, newspaper writer/publisher, and then politician.

Clemenceau at Age 24 in 1865.

Clemenceau is recognized as a great orator and leader of men by no less than Winston Churchill.

Clemenceau becomes prime minister of France during WWI.

Clemenceau cheers French resistance to the German assault of France. At defeat of Germany, Clemenceau presses for German reparations, including return of the Alsace-Lorraine region of France. He insists on full compensation for German destruction from WWI.

King offers a Eurocentric view of WWI. France is not a great fan of America’s reluctance to join the war when France is pummeled by Germany. Though Clemenceau appreciates the ideal of Wilson’s 14-point plan, he objects to the League of Nations and insists on German reparations that set the table for WWII.

Monet is also not a great admirer of America. He considers American buyers of his art as profligate and ignorant of fine art and their value. King notes both Clemenceau and Monet admire Japanese artists and collect many of their works. Many of Monet’s paintings are sold to Japanese buyers.

Clemenceau and Monet are close friends until death. Monet is the first to go but Clemenceau is ill and soon to die. Both were of a similar age. Both were hard working Frenchmen in their respective professions. Monet’s art is sold or bartered during his life to private and public museums. Many of Monet’s works are donated to the French government at his death. A government financed museum is created for an exclusive exhibit of Monet’s paintings.

Mussee Marmottan in Paris

King notes Monet loses much of his eyesight in later years, but he perseveres with the help of eye surgery that returns some vision to one eye. Clemenceau plays a large part in convincing Monet to donate his art to France. As both are approaching death, Monet’s penchant for procrastination nearly fractures their close relationship. Part of the fracturing is related to the government’s problems with creating a museum that would meet Monet’s requirements. Some of his canvases were huge and Monet wished to have them displayed in an oval shaped museum. Additionally, King notes Monet is often dissatisfied with a painting and would destroy it and start over. Monet is also noted to dawdle when nearing a paintings completion by leaving a detail that is planned but never executed. King explains Monet’s work ethic is phenomenal. He wakes at dawn and works through the night until his energy is spent.

Clemenceau is a significant character in King’s biography of Monet. In some respects, the two men are alike. They are both relentlessly energetic in their respective professions. Though Clemenceau is a doctor, his passion is in publishing and politics. He travels the world. Monet restricts his travel to France, mostly between Paris and Giverny but with a passion for work equal to Clemenceau’s. Monet’s passion is for impressionist renderings of the natural world.

As Monet’s vision deteriorates, later work reimagines impressionism based on failing vision–but more poignantly, it seems Monet’s later paintings reflect on the trials of a long life.

Water Lillies 1919 at The Met Fifth Avenue in New York.

King suggests looking at one of Monet’s water lilies paintings long enough gives one’s imagination free reign to see something more than a pond. Some see figures of women, others–spirits of the dead. A lily pond seems as much a tribute to life as to decay.

Rose Trellises in Giverny 1922

In King’s epilogue, Monet is glorified in a review and contrast of early and late impressionist paintings. King reminds listeners of Monet’s initial vilification by the art world, his resurrection, demise, and reification in modern times. What Monet could see with younger eyes, before cataracts obscured his vision, King recognizes as a new era of art. King offers tribute to two great men, Clemenceau’s political renown which revels in his time and Monet’s art celebrated for all time.

ECHO, ECHO, ECHO

Indochina is changing based on its own history. America’s war is only a small part of that history. Sadly, that small part killed more than 50,000 Americans and indirectly resulted in deaths of many more Indochina citizens.


Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Written by Chet Yarbrough

There are no excuses for one to be uninformed about the world in this era of “phone-net” access. However, what is at issue is an echo chamber that traps unwary reader/listeners and fellow travelers in false beliefs.

An echo chamber is a media repeater that only reaffirms one’s beliefs, whether true or false.

An echo chamber is populated with tailored information that only reinforces what one already believes.

Facts of an echo chamber are tailored to its audience, rather than to truth.

To avoid the echo chamber trap, one must diversify what they read and hear. One must become a skeptic. Personal experience, reading of other’s experience, and listening to different news sources are essential requirements of the skeptic. Diversification begins by reading books of history, and periodicals with different political views. Like all books of history, truth is distorted by a writer’s chosen facts. It is impossible to precisely contextualize the complexity of the past.

History is infected by experiences of the present and fact-choices of the past.

Television news reports, local and national newspapers, and news magazines offer subtlety different views of world events. They may report on the same issue but often show different facts and perspectives. Those differences refine and expand one’s understanding of events. Few writers or news reports are perfectly right but each have a perspective that can be measured by the education and experience of reader/listeners.

Diversification of information does not guarantee truth, but it gives reader/listeners choice. In that choosing, we become ourselves.

A case in point is Jim Webb’s interview in the Wall Street Journal, 1/21/23. The title of the article is “Echoes of Vietnam”. Webb is a veteran of America’s Vietnam war. The interviewer asks Webb if the war was worth fighting. The reported response is “…America won–only a different way. We stopped communism, which didn’t advance in Indochina any further than it reached in 1975. We enabled other countries to develop market economic and governmental systems that were basically functional and responsive to their people. The model stayed and I like to think it will advance in Vietnam.”

Jim Webb (Former U.S. Senator from Va., 66th U.S. Secy. of the Navy, Age 76.)

This is a powerful statement by Webb with a view based on Vietnam war experience and the interviewee’s reported Vietnamese language skill. However, it seems Webb’s and the interviewer’s truth is only a snapshot of Indochina from the perspective of one who risked his life in America’s war.

Having traveled recently to Indochina (specifically Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand) what Webb quoted seems partly true. What the interview does not reveal is an uneasiness felt by Laos and Cambodia about a Vietnamese communist threat to borders of adjacent countries.

Communism and Democracy are changing.

As Webb notes communism has elements of capitalism throughout Indochina. Democracy’s form of capitalism is becoming more socialist, which is particularly true in Scandinavian countries and to a lesser extent America.

The striking concern expressed by Vietnam’ and Cambodian’ guides is the fear of China and its authoritarian form of communism, even though it incorporates elements of capitalism.

It seems the American war in Vietnam had little to do with today’s Indochina’ governments. America’s war seems to have had some effect on Indochina’s governmental evolution but not as much as their own history.

Indochina has its own history of authoritarianism, ranging from monarchy to colonialization to its present form of authoritarian capitalism.

Indochina is changing based on its own history. America’s war is only a small part of that history. Sadly, that small part killed more than 50,000 Americans and indirectly resulted in deaths of many more Indochina citizens.

KISSINGER

Ferguson’s book is an excellent biography of an American WWII veteran, a hero, an intellectual giant, and a flawed human being. Ferguson shows Henry Kissinger certainly is the first three, but also a flawed human being-just like the rest of us.

Audio-book Review
           By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog: awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Kissinger: Volume I: 1923-1968: The Idealist

By: Niall Ferguson

Narrated by: Malcolm Hillgartner

Niall Ferguson (Author, Scottish American historian, former professor at Harvard University, London School of Economics, and New York University.)

It is a tribute to Kissinger’s intelligence to have chosen Ferguson as his biographer. However, in some ways Ferguson’s story reminds one of Shakespeare’s characterizations of Marc Anthony’s speech at the burial of Caesar. “I came to bury Caesar, not to praise him”.

“Kissinger: Volume I” is as objective as seems possible for the biography of an important man of history. It is written by an historian of erudition and intellect.

Niall Ferguson’s biography begins with Volume I that covers Henry Kissinger’s life from 1923 to 1968.

Ferguson’s erudite assessment of Kissinger seems so comprehensive that little is left to be known for a second volume.

One’s view of Kissinger will be changed by this detailed biography. Many who lived through the 60s and the Vietnam war think of Kissinger as a primary influence in Nixon’s withdrawal from war and America’s belated welcome of communist China.

Ferguson reinforces belief in Kissinger’s influence but implies Nixon is the prime mover. Nixon directs the end of the American war in Vietnam and opens communist China to the world of diplomacy and trade.

Kissinger is revealed as a brilliant teenage boy who lives in and experiences the beginnings of WWII in Germany. Along with his immediate family, he escapes Nazi Germany before the holocaust. When he returns as a soldier in the U.S. Army, he bares the consequence of relatives lost in his home country.

HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL IN BERLIN

Ferguson shows Kissinger to be a good soldier. He is promoted to staff sergeant and awarded a medal for his work in exposing Nazi sympathizers in post-war Germany. Many believe Kissinger’s recommendations as adviser to American politicians is Machiavellian in the sense that fear is the best form of diplomatic control of adversaries. Ferguson suggests that labeling is a mischaracterization of Kissinger’s view of diplomacy.

Ferguson infers Kissinger’s experience in Germany were formative in respect to what is characterized as an idealized view of power in the politics of diplomacy. That experience is reinforced by Kissinger’s research and education at Harvard, after the war.

Ferguson explains Kissinger is an idealist. Like the founding fathers envision the structure of American government, Kissinger focuses on balance of power. Kissinger advises American leaders to adopt international policies based on balance of power among adversaries.

Ferguson’s evidence is Kissinger’s doctoral thesis on the history of Metternich and the Austro-Hungarian empire in the mid-19th century. In Kissinger’s thesis, he explains Metternich withstood Russian and Ottoman incursions by using censorship, a spy network, and armed suppression against rebellion to maintain a balance of power between opposing forces interested in dismantling the Austrian empire. When Bonapart and Russia covet the Austrian empire, Metternich influences Napoleon to marry Austrian archduchess Marie Louise rather than the sister of the Russian Tsar. Ferguson explains the approach Kissinger uses in nation-state diplomacy is Metternich’s balance of power idea, not Machiavellian fear.

Kissinger, like Metternich, looks at balancing power among vying nations to achieve stability within one’s own state.

However, Ferguson infers there is a flaw in Kissinger’s reliance on balance of power diplomacy. America’s support of Pol Pot makes some sense in respect to Kissinger’s “balance of power” argument, but its cost exceeds its value. Cambodia fell to communism whether either warring party would prevail. America’s support of Pol Pot did not stabilize or improve America’s position in Vietnam.

Some might characterize America’s support of Pol Pot is Machiavellian. However, another way of looking at it is America’s support balanced two warring factions (the Vietnamese army and the Khmer Rouge who are both opposed to American hegemonic influence) to maintain America’s national stability. If anything, it increased American instability by inflaming anti-war demonstrations in the U.S.; not to mention the horrific human consequence of Pol Pot’s directed murder of 1.5 to 2 million Cambodians. Pol Pot is never tried or executed for these crimes against humanity.

A memorial is filled with the skulls of men, women, and children murdered by Pol Pot in the Cambodian “killing fields”.

What Ferguson makes clear is Kissinger focuses on the ideal of “balance of power” when recommending actionable political policy to American leaders. Kissinger focuses on stability, not equity or fairness when recommending American political policy. Cambodian massacre of its own citizens shows the weakness of Kissinger’s idealization.

Where “balance of power” becomes even more difficult as a diplomatic tool is in a nuclear age where annihilation of a nation becomes a zero-sum game. There is no balance of power. There is only mutual destruction and end times.

Ferguson shows Kissinger believes there is a place for limited nuclear bombing in war. Ferguson infers Kissinger agrees with those who believe nuclear weapons can be used as a strategic weapon. Kissinger believes diplomacy based on “balance of power” can ameliorate Armageddon. It seems a faith-based conclusion from a diplomat who is driven by intellect, not emotion. The problem is political leadership is often driven by emotion, not intellect.

Is Putin driven by emotion or intellect? Western support of Ukraine is a test that will answer the question.

Human emotion makes the idea of “balance of power” in a nuclear age chimerical and useless.

Ferguson shows, like all great leaders in history, there is education, experience, and often a mentor that influence one’s intellect. Education and experience are clearly evident in Ferguson’s story of Kissinger’s life. Ferguson reveals two influential people, one clearly identified as a mentor: the other as a great influencer.

Kissinger’s early mentor is Fritz Kramer whom he met when serving in the U.S. Army (Kramer is pictured below in a conference with President Nixon). Ferguson explains, Nelson Rockefeller, the governor of New York, former V.P. of the U.S., and candidate for President becomes a great influence in Kissinger’s life. Rockefeller’s influence is personal as well as professional.

Kissinger promotes the idea of limited nuclear war as a tool for balance of power. This is an argument inferred by Putin in Ukraine’s invasion. To some Americans, and to Ferguson, that seems a slippery slope.

Ferguson’s book is an excellent biography of an American WWII veteran, a hero, an intellectual giant, and a flawed human being. Ferguson shows Henry Kissinger certainly is the first three, but also a flawed human being-just like the rest of us.

SOUTHEAST ASIA

Yarbrough (Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Southeast Asia 2023, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam

Written by Chet Yarbrough

Over Christmas 2022 and New Year’s 2023, America’s storied history in Southeast Asia is vivified in a 20-day trip to Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam.

THAILAND BOAT TRIP

Chaopraya River in Bankok

Visting the Thompson house in Thailand is quite a treat. The mystery of Thompson’s disappearance remains unsolved but the tour through his custom home, built from sections of different houses, is a remarkable display of architectural ingenuity. As an architect, Thompson designed a unique house with tapered doors to each room. Every room is protected from evil spirits by traditional high wood partitions at the bottom of each entry door.

The mystery surrounding Thompson has to do with his background as a former CIA agent. Some suggest CIA association might have something to do with his disappearance. Others suggest he was kidnapped for ransom. Still others suggest he just got lost and was eaten by the jungle. His real story is about the beginning of the silk trade for which he became well known. In any case, his home is a monument to East Asian art and a fitting end to a well-lived life.

Recalling America’s war in Vietnam, one becomes reacquainted with America’s carpet bombing of the Ho Chi Minh trails. The trails extend through Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam. Hearing of mid-20th century and Asia’s ancient history of Hinduism and Buddhism, some Southeastern Asia’ travelers will leave with a sense of guilt, shame, or sadness.

HO CHI MINH TRAIL

Feeling guilt comes from hubris in believing American Democracy is desired by all people of the world.

Shame is in the reality of continued loss of lives from America’s undetonated cluster bombs in Laos, Cambodia and Vietnamese farm fields.

Sadness comes from the many Asian believers in non-violent Hindu’ and Buddhist’ teaching that are diminished by war.

The atrocity of war in Cambodia spits in the face of humanity. The Khmer Rouge gather together to enforce Pol Pot’s demented idea of forcing farmers to join communal farms under one leader’s bureaucratic control. Such an idea was tried and shown to be a failure by Mao in China. America supports Pol Pot’s genocidal attack on citizens who resisted Pol Pot’s forced indenture and relocation. 1.5 to 2 million Cambodians were murdered.

The Nixon/Kissinger administration supports Pol Pot in part because of their belief in the domino theory of communism (Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand would become communist if one became communist).

The irony of America’s support of Pol Pot is that Vietnam’s communist army, not America, liberates Cambodia from Pol Pot’s atrocity.

The Nixon/Kissinger policy of Pol Pot support is compounded by America’s decision to carpet bomb the southern route of the Ho Chi Minh trail. America’s hope is to interrupt the communist takeover of Vietnam. Of course, this is taken out of the context of a sincere belief in the domino theory of one country falling to communism leading to more countries falling to the same fate.

To some Americans, the support of Pol Pot is justified because communism did gain some level of control of Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand. What seems clear is the southern part of Vietnam, and all of Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand have endorsed a form of communism. However, all four countries show a level of economic competition and prosperity that suggests capitalist influence exists in every sector of the economy.

No communist party in these four countries appear in complete control. All four governments seem more like a work in progress than an inevitable probability of either communism or democracy. Corruption is alleged in all four countries we visited but that is a refrain one hears in every form of government, including America.

A level of discontent is exhibited by a young college graduate in Thailand. He explains his ambition to become less controlled by government, with freedom of speech, and a right to pursue an independent career. Student protest is rising in Thailand.

In Laos, our local guide (ironically named Lao) explains how he chose to walk 13 miles to school every day to become the first formally educated person in his family. Lao belongs to a Hmong minority in Laos.

The Hmong were recruited by the CIA during America’s Vietnam war. A few of the fighters were evacuated to American after the war, but many were left to fend for themselves. Laos is the least developed of the four countries visited on this trip. However, some small villages seem to have done well for their residents.

Our local guide suggests there is a threat to this rural life. An elevated train system has been built by China that crosses the river near this local community. China approached local residents with a proposal to relocate their village. China wishes to build a casino on their land for the entertainment of Chinese tourists.

Elevated rail from China to Cambodia

On one of several village visits in Laos, we visit local artisans plying their trade.

Later, visiting the Cambodian “killing fields” one recognizes the atrocity citizens lived through. No thoughtful Cambodian would want to return to a Pol Pot authoritarian government. Cambodia’s monument to Pol Pot’s atrocity is a reminder of his misanthropic idea of an agricultural utopia.

The first two pictures are of a vertical tower filled with the skulls of the “killing field”, victims from Pol Pot’s reign of terror.

Southeast Asia is undoubtedly influenced by communism. However, resistance to authoritarianism is apparent in every nation we toured. What is striking in all four countries is the continued investment in ancient Hindu and new Buddhist temples. An equally surprising realization is that the younger generation places much less faith in these dominant religions than seems warranted by the investment.

In a dinner in Thailand with the son of our guide, the son explains he is 50/50 on belief in Buddhism. The inference one draws is that the value of investment in Hindu’ and Buddhist’ temples is for its tourism value more than belief in religious doctrine. On the other hand, one cannot discount a fundamental belief in these religions that have a “let be” attitude about life that offers a level of social stability beyond any government influence on life.

There is a sense of uneasiness in Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia in regard to Vietnam encroachment. Vietnam seems the “big dog” in the kennel. Though our local guide in Vietnam believes there is no chance of war, there seems fear of invasion or dominance by a stronger, more experienced military in Vietnam than in the other peninsula countries we visited. However, the greater concern in all four countries seems to be the potential for domination by China. Though relations appear quiescent at the moment, the authoritarian character of China’s current leadership seems worthy of some concern. In Vietnam, our local guide, who is 30 years of age, explains neither he nor the older Vietnamese generation wish any war in Southeast Asia but express guarded concern about China’s intention.

The following pictures are of the seat of power in Ho Chi Minh city (formerly Saigon) Vietnam during the American war. It is now a museum showing the government offices and a bunker in the event of an attack.

All our guides in Southeast Asia were excellent. Our primary guide, Lucky, practiced for a short time as a novice monk. As a part of the tour, we were able to ask questions of a monk that exemplifies the resilience and strength of Buddhism and its teaching. Questions were answered with grace and intelligence that reinforce one’s un-schooled understanding of Buddhism and its place in world religions.

MONUMENTS TO THE HINDU AND BUDDHIST RELIGION THROUGHOUT SOUTHEAST ASIA.

And, of course, no one can leave Cambodia without a visit to Angkor Wat the largest religious monument in the world, built in the 12th century.

Many personal conversations with Lucky, our primary guide, gave insight to the strength of Buddhism and a way of life that eschews conflict and promotes peace. Lucky believes in the traditions of his Thailand upbringing with acceptance of things as they are with the hope that the traditions of his country will continue.

In a sense, Lucky is a royalist who believes in the importance of the blood line of royalty as a moral compass for the country. The many experiences we had on this brief trip suggest Lucky’s hope for a limited monarchy is possible but with reservation. History never repeats itself in the same way.

GENETIC PROMISE AND RISK

Audio-book Review
           By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog: awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

As Gods: A Moral History of the Genetic Age

By: Matthew Cobb

Narrated by: Joe Jameson

Matthew Cobb gives listeners a zoologist’s view of genetic sciences’ promise and risk.

His book “As Gods” is a skeptic’s view of cellular science and Recombinant DNA. Cobb infers science is as far away from understanding genetic function as it is about how the brain works.

RECOMBINATE DNA EXAMPLE

However, from Cobb’s perspective, a lack of understanding genetics poses greater danger to the world than understanding the brain. Science seeks understanding of brain function to improve technological productivity. On a much wider stage, the science of genes deals with the ecosystem of life. The danger of genetic science is pinpointed by historian and author Yuval Noah Harari who suggests human history “…will end when men become gods.”

To change the hereditary characteristics of life is a giant step toward becoming godlike because it takes evolutional heredity out of life’s equation.

Cobb begins his book on genetics by reminding listeners of the discovery of the double helix by Watson, Crick, and Rosalind Franklin (though he doesn’t mention Franklin). The discovery of the double helix opens a new field of research. DNA is first discovered by Fredrich Miescher in 1869 but it is not until the 1950s, with discovery of the double helix, that science reveals the form in which DNA exists. The double helix model makes it possible for scientists to study the elemental structure of life.

Watson at the top, Crick lower left, Franklin lower right

The first test of a Recombinant DNA human experiment is in 1990. Two unrelated girls are diagnosed with adenosine deaminase (ADA), a symptom of which is low white blood cell count which usually becomes fatal in childhood. One of the two girls is alive today (according to a May 1, 2021, report). Cobb notes this result is positive but not definitive because the patients’ treatment is an early human experiment in Recombinant DNA therapy. It relies on an early form of gene therapy where a virus is used to allow molecular invasion of aberrant cells. And of course, one of the young girls in the experiment dies.

Cobb’s point is that the tools of this first Recombinant DNA’ uses a foreign virus to invade a human cell and experimenting with an untested treatment should be weighed against the effectiveness of known treatments.

With the helix model discovery of human DNA, science could study heredity and variation of inherited characteristics at a molecular level.

Yoshizumi Ishino (Japanese molecular biologist and discoverer of CRISPER.)

When CRISPR is discovered by Japanese scientist, Yoshizumi Ishino, in 1987, observation and sequencing of DNA could be changed by the medical and industrial communities. Without being too hyperbolic, the scientific community enters the realm of mythological gods with the availability of CRISPR. Scientists now can change the course of life on earth with direct modification of DNA, rather than use an accompanying virus to modify the patient’s DNA.

Cobb implies conventional treatments are sometimes ignored or discounted because of experimenters’ self-interest. That became eminently apparent with China’s He Jiankui’s and his widely vilified attempt to be the first to edit the genes of two babies. He is presently serving 3 years in a Chinese prison.

With the power to manipulate life, one hopes human history does not end but becomes more peaceful and less disease ridden. Cobb details successes and failures of Recombinant DNA. He confirms his skepticism by raising concern about intentional blindness of self-interested scientists. Some patients have been improved by Recombinant DNA, some have died for the wrong reason.

In 2020, OSHU in Oregon uses CRISPR to successfully provide a treatment for blindness in a patient with a genetic mutation. Sickle cell anemia, a genetic abnormality that deprives oxygen to red blood cells, is shown to have cured a young woman in a recent “60 Minutes” program.

Agricultural crop production has been improved by genetic modification, but Cobb notes ecological consequence of genetic modification is often not fully researched or explained to the public for wide approval. Cobb argues resistance to GMO products is largely due to a failure to communicate with the public. He also argues that a consequence of genetic modification of species has potential for eco-system collapse.

The example Cobb offers is modification of genes in mosquitoes that eliminate malaria. What is not fully explored is the consequence to predators that feed on mosquito progeny. If that source of food is lost, what is the consequence to mosquito predators. Do they change their diet, or do they die?

The point Cobb makes is that genetic manipulation that eliminates one species may start a spiral of species distinction. It is not to suggest malaria carriers are not worthy of genetic modification but that any change in a gene that eliminates one species may have wider ecological consequence. That consequence needs to be researched and understood.

One other aspect of Cobb’s story is the morality of patenting Recombinant DNA that enriches discoverers.

Unlike the discovery of a polio vaccine by Salk, many academic and industry scientists are focused on patenting their discoveries for personal gain, not public service. He raises the question of industries and some scientists who scramble to patent genetic therapy based on Recombinant DNA despite its questionable benefit. A tangential issue is industry, educational institutions, and scientists who benefit from getting patents for genetic research funded by public dollars. If public dollars are used, who should own the patents?

Cobb touches on biological warfare from weaponized viruses that accidently escape or are purposely deployed from labs designed to produce vectors of disease. There can be no mistake. Recombinant DNA has been and is still considered by many as a governments’ tool of war.

Recombinant DNA can become a weapon of mass destruction.

The ramification of Cobb’s history is a warning and benediction for the science of genetics. Genetic research is a sword of Damocles hanging over human society. It can kill if not properly secured and understood as a threat to life as we know it. Removing the sword is not possible because the genie of Recombinant DNA is out. It cannot be put back into Pandora’s box. Hope for honest, fully understood, and explained science is all that is left to humanity.

Cobb’s perspective on the path for science, in this case genetic science, is skeptical but seems hopeful.

MEDIA FREEDOM

Audio-book Review
           By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog: awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Goebbels: A Biography

By: Peter Longerich

         Translated by Jeremy Noakes and Lesley Sharpe

 Narrated by: Simon Prebble

Peter Longerich (Author, German professor of history, received Ph.D from University of Munich.)

Every chapter of “Goebbels” history of the rise of Nazism pricks the conscience of 21st century Americans. Was American democracy condemned or vindicated by January 6, 2021’s, attack on the capitol?

Some who attacked the capitol think–what they did was heroic. That belief elicits fear when listening to Longerich’s biography of “Goebbels”.

Adolph Hitler is shown as a consummate political strategist who fails in his first attempt to overthrow the German government.

Despite an initial defeat, Hitler hangs on and eventually becomes Germany’s head of State. He gathers the power of the press through Goebbels to actualize the final solution that exterminates six million Jews and causes the death of millions in WWII.

Paul Joseph Goebbels, chief propagandist for the Nazi Party became Minister of Propaganda for all German media from 1933-1945.

Hitler begins his campaign to resurrect and expand Germany by reacquiring the Rhineland in 1936 and invading Poland in 1939.

Today’s parallel is Putin’s stealthy acquisition of the Crimean Peninsula in 2015 and Russia’s reinvasion of Ukraine in 2022.

So far, the western world has condemned Putin’s ambition with the West’s financial and material support of Ukraine. However, there is growing talk of reducing support for Ukraine.

While listening to Longerich’s history, one wonders–what stands in the way of the west’s wavering support of Ukraine? What stands in the way of America’s fall into anarchy?

President Trump is narrowly defeated by Joseph Biden in the 2021 election.

Trump’s followers believe the election was stolen and chooses to attack the capitol to reverse the election results. Trump’s position is supported by a portion of the media and some elected officials.

The difference in America is–no singular media leader like Goebbels is here to martial the distortions of truth that turn the tide for Hitler. As evident in America, there is a mixed, often negative, reaction to the internet and its use to distribute a lie as easily as truth.

QAnon is an example of how harmful lies can be to a country’s people. However, QAnon’s lies, and distortions of truth have been exposed by reputable media outlets. QAnon has many heads but, like Alex Jones, its lies will be exposed. QAnon will disappear from the weight of its lies and distortion of truth.

Today, every American should salute the free press. American media does distort the truth, but that distortion is not controlled by one media leader.

Truth ultimately prevails, even when there are alternative interpretations of the facts. Extremism will continue to roil American society. Inequality, racism, sexism, and the tragedies of Sandy Hook, Tops Market, and church bombings remain a part of America, but the circumstances of Hitler’s orchestrated assault on humanity is unlikely to be repeated in today’s America as long as a free press is preserved.

TIGERS, WOLVES, VICTIMS

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog: awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

History of Wolves

By: Emily Fridlund

 Narrated by: Susan Bennett

Emily Fridlund (Author, Man Booker Prize shortlist for-History of Wolves)

Emily Fridlund’s “History of Wolves” cleverly reveals the fears of life for children, young adults, and parents. It is told from the perspective of an adult woman’s recollection of life in a Minnesota wilderness near Lake Superior. The nature of human beings is aligned with the nature of “…Wolves”.

Fridlund infers humans are sexual animals, congregate for purpose, live in extended families, and die alone—just like wolves.

Fridlund’s main character is raised in a two-parent family with a mother who pushes her daughter to be better than her parents through education and experience.

Fridlund’s fictional family appears to be living the life of the 1960s/70s flower children who wish to return to a simpler life in the wilderness.

The daughter works while in high school and becomes acquainted with neighbors across a lake she lives on in Minnesota. The daughter, a teenager, becomes a babysitter for the new family. The husband of this new family is frequently away from home.

A friendship develops between the daughter and the mother of a 3- or 4-year-old boy. The daughter agrees to babysit for $10 a day. A friendship between the new neighbor evolves into something more in the mind of the daughter. The “more” is characterized as erotic, at least from the daughter’s perspective.

Part of Fridlund’s story is about older men who groom younger women in high schools and universities.

The author’s beginning infers a level of “grooming” complicity from younger women, not for sex, but for personal identity. Fridlund’s inference is discomfiting. It suggests humanity is just another species of animal, something like a predatory wolf. Fridlund’s story is frightening because it infers predation in both sexes. There might be some truth in Fridlund’s view for a college student, but high school seems a step too far when her main character partially absolves a pedophile fired from the school she attends.

Some listeners may feel the distinction between high school and university students is prudish, but character seems much less formed in high school than the age of most college students. The experience difference between high school and college age students makes the author’s “wolf” categorization of human sexes unjustifiable.

There is more to the story than Fridlund’s perception of the predatory nature of humanity. Fridlund tells a story that addresses a fundamental conflict between religion and science.

An older university professor (the husband of the new family across the lake) marries one of his students. They have a child. The child is stricken with an illness. The professor is a Christian Scientist who eschews medical treatment. The professor is characterized as a highly intelligent astronomer who is writing a book on the origin of life. The child dies from his illness. Both the professor and his wife are taken to court for child neglect.

Fridlund goes on to explain her main character is raised by a family that believes in Mary Baker Eddy’s religion. This added information posits a broader view of the potential harm religion inflicts on society.

The daughter grows into adulthood. Her father dies and her mother’s well-being is diminished either by age, the deterioration of her house from a storm, or her belief in a religion that insists on the healing power of prayer.

There is also a whiff of guilt shown by the main character in the death of the baby-sitter boy. She realizes a warning could have been given by her to the authorities about the fragile medical condition of dying boy and their parent’s Christian Scientist’ beliefs.

The last chapters of Fridlund’s story are a flash back clarifying her “wolf” categorization of both sexes.

Fridlund’s writing is excellent and Susan Bennett’s narration is first rate. The quality of Fridlund’s story is enlightening to one who wishes to have a broader understanding of life. There are three categories of human beings in Fridlund’s book, tigers, wolves, and victims. The women in Fridlund’s book are tigers. The men are wolves. Society is the victim.

DIVERSITY

Audio-book Review
           By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog: awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The Hidden History of Burma (Race, Capitalism, and the Crisis of Democracy in the 21st Century)

By: Thant Myint-U

Narrated by: Assaf Cohen

Author, Thant Myint-U, is the son of the former secretary-general of the UN, U Thant (1961-1971). His circle of acquaintances ranges from Presidents to diplomats to people on the street.

U Thant (Secretary-General of the United Nations 1961-1971, died in 1974 at the age of 65.)

Thant Myint-U’s report on Burma (aka today’s Myanmar) reveals a capitalist’s “canary in a coal mine”. “The Hidden History of Burma” reveals what can happen in capitalist countries that ignore the rising gap between rich and poor.

Like canaries, all people are not the same.

Thant Myint-U resurrects the reputation of Aung Suu Kyi, a leader of conscience. He exposes Myanmar’s 2021 military revolution and its unfair trial of Burma’s storied and unfairly maligned national patriot. Thant Myint-U’s history implies no leader of conscience could withstand the inept Burmese government’s management of human diversity that led to the accusation of Rohingya genocide in 2020.

Aung San Suu Kyi (Burmese politician, diplomat, author and 1991 Nobel Peace Prize Laureat. She is the daughter of Aung San, the Father of Independent Burma.)

Aung San (Burmese politician, Father of Burma independence from British rule, assassinated six months before independence granted.)

All capitalist economies are threatened by human greed when capitalism is unregulated. Capitalism falters when it fails to provide an adequate safety net to its citizens. When countries fail to offer an opportunity to acquire the basic needs of life, the poor disproportionately die. When the poor are not treated equitably by society, they have two choices. One is to bare unfair treatment and die. The other is to fight unfair treatment and die. (Note that is not to suggest hand-outs but to suggest hand-ups to jobs, income, and opportunity.)

Human nature compels a turn to God when one feels out of control.

One reason the Islamic religion is the fastest growing religion in the world is because many Muslims are poor. They live in countries where governments fail to treat diversity as a strength, not a burden.

Burma’s return to military autocracy is shown by Thant Myint-U to be a consequence of the gap between rich and poor, largely caused by an unregulated capitalist economy. Lack of capitalist regulation in autocracies or democracies make the rich richer and the poor poorer, the twain do meet but mostly in conflict.

Diversity in countries of the world is not new. Some level of diversity exists in every country.

Democracy is a form of government that can offer a voice to diversity. When democracy fails to respond to that voice, it risks revolution, and its consequence-autocracy. In “The Hidden History of Burma, Thant Myint-U shows Myanmar’s government is not listening to the voices of diversity.

Myanmar

There is a lesson for America in the story of Burma. The gap between rich and poor is rising. American Democratic capitalism is listening but struggling with its response. America does not have the history of Burma, but government leaders can learn something from Burma’s inept reaction to diversity.

SYRIA’S FAMILY BUSINESS

Audio-book Review
           By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog: awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

No Turning Back (Life, Loss, and Hope in Wartime Syria)

By: Rania Abouzeid

Narrated by: Susan Nezami

Rania Abouzeid (Author, Lebanese Australian journalist based in Beirut.)

“No Turning Back” is a “just the facts” reveal of the Syrian civil war that began in 2011 and still simmers in 2022.

General Hafez al-Assad, (seated to the right), the father of Bashar, created a military dictatorship which became a totalitarian police state run by the Asad family business.

Rania Abouzeid interviews many sides of the war which seems to imply the Syrian civil war is not over. The president of Syria, Bashar al-Assad, remains. The Assad family business has ruled Syria since 1971.

Abouzeid’s picture of the Syrian civil war infers authoritarianism is the only way for Syria to survive as an independent nation. This sticks in the throat of democracies’ idealists. Checks and balances in America imperfectly regulate the excesses of capitalist enterprise. There seems nothing in Syria’s autocracy that even tries to moderate government leader’s self-interest.

Abouzeid shows disparate religious beliefs and ethnic diversity make Syrian democracy highly improbable. Factional leaders during the Syrian civil war demonstrate it is only “their way or the highway”. Without government checks and balances, today’s Syria is only manageable as an autocracy. Sadly, one family and a religious minority choose to victimize Syrian citizens who are not part of the “in” group. Abouzeid infers that is the proximate cause of the 2011 revolution.

The western world seems incapable of understanding that democracy is not a universal need or desire of all nations.

There are differences that cannot be resolved by votes of constituents in an environment that has few of the hard-won tools of democracy. That is particularly true in non-secular countries with strong religious beliefs. The slaughter of innocents and torture of prisoners noted by Abouzeid during Syria’s civil war is appalling.

Bashar al-Assad or some demented faction in war-torn Syria choose to use poison gas to murder Syrian men, women, and children.

Abouzeid’s stories rend one’s heart. The worst parts of human nature are unleashed to torture and mutilate many who only desire peace and fair treatment. This is an unforgivable tragedy compounded by President Obama’s empty “red line” speech that further alienated Syrian people from the ideal of democracy.

What is often missed in reports of Syrian atrocity is the leaders who led factions in Syria.

Some factions plan to erase Syria from the map and create a religious state to replace the Assad family business with their view of the Islamic religion. This is not to say suppression is not an Assad tool to benefit the Alawite sect of Shia Islam, but that outside Islamic zealots want to install their own form of authoritarianism.

The Syrian government manages to draw on foreign powers (particularly Putin’s Russia) to help strengthen the Assad family’s autocratic control. Though Abouzeid does not address Russia’s assistance, one doubts Assad would have survived.

What Abouzeid reveals with her facts is that one autocracy could have been replaced by another. The question becomes would Syrian citizens be better or worse off under a different autocracy?

Obama’s “red line” is an empty promise that may have been made in good faith but is viewed by Syrians as a betrayal. In one sense, Obama is right in not having America become directly involved in Syria’s civil war. America has made too many mistakes in recent history to warrant invasion in another country’s sovereign independence.

Abouzeid suggests Russia acts as a more reliable friend to the Syrian people than America. In view of the factional nature of Syria’s population, Abouzeid has a point. Syria, and all nation states are on their own in working out what their citizens feel is right. The inference one draws from Abouzeid’s facts is that in Syria’s stage of social development, democracy will not work. Democracy is a choice, not an inevitability. The success of a democracy depends upon the will of the general population to accept diversity as a strength, not a weakness.

The Assad family and the Alawite sect remain autocratic rulers of Syria. The best one can hope is that Assad’s autocracy will more equitably treat all Syrian citizens, whether they are a part of the family business or not. If Assad has not learned that lesson, civil war will return with greater force, and possibly a more repressive autocracy.

COLLEGE OR NOT

Audio-book Review
           By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog: awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Excellent Sheep (The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life)

By: William Deresiewicz

Narrated by: Mel Foster

William Deresiewicz (American author, essayist and literary critic.)

William Deresiewicz offers a view of life and education in “Excellent Sheep”. The author begins by arguing students of the Ivy League are disadvantaged in their acceptance by the best universities in the world. One presumes Deresiewicz comes from a wealthy family because he is a student, and later, professor at Yale.

One thinks about eight of the nine Supreme Court Justices being graduates of Harvard. It is difficult to feel sorry for an American who has guaranteed life employment in one of the most prestigious jobs in the world.

When listening to any audiobook, one thinks of titles of a review for what one hears. In the first few chapters of “Excellent Sheep”, Deresiewicz’s book might be titled “Mostly Baloney”. However, “Mostly Baloney” is disrespectful, and somewhat unfair, as becomes clear in later chapters.

Lack motivation or ability to sustain effective action. Rigid. Unyielding, unable to accept new ideas, etc… Intemperate. Lack self-control and enabled by followers. Callous. In uncaring or unkind, ignores needs of followers. Corrupt. Lie, cheat, and steal; put self-interest ahead of public interest. Insular. Draws clear boundaries between welfare of organization and outsiders. Evil. Use power to inflict severe physical or psychological harm. Incompetent. Lack motivation or ability to sustain effective action. Rigid. Unyielding, unable to accept new ideas, etc.. Intemperate. Lack self-control and enabled by followers. Callous. In uncaring or unkind, ignores needs of followers. Corrupt. Lie, cheat, and steal; put self-interest ahead of public interest. Insular. Draws clear boundaries between welfare of organization and outsiders. Evil. Use power to inflict severe physical or psychological harm.

Toward the end of his book, one finds Deresiewicz is raised in an upper middle-class family but with no college graduates. A listener begins to realize Deresiewicz’s acceptance at Yale comes from hard work, and good grades, even if his family could afford the Ivy League. The author’s presumed hard work and good grades demands respect and fairer evaluation of what he has to say.

Many (if not most) Americans go to college because it is a ticket to better paying jobs, not to become better educated citizens.

To a large extent, this critic went to college to get a ticket for better pay—of course, not to the ivy league but to a State University and graduate education at a midwestern university. The point being most American’s purpose in higher education is to get a ticket for higher paying jobs, and only secondarily, to become better educated. The “ticket mentality” is part of what Deresiewicz is trying to explain.

Deresiewicz explains Ivy League students are pushed throughout their lives to strive for admittance, not to become better educated but to have the best job opportunities in America.

The author suggests that push makes them unsure of themselves because they are constantly measured at every point of their life by the artificiality of SATs, class grades, student activity, and the wealth and influence of their families. What Deresiewicz misses is that despite these student pressures, those who go to any school beyond high school have more tools to help them cope with life. College, contrary to Deresiewicz’s opinion, is not a transition from childhood to adulthood. College is only a continuation of childhood.

Deresiewicz is prescient when he explains how important it is for students to follow their passion.

However, not all people are motivated by passion. Most follow paths of least resistance. The path of least resistance is influenced by education, but not formed by it. To infer that is a bad thing is unreasonable because most of society follows rather than leads. The followers are not motivated by passion. It is leaders who have passion. That, of course, is a two-edged value because leaders can lead to the worst, as well as the best outcomes in life.

An added criticism by Deresiewicz is that upper income families push their children to achieve good grades for admittance to the Ivy League and are damaged by the experience. That seems false.

Basic liberal arts and sciences for adolescents (before college) are exposure that may or may not become passions for the geniuses of life. Parents should encourage, if not push, their children to get good grades in school. That is where passion is born.

No one would deny Sir Isaac Newtons, Einsteins, and Diracs are needed as much as the George Eliots, Dostoyevskys, and Tolstoys of life. Without knowing if they were pushed by their parents is not the point. It is the passion each had for a discipline they were exposed to early in life. Undoubtedly that exposure is either encouraged tacitly or directly by parents or guardians.

What Deresiewicz attacks in his last chapters is the nobles oblige of Ivy League graduates who dominate America’s leadership class. That domination reinforces class distinction and exacerbates the gap between rich and poor.

The author notes many Presidents of the U.S., before the mid-twentieth century did not go to Ivy League universities. With few exceptions, a majority of American Presidents after the 1970s are Ivy League graduates. Deresiewicz suggest the Ivy League aggravates class distinctions in the U.S.

More importantly, Deresiewicz argues Ivy League education narrows the thinking of American leadership because graduates fall into a camaraderie trap and fail to understand the needs of most Americans.

Deresiewicz suggests higher education fails to teach the value of liberal arts. Whether true or not, emphasis on liberal arts seems superfluous. Most who listen to the author’s book cannot feel sorry for Ivy League students that are fearful of what life has in store for them. Every student transitioning to adulthood has that fear. Teaching liberal arts is not going to change that fearfulness. Of course, that is not Deresiewicz’s point, but America’s attention needs to be focused on improving liberal arts and science education for all, not just Ivy League students.