SUPERMAN-SUPERWOMAN

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Hiking with Nietzsche (A Memoir)

By: John Kaag  

Narrated by: Josh Bloomberg

John Kaag (Author, Professor and Chair of Philosophy at the University of Massachusetts Lowell)

Like Mary-Louise Parker’s memoir “Dear Mr. You”, “Hiking with Nietzsche” is nearly returned by this listener.  Both memoirs, as the word suggests, are personal. 

However, Parker’s memoir is burdened by Parker’s self-absorption. “Dear Mr. You” reminds this listener of an actress who chose not to appear at the stage-door in New York after a forgettable stage performance.  Parker is a good writer, but she needs a better subject.

“Hiking with Nietzsche” is not overly burdened by its writer’s self-absorption.  Kaag offers some clarity to Nietzschean philosophical belief.  However, clarity is only partially delivered.  Some details revealed by Kaag of Nietzsche’s life are helpful.

Freidrich Nietzsche (1844-1900, German philosopher, poet, composer, cultural critic, and classical philologist)

Nietzsche’s father was a Lutheran minister.  He died when Nietzsche was only five years old. 

Wilhelm Wagner (1813-1883, German composer and conductor.)

As a young man, Kaag explains Nietzsche idolizes Wagner.  Wagner becomes a father figure to Nietzsche.

However, Wagner treats Nietzsche as a servant, an underling, burdened by sexual identity and a modicum of insight to the nature of life.  Nietzsche eventually breaks with Wagner, partly in recognition of Wagner’s anti-Semite sentiment, but also as a break from surrogate parental control.  Like a child/parent relationship, Nietzsche continues to love Wagner but not as a great human being.

Where Kaag fails is–in inadequately correlating his family life with Nietzschean philosophy.  Kaag notes that Nietzsche spent a great deal of time in the mountains that Kaag and his family are visiting.  He retraces some of Nietzsche’s peripatetic life in Basel and its surroundings.

Kaag explains Nietzsche abandons belief in God and suggests humankind has killed the idea of a Supreme Being which leaves man in charge. 

Nietzsche suggests humankind is on its own. 

Kaag notes Nietzsche argues–We humans can become the ideal man, the master of his/her life.  In that recognition, humans become potential supermen.  Right conduct is determined by individuals overcoming themselves. 

This oneself recognizes morality is based on action that supports life, encourages self-assertion, and has no guilt.  Nietzsche suggests life should come from a “Let it Be” mentality that repeats itself.   Kaag does not make these ideas any clearer in using his family life and his personal actions as a husband and father as exemplars of Nietzschean philosophy.

“Hiking with Nietzsche” is a disappointment but not a waste of time. 

There is something to pursue in philosophy whether one agrees with Nietzsche or not. If “God is Dead” can man be moral?  It seems doubtful based on world history.  On the other hand, all species continue to evolve and adapt.  Earth’s environment is no longer taken for granted.  Are there supermen and women in our future?

FREEDOM OF THE PRESS

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Reporter (A Memoir)

By: Seymour M. Hersh  

Narrated by: Arthur Morey

Semour M. Hersh (Author, investigative journalist, Pulitzer Prize winner)

“Reporter” reveals why freedom of the press is both feared and revered.  Seymour Hersh is an investigative reporter.  After listening to “Reporter”, one realizes Hersh is among the best journalists of the 20th and 21st century. To many newspaper readers (embarrassingly including this reader) Hersh is not well known.  Hersh’s reporting uncovered the My Lai massacre early in his career and followed that with revelations about the clandestine bombing of Cambodia, CIA exposure of domestic spying, and a still controversial contention that Obama lied to the American people about the Abbottabad raid that leads to the death of Osama bin Laden.

Hersh’s reporting uncovered the My Lai massacre early in his career.

The tenor of “Reporter” is personal to Hersh as one suspects all his reporting has been throughout his career.  His tenacity in confirming facts before writing a story lets one know Hersh is relentless.  When one is interviewed by Hersh, one suspects there is fear of being misunderstood or misquoted.  “Reporter” alludes to that fear in anecdotes of his search for facts.

Hersh shows no fear or favor but his pursuit of facts gives no value to reasons for misleading public perception of events.  This is not criticism of the duties of an investigative reporter, but facts do not always speak for themselves. 

One knows America’s government has mislead the public many times in its history.  Whether that misleading is justified or not is not the concern of reporters like Seymour Hersh.  To Hersh, all that matters is–facts speak for themselves.  Therein lies the fear of freedom of the press.

The problem with thinking that facts speak for themselves is that all the facts revealed are never all the facts. 

The many books that have been written about historic figures is ample evidence of the problem.  With the principle of facts speak for themselves there would be no revisionist history.  History is re-written in every generation.

This is not to denigrate the great work reporters like Hersh provide to Americans.  Without freedom of the press America would not be America. 

Even though all the facts are never known, those that are known should be revealed in real time.  How else can American freedom be preserved?  Hersh, like all good investigative reporters, is not always on the right side of history.  Not because his facts are wrong, but that they fail to tell the whole story. 

Every human being is trapped in their own world of experience and genetic predisposition. Facts are by nature pieced into our personal experience and predisposition. Facts do not change but they are influenced by one’s perception of reality.

Many consider Henry Kissinger to have been one of the most highly regarded Secretary of States in the 20th century.  Hersh uncovers facts which suggest that is wrong.  Hersh’s facts are compelling.  They show Kissinger lies and distorts the truth. 

Kissinger flatly denies spying on government employees while Hersh reveals facts that clearly show Kissinger lied. To Hersh, much of the secret opening of China to America happens as a result of an Arab go-between, not Kissinger’s diplomatic skill. 

The covert bombing of Cambodia during the Vietnam war is a policy soundly supported, if not initiated, by Kissinger.  Hersh’s facts speak for themselves, but one doubts they tell the whole story.  The whole story is left to historians. Though it may seem a contradiction, investigative reporter’s revelations in real time are good for American government. Only with transparency, can government become better.

Secret American bombing of Cambodia.

A most interesting chapter of Hersh’s book is an episode to expose the bad deeds of Gulf and Western Oil in the 70s. 

His investigation is toned down and effectively stopped by his employer’s lawyers because of fear of its repercussion.  Hersh concludes it is imprudent to expose seamy activities of corporate America because of potential negative economic consequence to publishers.  Hersh does not back off from private industry investigations but he only refers to one other effort to expose corporate shenanigans. “Reporter” primarily focuses on government employee and policy miss-directions and lies.

Though Hersh is a Democrat, he shows no favor. Hersh notes that facts show President Obama distorted the truth in the hunt and killing of Osama bin Landen.

Hersh dutifully reveals evidence that strongly suggests Pakistan cooperated in the plot to capture or kill bin Laden. Facts suggest bin Laden was not buried at sea but his bullet-ridden remains were dropped from a helicopter into the sea. Those may be the facts but do they explain the whole truth?

“Reporter” is a memoir of a great newsman who is justifiably proud of his contribution to freedom of the press.  America needs driven reporters like Seymour Hersh even though print and media news can never reveal all the facts in real time. 

There is good reason to both fear and revere freedom of the press. Fear comes from truthful as well as false reporting of facts.  Freedom is dependent on good reporting by reputable reporters.

AMERICA’S 2nd REVOLUTION

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The Quartet (Orchestrating the Second American Revolution, 1783-1789)

By: Joseph J. Ellis  

Narrated by Robertson Dean

Joseph J. Ellis (Author, American historian.)

Joseph Ellis explains why creation of a Constitution constitutes America’s second revolution.

“The Quartet” is a well-reasoned history that touches on the 1765-1783 revolution and the subsequent adoption of an American Constitution.   Ellis notes America’s fight for independence meant 13 individual colonies (not a nation-state) fought for freedom from government control by Great Britain.  It was a revolution of many governments against one. Ellis notes most Americans in those early years identified with their own colonies, their own governments, and their singular independence.

The revolutionary war exposes the weakness of the Articles of Confederation.

Though formed to prosecute an American uprising against the British, a confederation of disparate colonies often failed to provide either pay, food, or clothing to its soldiers who were fighting for their colony’s independence.

Adopting a Constitution in 1787-1788 creates a national identity and a singular nation-state. Ellis implies the adoption of a Constitution is a forcible overthrow of 13 governments. The American Constitution creates a nation-state that complements, and in many ways supersedes, the authority of 13 colonial governments. It addresses many of the weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation.

There is an element of hyperbole in naming the Constitutional convention a revolution but it certainly is a revolution in political ideas. Arms to overthrow colonial governments were not taken up by the framers of the Constitution. However, Ellis reasons the force of four men’s intellects foment what he calls a second revolution.

The Constitution not only consolidates 13 disparate colonial governments but offers a democratic nation-state that could grow and compete with every country of the world. Reification of the maligned ideals of democratic government by the American Constitution may well be classified as a revolution.

Ellis argues a “…Quartet” orchestrates a second American revolution.  The preeminent member is George Washington.  Two are less well known, John Jay and James Madison.  The fourth, Alexander Hamilton is well known today, in part because of the New York rap musical, “Hamilton”. Hamilton is an important spoke in the wagon wheel of early American history.

The diminutive James Madison is identified by Ellis as the primary motive power behind the creation of the Constitution.  Ellis suggests, without Madison’s astute handling of arguments for union, the Constitution would have not been approved by the colonies. 

Ellis notes that Madison would not have been successful without the support of Washington, Hamilton, and Jay. It is clear from Ellis’s history that Madison could not have won his arguments for union without the stature and influence of George Washington.  Madison’s friendship with Thomas Jefferson and other revolutionaries enhanced his efforts.  However, Ellis explains Madison’s intellect and studious preparation for debate carried the weight for public acceptance of the Constitution. Madison effectively argues for and designs a Constitution that preserves a level of State sovereignty with a powerful Federal government that becomes acceptable to the colonies.  

A “…Quartet” forms a governing union of colonies to provide defense, health, education, and welfare for a singular nation. 

One of many interesting facts Ellis reveals is how Madison, though short in stature, towered over great orators like Patrick Henry.  Henry insisted on preservation of independence for the colonies.

Madison is shown as an intellect who is always fully prepared for debate.  His ability to draw on historical fact sways enough of the public to see through the voluble and seductive speeches of great orators like Henry.

Ellis notes there is a fundamental difference between Jefferson’s and Madison’s view of the need for a federal government.  Both believed in the importance of a federal government but Jefferson looked to a federal government as a light handed, nearly invisible form of influence on local States.  Madison viewed federal government as a more dominant and influential force on State governance. 

(Parenthetically, Ellis notes that Madison reverses course in his later years to become more in tune with Jefferson’s view.  Both men were Virginians.  Ellis speculates Madison’s change in belief is in his recognition of growing disadvantages southern states would have in a Federal government.)

In drafting the Constitution, Ellis notes Madison understood the importance of compromise in dealing with State prerogative.  The importance of having State representation and a mechanism for adjudicating disagreement were folded into a concept of Senate and House representation.  Every State, regardless of population, would have two senators.  However, the House would have representatives based on population.  The Senate and House would have different responsibilities but each would have to compromise with the other in order to pass legislation.  Though Madison may not have clearly appreciated the power of a Supreme Court, the idea of balance of power with three branches of Federal government garnered more support for union of the colonies.

The role of John Jay, except to historians, is not well known.  Jay became the first Chief Justice of the United States.

Before that position, John Jay plays a vital role in forming American independence.  He becomes the Secretary of Foreign Affairs under the Articles of Confederation and is a strong proponent of centralized government. He was chief negotiator of the Treaty of Paris, in which Britain recognizes American independence.  As co-author of the Federalist Papers (along with Hamilton and Madison) he supported a strong Federal government.

A fundamental point that Ellis emphasizes in “The Quartet” is that the Constitution is proposed by its founders to be a living document. Ellis strongly objects to political leaders that are classified as “Originalists”. In Ellis’s story of the second revolution, the framers did not want to be identified as divinely inspired. They recognized they were Americans of their time, not of all time. They did not believe they were so forward thinking that the Constitution would not be changed by interpretations that fit circumstances of changing times.

Ellis view of America’s formation as a nation-state appears to defy the odds. It seems there was a 2nd American revolution.

AMBITION

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

From the Corner of the Oval – A Memoir

By: Beck Dorey-Stein  

Narrated by Beck Dorey-Stein

Beck Dorey-Stein (Author)

The value of Dorey-Stein’s memoir is how a twenty something adult makes his/her way in America.  What Dorey-Stein reflects is not just for women.  It reveals much about every human’s ambition to make their way in the world.

“From the Corner of the Oval” is a subjective view of the power and prestige of an American President.  The President’s power is limited, and his prestige is largely manufactured by the media.  However, Dorey-Stein’s story of aides who serve an American President is a journey of extraordinary privilege.

What will draw some to Dorey-Stein’s book is curiosity about what it is like to be an aide in an American Presidential Administration.  Some of that curiosity is satisfied.  “From the Corner of the Oval” offers a view of Barack Obama from the perspective of a true believer.

The universality of Dorey-Stein’s memoir is a magnification of what it is to be in your twenties, on your way to a future.  Opportunity is presented to all people of the world, but few grasp its temporal significance.  Only in reflection is lived experience understood.  

In the beginning of adulthood, when one is on their own, they choose to do one thing or another to satisfy their need for fulfillment.  Fulfillment is a measure of three things—acquisition of money, power, and some measure of prestige.  Each of these measures are quantitatively and qualitatively different for every person. 

Some desire money more than power, power more than prestige, or prestige more than money.  It is a circle of insatiable desire.

Dorey-Stein writes of her experience as a woman in her twenties.  She has experienced employment, loss of employment, search for new employment, reemployment, the luck (both good and bad) of sex as a single person, and partner infidelity as a perpetrator and victim.  Many people in their twenties encounter these experiences.  Dorey-Stein works through these experiences in her well-written and interesting memoir.

The seemingly worst part of her experience is infidelity.  One concludes good and bad experiences are overcome by her position as aide in a Presidential administration, some close confidential friends, physical health, and her supportive parents. 

Fidelity is a nearly insuperable difficulty for Dorey-Stein, just as it is for many human beings. 

Sex is a biological necessity for continuation of any species.  From puberty to your twenties through death, sex is present in practice or thought.  Dorey-Stein shows the consequence of power and prestige mixed with a natural desire for sexual relationship. 

Many may be appalled by the role money, power, and position play in genuine affection and love, but that is life.  Along the way, Dorey-Stein gives her reader/listeners a seat in the oval office, Air Force One, and a tour of the world at government expense.

SMARTEST IN THE ROOM

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

How Not to Be Wrong

By: Jordan Ellenberg  

Narrated by Jordan Ellenberg

Jordan Ellenberg (Author, American mathematician, Professor of mathematics at University of Wisconsin-Madison).

Like listening to Brian Greene (a theoretical physicist), Jordan Ellenberg reminds one of what it must be like to be the smartest person in the room.  One feels better from the experience of listening to “How Not to Be Wrong”, but understanding will be a struggle for most non-mathematicians. A non-mathematician leaves Ellenberg’s book better informed, if not entirely enlightened.

A non-mathematician may be hesitant to take Ellenberg’s book in hand.  Ellenberg does not convince one that mathematics will always help one “…Not…Be Wrong”. However, Ellenberg convincingly argues mathematics will offer a better chance of being right.

Ellenberg is a professor of mathematics.  He capsulizes mathematics as the language of science.  He reveals how mathematics offers a qualified understanding of reality. 

Ellenberg shows how “right” is qualified by mathematical proof.  Like Brian Greene, Ellenberg shows how mathematics brings one closer to truth but only to the point of a “null hypothesis”.  A null hypothesis is a repeatable experiment where there is zero (null) difference in results.  Being right is dependent upon the same results from population samplings and relevant repeatable experiments.

What strikes at the heart of Ellenberg’s explanation of “How Not to Be Wrong” is human natures tendency to make events conform to plan.  Human beings can lie to themselves. 

Lying to oneself is the source of conspiracy theories based on the human strength and weakness of seeing patterns in nature.  Perceived patterns from observation may or may not meet the criteria of a “null hypothesis”.  Ellenberg suggests one should be skeptical of observed patterns that defy common sense.

What is disturbing about Ellenberg’s explanation of “How Not to Be Wrong” is that probability enters into the equation of truth. 

This is the same fundamental law noted by theoretical physicists like Brian Greene.  With the use of mathematics as the language of science, one can only expect a probability of truth: not certainty.

Ellenberg notes one must keep in mind–not being wrong is entirely different from being right.  Determination of whether one is right or wrong is two-edged where one edge offers a probability of being right while the other implies possibility of being wrong.  The uncertainty of probability is a lighted match that can burn down a forest of science.

That match is fanned into a flame by those who disparage all of science because of revised theories based on newly discovered facts. As an example–our recent experience with the former President of the United States who discredited the science of masking and distancing during the Covid 19 pandemic.

Ellenberg gives numerous examples of people who are misled by population sampling and the concept of correlation.  Human nature often misleads people to see patterns where cause is unrelated to effect.  Ellenberg argues that better understanding of mathematics can teach humans “How Not to Be Wrong”. 

Being right is always qualified by some level of probability.  Ellenberg explains repeatable experiment, with a level of consistency in mathematical proofs, is our way of not being wrong.  Good to know, but daunting to achieve when mathematics is the only avenue for understanding. 

Don’t we all want to know “How Not to Be Wrong”?  Is the language of mathematics the only avenue for understanding?  Therein lies the fear of realizing you are not the smartest person in the room.

LIVING LIFE

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Until the End of Time

By: Brian Greene  

Narrated by Brian Greene

Author, (American Theoretical Physicist)

There is a great deal to unpack in Brian Greene’s “Until the End of Time”.  As is true of many of Greene’s scientific observations, much of his self-effacing intelligence and science-based opinion is lost in the ignorance of his listeners (more specifically, this listener).  However, where Greene’s beliefs intersect with one’s limited knowledge, his theory of the ending of time and life is immensely rewarding and enlightening.

Greene does not argue there is no God. However, he suggests modern science shows there is no reason for God to exist to create life. 

To Greene, there is more verifiable proof of life in science than verifiable proof of God in either science or religion.

In Greene’s thought, God and religion may have a great deal to do with sustaining human life, but in ways more sociological than religious.  Weather one is a believer, atheist, or agnostic makes no difference to Greene.  He carefully constructs an explanation of how science shows life may have come into existence, why stories of life may explain belief in God, and why humans are fundamentally different from other forms of life.  The fundamental point of “…the End of Time” has to do with human mortality.  Human mortality lies at the core of Greene’s view of time and life.

Greene suggests the laws of physics founded by luminaries like Newton, Einstein, Heisenberg, Bohr, and Erwin Schrodinger offer evidence for the basis for life on earth, with or without God.  Greene explains the principle of thermodynamics, the fundamental science of energy that creates and sustains life. 

Greene explains–the physics of energy (thermodynamics) ensures eventual death.  All life is pre-determined by the fundamental law of entropy.  The fate of time and life began with a bang.  This singular event disbursed tightly organized atomistic particles into a continually less organized space.

Greene notes that all forms of life are subject to entropy, a gradual decline from order to disorder.  Greene argues that entropy acts at an atomistic level to determine the fate of all living things. Greene suggest laws of quantum mechanics determine the course of life for all “living” things.

To Greene, humankind is free to make choices.  However, he argues humankind does not have free will.  The physics of science show that all living things cannot choose to live forever.  Humans can choose how to live, what to think, who to love, who to hate but they cannot choose one Nano second longer than what is dictated by the fundamental law of entropy.

Greene notes the science of Darwinian evolution and genetic inheritance is a relevant reinforcement of his argument for the inevitable extinction of life.  The entropy accompanying human habitation is evident in pollution of the air we breath and the water we drink.    (Though Greene does not address advances in genetic inheritance through gene manipulation, genetic manipulation does not negate Greene’s overriding concept of entropy.)

Just as earth’s environment slowly degrades, genetic inheritance as a process will eventually lead to extinction.  Humans, just as dinosaur’s, sabre tooth tigers, and Dodo birds will disappear. All life adapts to change until the speed of environmental change becomes greater than the speed of evolutionary adaptation.

Greene agues humankind’s recognition of mortality shapes lives as consequentially as evolution. The significance of Greene’s argument is that religion is founded on acknowledgement of eventual death.  Knowing that one cannot live forever, creates the desire for something beyond death.  Greene elaborates by arguing that human lack of control over natural events compels creation of stories about a Supreme Being. *

The big picture in “Until the End of Time” is that the world and life is heading for an end.   Based on the science of physics, there is an “…End of Time” for humankind, based on the immutable and experimentally proven laws of thermodynamics.  Entropy is evident in the science of quantum mechanics (the physical properties of nature at the scale of atoms and subatomic particles), and the science of a continually expanding universe.

What does this mean to us?  Humans still make their own choices on how to live, love, and hate in their lifetimes.  The singer, Bobby McFerrin, suggests “Don’t Worry Be Happy”.  Others suggest the meaning of life is to live in the moment.  Brian Greene suggests it is up to you.  Our lives and death may be pre-determined, but we have freedom to choose how we live, love, and work.

* Greene acknowledges the slim possibility of Devine existence but considers it much less probable based on the discipline of science and the existence of entropy.  Greene does not discount the comfort religion offers humankind, including the rituals that help one cope with life and the passing of loved ones.

GNOSTICISM

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough
(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog
The Gnostic Gospels
By: Elaine Pagels
Narrated by Lorna Raver

Elaine Pagels is a Professor of Religion at Princeton University. She has a Ph.D. in religion from Harvard University. Modern Library calls Pagels’ book, “The Gnostic Gospels” one of the 100 most important books of the twentieth century.

Like the beginning of a story of adventure and mystery, Pagels recounts the discovery of a fifty-two text collection of papyrus sheets recounting the beginnings of the Christian church.

For all religious organizations and particularly the Christian church, “The Gnostic Gospels” shakes the foundation of institutional religion.

According to Pagels, the Coptic text of “The Gnostic Gospels” show that in the near-beginnings of the Christian religion there were questions about who Jesus was and what he was about.

  • Was Jesus simply a prophet or the Son of God?
  • Was he preaching for the creation of a religion ?
  • Were historical facts manipulated to create a religious hierarchal institution?
  • Was Mary Magdalene a conjugal companion or disciple?

Pagels’ interpretation of “The Gnostic Gospels” suggests Jesus was a prophet; that his life story was manipulated to create a religious hierarchal institution, and that Mary Magdalene was a disciple.

A fundamental theme of “The Gnostic Gospels” is that the “Kingdom of God” is present within every human being, then and now, and that self-knowledge is the source of admittance to grace.

If one believes this teaching, it does not mean one must abandon organized religion but it redefines the role of the church.

Pagels’ interpretation of the “Gnostic Gospels” implies the role of the church is not to ritualize admittance to the “Kingdom of God” by christening mankind or bludgeoning all who do not accept a church’s vision of religion.

It suggests the church’s role is to aid personal revelation. Maybe Dostoevsky’s parable of “The Grand Inquisitor” is more insight than imagination.

Doubt remains at the conclusion of “The Gnostic Gospels”, even after reading Pagels’ insightful interpretation. Gnostic documentation is distant from “witnesses to the truth”. “The Gnostic Gospels” were written 300 or 400 years after Jesus’s time.

RELIGIOUS BELIEF

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The Brothers Karamazov

By: Fyodor Dostoevsky (Translated by Constance Garnett)

Narrated by Frederick Davidson

A re-listening of one of Dostoevsky’s masterpieces reminds one of why it is considered a classic. 

My first review of “The Brothers Karamazov” focuses on Dostoevsky’s prescient view of psychology

Re-listening reprises its deeply religious overtone and its depiction of how some novelists view and reinforce inequality of the sexes.

Vasily Kachalov as Ivan Karmazov.

The role of religion in life is vivified by Ivan Karamazov, the 4th son and brother of the Karamazov family. 

Depiction of Alyosha Karamazov.

Ivan tells his youngest brother, Alyosha, of an imagined poem.  It is named “The Grand Inquisitor”.  It is a story of the return of Christ noted in the Christian bible as the second coming. 

Ivan offers a societal interpretation of the concept of God in his narrative poem.  He explains to his brother Alyosha–if the Son of God returns to earth and shows his divinity through miracle, the returning Christ would be captured by church elders and rejected as humankind’s Savior.

Christ’s capturer in Ivan’s poem is a wizened bishop (the Grand Inquisitor) who explains faith is more important than the second coming. 

The bishop explains the Church is commissioned by Christ’s Father to rule the world.  With God’s commission, “The Grand Inquisitor” argues the Church dutifully manages human sin and confession.  The inference is that a “second coming” will not successfully eradicate human sin because it is ineradicable.

The bishop argues the return of Christ is not as important as the church’s management of sin and its gift of hope to the people of the world. 

In contradiction of Ivan’s poem and his societal interpretation of religion, Dostoevsky creates Father Zosima.  Zosima tells his life story as a relatively wealthy young military officer who becomes a venerated monk. 

Despite a secular life of sin, Zosima requests forgiveness from those he has sinned against.  Because of his spiritual awakening, Zosima requests forgiveness, and with the help of a stranger’s confession, reconciles and accepts the word of God. 

Zosima recalls the truth of God who tests Job’s faith by allowing the devil to take all his earthly wealth, health, and family.  Job never gives up his faith in God. Zosima recounts reconciliation and forgiveness of Joseph’s brothers who sold him into slavery.  Zosima commits his remaining life to God with these two biblical parables.  Zosima’s life story foreshadows Ivan’s conversion from belief in the “…Grand Inquisitor” to belief in God’s truth.

For God’s believers, Dostoevsky argues the world will change just as Zosima changed.  The change will come from salvation based on repentance, confession, and acceptance of God’s truth. 

Dostoevsky suggests God’s truth is that no one should stand in judgement over another, each should pray for theirs, and their brother’s redemption. Zosima argues this change will come upon the world gradually based on a growing diminution of the human desire for money, power, and prestige.  Care for others becomes as great as care for oneself. To Dostoevsky, this is an evolutionary imperative based on the biblical word of God.

The truth Zosima refers to is that all men are created equal, they should be treated with respect, and forgiven for their inevitable sins. 

A blaring irony of “The Brothers Karamazov” is the reprehensible characterization of women.  Dostoevsky’s vision is patriarchal.  Women bare children keep the house and obey their husbands.  There is no room for women’s equality.  They are a mere rib of Man.

One might argue there has been progress for women since the 19th century, but women are still battered, women are generally paid less than men for the same work, and women are often treated like slaves.

“The Brothers Karamazov” is a classic. It is prescient for these times.  One might argue that more attention is being given today to sexual, ethnic, religious, and racial inequality.  However, progress is slow.  America has taken many steps back, and few steps forward. 

Dostoevsky’s “…Brothers Karamazov” is a reminder of Martin Luther King, Jr’s quote— “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”  Maybe, but this generation doubts its truth.

How long is too long?

CLINICAL PROOF

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The Skeptics’s Guide to Alternative Medicine

By: Steven Novella MD

Great Books Lecture Series

STEVEN NOVELLA (AMERICAN CLINICAL NEUROLOGIST, ASST. PROFESSOR AT YALE UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF MEDICINE)

Many listener/readers will be disappointed, if not outraged, by Steven Novella’s criticism of alternative medicine and medical treatments.  He notes that many such treatments are untested by properly conducted experiment, and replication.  He notes many alleged medical treatments and cures either fail clinical tests or are not tested at all. 

The significance of Novella’s argument strikes at the heart of anecdotal evidence used to advertise unproven cures for minor, as well as major medical conditions.  With freedom of advertising, unproven claims of miracle cures are fed to the public.  Their claims are to improve health for everything from fatigue, to joint pain, to erectile dysfunction. 

Over the counter supplements and game playing are alleged to improve health and memory. Their only proof is anecdotal experience.  Some advertisements of the OTC’ treatments claim to improve memory, abate Alzheimer’s, and reduce the negative effect of dementia. Support in the media comes from anecdotal stories from users of these alleged remedies. 

One of the most heavily advertised health supplements for brain health today is Prevagen.  Prevagen is dosed with a protein found in jelly fish.

Novella takes on the vitamin and herbal industry by noting vitamin supplements, plant and animal extracts are an unregulated industry.  The FDA gives free reign to manufacturers, advertisers, and sellers of supplements which:

  • 1) vary dramatically in their alleged ingredients, and
  • 2) have no clinically proven benefits. 

Novella explains (and most have heard this) that a balanced diet is the best prescription for healthy living.  Novella notes the only exception is when there is a vitamin deficiency revealed in a blood test.

Many OTC drugs are supported by lab-coat wearing and white-shirt-and-tie actors.  No reputable clinical trials are required to sell Ginkgo Biloba, Ginseng, Echinacea, and other herbal medicines.

Next, Novella takes on the Chiropractic and Acupuncture industry.  Novella argues these two industries have never had clinically proven benefits.  Novella implies Chiropractors talk of “vertebral subluxation” as a cause for disease that can be cured with manipulation of the body. He suggests that is quackery.  Novella implies this is junk science foisted on an unwary public. No clinically reproducible experiments of this Chiropractic diagnosis and treatment have proven such a claim.  Novella attacks the validity of acupuncture with the same argument.  His conclusion is that any positive results are from the placebo effect, not from clinically reproduceable tests.

The body naturally fights disease with one’s own immune system.  People get better and feel better because their immune system cured them. Novella explains feeling better after taking a herbal supplement may be a result of the placebo effect.  Feeling better is reinforced by testimonials of those who say it worked for him or her.  The obvious risk of the placebo effect is that someone who needs medical treatment will choose an alternative medicine that delays proper treatment by a qualified medical professional. 

Novella suggests feeling better is not a measure of efficacy.  Feeling better may be from getting over an illness. 

The public is forearmed by Novella’s critique of alternative medicine.  Be skeptical about what your friend, an acquaintance, a mother, a sister, a brother suggests is a remedy for your malady. Be particularly skeptical of an industry unsupervised by the FDA.  Everyone should be wary of unqualified medical treatment, prescribed medicines, vitamins, and herbs.  Companies in the field of alternative medicine are not in the business for your health. They are in the business of making money.

It seems prudent to suggest one should reserve a measure of skepticism for all purveyors of cures, even medical professionals.  As is true of all humans, medical professionals can be seduced by the desire for money, power, and prestige–even at the expense of those who seek care.

After listening/reading Novella’s book, it seems prudent to be skeptical of all who prescribe cures for mental and physical illness. 

EVOLVING PANDEMICS

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Mysteries of the Microscopic World

By: Bruce E. Fleury (Great Courses)

Lecturer-Professor Bruce E. Fleury

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

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

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

Antonie van Leeuwenhoek (1632-1723)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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