Audio-book Review By Chet Yarbrough
Blog: awalkingdelight) Website: chetyarbrough.blog
The Four Books
By: Yan Lianke, Translated by Carlos Rojas
Narrated by: George Backman
THE WORLD AS SEEN, READ ABOUT, LISTENED TO, AND INTERPRETED
Audio-book Review By Chet Yarbrough
Blog: awalkingdelight) Website: chetyarbrough.blog
The Four Books
By: Yan Lianke, Translated by Carlos Rojas
Narrated by: George Backman
By Chet Yarbrough
Being You (A New Science of Consciousness)
By: Anil Seth
Narrated by: Anil Seth
Anil Seth (British professor of Cognitive and Computational Neuroscience at the University of Sussex.)
Anil Seth’s “Being You” is a difficult book to understand, in part because of its subject, but also because it requires a better educated reviewer. Consciousness is defined as an awareness of yourself and the world, a state of being awake and aware of one’s surroundings that emerges from one’s brain. Seth explains neuronal activity of the brain correlates with what “Being You” is you. Seth argues that without neuronal activity, there is no you.
Seth suggests the conscious self operates with a Bayesian view of the world.
Bayes’ theory is that decision making is based on rules used to predict one’s decisions. The example Seth gives is a person living in the desert who sees droplets of water on his lawn and presumes it either rained, or his sprinkler was left on when it should have been turned off. He looks outside and sees his neighbor’s lawn is wet and, with that added information, decides it must have rained. Then he notes his window is dirty and maybe he is not seeing water on his neighbor’s lawn. This reduces the possibility that it rained but not enough to change his mind about it having rained last night. The point is that one continually changes their state of understanding (their consciousness) based on added information.
The difficulty of a Bayesian view of consciousness is that human decisions are a function of human perception of data that is never 100 percent complete.
There are three fundamental weaknesses with a Bayesian view of the world as the prime mover of consciousness. One, humans do not always see clearly. Two, all that is seen is never all that there is to be seen. And three, human minds tend to pattern what they see to conform to their personal bias. The third is the most troubling weakness because, like in police line-ups used for eyewitnesses to identify perps when a crime is committed, mistakes are made. Eyewitnesses are no guarantee for identification of a criminal’s crime. None of this is to suggest Seth is wrong about what consciousness is but it shows consciousness is eminently fallible and only probabilistic.
Seth’s theory of consciousness reinforces the public danger of social websites that influence the public, particularly young adolescents trying to find their way in life. Their search for social acceptance leads them to internet sites that may lead or mislead their lives.
Another fascinating argument by Seth is that the mind is not the source of emotion. He suggests the mind is informed by the organs of the body. The heart begins to race, and adrenalin is released as somatic markers that send signals to an area of the brain that makes fight or flight decisions. Emotions do not originate in the brain. The brain responds to the cumulative effect of the body’s physical and chemical signals.
Seth notes various studies of human decision making that are based on external stimuli with a belief that the primary purpose of consciousness is to survive. Two methods of consciousness measurement are IIT (Integrated Information Theory) and PHI, a number meant to measure quality interconnections between bits of information of a given entity. The resulting number — the Phi score — corresponds directly to a measurement of an entities level of consciousness. A reader/listener should not be discouraged by this technical digression. Much remains in Seth’s book that is more comprehensible and interesting.
Seth explores some of the tests used for consciousness. The mirror test is one in which a living thing is shown itself in a mirror to see if it recognizes the image of itself.
Monkeys show some signs of recognition (dogs do not) which suggests a greater level of consciousness among primates. He notes the evolution of human perception of the world through the eyes of artists like Monet, Mach, and Picasso who see nature’s colors and planes of the face or body in the material world. One thinks of Monk’s insightful “Scream” that reminds some of life’s terror. He shows how a stationary drawing seems to have movement because of a trick of consciousness.
Seth expands that principle to show how consciousness can create a full body illusion like that of a Star Trek transporter that sends their body to another planet. A whole host of social problems can be created by image teleportation. Being able to create a perfect duplicate of one person that is televising false information might start a rebellion or start a war.
Seth argues humans have free will and that the brain’s pre-cognition for action is not because of pre-determination of life but a delay inherent in consciousness which is gathering information before acting, just like the sprinkler story alluded to earlier. As noted earlier, to Seth, consciousness is a Bayesian process, not a predetermination of action.
The end of “Being You” addresses Ray Kurzweil’s “singularity”, “a future period during which the pace of technological change will be so rapid, its impact so deep, that human life will be irreversibly transformed. Seth expresses concern and an element of optimism. The evolution of the beast machine bodes a possible end, an adaptation, or an evolutionary change of humanity.
Seth touches on research being done on cerebral organoids, artificially grown miniature organs resembling the brain.
Presently they are being used to model the development of brain cancer to aid in its cure but how far is this from the next step in machine learning, supplemented by the implantation of cerebral organoids?
The beast machine is consciousness.
Genetics discoveries and research hold the potential for creation, manipulation, and destruction of human life. Artificial Intelligence is on the precipice of a marriage between all information in the world and sentient existence of beast machines. The beast machine will have greater potential for creation, manipulation, and destruction of life.
Human consciousness has created the agricultural age, the industrial revolution and now this technological age. Humans have nuclear weapons of mass destruction that can end our world’s human habitation. The only note of optimism is that the history of human consciousness has generally led to positive changes for humanity, i.e., longer life spans, improved economic and social conditions, and new discoveries about life and living. The world is at its next great social and economic change.
By Chet Yarbrough
Cuba (An American History)
By: Ada Ferrer
Narrated by: Alma Cuervo, Ada Ferrer- prologue.
Ada Ferrer (Author, historian, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for her American History of Cuba.)
Ada Ferrer’s “Cuba” offers an insightful history of Cuba. She reveals how this island nation became a Spanish and American obsession and explains its complicated relationship with the world and America. In Cuba, Columbus finds three Indigenous inhabitants, the Tainos, the Ciboneys, and the Guanajatabeyes. Though Columbus may have tasted the sweetness of sugarcane, he was looking for gold and failed to appreciate sugar’s commercial value.
The Italian explorer, Christopher Columbus, lands in Cuba on his historic and misguided exploration of the Western world in 1492.
Spain becomes the de facto ruler of this island, less than four hundred miles off Florida’s coast. With Cuba’s declaration of independence in 1868, Spain’s control is challenged by years of Cuban rebellion until American intervention in 1898. Spain had colonized and controlled Cuba for over three hundred years. In 1898, America declares war on Spain and ejects Spain’s suzerainty in the Spanish-American War. However, Cuba fails to become truly independent until 1902 when the U.S. ends its military occupation. Ferrer notes in the years between 1898 and 1902, American leaders like John Quincy Adams covet American assimilation of Cuba. However, Cubans had other ideas.
Ferrer infers Cubans felt the same about America’s control of Cuba as they did of Spain’s. With liberation of Cuba in 1898, America chose to appoint the same Spanish bureaucrats to manage the country as when Spain controlled Cuba.
America influences election of a President of Cuba’s new Republic by supporting Thomas Palma. Palma lasts for 4 years. In general, Ferrer implies Cubans were glad to see America withdraw in 1909. However, American withdrawal is tempered by the Platt Amendment that would allow American military intervention if American leadership believed Cuban independence was at risk.
Cuba neglected to form a government that could or would govern the inherent self-interest of human beings.
Failure to understand human self-interest exacerbates the economic challenge of the Great Depression. The first act of one of Cuba’s kleptocrats in the early 1930s is to pilfer the treasury, escape to America, and build what became known as “Little Havana” in Florida; leaving Cuba without funds to govern their newly formed government.
Cuba’s kleptocratic government copes through the years of the depression to become fertile ground for the American mob, led by Lucky Luciano and Myer Lansky. Lansky meets with Batista and hands over suitcases of money to cement a relationship between the mob and the Cuban government. Lansky establishes a Cuban gambling industry and makes Cuba a transportation hub for illegal drug distribution.
Ferrer notes at times in history, the conflict between Black and white citizens becomes as violent in Cuba as in America.
In subsequent years, Cuba writes a new constitution that theoretically guarantees social equality but fails to enforce its idealistic intentions. Considering Ferrer’s studied and detailed history of Cuba’s government struggles, a reader/listener recognizes the wisdom of America’s founding fathers in creating a government of checks and balances. One realizes Cuba runs through several Presidents that fail to achieve the ideals of their Constitution. The ideal of equality among men and women of all races and creeds, though preached in both Cuba and America, is not achieved in either country.
Ferrer recounts the story of Lucky Luciano carrying suitcases filled with money to corrupt Batista’s government to transform Havana into a mecca for gambling and prostitution.
Fulgencio Batista (1901-1973) U.S. backed dictator of Cuba.
After a series of difficulties in the economy, Fulgencio Batista becomes President in 1940 and again in 1955 after a seven-year interregnum with two other Cuban Presidents.
Ferrer notes Cuba in later days of Batista and during the depression is a kleptocratic state. The failure to establish a government that serves its people rather than its corrupt leaders, and Batista’s cruel administration set the table for citizen’s discontent and rebellion. That discontent led to Fidel Castro’s rise to power in 1976.
Fidel Castro (1926-2016) Photograph in 1959. Castro served as President and then Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba but always considered himself a Socialist.
Ferrer clearly explains Castro was a committed revolutionary socialist, not a communist. Castro makes the same mistake China and Russia are making in understanding the economics of Karl Marx. This is not to say Marx is right about the evolution of government but that the ideal of a socialist’s or communist’s success is dependent upon economic growth. Without wealth, there is no equity to equally distribute.
Ferrer shows Castro to be an idealist, a person committed to the equality of humanity but unable to create the economic viability needed for socialism to work.
Fidel Castro is both revered and reviled by Cubans, let alone many Americans. The inherent self-interest of humanity makes socialism and communism an ideal, not a reality. Neither China, Russia, nor Cuba, seem to understand, as Marx infers–to become either a socialist or communist state, a state must begin with capitalism.
Self-interest will always interfere with the idealism of socialism and communism. The missing requirement of all forms of government is the perfection of checks and balances that can fairly mitigate inherent human self-interest.
“Cuba” is an excellent historical account that illustrates the strength and weakness of autocratic leaders and government idealism. Ferrer’s work deserved the Pulitzer Prize.
By Chet Yarbrough
Hubert Humphrey (The Conscience of the Country)
By: Arnold A. Offner
Narrated by: Jonathan Yen
Arnold A. Offner (Author, American historian, president of the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations.)
Arnold Offner offers a biography of Hubert Humphrey, a former Minneapolis, Minnesota Mayor, U.S. Senator, and Vice President of the United States. Offner notes Humphrey ran for President in 1960 but was defeated by John F. Kennedy.
Hubert Humphrey (1911-1978, died at age 66, V.P. 1965-1969, Senator 1971-78)
What makes this biography interesting is that few American V.P.s are remembered, let alone biographized. The V.P.s who are remembered are only those who become Presidents. Even then, most American Vice Presidents are not remembered. Three exceptions are Theodore Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and Lyndon Johnson.
There are 16 V.P.s to become Presidents of the United States. Out of 46 Presidents, 16 V.P.s (approximately 34%) became President. Eight became President because of a President’s death in office.
The strength of democracy is in a candidates’ skill in representing the will of his/her supporters. The weakness of democracy is in a candidates’ dependence on the wealth of special interests that contribute to their candidacy.
Humphrey’s biography is an interesting example of the strength and weakness of American Democracy. On the one hand, one person can change the course of democratic government. On the other hand, a candidate for President cannot be elected without the support of people and businesses that contribute a lot of money.
Money comes with strings. The influence of special interests and the power of elected representatives distort objectivity.
Offner shows the choice of running mates for Vice President in an American democracy is based on two qualities. The first is how a V.P. candidate increases voter base for the prospective President. The second is the skill that a V.P. may have in rallying political support for the President’s ticket. V.P.s in their positions as possible President replacements have little visibility to the public. Vice Presidents are forgotten in public memory unless they become President. Even as Presidents, if they fail to become impactful, they are forgotten.
Offner shows Humphrey wished to be President, but he had little chance of achieving that goal for two reasons.
One, he did not come from a wealthy family and two, his political base came from his experience as a mayor of Minneapolis, Minnesota and as a relatively new Senator for the State. Though Offner shows Humphrey had great political skill, his only realistic avenue to the Presidency is by being Vice President.
Offner shows Humphrey as a prime mover in civil rights.
Fight for civil rights is not shown as a singular political maneuver but a lifelong pursuit by Humphrey. Offner shows how Humphrey became a civil rights leader in his home State. After becoming Vice President, Humphrey successfully pushed for the greatest civil rights legislation since Reconstruction after the civil war.
The importance of money in American elections is made clear when Humphrey runs for President against John Kennedy. The wealth of the Kennedy family doomed Humphrey’s chances.
Humphrey is characterized as an indefatigable debater and negotiator in a Congress held hostage by a 2/3’s cloture rule that gave civil rights legislation little chance of passage because of southern opposition. With the help of Mike Mansfield, the Democratic Senate Majority Leader, Humphrey maneuvers the Senate to approve the Civil Rights Act of 1964 despite the 2/3s cloture rule. It prohibited discrimination in public places, provided for integration of schools and other public facilities. It also made employment discrimination illegal.
American involvement in Vietnam did not begin with Johnson. America’s entry into Vietnam began soon after WWII because of America’s paranoia over Russian Communist infiltration in Asia and the 1950s growth of the Viet Minh’ guerillas. The Viet Minh were a guerrilla force led by Ho Chi Minh to contest French colonization of Vietnam. The Viet Minh were supported by both Stalin and Mao and their respective communist beliefs.
After Johnson’s American expansion into North Vietnam, Offner notes Ho Chi Minh demanded total withdrawal of America, the right of South Vietnam to vote on whether they wished to be a part of one country, and Vietnam to be left to govern their own territory.
Ho Chi Minh (1890-1969, died at age 79, President of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam.)
These terms were unacceptable to Johnson. Retrospectively, that would have been the best, least costly, and most diplomatic action that could have been taken by America.
Offner explains President Johnson requires his Vice President, above all, to be loyal. Offner shows Humphrey was loyal, at least until 1965, when he sent a memorandum to Johnson recommending an exit strategy. Johnson ignores Humphrey’s memorandum. The rest is history. Therein lies the risk of Democracy in America.
The checks and balances of Democracy fail to protect America from the mistakes of Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan because money and power influence Democratic elections, policies, and Presidents. This is the risk both Republican and Democratic Presidents have noted. (Dwight Eisenhower’s comments about the Military/Industrial Complex, and Barack Obama’s address to the Senate on campaign finance reform.)
The last chapters of Offner’s book recount the race for the Presidency after Johnson’s speech saying he will not run for another term. Humphrey chooses to run for President with Muskie as his choice for V.P. In the end, Humphrey and Muskie are defeated with the return to political office of Richard Nixon and his soon to be revealed corrupt V.P., Spiro Agnew.
As Churchill noted in 1947, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.”
By Chet Yarbrough
Build Your House Around My Body
By: Violet Kupersmith
Narrated by: Quyen Ngo
Violet Kupersmith (American Author, Taught English in the Mekong Delta on a Fulbright Program.)
This is the debut novel of Violet Kupersmith. “Build Your House Around My Body” is an interesting title that cleverly infers human life is built around women, not because of their role in birthing but because of their influence on the other half of humanity.
Kupersmith’s novel suggests the male half of humanity is more maleficent than beneficent. Women are characterized as diabolical in pursuit of revenge for their treatment as less equal human beings and sex objects of men.
Kupersmith’s story is complicated and surreal which may discourage many listeners. On the other hand, its history reminds one who may have visited Vietnam or Cambodia of Southeast Asia‘s different cultural history and mythology. Though animism and the supernatural are less present in America, Kupersmith implies they are ever-present phenomena in the lives of indigenous Vietnamese.
Animism and the supernatural are a distinct part of southeast Asian culture.
There are two main characters, but the most prominent character is Winnie, a woman of mixed southeast Asian and American parentage. She travels from America to Vietnam to become a teacher of English in an adult education class. She seems ill suited for a teacher’s job but perseveres and becomes the mistress of one of the teachers. Kupersmith’s story revolves around the disappearance of Winnie from a house in which she cohabits with this fellow teacher. The story begins with the mysterious disappearance of Winnie. Winnie becomes a vehicle of revenge through possession by a spirt who lives in the body of a dog.
During France’s occupation of Vietnam, rubber plantations were formed by French colonists who employed Vietnamese laborers to harvest their crops. Kupersmith implies Vietnamese men and women who worked on these plantations were underpaid and abused by plantation owners.
Kupersmith implies the folly of foreign occupation of an indigenous people’s culture.
What foreign invaders often do not understand of countries they occupy is that occupiers are as likely doomed to failure as assimilation and success. Both occupied and occupier become victims of cultural ignorance. “Build Your House Around My Body” is a cultural tautology. One becomes who they are by the culture in which they live.
Kupersmith introduces soothsayers and spirits who can change their form, occupy other life forms, deform themselves, and find those who are lost while liberating or condemning those whom they choose.
Animist Celebrations in Modern Vietnam.
During Kupersmith’s explanation of colonial times, one is entertained and horrified by indigenous peoples’ belief in animist spirits who wreak havoc upon the world.
“Build Your House Around My Body” is bizarrely addictive. Winnies experience in Vietnam exposes her to poverty, sexual exploitation, and belief in a spirit world that influences, if not controls, all that happens in people’s lives. Reader/listeners of Kupersmith’s story find how potent animist and spirit-world’ belief can be while revealing the iniquity of sexual inequality.
By Chet Yarbrough
Pacific: Silicon Chips and Surfboards, Coral Reefs and Atom Bombs, Brutal Dictators, Fading Empires, and the Coming Collision of the World’s Superpowers
By: Simon Winchester
Narrated by: Simon Winchester
Simon Winchester (English American author, National Book Award Winner for Non-Fiction).
“Pacific” is an entertaining and tragic reminder of earth’s despoliation and man’s inhumanity to man. Simon Winchester begins his story by explaining the Pacific Ocean is the largest ocean on Earth, bounded in the south by Antarctica, in the west by Asia and Europe (sparsely dotted by Oceania), and in the east by the Americas.
The tests were codified by four titles: Operations Crossroads, Castle, Redwing, and Hardtack. The objective was to find an explosive device that would end WWII. Two fundamental flaws in the plan are the iniquitous displacement of indigenous people on Bikini Island and the consequence of nuclear fission on humanity. One rationalizes both by believing actions taken saved the future. The saving came at the expense of a small island’s contamination, its inhabitant’s displacement, and the mitigated losses of Allied soldiers in a protracted Japan invasion. And, of course, the estimated 80,000 people killed in Japan within one year of the two atomic bombs, and the 90,000 to 166,000 that it grew to in years to come.
The rationalization is capsulized by Oppenheimer’s quote after detonation of the first atomic bomb. That seems the truth, without any rationalization. The reality of science trumps rationalization. The numbers of dead and injured is science. Bomb blasts are the science of numbers vs. the less-definable rationalization of survivors. Belief in the value of killing people is rationalization. What is not believed to be true from science or faith is only proven after its consequences are experienced.
From the Bhagavad Gita, Oppenheimer notes “I have become Time, the destroyer of worlds”.
Much of the history of the 20th century is artfully recounted by Winchester’s “Pacific”. From the growth of computers to the serendipitous creation of surfboards, Winchester reminds listeners of our changing world. Much of what science has found has hugely benefited humanity but we never know it’s true impact in advance. The atomic bombs invention is a blessing and curse. It may lead to the discovery of a new source of pollution-free power or the end of civilization.
Though Winchester’s book is written before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it reveals the likelihood of coming collisions between nation-states.
Winchester reminds us of the USS Pueblo incident in 1968 and its boarding and threats by North Korean soldiers. Though it was a spying mission it was conducted in neutral waters off of Korea. The inept Captain of the vessel allows the illegal boarding by North Korean forces. North Korea commandeered the vessel and unjustly incarcerated 83 seaman. Winchester notes no one is killed but the North Koreans held the seaman in poorly maintained facilities for 338 days.
Even though education levels and science will rise among nations, each has cultural and political beliefs that are different. Those differences give rise to inevitable conflict. Winchester infers the need for recognition of human equality. He argues individuated cultural and political beliefs will continue to collide in a post-nuclear world where human life’s survival is threatened.
The world’s continued use of fossil fuels is slowly changing the ecology of the Pacific Ocean. The coral that is dying provides nutrients for fish and wildlife that sustain one of humanity’s primary food sources.
“Pacific” is another story that warns of humanities folly. Winchester’s story reinforces growing understanding that we all live on one planet. Life will not end from human despoliation, but human beings will disappear if we continue to ignore nature’s balance. What will remain is life that survives in a different world.
Chet Yarbrough (Book Reviewer and Critic)
As I near the age of 76, as a third generation American of Finnish grandparents, it is disappointing to see Americans’ attitude toward immigration.
America’s economic and social environment is among the best in the world. Of course, other countries have environments that are as conducive to a decent life as America. However, in 2023 world population data (noted by “Worldometer”) shows the median age of Americans is the same as China’s at 38.
With China’s repression of Uighurs and preferential treatment for Han ethnicity (91.6% of the population), Thomas Christiansen suggests China’s economic prosperity and hegemonic ambition are challenged.
“The China Challenge” by Thomas Christensen notes China is faced with a greater aggregate aging population than America.
Though the aggregate number of aging in America is less, America has its own challenge with its reluctance to admit refugees.
There are only four countries with populations nearer America’s that have a median age below 30. Those countries are India, Pakistan, Nigeria, and Mexico. Having been to some of those countries, none compare well with America’s economic and social environment. Young refugees are an American opportunity, not a burden. Refugees have always been an important part of American economic and social progress.
Thinking machines will undoubtedly change the labor needs of the world economy.
However, machines are unlikely to exhibit the empathy and care needed for an ageing human population. Much of that empathy and care can only come from younger and more fit workers.
These observations are not to presume all refugees will become laborers or care-workers, but the young are the raw material of humanity that makes nations great because they are striving to make a better life.
Americans sleeping on the street are not there because of immigration.
Some are out of work because of technology but many are there because of Covid’s interruption of their lives. The business community needs to come to grips with the needs of recovering pandemic survivors by re-training the unemployed for new jobs. Undoubtedly, some homeless are sleeping on the street because of drugs because it is their way of escaping a grim existence. That does not imply, they do not wish to escape that life. It means they need help.
The world is just beginning to recover from Covid. Recovery is a process that takes time. The loss of more than a million Americans means many are grieving over their loss of friends, families, and jobs.
America remains a land of opportunity. That is why America’s borders are being overwhelmed by refugees. Immigration is an opportunity, not a problem for America.
By Chet Yarbrough
Landfall (A Novel)
By: Thomas Mallon
Narrated by: Robert Petkoff
Thomas Mallon (Author, novelist, essayist, and critic.)
Thomas Mallon’s book is a fictionalized account of George W. Bush’s administration. Mallon cleverly includes a fictional love story that adds some drama to his story. What one should be wary of is Mallon’s political bias and how it might color the story.
In listening to a book of fiction that uses the names of the known, it is difficult to separate fact from fiction.
Fictionalizing history-making characters is particularly difficult when it is written about events of the near past. What helps is the knowledge that all history books are partly fictionalized by choice of an author’s facts. Revisionist history is why past Presidents have both risen and fallen in the eyes of historians and the public.
George W. Bush makes some bad decisions as a young man, but more importantly and significantly, as a two-term President.
The son of former President H. W. Bush comes across as a decent and flawed human being. America’s consequence from Iraq and Afghanistan invasions and George W.s response to Katrina show American government hubris and failure. Mallon’s story shows American’s fallibility as a democratic government. Both Republican and Democratic parties in America have made good and bad domestic and international decisions; some of which have been reversed, others not.
Mallon chooses to write a fictional account of the bad decisions made by President George W. Bush. Some of us have short memories but Mallon reminds listeners of the last four years of George W.’s Presidency. Some in Bush’s administration reluctantly suggest America must withdraw from the mess America created by removing Iraq’s autocratic and brutal dictator, Saddam Hussein. Some of George W.’s leaders were misled (or lied to themselves) about Iraq’s threat of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). No one in George W.’s administration manages to persuade policy makers that American nation-building in foreign cultures is a fool’s errand.
Autocratic governments know little about what it means to be free, or at least free within the rule of law.
Mallon creates a story that implies there is a great deal of descension in the second term of George W.’s administration. This is particularly evident in the intellectual conflict between the Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, and Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice. There is a growing recognition by leaders in the administration, that America could not re-build Iraq’s government. Rumsfeld may have suggested immediate withdrawal of American troops from Iraq with political spin that infers America’s job is done. The President and Secretary of State Rice realize the Presidency and American resolve is tarnished by withdrawal, whether it is militarily or diplomatically accomplished. Mallon’s novel concludes G.W.’s legacy is the Iraq debacle and the mishandling of the Katrina disaster in Louisiana.
As time passes and history is rewritten, Mallon’s conclusions are likely to be repeated. Neither George W. Bush, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, nor Secretary Rice will be remembered as great leaders. It is not judgement about their patriotism or their desire to make America safer or better, but a consequence of political mistakes.
George W’s administration fails to understand nation-building is folly, and natural disasters are not about the dead but about quick and organized aid to survivors. Mallon’s book is a reminder of how difficult it is for any organization’s leader to become great in the eyes of history.
By Chet Yarbrough
Defying Jihad: The Dramatic True Story of a Woman Who Volunteered to Kill Infidels-and Then Faced Death for Becoming One
By: Esther Ahmad, Craig Borlase
Narrated by: Julia Farhat
Craig Borlase (British ghost writer, former English teacher and author.)
One presumes there is no picture of Esther Ahmad because of risk to her family’s life.
Esther Ahmad is an evangelist dream who in her story reveals the myopia of religious belief. Like Voddie Baucham, Ms. Ahmad conflates living a decent life with religions’ dogma. There is no incontrovertible truth in the teachings of religious doctrinal literature. The Holy Bible, the Quran, the Vedas, the Tripitaka, and the Torah are filled with words that have interpretation contradictions that lead and mislead humanity.
There is little doubt that Esther Ahmad saved herself and some number of innocents by abandoning Jihadist religious beliefs.
Her story is of a very brave woman who defies her family and Jihadism in Pakistan, but her refuge in Christianity carries every organized religion’s contradictory teaching. Her journey from organized Islamic religion to organized Christian religion is trading one mythology for another.
The history of Christian religion is as violent, and conflict ridden as Jihadist Islam.
Depiction of the Eleventh Century Christian Crusades
Absolute belief cannot come from the written word because the written word is man’s interpretation of what may or may not be the word of God, Allah, Yahweh, or whatever name the Divine is given. Esther Ahmad’s journey is heroic. She lives in a culture of violence and overcomes its alure through a will-to-believe. She abandons Islam, marries a Christian, and flees her father’s Jihadism to eventually arrive in America.
What is disappointing is Ms. Ahmad trades one organized religion for another, both of which are based on a man’s interpretation of Holy books. Human interpretations do not prove the existence of Divinity.
Ms. Ahmad’s journey to Christianity is reinforced by what appear to be two miracles. Her mother is cured of heart disease and her brother’s infected leg are healed through prayer. A skeptic might argue they were not miracles because her mother never had medically diagnosed heart disease and her brother’s infected leg may have naturally healed. Organized religion and human belief neither prove nor disprove a Divinities’ existence.
Ms. Ahmad faces an inquisition by Muslim scholars in defending her belief in Christianity.
Depiction of a Christian Inquisition.
She is questioned on four different occasions in front of other Muslim believers. Her knowledge of the Koran trips up the first three inquisitors and the third offers her a bribe to return to the Muslim faith. Ms. Ahmad’s defense is ironic because she shows inconsistencies in the Koran that make Muslim clerics look foolish. The irony is that the Christian Bible is equally riddled with inconsistency, but the Muslim clerics choose only to defend the Koran without pointing to the inconsistencies in the Christian Bible. That is the weakness of the cleric’s inquisition because, like the Koran, the Bible is written and re-written by humans.
The strength of Ms. Ahmad’s story is in her will to resist a patriarchal organization, and her own father who is prepared to murder her for blasphemy.
The weakness of Ms. Ahmad’s story is reliance on Christian dogma that comes from the word of man, not a Divinity.
One can believe in Divinity without believing in organized religion, particularly with the force-of-will demonstrated by Esther Ahmad. “Defying Jihad” is, without question, a story of bravery but also a story of organized religions’ delusions. Ms. Ahmad’s story is a false flag for belief in any organized religion, rather than belief or disbelief in Divinity.
This is a remarkable story of an extraordinary woman, but it fails to move one who has read many histories that show how organized religion has misled people by lying, abusing, robbing, and murdering innocents on their way through life.
By Chet Yarbrough
By: Rachel Cusk
Narrated by: Kate Reading
Rachel Cusk (British author, novelist.)
In “Transit”, Rachel Cusk offers a master class for people who wish to be writers. Cusk creates a picture of a writer’s life, i.e., the places they go, conversations they have, and work they do in writing a story. Cusk explains what it is like to be a writer. Whether writing about oneself, an incident, an acquaintance, or an important “other”, the art of writing is in the details and how they are arranged to stimulate readers’ or listeners’ interest.
Cusk cleverly begins her story in her search to purchase a flat in London. A realtor tells her to find one in a good neighborhood that is underpriced because of its dilapidated condition.
The realtor advises a good neighborhood is where the greatest value is when purchasing a home. The idea is that reconstruction will increase value beyond cost of repair if the flat is in a good neighborhood. As a part time professor, Cusk’s heroine is in the business of reconstructing writers, like a homebuyer reconstructs a home.
The neighborhoods for writing are fiction and non-fiction. Cusks counsel to writers is to reconstruct their writing if a story is not up to its neighborhood’s standards. As any reader/listener knows, books have been published with both richly and poorly written stories.
Cusk describes a young woman writer who is divorced, has two young boys, lives in London and makes a living as a writer and adjunct professor for “wanabe” writers. Cusk takes reader/listeners on a journey to a writer’s book club meeting. Writers attend distant book club meetings to tell their stories and sell their books. In the telling at one of these meetings, one hears of admiration and love/hate relationships between authors. At the same time, one learns of the tediousness of travel from one book club to another while learning how writers think and talk about their books.
Cusk’s heroine talks to aspiring writers and what they wish to write about. In her story, a listener/reader finds what makes research and facts important in writing a book. Writing must put research and facts together in a way that makes a story interesting and relatable to its audience.
Cusk’s story may or may not be about herself, but “Transit” offers valuable insight to anyone who is interested in becoming a writer. Cusk’s heroine is both relatable and informative while telling a story through the lens of a writer’s lived life which, like all lives, is in “Transit”.