Audio-book Review
           By Chet Yarbrough


Fundamentals: Ten Keys to Reality

By: Frank Wilczek

Narrated by: Sean Patrick Hopkins, Frank Wilczek

To know, is to know that you know nothing. That is the meaning of true knowledge. Socrates (469 BC-399 BC)

Frank Wilczek (Author, American theoretical physicist, mathematician and Nobel laureate.)

After listening to “Fundamentals”, one recognizes how Socrates’ quote is an apt description of this listener’s knowledge of reality. Frank Wilczek does a good job of explaining the nearly incomprehensible science of physics. 

Wilczek’s ten keys are labels of the known fundamental particles of physics.

  1. Electron
  2. Photon
  3. u quark
  4. d quark
  5. 3 kinds of neutrinos
  6. W boson
  7. Z boson
  8. Higgs particle

After a first listen, the choice of this review is to ignore proffered definitions by offering interesting and partially understood explanations of Wilczek’s keys to reality.  Wilczek explains the science of physics. 

Wilczek argues Physics reveals the truth of reality.

Wilczek suggests a scientist who understands and uses the known ten fundamental particles of physics can create whatever reality there is or may be.  However, that reality is a probabilistic future based on the experimentally proven “uncertainty principle”.  The quanta (the particles of physics) cannot be fixed by position and momentum to insure specific outcomes.  Reality is what it becomes, not what a scientist or anyone else designs by using the particles of physics.

At the level of atomism, reality is a matter of probability, not certainty.

Wilczek explains the science of physics revolves around mass, charge, and spin. Mass is revealed in Einstein’s equation of E=MC2 where energy, as well as an elephant or chair we sit on, is a form of mass and unreleased energy.  Charge is defined by the concept of negative or positive, and spin is either an up or down motion for particular fundamental particles.

Wilczek adds explanation of Einstein’s discovery of the bending of space from the force of gravity. 

Wilczek delves into the creation of the universe, the recognition of dark matter and energy and its use as a weak force that makes up 75% of the elementary particles of nature, though neither dark energy or mass has yet been seen by anyone.

Wilczek recounts the history of physics from ancient times of Democritus to Newton’s experiment and theory of force, to Einstein’s theories of light, mass, and energy, to Bohr’s spectrographic analysis of atoms, to the 21st centuries discovery of Higgs-Bosun.

Wilczek’s last chapter notes the value of complementarity in physics. Though Einstein insists there is a “theory of everything” that explains we live in a cause-and-effect’ world, he is unable to refute Bohr’s experimental proof of quantum physics.

At the level of atomism, probability rather than certainty is reality. Wilczek does not mean an elephant on a rampage will not destroy everything in its path but that atoms that make the elephant do function probabilistically. Reality is both probabilistic and deterministic. That is complementarity.

This is a book to be listened to more than once, particularly for one who is ignorant of higher mathematics and physics. The author’s story is not bogged down by explanations of those essential subjects that relate to understanding reality.


Audio-book Review
           By Chet Yarbrough


Big Science (Ernest Lawrence and the Invention that Launched the Military-Industrial Complex)

By: Michael Hiltzik

Narrated by: Bob Saouer

Michael A. Hiltzik (Author, American Journalist.)

Interesting details are revealed about the discovery of fission and the advent of the nuclear age in Michael Hiltzik’s history of “Big Science”. Hiltzik shows “Big Science” is expensive and involves large teams of scientists led by people like Ernest Lawrence.

Ernest Lawrence (Scientist,1901-1958) Lawrence died at 57 years of age.

Lawrence was born and raised in Canton, South Dakota, a rural community of less than 3,000 residents.  Lawrence pioneered American nuclear science and won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1939 for invention of the cyclotron.

Lawrence’s invention led to the creation of the atom bomb, and later the Large Hadron Collider.


Lawrence’s indefatigable energy, persuasiveness, personability, and equanimity gave him the ability to raise huge sums of money to assemble the largest group of physicists, engineers, and experimentalists of the twentieth century.

Lawrence touched the lives of M. Stanley Livingston, J. Robert Oppenheimer, Arthur Compton, James Conant, Niels Bohr, Marie Curie, Ernest Rutherford, Enrico Fermi, Edward Teller, Vannevar Bush, and many others.

Hiltzik notes Lawrence is much more than an experimental physicist. Picture shows early version of Lawrence’s early cyclotron.

Ernest’s ability to organize a team of scientists and engineers to create the first cyclotron coalesced with Lawrence’s personality.  The cyclotron paves the way to a more precise understanding of the atom. His ability to tap into the resources and ambitions of young scientists and engineers, to convince government agencies, and private donors to contribute money for experiment creates a framework for “Big Science”.

Lawrence’s early cyclotron experiments pave the way for splitting the atom which ultimately leads to atomic blasts at Nagasaki and Hiroshima.

Ernest’s younger brother, John Lawrence, became a physician. 

Ernest Lawrence worked on radioactivity with his brother as a treatment for cancer.

Impetus for the unimaginable expansion of “Big Science” is magnified by WWII.  Because of the atom bomb’s horrific consequence, the fame of J. Robert Oppenheimer, and the infamous Edward Teller, become known to the world. Hiltzik explains the key role that Lawrence plays in getting Oppenheimer appointed as the science manager for the Manhattan Project (the project name for America’s rush to create the atom bomb).  Edward Teller is an early member of the team but is found to be a disruptive team player.  Teller is an outlying and brilliant theoretician with an acerbic personality, who breaks as often as he makes friendships with fellow physicists, including Ernest Lawrence.

Leslie Groves (1896-1970, General in charge of the Manhattan Project.)

The creation of the Manhattan Project required the appointment of a military supervisor.

An interesting note by Hiltzik is the relationship between General Leslie Groves and Lawrence. Lawrence, soon after meeting Groves, realizes who is in charge. Any roadblocks for funding or personnel disappear with the appointment of Groves. The two great managers complement each other and grow to respect each other’s roles in the Manhattan Project.

Hiltzik takes listeners into the aftermath of “Big Science” after the war.  Once Russia demonstrates their arrival in the nuclear bomb era, the danger of nuclear war and atomic bomb testing comes to the forefront of research. 

During the Eisenhower government years, a main concern is with the military/industrial complex and competition for nuclear superiority in the face of potential world cataclysm. 

Hiltzik addresses the dismantling of J. Oppenheimer’s reputation by Eisenhower’s appointment of Lewis Strauss as chairman of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (AEC). Strauss creates a government investigation of Oppenheimer and his early political life.  Strauss comes off as an unfair judge of Oppenheimer’s contribution to America in Hiltzik’s telling of the investigation.  One is reminded this is in the beginning years of McCarthyism.

Oppenheimer briefly joined the communist party but left it early in his career. Despite Oppenheimer’s great contribution to the creation of the atom bomb, Strauss manages to tarnish the brilliant scientist’s reputation.  Ernest Lawrence did not come to Oppenheimer’s defense.  The two scientists had different political beliefs.  Hiltzik implies Lawrence’s mid-western upbringing conflicted with Oppenheimer’s cosmopolitan life.  Both scientists respected their roles as scientists but differed in their politics.  

Lewis Strauss (Former U.S. Secy. of Commerce & Chair of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission)

Hiltzik’s driving theme is the importance of “Big Science” and America’s waning support after WWII. Hiltzik’s primary example is America’s failure to lead in creating a super cyclotron like that which was built by the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN).  America participated in the cost but chose not to be the lead in its creation. 

Though many American physicists work at CERN, research at the Large Hadron is managed by 23 member states with each state having a vote.  Members make capital contributions and pay operating expenses while making all operational decisions.  America has no vote.  Japan, Russia, and America are observers (Russia was suspended on March 8, 2022).

Since WWII, one might argue America has played catch-up in “Big Science”.  Sputnik was a wake-up call that led to America’s moon mission which arguably is the last American push for “Big Science.

After listening to Hiltzik’s book, one may ask oneself–where is the Ernest Lawrence of the 21st century that is leading a team of young scientists in “Big Science”?  Ideas are out there but America’s investment seems destined to be limited by capitalist incentives, not “Big Science” experimentation.


Audio-book Review
           By Chet Yarbrough


Little Fires Everywhere

By: Celeste Ng

Narrated by: Jennifer Lim

Celeste Ng (American Author, Received Guggenheim Fellowhip in 2020.)

“Little Fires Everywhere” is a work of fiction addressing American wealth and poverty, freedom, abortion, discrimination, family relationship, academic education, and parenting.  The author, Celeste Ng, artfully creates two families.  The first family has wealth.  The second lives on the edge of poverty.  Both have well educated children who make big and little mistakes borne from their genetic inheritance and environment.  

The two mothers are the primary decision makers.  The mother of the wealthy family (Elena Richardson) is a reporter and college graduate. The mother of the poor family (Mia Warren) is a waitress, house cleaner, and formally educated artist who quit college. The wealthy mother has four children, two boys and two girls.  The artist mother has one daughter.  These families come together in the same exclusive neighborhood. The wealthy mother decides to offer half a duplex for rental to a mother and her daughter.  The duplex is on the same property as the single-family home in which the Richardson’s live.


Elena Richardson contrasts with Mia Warren in most ways.  Both went to college but one graduated while the other dropped out.  Both are dominate influencers in their social interactions, but Elena is bullying while Mia is reasoning.

The Richardson boys are near the age of Mia Warren’s young daughter.  All the children are in their teenage years. 

The children in this story reflect the strengths and weaknesses of their parents.  Both family’s children are headstrong, but the Richardson family’s children rely on their economic stability in making choices about life.  The Warren family relies on their independent lifestyle and pragmatic view of the world to make choices about life.

Freedom is never absolute.

The Richardson’s freedom is constrained by rule-of-law, wealth, and social position. The Warren’s freedom is constrained by rule-of-law, poverty, and moral conscience. Abortion is a moral and social crime to Elena Richardson. Abortion is a woman’s right and moral choice to Mia Warren.  Discrimination is academic to Elena and her social circle. It is personal to Mia. The Richardson family relationships are autocratic and secretive. The Warren family relationship is democratic and selectively open, limited by the maturity of Mia’s daughter. Education to the Richardson family is important to improve one’s social position. Education to the Warren family is to broaden one’s understanding of life.

Parenting is shown to be the most difficult task of every family. whether wealthy or poor. The lifestyle of the Richardson family creates “Little Fires Everywhere”. The Warren family lifestyle implies a fire retardant. The author tells a story that reveals how difficult it is to be parent of societies’ future.


       Audio-book Review
           By Chet Yarbrough


Free (A Child and a Country at the End of History)

By: Lea Ypi

Narrated by: Rachel Babbage, Lea Ypi

Lea Ypi (Author, Professor of Political Theory at the London School of Economics.)

Eleven months after the Berlin Wall came down, the historian Francis Fukuyama called it a symbol of the “end of history”.

As a citizen of Albania, the fall of the Berlin Wall shows Lea Ypi what the “end of history” meant to her.

Albania became an independent country in 1912, after the defeat of the Ottomans in the Balkan Wars. Lea Ypi is a descendant of royalty in what was known in the 19th century as the Ypi dynasty.

Ypi Dynasty (Ruled Egypt for 150 Years.)

“Free” is partly a story Lea Ypi’s realization of her family’s history. More fundamentally, her story is of the inner conflict of Albanian experience with monarchy, socialism, communism, and democracy. Ypi artfully reflects that conflict in the history of her immediate family. She grows up in a well-educated, multilingual family that extolls the virtue of the French revolution, socialism, and democracy while expressing ambivalence about each. None are fans of communism but waiver between authoritarianism and democracy. Both parents, a grandmother, and their daughter (the author) critique capitalism as a form of exploitation, particularly of the poor.

Ypi explores the history of Albania that transitions from monarchy to socialism to communism to democracy. Each transition shows a country in search of itself. As a monarchy, its self-identified King fails to sustain independence. Albania falls under the control of Mussolini’s fascism. As a socialist, and later communist, country–long waits-in-line for consumer goods belies much of Albanian citizen’s belief in “common good”. As socialism evolves into communism, discontent leads to revolution in 1989/1990.

The insight Ypi offers to Albanian history is that democracy is no panacea. Having political representation in governance does not eliminate human nature’s failings.

Citizens popularly elected as representatives of the people is no guarantee of peace or prosperity. The lure of money, power, and prestige can corrupt democracy just as it does any form of government, whether autocratic or democratic.

In 2009 Albania joined NATO. In June of 2014 it became a candidate for the European Union. In a brief visit to Albania in 2017, we met local Albanians, had lunch on a private farm, and traveled through the country on a private tour. What came as a surprise is the industriousness and growing modernization of the country. To an outsider, Albania is prospering as a democracy. Ypi offers a guarded appreciation of democracy but implies concern over excesses of capitalism in democracy.

One presumes that skepticism comes from her memories of a socialist desire for common good. Democratic capitalism is no guarantee of common good as evidenced by the growing gap between rich and poor. Her story of her father’s rise as an industrial manager exemplifies her concern. Ownership orders her father to cut overhead by eliminating workers. Her father resists because he knows those workers have families to feed and lives to live. In contrast, her mother suggests people who are lazy or who do not work hard at their jobs, deserve their lot in life.

Ypi’s book should be read/listened to before traveling to Albania. Ypi offers insight to how children of her generation feel about government. The author is an entertaining writer worth one’s time whether planning a visit to Albania or not.


Audio-book Review
           By Chet Yarbrough


Lie Machines (How to Save Democracy from Troll Armies, Deceitful Robots, Junk News Operations, and Political Operatives.)

By: Philip N. Howard

Narrated by: Mike Chamberlain

Phillip N. Howard (Author, professor at University of Oxford.)

The subtitle of Phillip Howard’s book is hyperbolic. Howard offers a glimmer of hope to the public on “How to Save Democracy from Troll Armies…”  He does define the problem, but the solution is elusive.

Howard identifies interest-group’ tools used by lie machines to mislead the public. Howard shows how “Junk News”, some of which are outright lies, have consequences.

Freedom is an essential tenant of Democracy. One does not doubt Howard’s exposé on Democracy’s threat from “…Troll Armies, Deceitful Robots, Junk News Operations, and Political Operatives.”  

There is the Brexit campaign that lied about thousands of pounds saved per month which Great Britain could use for healthcare. That lie is debunked by most English economists.  There is the Pizza company child pornography hoax during Hillary Clinton’s campaign for President. It is clearly identified as a hoax that had no basis in fact.  Howard’s point is that lies have consequences. However, the exact consequence is often not precisely quantifiable. Did voters change the course of history by believing these lies?  Was the Brexit decision and Hillary Clinton’s loss of the presidency caused by lie machines?  Those are fair questions, but they have no definitive answer.

Is it criminal to advertise Prevagen as a memory improvement product when there is little science to prove the claim?  Is that different than an interest groups’ lie about how many pounds Great Britain will save with Brexit? Consumers decide for themselves whether a lie is a lie or just an interest groups’ bias. 

Balancing democratic freedom of speech against what Howard fairly identifies as “junk news” is impractical in the internet age.

As Howard notes, more private information is available to interest groups in the 21st century than ever before.  Government, commercial, and private interest groups are willing to pay privately held companies to gather and collate that personal information. Their ability to distort truth is enhanced by algorithms that accumulate that private information to tell others more about what we believe than what most know or understand about ourselves.   

Media moguls, like product advertisers, are selling belief with detailed information about who we are, what we buy, who we buy from, and intimate details of our lives freely given on public platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Google. 

On 4/25/22 we are advised that twitter is being purchased by Elon Musk. Musk idealistically presumes all should have a right to express their opinion. There is truth and lie in that idealism. Truth is the selective statement of facts by major news feeds like the NYT and WSJ. Lie is the statements of muckrakers like Alex Jones.

As Supreme Court Justice Stewart’s once said about pornography, “I know it When I see it”. Freedom of speech can only be regulated by the same yard stick.  A lie is a lie and those who believe in democracy can only rely on themselves for knowing a lie when they see it.

Alex Jones and conspiracy on the Sandy Hook School killings.

Howard’s examination of “Lie Machines” reveals a great deal about how lies become the basis for conspiracy theories that mislead the public.

The best one can say about Howard’s great reveal is that every citizen in any society needs to be skeptical. Ironically, Howard implies skepticism compounds the problem of “Lie Machines” by making one believe nothing.  One must ask oneself—are there special interests promoting this “fact”, is this fact a lie, should I act based on a lie. 

Howard’s solution is to require transparency from the “internet of things”.

He argues any public internet platform should be legally required to reveal the source of their information and that no information should be collected unless authorized by the provider. There is some merit in Howard’s solution. The concern is that there must be supervision of that requirement.  Who is the supervisor?  If it is government, what are the rules of enforcement?  Democracy requires checks and balances. 

Whether one is part of the government, a business, or a private citizen, all are subject to the faults of human nature.  Can a bureaucracy be created with the required checks and balances that mitigate human nature’s desire for money, power, and prestige?

America is a government of laws and has prospered in part because of checks and balances that ameliorate the worst consequences of human nature. Is regulation of the internet by government better than self-regulation?  Who regulates government?

Some argue, the voter regulates government by elections.  This is the same voter that elected Abraham Lincoln and Donald Trump, one of which deserves high praise; the other something much less.

Revealing “Lie Machines” is the best of what Howard has to offer.  The solution revolves around transparency but the mechanism for enforcement beyond individual skepticism and “buyer beware” attitude seem invasively dangerous.


           Audio-book Review
           By Chet Yarbrough


Empires of the Weak (The Real Story of European Expansion and the Creation of the World)

By: J. C. Sharman

Narrated by: John Lee

Jason Sharman (Author, Professor of Politics and International Studies at Cambridge, PhD from University of Illinois.)

Professor J. C. Sharman offers an interesting interpretation of history.  He argues one country’s domination of another in “Empires of the Weak” is widely misrepresented by historians.

Sharman argues domination of other nation-states is incorrectly believed to be the result of technical and military superiority.  Sharman suggests force of arms and technology were only a part of their success.  Their failures often came from not understanding the cultures of the countries they tried to colonize. 

Sharman notes many historians argue early European nations had better weapons and superior military training than countries which they invaded and colonized.  

Sharman argues socio-cultural and economic interests were more determinate factors than either technical or military superiority.  He notes Aztec domination by Spain as an example.  He explains a minor military force manages to erase Aztec governance by co-opting indigenous discontented natives and rewarding those who would fight to destroy current leadership and support their colonizers and ultimate benefactors.

The resonating truth of Sharman’s observation in modern times is shown by America’s experience in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. 

Battles can be won but wars lost. Most battles were won with American technology and force of arms but, with the qualified exception of a negotiated compromise at the 38th parallel in Korea, America’s singular wars were lost.  France’s Indochina and Russia’s Afghanistan prove the same.

Vladmir Putin is on the verge of affirming Sharman’s argument.  Putin invades Ukraine with an experienced and well-equipped army, with superior weapons of mass destruction.  However, Russia is losing the war. 

Socio-cultural difference make domination by one country of another difficult, if not impossible.  Putin presumes Ukraine has a Russian culture when in fact it shows itself to be its own cultural nation.  Putin will fail because he ignores cultural difference and fails to co-opt discontented indigenous leaders.

One might wonder how Stalin managed to create the U.S.S.R. from disparate cultures and countries.  One suspects it is not entirely because of Stalinist repression.  Stalin eliminated leaders within Russia’s satellite countries while co-opting existing discontented natives. 

New indigenous leaders of these countries understood their citizens but were beholding to Stalin for having supported their ascension.  Putin may have been able to do the same with more patience and understanding of Ukrainian culture.  His misstep will have future consequence, both for himself, Russia, and the world.

The idea of their always being a clear cause for every effect is false. 

Precise “cause and effect” is proven untrue in quantum physics and seems equally untrue in world leadership.  Leadership success is always a matter of probability, but it must be probability based on cultural understanding.

Sharman’s limited analysis holds great promise for historians and leaders of the world.  Historians can offer more focus on socio-economic conditions of respective countries when determining causes of regime change. Leaders of acquisitive countries might think twice about military intervention or invasion. Leaders may become more selective in choosing ambassadors for other countries.

The threat of the future is that cultural understanding might be achieved in Orwell’s “1984” which implies China is an odds-on favorite as a world hegemon. 

This is a warning to Hong Kong and a threat to Taiwan.  Cultural understanding is a key to world peace.

A point made in this week’s “Economist” is that rising economic Hedgemons like China suggest Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is nothing new because there are no universal rights. President Xi recounts the atrocities of the world that shows man’s inhumanity to man is based on perceived national self-interests, not universal rights.


Audio-book Review
           By Chet Yarbrough


American Philosophy (A Love Story)

By: John Kaag

Narrated by: Josh Bloomberg

John Kaag, (Author, Professor of Philosophy at UMass Lowell)

John Kaag’s view of romantic love seems slightly askew when taken in the context of his two books, published two years apart.  “American Philosophy” is published in 2016 while “Hiking with Nietzsche” is published in 2018.  Having listened to both, one finds “Hiking with Nietzsche” belies the conclusion of romantic love characterized in “American Philosophy”.

In “American Philosophy, Kaag professes understanding the harm done to romantic love by male self-absorption and then ignores that realization in “Hiking with Nietzsche”.

Kaag’s male self-absorption is flaunted in “Hiking with Nietzsche”.  Kaag seems quite dismissive of his second wife in his “Hiking…” adventure.

Kaag seems mostly in love with himself and his pursuit of philosophy. 

Kaag becomes an organizer of a library of first editions for the Hocking family.  The descendants wish to donate the volumes to a library of their choosing but the contents must be organized for appraisal purposes.

Kaag ensconces himself in Hocking’s library of 10,000 books with many philosophical “first edition” writings. 

The story of “American Philosophy” is about the life and times of William Ernest Hocking and his 400-acre estate in New Hampshire. 

William Ernest Hocking (1873-1966, American idealist philosopher.).

400 Acre Hocking Estate in New Hampshire

Kaag accepts the task. The library becomes a refuge from his first marriage which ends in divorce. As Kaag reviews the philosophies of greater and lesser philosophers like Emerson, Royce, Kant, and Hocking, he reflects on his failed marriage.  He concludes his failure is self-inflicted. 

As Kaag begins cataloging the 10,000 volumes, he is joined by a fellow philosopher (who becomes his 2nd wife) from a university for which they teach. 

Hocking library on the 400 Acre Estate.

What Kaag realizes is philosophy looks to the supernatural and, in its pursuit, romantic love suffers.  Kaag exhibits eating, sleeping, and drinking disorders that reflect a self-absorption that damages romantic love.  This is an ironic realization because it seems Kaag celebrates romantic love but cannot partake of it. 

Society treats women as less equal than men.  Oddly, Kaag shows understanding without behavioral modification.  This seems societies’ tragic flaw. 

Women are the equal of men, but society does not treat them equally.  The consequence is the loss of romantic love and women’s rightful place in society. The resurrection of the Taliban in Afghanistan, Putin’s militancy, Middle Eastern, Eastern, and Western society show the likelihood of change seems remote, if not unlikely.

Some argue Kaag’s book is a celebration of romantic love, but it is not.  Kaag’s story is about male societies’ inability to overcome the history of misogyny.  The implication is when women are treated as equal, society will change.  Reviewing Kaag’s two books suggests the world is not ready. 


Audio-book Review
           By Chet Yarbrough


The Retreat of Western Liberalism

By: Edward Luce

Narrated by: Julian Eifer

Edward Luce (Author, English journalist, Financial Times columnist and US commentator.)

Edward Luce offers a troubling picture of 21s century America.    His argument depends on one’s definition of “…Western Liberalism”.  If the definition is belief in human individuality and a relaxation of public custom, law, and authority, there is evidence to support Luce’s argument. 

Luce notes the election of Donald Trump is not an American aberration but a symptom of “The Retreat of Western Liberalism”.

The advent of the internet has reinforced a group think driven by belief in alternative facts that create conspiracy theories.  It is a discontent coming from many Americans ignored by rising wealth of a nation controlled by special interests.  Trump taps into that discontent.   

The irony of Trump’s rise is his personal wealth when the American gap between rich and poor is skyrocketing.  Putting that irony aside, Trump suggests America can be “Great Again” by returning to a past.

Trump creates a false hope of re-industrializing America with new jobs. The falseness of Trump’s pitch is that new jobs in America are not being created by industrialization but by technology and human services.  Trump’s appeal is loaded with false representations, amplified by media trolls.  Public custom, law, and authority are undermined by conspiracy theories that convince Americans they have been cheated out of their fair share of America’s wealth.  In truth, they have, and that is why Trump’s false pitch about “Making America Great Again” got him elected.

Trump’s anti-immigrant falsehoods feed conspiracy theories about jobs being taken from poor Americans.  Equal opportunity is a function of rising wealth in the hands of the few.  Public education and health care are unequally distributed in America.  The wealthy can afford higher education and the best health care, the poor cannot. 

Americans are poor because they are being denied equal opportunity, not because of immigration. 

Education and health care are critical for American labor’s adjustment to a changing world.  Private industry and the government have equal responsibility for assisting all Americans, not just those who have benefited from the technological revolution.

Job transition requires re-education and on-job training by employers that offer decent wages and health care. 

Luce’s point is a “rising tide has not lifted all boats”.  The technological revolution offers the same potential for western liberalism as the industrial revolution.  The election of Donald Trump was America’s “wake up” call. 

A large part of America’s population has been left out of the American Dream of western liberalism that came from opportunities provided by the industrial revolution. 

Western liberalism needs to be reinvented by investment in a technological revolution for all Americans, not just those who have benefited from the industrial revolution.  The question is whether private industry and the government are up to the task.  Will western liberalism be reinvented and promoted by ossified industrial leaders and elected representatives?  Most industry leaders and elected representatives are satisfied with the status quo while too many Americans struggle to make mortgage or rent payments.  Luce defines the problem but offers no solution.


Audio-book Review
           By Chet Yarbrough


Editing Humanity (The CRISPR Revolution and the New Era of Genome Editing)

By: Kevin Davies

Narrated by: Kevin Davies

Kevin Davies (Author, Ph.D in molecular genetics, Editor of Nature Genetics.)

The famous philosopher Søren Kierkegaard advised “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” 

He Jiankui (Chinese scientist who used CRSPR to modify genes of unborn twin girls.)

Kevin Davies reports the genie is out of the bottle with He Jiankui’s sloppy edit of genes in unborn twins.  Davies suggests science will move forward on gene modification to provide understanding Jiankui’s inept genetic experiment. With that forward movement, Davies implies human extinction will be delayed, extended, or ended by genome experimentation. Proof of Davies conclusion is in Britain’s plan to create a government owned company to investigate genetic diseases and cancer in adults. The pilot project is to sequence the genomes of 200,000 babies according to a May 14th article in “The Economist”.

What remains a danger is that evidence of genomic abnormality is a first step to experiments in changing genetic inheritance at birth. There is a great deal unknown about what some call “dark genetic matter”.

What becomes clear is the potential for great good and great harm in the CRISPR revolution.    

CRISPR-This is an acronym for clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats. It is a tech tool that reads DNA sequences that are fragmentary and not normal. In identifying what appears abnormal, the fragments can be manipulated to repeat what is believed to be the correct DNA sequence.                                                                                        

With the discovery of base pairing and the DNA double helix by Watson, Crick, and the (often-unrecognized) assistance of Rosaland Franklin, the basis for genome editing became possible. 

Beyond the syllabus: The discovery of the double helix. Erwin Chargaff (1951): Rule of Base pairing. Rosalind Franklin & Maurice Wilkins (1953): X-ray diffraction pattern of DNA. James Watson & Francis Crick (1953): Molecular structure of DNA.
Davies notes the key to editing genes are the replication errors between DNA strands.  Those spaces are indicative of disease risk that can be modified with CRISPR, a genome editing technique.

Davies offers a picture of Jiankui’s life.  He was educated at the University of Science and Technology of China and received a Ph.D. from the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Rice University in Texas.  From a humble life in China, Jiankui climbs a genetic mountain to arrive at a cliff of science.  One might characterize it as a cliff because a misstep in gene editing may injure or kill a patient and ruin a practitioner’s professional reputation.  Jiankui became a living example of a practitioner’s misstep. Jiankui is serving 3 years in prison and has been fined the equivalent of over $430,000 American dollars.  Davies notes the fate of the prenatal female twins is unknown.

Some would argue there are too many unknowns when genes are modified. As noted by Robert Plomin in “Blueprint”, the interconnection of DNA strands is complex.

Plomin notes the results of DNA modification are a matter of probability, not certainty.  Clearly identifying defective genes and modifying their code to eradicate disease or mental dysfunction is presently beyond current science understanding.

Adding to the uncertainty of results is the potential for creating a radical human cohort that defies societal norms, e.g., the creation of a destructive or superior race of humans.  An infrastructure would have to be formed to make decisions about the course of human civilization.  That infrastructure creates potential for radical authoritarian control of humanity by a select group of minders.

On the other hand, DNA modification holds the potential for eradicating disease.  The idea of eliminating HIV, and other viral diseases holds great promise for the future of humanity.  The cost and benefit will only be realized through experiment.  In one sense, it is like the experiments that doctors have taken since the beginning of medical treatment.  Heart disease and cancer treatments have become better over years of trial and error.

DNA modification is extensively used in agriculture to increase field productivity by reducing disease in plants and hardening resistance to blight.

DNA modification opens doors to regeneration when threatened by species extinction.

The light at the end of this tunnel may be a train or a new day. 

Davies’s underlying point is that CRSPR is here and will not go away.  Experiment will continue whether condoned by government or not.  All species on earth have a finite life. 

DNA modification is a fact, not just an idea.  It is here and will be used.  Science is grappling with rules to mitigate its potential downside while trying to insure its upside.  In the end, human survival will be decided by nature and the politics of control.


Audio-book Review
           By Chet Yarbrough


Blueprint (How DNA Makes Us Who We Are)

By: Robert Plomin

Narrated by: Robert Plomin

Robert Plomin (Author, American Psychologist and behavioral geneticist.)

As a psychologist and clinical geneticist, Robert Plomin seems well suited to explain how understanding of DNA has the potential of mitigating (possibly curing) many human psychological maladies. 

The scientific community notes that 70% of human variability is based on genetic differences among people. 

With a perfect picture of a person’s DNA, there is potential for reducing human mental disorders.  However, Plomin’s argument seems weakened by his research and experience.

Plomin has spent a great deal of his life researching DNA and genetic inheritance. 

What “Blueprint” reveals is how much progress has been made but, at the same time, how far science must advance to clearly understand what the other 30% of human experience has to do with who we are, how we think, and why we act as we do. 

Plomin acknowledges there are different patterns of genetic inheritance.  These patterns show susceptible psychological maladies and other genetic anomalies that cause Huntington disease, Marfan syndrome, cystic fibrosis, sickle cell disease, hemophilia, and others.  The inheritance patterns suggest those diseases are probabilities, not certainties. 

Plomin acknowledges DNA analysis remains too complex for precise understanding of the correlation between cause and effect.  Without precise understanding of genetic manipulation there will be unintended consequence, ranging from disability to death.  Further, there is the ethics of gene splicing that implies creation of a utopian society. 

Who would have the right to determine another’s role in society?  Whether as a philosopher king envisioned in Plato’s “…Republic”, or an Aryan race envisioned by Hitler, genetic manipulation opens a door to predetermined roles for human beings.  Who will make these decisions?  Is a planned society a good thing?  Does a human being want to be classified as a worker, a leader, a thinker, a doer because someone suggests society needs those classifications?

Listening to “Blueprint” leaves little doubt that understanding DNA is important.  What is in doubt is how that understanding is used.  Humanity has survived an estimated five or six million years.  To date, human survival has been based on random modifications of DNA and life experience. 

Maybe genetics offer the next stage in human survival, but abandoning natural selection carries risks based on human thought and action rather than natural selection.  Should science open Pandora’s box?