THE WORLD AS SEEN, READ ABOUT, LISTENED TO, AND INTERPRETED
Graduate Oregon State University and Northern Illinois University,
Former City Manager, Corporate Vice President, General Contractor, Non-Profit Project Manager, occasional free lance writer and photographer for the Las Vegas Review Journal.
RICHARD DAWKINS (ENGLISH ETHOLOGIST AND EVOLUTIONARY BIOLOGIST WHO INFERS A GENE MAY BE THE SOURCE OF CONSCIOUSNESS.)
As Dawkins’ clever title infers, “River out of Eden” is a scientist’s explanation of how life began and proliferates whether God exists or not. One can argue it is neither a refutation nor affirmation of God, only that God has nothing to do with life’s persistence. Dawkins’ explanation is based on Darwinian evolution and what he characterizes as the immortal gene. A human gene’s immortality is being tested by earth’s environmental degradation. On the other hand, immortal genes may adapt to earth’s degradation.
One cannot help but think of the potential of artificial intelligence and the future of human beings as they may evolve.
The discovery of DNA by Francis and Crick may change the course of human evolution. With the discovery of CRSPR, the medical community acquired tools that can modify genes. With those discoveries, it became possible to rid humanity of disease and hasten human evolution. Some argue these discoveries will improve human life; others suggest it will end it.
Dawkins offers numerous examples of species that have evolved over millenniums of earth’s existence. He argues that survival is a result of an innate characteristic of genetic material that has the sole purpose of self-preservation. Genes are reproducing engines of life based on the environment in which they exist. Dawkins argues genetic materials’ ability to modify and replicate themselves are the essence of life’s continuation.
Evidence of Dawkins belief began with Darwin and is reinforced by numerous science experiments showing generations of birds, bees, and other forms of life that have inherited behaviors through generations of existence. His argument is that life is a matter of genetic predilection and preservation, more than learning.
The Louvre (The Many Lives of the World’s Most Famous Museum)
By: James Gardner
Narrated by: Graham Halstead
James Gardner (Author, art and literary critic.)
James Gardner is an art and literary critic based in New York and Buenos Aires. His writing has appeared in publications including the “New York Times”, the “Wall Street Journal”, and the “New Republic”.
Having visited the Louvre a few years ago, it seems worth listening to James Gardner’s book about one of the world’s greatest museums. It is a surprise to find the Louvre dates to the 12th century. It began as a walled fort to protect Paris but was expanded when King Philippe Auguste decided to build a castle at the wall next to the Seine River.
The Louvre was originally planned as a fortress to protect Paris.
The origin of the name Louvre is a mystery. Gardner notes some thought it came from an association with a wolf hunting den; others thought it came from a Saxon word for watchtower (lauer) but no one knows for sure. The Louvre was neglected for several years after Louis XIV moved to Versailles. Some work was done, but King Louis’s architect spent most of his time on the new Versailles residence.
Gardner explains the remains of King Auguste’s castle foundation can still be seen today.
The Louvre became the home of King Francois I in 1528.
In 1550, the sculptor Jean Goujon created the caryatids (sculpted female figures as column supports) inside Francois I’s Louvre Palace.
The Louvre remained a royal residence until 1682 when Louis XIV moved to Versailles.
Gardner notes, it is after the French Revolution that the Louvre becomes classified as a museum.
The National Assembly of the nascent government republic opened the eight-acre site as a museum in 1793 with a collection of 537 paintings. Most of these paintings were from royal residences or church-property’ confiscations. Famous paintings like the Mona Lisa were not exhibited until 1797, just as Napoleon rises to power.
It is not until Napoleon Bonaparte’s 1799 coup d’état that a serious renovation of the Louvre is undertaken.
Bonaparte makes the Louvre his royal residence in Paris. Vivant Denon became the first director of the Louvre. He was a diplomat under the bourbon kings, Louis XV and Louis XVI, and then appointed director of the Louvre by Napoleon after his Egyptian campaign (1798-1801). Denon had been with Napoleon in Egypt. Denon was displaced during the Bourbon Restoration because of his association with Napoleon. Not much was done on the Louvre during the Bourbon Restoration.
Vivant Denon (1747-1825. artist, writer, diplomat, author, and archaeologist.)
Napoleon III (1852-1870 reign, first president of France, became last emperor of France–deposed in exile. Nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte.)
Napoleon III undertakes a grand renovation of the Louvre with the building of its two major wings. The “Pavilion Denon” is dedicated at the Louvre by Napoleon III in the 1850s. Napoleon III employs Louis Visconti to design the Louvre renovation but he dies in 1853. The Visconti plan is executed by Hector Lefuel. It connects the old Louvre Palace around the Cour Carree with the Tuileries Palace to the west. The two major wings and their galleries and pavilions are completed during Napoleon III’s reign.
Francois Mitterrand (President of France 1981-1995)
WWII may have been the death nell of the Louve if it had not been for the cleverness of the French and the tacit cooperation of a German officer. The final chapters address today’s view of the Louvre and the renovations made by French President, Francois Mitterrand. Mitterrand carries the torch of French freedom and appreciation of art in the most elaborate Louvre addition since Napoleon III’s grand renovation. Mitterrand hires I.M. Pei to design the Louvre addition.
I.M. Pei (1917-2019, world renown American architect.)
It is known as the Grand Louvre Modernization project which is most noticeable because of the glass pyramid that becomes the primary Louvre entry. The pyramid seems incongruous to this tourist but is reminiscent of the Napoleonic history of France. Napoleon is more than a conqueror of countries. His political ambition entails more than power, though power is certainly a large part of his hegemonic ambition.
Gardner notes Napoleon’s inspired interest in other nation’s traditions, history, and art. His ambition in Egypt entails a consuming passion for understanding its historic rise to power and hegemonic power’s correlation with prominence in the world.
I.M. Pei’s decision is to create a symbol of the power and permanence of Egypt with a pyramid. The Louvre’s entrance is representative of Egyptian and French ambition in the world. As history shows, Egypt and France were hegemons of the world at different times.
Gardner’s book, “The Louvre”, should be on every tourist’s list before visiting the center of Paris. Gardner shows how much there is to see and how little one will understand without spending more than a day, let alone a few hours, at the Louvre.
Fault Lines (The Social Justice Movement and Evangelicalism’s Looming Catastrophe)
By: Voddie T. Bauchham
Narrated by: Mirron Willis
Voddie Baucham (Author, pastor, educator, BA from Houston Baptist Univ. and M. of Divinity from SWestern Baptist Theological Seminary.)
“Fault Lines” is a troubling book. It gives too much shade to racial and ethnic inequality in America. On the one hand, Voddie Baucham relies on story telling to counter the singular atrocity of George Floyd’s murder and on the other he tells stories of inaccurate accusations of police discrimination during traffic stops. White America has enough shade without being forgiven by a black preacher for hundreds of years of discrimination.
George Floyd’s murder.
Baucham implies unequal treatment is less odious because white people are killing white people at a higher rate than white people are killing black people. How does that look when a young teenage black boy knocks on a front door and is shot in the head by a 84-year-old white man because he is afraid?
Ralph Yarl shot in the head for knocking on a front door.
Baucham is right when he argues facts matter but untextualized facts fail to reveal the whole truth. As a preacher, Baucham chooses scriptural text from bibles that have been interpreted in many ways by different preachers and scholars. A skeptic credibly argues truth is fungible in the Bible.
Some would argue the Bible is a proximate cause for belief in inequality of the sexes and races in the world.
Baucham’s story telling may be factually correct while being fundamentally wrong. When the proof he reveals comes from the Bible, a skeptic cringes. That may be because of a skeptic’s own biases and beliefs but how many people in history have justified murder of innocents because of religious belief and biblical interpretation?
It comes as no surprise that Bauchham is a strong proponent and supporter of Thomas Sowell, an American author, political conservative, and social commentator.
Sowell espouses many of the same views of American society that Bauchham endorses. Both are anti-abortionists despite over-population and America’s history of child neglect. Both opposed the election of Barack Obama. Both decry the absence of black Fathers from their families and the consequence to their children. (There is little doubt that absence of fathers in black families is an important issue but the poverty cycle in which black families are trapped is of greater consequence.) They may come to their political views from different angles but undoubtedly voted for Donald Trump in 2017 (Bauchham because of the abortion issue and Sowell for his political party).
Human nature drives us all.
Humans, whether Believers or heathens, strive for money, power, or prestige to differentiate themselves from others. To a humanist, belief in God and the Bible or the devil and purgatory are only tools of human nature. Baucham is a human who believes in God and the Bible who uses those tools to unjustifiably shade the iniquity of humankind.
Rebellion, Rascals, and Revenue: Tax Follies and Wisdom Through the Ages
By: Michael Keen, Joel Slemrod
Narrated by: Walter Dixon
“Rebellion, Rascals, and Revenue” is a painful and laborious book to listen to, in part, because of its length but mostly because of its subject. Few citizens appreciate having their hard-earned wealth and income reduced by government taxation. However, the co-authors are well qualified and informative in explaining how important taxes are to every form of government to insure citizen’s peace, welfare, and protection. More importantly, they show how countries of the world have both aided and diminished prosperity of nation-state’ economies with good and bad tax policies.
Kevin McCarthy (Speaker of the House.)
As noted by McCarthy, the deficit exceeds the annual gross national product of the United States.
Keen’s and Slemrod’s book is timely. The wide gap between America’s two major political parties is partly because of America’s deficit, which has not been higher since WWII. The solution lies in the political will to increase taxes and reduce government expenditure. The difficulty is finding an equitable balance between tax revenues and the health, education, and welfare of America’s citizens.
Keen’s and Slemrod’s book illustrate the folly of many nations that have inexpertly balanced tax policy with the health, education, and welfare of their citizens. From before the French revolution to modern times, the authors recount errors made by governments that bumble their way from forcing tax collection to passing confiscatory laws that support bureaucracies that beggar rather than serve the public. Along the way, the authors show how tax collection is conducted, how some improvements were made, and how citizens were both benefited and harmed by tax policies.
After wading through the author’s history of nation-state’ tax hijinks, Keen and Slemrod conclude America’s tax system should be overhauled. Their solution is a value added tax. This is an interesting conclusion that is reinforced by T. R. Reid’s book, “A Fine Mess” which suggests the same thing. However, Reid is a reporter for the “Washington Post”, not an economist with experience like Keen’s and Slemrod’s.
Keen and Slemrod do not clearly explain why they think a VAT is the solution to a better tax system than America’s current policy. Reid explains a VAT is a broad-based low-rate tax that will reduce the need for a tax collection bureaucracy because it eliminates corporate loopholes, broadens, and reduces tax rates, and equalizes citizens’ tax burden. Reid believes more revenue would be produced to reduce America’s debt. It would also reduce the expense of America’s tax collection bureaucracy. In theory both government expense and the deficit would be aided by a VAT tax policy.
Eve Babitz (1943-2021, Author, novelist, essayist raised and died in Los Angeles at the age of 78.)
“Eve’s Hollywood” is Eve Babitz’s memoir of life in southern California. Some names are undoubtedly changed to protect the not-so innocent. Babitz’s picture of Hollywood and her recalled life seems like a fantasy. Her story is filled with the glamour of life when young–with the 60s’ experiences of sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll.
There seems a hint of self-delusion as one hears of hook-ups, enlightenment from LSD, and her struggling year in New York.
Babitz story is of her life in Hollywood among women coveted for looks more than brains by predominantly male rainmakers. The irony is their brains, not their beauty, were the source of their success. Good looks opened doors but being a good Hollywood actor or writer required brains.
Babitz’s Hollywood is an entertaining memoir, but it is a tale that exposes the well-known character of a patriarchal world.
Babitz seems to use sex to open doors to experience and opportunity. With opened doors and intelligence, Babitz achieves a level of economic success as a writer and trend setter. Likely, even today, Hollywood women’s good looks help get jobs.
It might be that looks are less important today as powerful moguls like Epstein and Weinstein are exposed but looks still matter but more for women than men.
There seems an underlying sense of despair in Babitz memoir for women who lose their looks as they age. The doors of opportunity that once opened for women among the beautiful are discarded as their youth fades. This seems less true for Hollywood men with long careers like Robert Redford, Cary Grant, Harrison Ford, and so on.
Her first vignette addresses a beach in Los Angeles that is visited by gang members and how Babitz becomes friends with a young woman who introduces her to one locally famous and violent hood who returns from prison and is soon murdered.
In the last chapter, Babitz describes Watts where rich and poor meet. A married man in his forties has a two nightstand with a twenty-year-old.
He returns to his wife. That might be the end of the story, but the young woman finds he has divorced his wife. The man tries to rekindle the relationship with the young woman from Watts. She is initially overwhelmed by his renewed interest in her but senses something is not right. She plans to break the relationship with a final dinner at a Japanese restaurant, but a comedy of errors interrupts her decision to break the relationship. It is an unfinished story, but one presumes the age difference between the young beauty and the wealthy businessman dooms its consummation.
The underlying truth in Babitz memoir is that there is no difference between the sexes, whether living and working in Hollywood, New York, Seattle, Miami, Dallas, Atlanta, or elsewhere.
Each sex wishes for equal opportunity in their pursuit for money, power, or prestige (hopefully within the boundaries of rule-of-law). Coming to grips with the consequence of men and women being equal is a hard subject for men to accept. Babitz memoir may or may not help men understand that women’s ambitions and capabilities are no different than men.
The “…Transfinite Ordinals” paper introduces the now commonly defined understanding that an ordinal number is the set of all smaller ordinal numbers. To mathematicians, this concept simplified the concept of transfinite numbers. Von Neumann’s genius is in his uncanny ability to simplify complexity.
A further example of von Neuman’s genius is in a theoretical reconciliation of Erwin Schrodinger’s and Werner Heisenberg’s differing views on quantum mechanics. Von Neuman theorized “hidden variables” could not resolve the reality of indeterminacy of quantum phenomena. (Von Neumann disagreed with Einstein who believed determinacy is only a matter of not having found “hidden variables” in quantum phenomena.)
John Stewart Bell backhandedly affirms von Neumann’s conclusion by finding “hidden variables” are unnecessary in proving indeterminacy of quantum phenomena making the difference between Schrodinger’s and Heisenberg’s views moot.
John Stewart Bell FRS (28 July 1928 – 1 October 1990) was a physicist from Northern Ireland and the originator of Bell’s theorem, an important theorem in quantum physics regarding hidden-variable theories.
Bhattacharya notes von Neumann is asked to lecture at Princeton in 1929. He is appointed as a visiting professor (1930 to 1933) and marries Mariette Koevesi in 1930. The marriage ends in 1937 with one daughter who becomes an economist.
Von Neuman remarries in 1938 to Klára Dán who became a coder for Eniac during WWII.
In 1933, the same year Hitler rises to power in Germany, von Neumann became one of the first professors at Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study (IAS). One of his famous colleagues is Albert Einstein.
After the beginning of WWII, Bhattacharya notes von Neumann becomes a member of the “Manhattan Project” when contacted by J. Robert Oppenheimer. Because of von Neumann’s help with the British on the physics of shock waves and chemical explosives, Oppenheimer asked von Neumann to analyze the structure and altitude requirements of an atom bomb. Bhattacharya explains the atom bomb is an implosion device that is layered in different metals that have chemical reactions that emit neutrons toward the center of fissionable uranium which is meant to create an explosive chain reaction. The height of the explosion has an effect on the area of damage. Von Neumann’s experience and education are a perfect fit for that analysis. The rest is the history of war’s destruction and the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings.
The consequences of the zero-sum game theory of war.
After the war, von Neumann becomes a government and industry consultant. He was acquainted with Alan Turing and viewed the computer as a critical part of the world’s future. His experience with ENIAC made him understand its potential but, at the same time, its design limitations. Von Neuman simplified computer processing by creating the idea of a stored-program computer that led to a cache system of data retrieval that reduces the time it takes to get a computed answer. Von Neumann’s idea turns ENIAC into a library of information rather than a processor. Here is where patent issues are raised by two fellow developers named Eckert and Mauchly. They were working on the same design idea as von Neumann.
J. Presper Eckert and Alfred Eisenstaedt believe they were the first to originate stored-program computers.
Bhattacharya argues von Neumann deserves the credit but Eckert and Mauchly feel they were the true originators of a stored-program computer patent. Some would agree with Eckert and Mauchly. An earlier collaboration between Alan Turing and von Neumann is the basis for Bhattacharya’s belief in von Neumann’s origination.
Von Neuman is recruited in 1948 to work on military doctrine to be used in the event of a conflict between countries. A rather astounding conclusion from von Neuman’s game theory is to use the American nuclear arsenal to eliminate Russia because he felt Russia was an imminent threat to peace. He is alleged to have said “If you say why not bomb them tomorrow, I say why not today?” This became moot when von Neuman found Russia had their own nuclear weapons and would be able to retaliate.
Bhattacharya summarizes von Neumann’s game theory beliefs. Game theory applies mathematics to analyze how decisions are made by people competing to win.
In 1954, von Neumann is appointed to the Atomic Energy Commission but within a year he is diagnosed with bone cancer. One wonders if von Neumann’s exposure to radioactive fallout from the atomic tests he witnessed on the Bikini atoll.
The last chapters of Bhattacharya’s book are terrifying. Nearing death, von Neumann speculates on the valuable discovery of the structure of DNA and suggests it is the missing link for the future of cellular level replication of artificial intelligence.
Bhattacharya reveals the two-dimensional creations of computer game theorists that focus on a replicating code that simulates creation of life. This is a fear that some scientists suggest will create an alternative form of life that will compete with human existence.
A listener who understands life comes from the evolution of DNA over centuries and has resulted in the strengths and weaknesses of who we are today, thinks machine coding that does the same may create a competitor to life as we know it. This is the essence of the concern some scientists have about the growth of artificial intelligence.
Bhattacharya biography of John von Neumann being “The Man from the Future” rings loud and clear. It reminds one of Oppenheimer’s quotes from the Bhagavad Ghita after the first test of the atom bomb–“I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.”
Jane Austin (English Author, 1775-1817, died at the age of 41.)
Though “Sense and Sensibility” was published in 1811, it is an eternal story. Though not intending to diminish the emotional relevance of Jane Austin’s characters, the story is about the rich and poor. Jane Austin’s book reminds modern readers of the universal truth of inequality. “Sense and Sensibility” touches customs of all cultures, governments, and societies.
The concept of “unequal” began with inequality of the sexes.
Inequality may have originated because of physical strength differences between men and women but it evolved to encompass most, if not all, social, cultural, and economic activities.
The title of Jane Austin’s book could have been “Cents and Sensibility”. Women who have no “Cents…” are slaves to wealth. Austin illustrates how the patriarch of the Dashwood family impoverishes his second wife’s daughters by bequeathing his family’s wealth to the guardianship of his only son from his first wife.
Two of the Dashwood’ daughters, Marianne and Elinor are of marriageable age. Marianne is 17 and Elinor is in her early twenties. Marianne falls in love with John Willoughby and Elinor has strong feelings for Edward Ferrars (one of two sons that are children of the grown Dashwood estate’s heir and wife.)
John Willoughby, who is in his early twenties, appears to court Marianne in the first chapters of the book. Willoughby is a profligate debtor with a handsome face and smooth-talking demeanor.
Marianne is also being courted by a wealthy 35-year-old former officer and landowner whom she feels is too old. Marianne believes Willoughby is to become her future husband, but he abruptly leaves to marry a woman of wealth. As found later, Willoughby is a debtor and may have been in love with Marianne but realizes she cannot help him with his indebtedness. Marianne is crushed because she feels betrayed by Willoughby’s abrupt departure.
It is the “Cents…” more than “Sense…” that get in the way of Marianne’s relationship.
The real truth of Austin’s story is that to live one must have income more than love because love does not put food on the table. This is as true today as it was in Jane Austin’s time. It is not the absolute difference between wealth and poverty. It is for men and women who choose to marry to have enough wealth to allow love to flourish. Without “Cents…” love does not survive. Even Elinor and Edward realize they cannot marry without a living-wage income.
Some say, Jane Austin’s book has a happy ending because Marianne and Elinore marry men who have “Cents…” Elinore marries Edward, a minister who has a modest income and a bequest from his formally estranged mother but may never be rich. However, he is near Elinore’s age and with “Cents…” seems destined to live a happy life.
Marianne, spurned by young John Willougby, marries the 35-year-old Colonel Brandon, a man who is rich but nearly 20 years older.
Though this may diminish what current readers feel they know about Jane Austin’s story, it idealizes what it means for a 17-year-old to marry a 35-year-old. In today’s age, a 50-year marriage would mean at least 10 years of that marriage will be of one person taking care of an older person. This is not to say love does not grow but age difference at the time of marriage has a consequence.
Poverty is a harsh task master. Without enough income to feed one’s family, the worst parts of human nature ruins lives.
All citizens, of any nation or form of government, must achieve a standard of living that meets the needs of the poorest in society. Peace among nations is dependent on cents as well as “Sense and Sensibility”.
Unthinkable: An Extraordinary Journey Through the World’s Strangest Brains
By: Helen Thompson
Narrated by: Helen Thompson
Helen Thompson (British Author, journalist with a bachelor’s degree in Neuroscience.)
“Unthinkable” is a series of interviews of people who have a reputation for seeing the world and their place in it, differently. The author is a journalist.
Thompson argues perception of the world comes from the mind. As synaptic activity of the mind is better understood, she infers what is real or false may become more universally understood.
Though Thomson’s interviews are anecdotal, they suggest the mystery of consciousness holds a key to mental health.
An interesting highlight of Thompson’s investigation is the existence of synesthesia in some people. Synesthesia is a neurological condition where information meant to stimulate one of your senses, actually stimulates more than one of your senses. Thompson notes people who have synesthesia may be able to hear colors, feel sound, or taste shapes. Two people with the same diagnosis may not perceive the world in the exact same way but their brains are stimulated to see more than what most people see, hear, or feel.
Synesthesia may be a mixed blessing in that it can overwhelm one’s senses, but it implies a more multifaceted view of reality.
One of Thompson’s last interviews is of a doctor who has a form of synesthesia that magnifies his empathy for patients. He actually feels some of what a patient is experiencing. Presuming the doctor’s senses are not overloaded by empathy, the patient seems more likely to be better served. If the mind’s neurological pathways for synesthesia can be identified, could empathy become instilled in every thinking being? Possibly, but the question remains whether that would enhance or burden humanity by making people who serve society emotionally drained, tired, and demotivated.
An earlier chapter addresses people who can develop “mind palaces” like the fictional character Sherlock Holmes.
They can recall the minutest details of an incident and compare it with information and experience they have acquired over the breadth of their life. If neurological pathways of a mind palace can be replicated in every human mind, could humans use those pathways to recall what they have learned from past experience and education to solve human problems?
One wonders if that is not the direction of A.I. in the future. This leads to concern of life becoming more machine-like than human with the added dimension of life as machine.
A third story is of the man who believes he is dead. His conception of himself is reinforced by brain scans that show very little neuronal activity though he continues to wake up every morning and function like a human during the day. He has little emotion or hunger and feels comfortable spending the day in a cemetery among those whom he feels are fellow travelers. Through medication, his neuronal activity is re-established, and he becomes more aware of his existence among the living.
There are more bizarre stories, but the underlying theme is life is defined by consciousness. Examples are given to show how parts of the brain are interconnected by neurons that pass information to the body about human existence in the world. The inference is that as humanity gains knowledge of how this interconnection works and which parts of the brain control neuronal activity, it will be possible to change human life. The impossible question to answer is whether that change will have good or ill effects on society. Of course, that may be moot if humanity cannot come to grips with the harm that is being done to the world’s environment.
This is a book one may set aside as an anecdotal journey into bizarre human anomalies. On the other hand, it affirms the importance of understanding everyone is part of humanity. It seems search for understanding of consciousness is essential for the continuation of human beings, whether mentally disabled, psychotic, neurotic, or diagnostically normal.
As most know, “A Tale of Two Cities” was first published as a series in the U.K. in the 19th century. Its formal publication date was 1859. In comparison to some novels, “A Tale of Two Cities” is difficult to follow because of the many characters who play important roles in Dicken’s story.
The setting is in two cities, London and Paris before, during, and after the French revolution of 1789.
The famous beginning of Dicken’s story of the French revolution is “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times….” Most of the tale is about “…the worst of times…” in France.
The picture of the London and Paris cities is dismal because of its citizens who were either very rich or very poor. The seat of power in Paris is teetering on the edge of a coming revolution. The focus of the story turns to its main theme with Alexandre Manette, a French physician, heard to be alive after being unjustly imprisoned for 18 years in Paris. The story of Manette’s imprisonment is revealed to Jarvis Lorry, a London bank manager. Lorry arranges a meeting with the jailed Manette in Paris with his daughter who lives in London.
Manette’s daughter is Lucie. She goes to Paris with her governess, Miss Pross. Lucie meets with her father whom she thought was dead. Lucie brings her father back to London, but he suffers periodic mental lapses that return him to a shoemaking trade he learned while in prison. We get a glimpse of London on Manette’s return but it is of a trial that reminds one of the gaps between haves and have-nots in London. There is a trial for a spy named Charles Darnay, the nephew of a French aristocrat.
London in the 18th Century.
Lucie is a witness to Darnay’s alleged spying. She knows nothing about Darnay’s activity, but he had helped her in some minor way when he was accused of being a spy. Because of her testimony, Darnay’s character seems less spy-like and more gentlemanly. Darnay is acquitted because his defense attorney notes one of his colleagues, Sydney Carton, looks much like Darnay and could have as easily been the person accused. Darnay is released. The person, Sydney Carton, looks like Darnay but is loosely characterized as an undisciplined young bon vivant.
London court 18th century.
The main characters of the story are Dr. Manette, and Darnay but each character noted in these first chapters play important roles in the story. Dr. Manette had been unjustly imprisoned in the Bastille because of the death of a son and his mother caused by two French aristocrats. The remaining story largely takes place in Paris.
Dickens brings Darnay and Lucie together as husband and wife in London before the revolution in France. They have a son and daughter. The son dies, which reflects upon child mortality which is rather common in that time of the world’s history.
The reasons for the French Revolution, inferred by Dickens, are from harsh, unfair, and unequal treatment of the poor by the aristocracy. The examples given range from an aristocrat’s comment to the poor and hungry to “eat grass”, to the murder of a young boy and his mother by two “bon vivants” who hide their crime, to a murdered boy killed by an errant carriage accident caused by Darnay’s French Uncle.
Dickens creates the story of Darnay’s uncle flipping a coin to the father of a boy killed by his carriage’s collision. Darnay’s uncle is later murdered at his home by the father of the boy.
The table is set for the French Revolution of 1789. Dickens introduces the Defarge’s, Madame and Monsieur Defarge. They are republicans planning to kill as many of the French aristocracy as they can. Interestingly, the strongest and most violent of the revolutionaries is Madame Defarge.
As they storm the bastille, Monsieur Defarge demands a visit to Dr. Manette’s former cell. He knows of a secreted letter that explains why Manette is jailed and wishes to recover it. That letter incriminates Darnay’s Uncle and, by association, blames anyone that is part of that family.
Two years after the 1789 revolution in Paris, Darnay receives a letter from a servant of his murdered uncle asking for his help to be released from the Bastille. Darnay journeys to Paris and is imprisoned in the Bastille because of his association with French aristocracy. The remainder of the story is about the effort to get Darnay released. As true of other Dicken’s novels, there is a bitter-sweet happy ending.
Dickens is a masterful writer but to this reviewer, “A Tale of Two Cities” is not his best work. It is easy to lose the thread of the story because of its many characters. On the other hand, the characterization of Madam Defarge is one of the most terrifying written descriptions of revenge for social inequality. The terror of the French revolution and its causes are frighteningly vivified by Dickens’ creation of the Defarge’s.
“The Fifth Risk” is an inadequate reveal of President Donald Trump’s administration. It barely scratches the surface of the incompetence and ineptest of an American President’s view of government, let alone world affairs.
Trump is not the only American president who prized loyalty above competence, but he unfairly degraded federal government managers and employees who serve America.
Lewis implies “The Fifth Risk” for American government is distrust of the founding tenants of American government. The American Constitution relies on a balance of power between three branches of government. Trump sees and acts like there is only an Executive branch that counts. His appointment of department heads in the Executive branch is largely based on private business experience and loyalty to one person, without any understanding of government purpose.
The American Constitution relies on a balance of power between three branches of government.
To avoid the principle of monarchy, three branches of government were created to balance the power of a singular President. What Lewis reminds reader/listeners of is that many government employees have spent their life in government to serve the needs of the American people. Just as in any organization, some government employees do a better job than others. Lewis cherry-picks a few government employees to illustrate how great a job they have done in serving Americans.
Trump’s decisions for choice of leaders of various Executive Branch offices were based on their success as business leaders that understood the importance of reduced cost and loyalty. These business leaders did not look at the bureaucracy of government as a consistent and dependable way of providing service to American people. Businesses survive based on dollars and cents. Government is not a dollar and cents enterprise where profit is its only reason for existence and survival.
Lewis infers much more than he explains. One may question whether Trump is a good business manager, but it is quite clear he was not a good American government leader. Trump had no appreciation of the difficulty of being a server of the American people while being the leader of a democratic country.