DISAPPOINTING FICTION

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

My Year Abroad

By: Chang-Rae Lee

                                                    Narrated by : Lawrence Kao

Chang-Rae Lee (Author).

As a first exposure to Chang-Rae Lee, “My Year Abroad” is disappointing.  Lee is an accomplished novelist with many awards, but this latest book is long, and in too many places, ponderous.  

In some sense “My Year Abroad” is a stereotypical story of an Asian immigrant capturing the American dream by working hard.  It outlines the life of a person who is industrious and intelligent who works in a restaurant while earning a college degree in chemistry.  Somehow, this immigrant’s success becomes tainted in using his education to delude himself and others to believe in immortality. The idea of a chemical formula to extends one’s life seems to trigger a greed that destroys rather than preserves lives.

Lee’s fictional story reminds one of Elizabeth Holms and her belief in the blood test technology of Theranos. The only question being–does motive come from self-delusion or greed?

Lee shows an industrious young man who games the American immigration system to stay in New Jersey past the date of his limited visa.    A large part of his story reflects on the success of an immigrant who flimflams fellow investors into a scheme to sell an elixir to cure death.  This is not the first time an American has bilked the public which is why Lee’s story loses its way.

Lee puts aside, rather than explains, the poorly managed and unfair American immigration system that shuts out an important part of America’s prosperity.

What keeps one interested in Lee’s story is Tiller, a young boy who gets caught up in the elixir fraud.  Tiller enters the story by helping a mother and her son in a chance meeting at the airport.  The mother has been put in a witness protection program.  She testifies to the illegal activity of her husband who is pursued by the American government.  This introduces the threat of discovery by her husband’s associates who might kill her. 

Her savior is Tiller who comes from a broken family.  His mother left her family early in Tiller’s life.  He does not know what happened to her.  Tiller misses her presence. 

Tiller has a telephone relationship with his father who is a professor who supports him while he works in a restaurant as a dishwasher while going to college.  Tiller is a teenager, nearing 20, when he meets the witness protection mother and her son.  They begin a troubled life together.  The trouble is multifaceted based on age differences, guilt of the mother for having ratted on her husband, and a son bereft of a father, showing behavioral problems.

To some reader/listeners this is a lot to accept as credible.  Lee manages to keep the story together with the endearing qualities of Tiller.  Tiller deals with life as it happens.  He is industrious and has an inner compass that guides him through whatever circumstances life presents.  One admires Tiller’s grasp of the circumstances of the mother and her son.  Tiller makes their lives better.  One grows to care about Tiller, the troubled mother, and the son who needs help in coping with life.

Many of the things that happen to Tiller fail to suspend disbelief.  This is a long story without the qualities of good fiction.  One comes away from the story in disappointment with an author who is obviously gifted.

MUSIC

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Chopin’s Piano

By: Paul Kildea

                                               Narrated by : Mathew Waterson

Paul Kildea (Author, Austrailian conductor, Artistic Director of Musica Vivia Australia.)

Paul Kildea is a multifaceted talent who has written an interesting biography of Frederic Chopin and a lesser-known Polish musician, Wanda Landowska, who revivified Chopin’s  music. 

Frederic Francois Chopin (1810-1849, Composer and virtuoso pianist.)

Whether one knows anything of music or history, Kildea expertly entertains listener/readers with “Chopin’s Piano”. 

Chopin is noted as a Romanticist composer considered among the most creative of all time.    For that reason, the sound of Chopin’s work has changed with the times.

There are several ironies in Kildea’s history of Chopin.  Chopin is shown to have been pleased by being considered French though he was Polish.  Chopin is characterized as anti-Semitic though at times financially supported by Jews and resurrected by a world-renowned harpsichordist, Wanda Landowska, a proud and nationalist Pole who escaped Nazi persecution and extermination. Landowska, a woman of the Jewish faith, flees Paris when Germany invades France. 

Wanda Landowska in front of the Bauza piano owned by Chopin.

One of her treasured pianos is the Bauza piano used by Chopin to create his greatest masterpieces, the Preludes.

George Sand (1804-1876, French novelist and 10 year companion of Chopin)

Kildea reflects on Chopin’s diminutive physique and self-effacing nature. Chopin never marries but has a ten-year relationship with George Sand, a divorced woman with a broadly libertine reputation. 

One wonders what Sand’s influence is on Chopin’s creativity.  What Kildea explains is that Sand admires Chopin’s dedication to music and supports Chopin through his frail health during the most productive period of his life.  However, at the end of their ten year relationship, Sand leaves because the burden of their relationship is either too much or she just chooses to return to a life of independence.

The thread of Kildea’s history is the Bauza piano’s location in the 21st century. It’s whereabouts remains unknown.

This piano was used by Chopin between 1838-39 when living with  George Sand in Majorca.  A striking point in Kildea’s story is that the Bauza piano is a crudely formed instrument carved from local softwood.  Its innards are made of felt, pig iron, and copper but its cultural importance is extraordinary and its provenance unquestioned.  It disappeared when confiscated by Nazi Germany when they ransacked Landowska’s home in Paris.

Wanda Landowska in 1953.

The last half of Kildea’s story is about the trials and achievements of Wanda Landowska.  In reflecting on Landowska’s rise to fame, the Bauza piano is a symbol of Chopin’s creative genius. 

This flawed instrument is used to create compositions that are endlessly translated by pianoforte (soft and loud sound) from the use of harpsicords to modern Steinways.  Landowska, and many pianists of the 19th through the 21st century are listed by Kildea, showing the brilliance and variety of Chopin’s compositions.  Only a musical conductor turned author like Kildea could explain this to the public.  “Chopin’s Piano” is a small opening to a big world.

TESTING DEMOCRACY

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The Price of Peace

By: Zachary D. Carter

                                                  Narrated by : Robert Petkoff

Zachary D. Carter (Author, journalist.)

Zachary Carter has written an interesting biography of John Maynard Keynes.

Carter details Keynes’ personal life with an interpretation of Keynesian economics. This is a a history of a man of many parts that explains Keynes economic beliefs and their evolution and interpretation by later economists.

Though Carter is not an economist, his characterization of Keynesian economics has meaning for the world’s recovery from Covid19.  Government action in this century would be highly benefited by Keynes’ post WWI and WWII economic policy recommendations.

Carter notes Keynesian economics, though more widely adopted by liberals, springs from the conservative and moral philosophical beliefs of Edmund Burke, an Irish Statesman who lived from 1729-1797.

Burke’s conservative credentials reject the rights of American colonies to claim independence from Britain.  Burke abhors the French revolution and French citizens belief that they have a moral right to overthrow a monarchy.  In contrast to this conservative view of the world, Burke plays a leading role in arguments against executive authority of a King and rejects support of the slave trade when it is a lucrative source of income for Britain.  Though clearly a conservative thinker, Burke joins a liberal group of leading intellectuals and artists in the 18th century, led by Samuel Johnson.

Carter notes Keynes identifies with Burke’s conservative belief in a government that serves the best interest of the people, whether authoritarian or democratic.  Keynes never abandons Burke’s conservative belief in national government’s right to rule within the confines of human morality, a morality that relies on betterment of all economic classes of the state.

Interestingly, Carter notes Keynes, like Burke, joins leading intellectuals and artists known as the Bloomsbury Group that formed in the early 1900s. 

The 10 core members were Clive and Venessa Bell, E.M. Forster, Roger Fry, Duncan Grant, John Maynard Keynes, Desmond MacCarthy, Lytton Strachey, and Leonard and Virginia Woolf.

The first half of Carter’s book addresses Keynes’ rise to fame.  Keynes is called upon by the British government during WWI for advice on how to finance the war against Germany.  Keynes role becomes more pronounced with war reparations negotiation after the Kaiser’s defeat in WWI.

Keynes works with J. P. Morgan and the banking industry in the United States to finance much of the Allies needs during and after WWI. 

Carter explains Keynes tries to ameliorate the demands of the Allied powers for reparations from the defeated Central Powers. Keynes tries but is unable to gain the cooperation of America as the only country capable of backing such an unreasonable reparation from the war’s estimated cost.

Carter illustrates how the seeds for WWII are sown by Allied powers that unreasonably expect WWI’s defeated nations to pay for all financial costs of a war that Britain, France, and its allies had won.  That cost is many times the annual GDP of the Central Powers which were already bankrupted by war. 

Keynes is shown by Carter to be an astute economic and political theorist that understood the tenor of his time and the price needed to pay for peace.  However, Keynes’ prescient understanding of post WWI economies fails to persuade political leaders in Britain, France, and America to pay that price.  The stage is set for the rise of Nazi Germany by the economic intransigence of WWI’s Allied Powers.

The surprising perspective given by Carter’s biography is that Keynes’ economic theory is grounded in the conservatism of Edmund Burke.  Today’s view of Keynes is that faltering economies can spend their way out of depression by deficit spending, a highly liberal political and economic theory.  What Carter explains is that Keynes argues economic policy should be designed to benefit the general welfare of the public.  Keynes looked at economic policy impacts on all classes of citizens when developing his economic theory. If the private sector creates jobs and the general public’s economic health is improving, government that governs least is considered best by Keynes. 

However, Keynes argues-when the welfare of the public is harmed, the government must act to regulate unfair practices of the private sector that diminishes the economic health of the public, particularly the poor.

The world economy is in crises because of the effects of Covid19.  The private sector is not responding to the consequence of the Covid19′ crises just as it did not adequately respond to the depression in 1929. 

Johns Hopkins Resource Center reports that worldwide–there are 4,901,012 citizens dead from Covid19 as of October 2021.

The economic consequence of those deaths and fear of further death feed an economic storm that continues to wreck havoc on nation-state economies.

Carter’s history of Keynes illustrates why Biden’s plan for reinvestment in America is important. The government stepped in with employment programs like WPA that began a  recovery for America after the 1929 crash.  One may argue that is where America is today.  It is not just the aftereffects of Covid19.  The world’s recovery depends on a transition from an industrial to a technological economy.  The private sector is not investing enough in that transition.  Partly because of industries resistance to change, but also because of their inability to privately finance the transition.

Carter notes Keynes insists on free trade and suggests restraint of trade unduly raises prices for commodities for those least likely able to pay. 

Tariffs only weaken private sector innovation and reduce the general public’s welfare.

Keynes is channeling Adam Smith (1723-1790) in his belief about free trade.

Carter infers Keynesian theory would allow government to help private industry innovation when harmed by foreign producers that can produce product at a lower cost.  To Keynes, government help should not be in the form of tariffs but in investment in change by the industry that is affected.  An example is in government investment in transition to work on the environment or service industry at an employee level of investment and training. 

Carter notes that Keynes insists that government investment be limited to those areas that are not being addressed by the private sector.  The obvious example is public works investments by the government in roads, bridges, water, and sewer services. 

Carter explains Keynes argues that when the private sector is benefiting the public through their actions, no government programs should compete.  However, when the public is not being served by the private sector in areas of human need, Keynes argues government should intervene.  Homelessness is a case in point.  How can the richest nation in the world ignore the plight of homelessness?

When the public is not being served by the private sector in areas of human need, Keynes argues government should intervene.  Homelessness is a case in point.

The last chapters of Carter’s book reflect on Keynes efforts at Bretton Woods to create an economic system to insure world economic stability. Keynes is mostly unsuccessful in his idea of creating an international banking system that would be a safety valve for nation-state economic crises. With a brief evaluation of economists that distort Keynes ideas in the late twentieth century, Carter completes his history of the price of peace.

Carter concludes with the thought that this is a dark time for Democracy.

He offers a brief evaluation of modern Democratic and Republican Presidents that suggest neither clearly understood Keynesian economics. Carter decries the mismanagement of the economy by Kennedy, Clinton, the Bushes, and Obama because they fail to see the impact of their policies on human inequality.

Keynes fundamental belief is that all governments must evaluate the affect of their administrations on the poor and middle class because they are the engines of prosperity.

It is an investment that would lessen inequality and raise the standard of living for millions of Americans. It is a government policy grounded in Keynesian economics that addresses the fundamental purpose of lifting all boats in a storm driven economy.

President Biden’s 3.5 trillion dollar investment in American Democracies’ future offers some hope.

Carter reminds listener/readers of the history of the 20th century in this excellent biography of Keynes.  Carter’s biography reminds one of Keynes’ contributions to economics in the way of Newton’s contributions to physics.  Both were geniuses.  Both were ahead of their time and laid the groundwork for fundamental understanding of their disciplines.

HUMAN RIGHTS

The Handmaid’s Tale

By Margaret Atwood

Narrated by: Claire Danes

Margaret Atwood (Author)

For a short time in 2017-18, “The Handmaid’s Tale” mesmerized TV viewers.  A 4th and final season is planned by Hulu in 2020.  An interesting speculation in “The Handmaid’s Tale” is–what would happen if misogyny grew rather than diminished in society?  Margaret Atwood suggests misogyny will create a dystopian future. 

Atwood’s view of misogyny’s existence in the world is fulsome and complex. She implies misogyny is perpetuated and reinforced by both sexes.  Both women and men ally themselves in repression of sexual equality. 

Margaret Atwood creates a story about a conspiracy of women to repress equality by exclusively relegating women to propagation and covert management of humanity.  Males are correctly accused and guilty of denying women’s equal rights, but Atwood illustrates both sexes are complicit in suppression and enforcement of sexual inequality.

Many men and women hide behind the veil of religion and secular authority to exploit unequal treatment of the sexes. 

Atwood’s story implies men may rule the world but only under the influence and guidance of women.  Males are sperm providers.  Males possess rights to rule the world, but they delude themselves in thinking they are in control.  The relationship between the sexes makes women not only the vessel of creation but the covert controller of society. Only the female form can create human life.  In most western religions, only women were given knowledge of good and evil in the garden of Eden.

Love is not necessary and is a negative force in Atwood’s dystopian vision of the future. 

Atwood’s dystopian world suggests management of sexual inequality is perpetuated by women.   Atwood’s story infers God created humanity for man with women as knowledge bearers who reproduce and manage life through nature’s thicket of good and evil.  “The Handmaid’s Tale” exposes the weakness of men and the strength of women.

Atwood implies men’s weakness is in their ignorance, desire for intimacy, failure to control nature, and a wish to see themselves as more than sperm bearers.  The strength of women is in their knowledge of good and evil and how to use it to have some level of control over nature. 

Neither sex can control nature, but knowledge gives women a sharper edge for splitting the difference between good and evil.  What Atwood implies is that women’s superior knowledge of good and evil may lead to her described dystopian world.

The best antidote for a future unlike that shown in “The Handmaid’s Tale” is the Socratic importance of “knowing thyself”.  All human beings are created equal.  “Knowing thyself” is the beginning of wisdom.  Neither men or women are superior beings.

CULTURAL EVOLUTION

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

To You We Shall Return

By: Joseph M. Marshall III

                                             Narrated by : Joseph M. Marshall III

Joseph M. Marshall III (Author)

Joseph M. Marshall is a native American Indian of the Lakota tribe.  He argues that humanity must balance economic growth with nature to preserve cultural, particularly American Indian, identity.  The foundation of the argument is his life in a Lakota family and a felt loss of cultural identity.  His recollection is that his family’s life ambition is balancing the Lakota way of life with the natural world. 

Marshall creates an argument based on a false dichotomy. 

The world has never been a static place.  One cannot dispute balancing change with nature is critical to survival of humans on earth.  However cultural evolution is an integral part of that balance.

Marshall notes his family modified their culture to adjust from hunter/gatherer life to a farming life. 

He decries the destruction of his native culture by non-native explorers who, without question, deceived, evicted, and murdered Indians for what foreign settlers believed was a new frontier to conquer and exploit.  

But that is not the theme of Marshall’s book.  His belief is that ethnic cultures should be retained by emphasizing balance of nature to maintain the environment in a fragile world.

What is disturbing about the emphasis on balance of nature is the discounting of science that saved many homos sapiens from disease, starvation, and death.

With discovery of the causes of disease, ways for cure, and methods for increasing food production, people’s lives and standards of living were improved. 

Marshall recalls an idyllic history of his Lakota family that lived in the wilderness by adjusting their lives to the exigencies of nature.  On a larger scale of life, rebalancing lives of humans with earth’s environment is a never-ending process.  New scientific, political, and social discoveries require cultural adaptation.

Cultural evolution is a consequence of human nature and manufactured law.  Human nature is formed at birth and evolves based on life experience that modifies the psychology of being, human desires, and behavioral traits.  Manufactured law is a social construct based on either authoritarian, socialist, or democratic political ideals and institutions. 

Contrary to Marshall’s explanation of the ideal of a culture that is disappearing, some like Norman Borlaug, imply the survival of humanity is dependent on the interplay between human nature, science, and manufactured law.  (Borlaug was an agronomist who found a hybridized wheat seed that saved millions from starvation.) 

Knowledge gained through science offers the opportunity to rebalance the relationship between humanity and nature. 

Cultural evolution is a part of that rebalancing.  Cultures collide and reform.  Cultures are compelled to adapt.  Over the life of the universe, one presumes earthlings will have one culture, and other worlds will have their own distinctive cultures.

This is not to minimize the monumental loss of identity to the Lakota or any other culture. 

The history of indigenous Indian cultural decimation in America is heart breaking in the same way that all human beings have not been treated as equals. 

Marshall’s wish for cultural permanence is an unreasonable expectation.  Human nature is a brutal and often unfair quality of being human.  Adaptation by cultures follows Darwin’s path of evolution.  The animal kingdom adapts to its changing environment, or its species dies.

NO EXIT

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

On the Run, Fugitive Life in an American City

By: Alice Goffman

                                                         Narrated by : Robin Miles

Alice Goffman (Author, sociologist.)

“On the Run” is a picture of life in a low to no income inner-city neighborhood in America.  Its focus comes from a white sociologist’s immersion in black families lives. 

Alice Goffman chooses to live with a black family to create an intimate portrait of life as a black youth in a poor inner-city neighborhood.

What Goffman finds is that young black Americans are taught by older siblings to distrust and evade the police.  Older siblings have experience with living in a neighborhood with few jobs, a lot of time, and limited legal economic opportunity.  The way of making a living is to deal drugs, steal from the few neighbors that have anything, and run from anyone who can accuse or arrest a fugitive for breaking the law. 

Once the law is broken and a perp is caught, arrested, indicted, and convicted, Goffman explains “a record” makes running the only way to survive.

Goffman explains running, to many born in this environment, entails lying about your name, where you are going, who your family and friends are, and where you stay at night.  The reason is that who you know, and where you sleep makes you vulnerable to the police or anyone searching for you.  A good policeman will ask questions and take notes on everyone he/she talks to about someone they are looking for in the neighborhood.

Those who get caught for a crime are trapped in a circle of arrest, incarceration, bail, parole, non-payment of fines, re-arrest, more incarceration, more unpaid fines, and re-arrest.

This systematic recycling of arrest and release is maddening and disturbing to reader/listeners of Goffman’s book.  On the one hand you have people committing crimes against other people and on the other you have law enforcement doing its duty to reduce crime.

This disturbing picture with “no exit” is accompanied by physical restraint, twisted arms, and face plants on pavement, bare floors, and carpet  that reinforces fear and hate between police and the public.  

Most Americans do not see this cycle of madness.  Those within the madness see it only as a way of life.  To political conservative and liberals, the answer is law enforcement, education, and job creation.  To a low-income/no-income neighborhood boy or girl, law enforcement is a recycling dead end, and education, or legal employment are either not available or poorly provided.

All that is remaining in these neighborhoods seems to be personal relationships.  Mother’s love their children, fathers are in jail or on probation, boys have guarded relationships with everyone and no one, girls are left to look after the next companion that offers escape from loneliness.

Goffman offers a dismal picture of life in big city poor neighborhoods that recycle themselves with little hope for those seeking a better life.

NAMING NAMES

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The Sword and The Shield

By: Christopher Andree, Vasilli Mitrokhin

 Narrated by : Robert Whitfield

Only historians and former secret service agents are likely to be enraptured by “The Sword and The Shield”.  The book is based on a detailed record kept by Vassilli Mitrokhin when he served as major and senior archivist for the Soviet Union’s foreign intelligence service. To a generalist, Mitrokhin’s detailed naming of names is mind numbing. 

Later chapters are more interesting than earlier chapters of “The Sword and The Shield” because they reveal details about motivation, interpretation, and consequence of spying during the cold war that have application to today’s American and Russian secret service.

What this and other recent histories imply to some is that international intelligence services rarely achieve objectives that are worth their costs. 

However, cost is of little concern to a national government that believes international intelligence service is critical to its survival. Modern Russia is as beholding to its intelligence service today as it was when Joseph Stalin ruled the U.S.S.R. It is suggested by the authors that Stalin successfully prepared for a hegemonic agreement (resisted by Churchill) at the end of WWII with the help of intelligence gathered by Russian spies about FDR’s secretly held intensions. There is little reason to believe Putin thinks any differently about secret intelligence on American Presidents with whom he deals. Putin, like Stalin, undoubtedly uses the Russian secret service to spy on personal beliefs and activities of America’s presidents, or as many suggest, imprison or murder Russian dissidents.

Based on current events and this book, an argument may be made that human and material cost of an American intelligence service is necessary because of Russia’s driven intent to remain a world power by any means necessary. In this era of nationalism, it seems unlikely Russia will ever become another union of independent eastern block nations. However, Russia intends to strengthen its position as a world power regardless of other nation’s concerns or interventions.

Despite Russia’s drive to maintain world power–to paraphrase Martin Luther King’s optimism “The arc of history and the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” 

Some argue we are entering a second cold war today. The questions is can we learn anything from secret service failures of the first cold war.  “The Sword and The Shield” details past successes and failures. The final chapter reflects on the power of intelligence service to influence the course of history. Today’s surveillance technology certainly magnifies the power of secret intelligence services. The question is–do today’s American and Russian secret services improve results or magnify mistakes?

Details of “The Sword and Shield” show paranoia, as well as realpolitik, led Stalin to create a network of spies. 

Stalin’s spy network’s duty is to reveal secrets held by the west and then bend public opinion to the will of Stalinist communism with the goal of expanding and controlling Socialist Republics within the U.S.S.R. 

The authors suggest Stalin’s paranoia leads him to believe all western nations and some leaders within the Soviet Bloc are in league to destroy or weaken his regime.  Churchill’s iron curtain speech confirms some elements of Stalin’s beliefs.  The authors note that classified foreign documents provided by Stalin’s network of spies is interpreted in ways that lead Stalin to imprison or murder many of his own citizens.  Stalin’s successful use of that information is evident in the brutality of his regime and his survival until death from a presumed heart attack.

The Stalinist Soviet Union perseveres at the expense of many innocent people. The author’s infer U.S.S.R. citizens appear to respect Stalin but fear imprisonment or murder by their paranoid leader. One wonders if Putin’s regime drinks from the same poisonous cup.

Andree/Mitrokhin’s history of the U.S.S.R.’s acquisition of the atom bomb reveals Americans and Brits who willingly provide classified documents that give Joseph Stalin plans for development of an atomic bomb.  The totalitarian Stalinist’ State steals English and American secrets by seducing scientists like Klaus Fuchs with propaganda that distorts and glorifies Stalinist communism.  If political persuasion did not work, Stalinist’ money is offered to both American and British scientists, political officials, and citizens to acquire government, science, personal, and social secrets. 

In listening to “The Sword and The Shield” it seems western economies are at the forefront of most initial scientific discoveries because of relative human freedom.  No amount of secret surveillance defeats human nature whether one lives in a democratic or totalitarian state.  Every nation has dissidents willing to betray their countries.

Putin once said on a “60 Minutes” interview–what he admired most about America is its innovation without seeming to understand that the heart of innovation is freedom

On the democratic side, Americans like the Rosenberg’s, and Aldrich Ames, became tools of the U.S.S.R. The Rosenberg’s reveal American nuclear research secrets, and Aldrich Ames offers the names of CIA agents to the U.S.S.R.   In England, Klaus Fuchs, Ray Mawbey, and the Cambridge Five (including Guy Burgess, Kim Philby, Donald McClain, Anthony Blunt, and John Cairncross) feed critical science and intelligence information to the KGB.  During WWII, a Latin-American double agent, Juan Garcia, uses false reports to mislead Germany on the D Day invasion by Allied forces.

On the totalitarian side, the co-author of this book betrays his own country by revealing the names of the U.S.S.R’s secret service actors and their nefarious activities.  Mitrokhin also notes the betrayal of Russian electronic engineer, Adolph Tolkachev, who reveals secret military capabilities of the U.S.S.R. to the CIA.    

Adolf Tolkachev (1927-1986, CIA agent working in the U.S.S.R.)

This history of the KGB shows the dissemination of science is a force unto itself.   No amount of secret service effort is shown by Mitrokhin to protect or retard the advance of world-wide scientific research and understanding. Motives for spies range from patriotism to greed. 

Some scientist’s betray their country’s science discoveries for what they believe is a greater good, others betray their country to be paid thousands, sometimes millions, of dollars.

“The Sword and The Shield” shows how both patriots and enemies of the state are equal partners in trading scientific discoveries for either money, power, or prestige.  There is the obvious lure of money as evidenced by Ray Mawby who is paid 100 to 400 English pounds for details about English Parliament’ gossip.  For money, over a nine-year period, Aldrich Ames is paid nearly $3,000,000 by the Soviet Union for disclosing hundreds of American CIA agents.  For power and prestige, “The Sword and The Shield” notes Kim Philby coveted the title of general in the Soviet Union when he escaped England’s arrest for espionage. (Interestingly, Philby is denied the title or the pension that would have gone with it when he arrived in the Soviet Union.  Philby died 25 years after defecting to the Soviet Union.  Some say he became a disillusioned communist.)

It is more difficult to understand Klaus Fuch’s motivation.  He eschewed Russian money.  He was a nuclear scientist who seems to have preferred working in obscurity.  One presumes he believed in Stalin’s communist propaganda or divulged critical information on the atom bomb to serve what he believed was a “greater good”. 

Fuch’s may have revealed the secrets of the atom bomb to preserve balance of power, with the presumption that no rational human being would start a nuclear war.

Much of the last section of this long book recounts the history of Soviet Union’ secret service use of propaganda and misinformation to create turmoil in countries that are opposed to authoritarian communist beliefs.  Russian effort at influencing other countries domestic affairs with misinformation and lies is recounted in detail by “The Sword and The Shield”.  Attempts to destroy personal reputations, exploit democracy’s failures, and influence domestic elections during the cold war are detailed.  America’s recent elections suggest that policy is used by Russian secret intelligence today.

In completion of this tome about the KGB, some will be left with the thought that nothing much has changed.  The U.S.S.R. has become Russia, but its leader appears to use the same tactics as Stalin in punishing dissidents.  Accusations of murder and false imprisonment by Russia’s spy network continue to be reported in the western press.   Western countries continue to employ secret service organizations to undermine non-aligned authoritarian nations.  America, like Russia, has been accused of using torture, false imprisonment, and murder to further its political agenda.  What “The Sword and The Shield” ends with is a kind of warning. 

The dismantling of the U.S.S.R. has left few binding organizational consistencies in governance of its reformation as a nation-state.  The one system of governance that has survived the reformation is the Russian secret service.  It is no surprise that the longest serving government leader since the collapse of the U.S.S.R. is a former KGB trained officer.  Continuity and identity of a modern Russian state lies in its continued use of covert intelligence to retain its status as a world power.  The fear accompanying that realization is that secret service thought, action, and consequence is monumentally expanded and improved with the advance of surveillance technology. 

Rodney King (1965-2012, died at 57 from accidental drowning.)

Some wonder like Rodney King, who was beaten by Los Angeles police in 1992—when he said: “People, I just want to say, you know, can we all get along? Can we get along?”.  The answer lies somewhere in the cloud of surveillance technology. 

As history is revealed in “The Sword and The Shield”, secret services imprison and murder the innocent as well as the guilty. With surveillance technology, the power of the sword is exponentially more dangerous.

IGNORANCE IS NOT BLISS

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Half Lives

By: Lucy Jane Santos

Narrated by : Deirdre Whelen

Lucy Jane Santos (Author, Freelance writer and Historian.)

              Lucy Jane Santos recounts the perilous history of radioactivity in “Half Lives”.  Her history is not scintillating but offers a lesson in skepticism.  Her focus is the “on again, off again” love affair with radon by scientists, doctors, charlatans, and beauty product entrepreneurs.  The lesson is relevant in some ways to the Covid19 controversy of this century.

Santos recounts the discovery of radium in the late 19th century and shows how it evolved into the discovery of radiology that revolutionized surgical practice and diagnosis

A brighter part of Santos story is the discovery of X-rays (a type of radiation) and the value it gave to diagnosis and repair of internal injuries by providing interior pictures of the human body.  The idea came from an accidental discovery by Wilhelm Roentgen in 1895.  While testing whether electrons could pass through glass, Roentgen found a green light appeared on black paper which then projected onto a nearby fluorescent screen.  These electrons are the essence of what became known as radiation.

Wilhem Roentgen (Scientist who discovered x-rays, received Nobel Prize in Physics 1901)

Marie Curie, a chemist and physicist, discovered two new periodic table’ elements, radon, and polonium in developing a theory of radioactivity.  Like Roentgen’s Xray discovery of the dispersal of electrons, Curie found photons may be released from atoms to trans mutate into different elements on the periodic table.  Curie received two Nobel Prizes, one in conjunction with her husband Pierre and a physicist named Henri Becquerel, and another on her own.  She is the first woman to receive a Nobel Prize and only one of four people who have ever been awarded two Nobel Prizes. (The other three were men—Linus Pauling, John Bardeen, and Frederick Sanger.)

Marie Curie (Scientist, chemist, and physicist, received 2 Nobel Prizes, died at the age of 66.

Santos suggests Curie’s death from radiation poisoning is a myth.  She bases that conclusion on an exhumation of Curie’s body to relocate it in France.  In the exhumation, no radiation was found in her remains.

These are two positives’ Santos notes in her history of radioactivity.  With the discoveries of Roentgen and Curie, radiation is used for diagnosis, surgical care, and treatment for physical injuries and cancer. 

However, radioactivity discoveries are misused by many who ignore the negatives of radiation.  Prominent businesspeople, some of which are outright charlatans, suggest radiation will cure numerous diseases, can be used as a luminous paint without concern for its impact on health, and should be mixed in elixirs or emoluments for skin repair and beauty treatments.  The quest for money, power, and prestige seduces the public into using radiation treatments for unproven, often harmful health and beauty benefits.

Radioactivity’s early history reveals shortened lives of many who believed radon was a miracle cure.  Maybe the most famous is Eben McBurney Byers, a wealthy American socialite, athlete, and industrialist who died in 1932.  He was 52 years old.

Byers, at the suggestion of his doctor began drinking a non-prescription liquid called Radithor (radium infused water).  The irony of his doctor’s suggestion is that a person who identified himself as a doctor was actually a college drop-out who manufactured and sold Radithor to Byers and other un-suspecting victims.

Upon autopsy, it is found that radium does not dissipate in the body but accumulates in organs and bones.  Byers is said to have ingested over 1400 bottles in 3 years. His brain became abscessed with holes forming in his skull. He died on March 31, 1932.

Santos notes the dials of watches were painted to glow in the dark, particularly important during WWI when soldiers needed to coordinate their movements.  It was found that the radiated dials were harmful to painters of the dials, but manufacturers denied the correlation until challenged by evidence of many who were physically disfigured or died from their work.

Radium Girls (Women hired to paint watch dials with radium)

Famous beauty product producers in England and France in the 1920s and 30s were promotors of cosmetics infused with Radon.  One wonders how many of these misinformed practices are not a proximate cause of cancer increase in the world.

The cosmetic industry grew exponentially after WWI.  Radon mixing in emoluments were touted for their ability to increase blood flow to the skin to brighten one’s appearance. 

Santos’s story is a warning to humanity.  Be skeptical of cures that purport to be safe and beneficial, and review facts available from reputable sources.  Today’s vaccination for Covid19 is a case in point.  The facts are that over 650,000 Americans have died from Covid19.  Those who have received the “jab” are less likely to die if they are infected by the virus.  The virus is transmitted from person to person and can be mitigated by wearing a mask.  Consider the source of those who promote or deny those facts.  When facts are distorted by politics, we only have ourselves to blame.  Humans need to be skeptical but not ignorant.

AMERICAN SPIES

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The Quiet Americans: Four CIA Spies at the Dawn of the Cold War-A Tragedy in Three Acts

By: Scott Anderson

                                  Narrated by : Robertson Dean, Scott Anderson

Scott Anderson (Author)

“The Quiet Americans” is an investigative reporter’s view of the American spy service.  It is written by a veteran war correspondent and son of a former foreign aid officer.  The author, Scott Anderson, is raised in East Asia.  He reviews America’s spy network during and after WWII. 

The American independent spy agency is formed after WWII to provide intelligence on growing clandestine activities of the U.S.S.R.  The author notes there were intelligence operations during WWII, but they were not independent.  During the war, Intelligence services were defined and executed by the military.  It is only after WWII that an independent branch is formed along the lines of British intelligence.

In Anderson’s opinion, President Harry Truman is an inept manager of the nascent American intelligence service. 

 There are several surprising facts and interpretations of history compiled by Anderson.    Kennan is characterized as a great diplomatic analyst, but capable of lying to protect his reputation. 

George Kennan is viewed as an influential diplomat in the creation of what becomes known as the Central Intelligence Agency.

The Dulles brothers solidify the role of the CIA in American clandestine operations in the world.  Their modus vivendi for CIA operations prevails today.  Their intent is to have an agreement allowing conflicting parties to coexist peacefully.  However, Anderson shows their action belies their intent.

Dulles Brothers (John Foster on the right, Allen on the left.)

Parenthetically, as an example of Stalinist ideology, Anderson notes Adolph Hitler’s remains were not found in a burned bunker in which Hitler is alleged to have committed suicide.  His burned remains were secreted by Joseph Stalin and placed in an archive in the U.S.S.R.  Stalin’s motive for secrecy is unknown.

 

An independent spy agency is initially opposed by Truman, and perennially opposed by FBI Director Hoover. 

J. Edgar Hoover–Director of the FBI from 1924 to 1972. (Died in May of 1972 at the age of 77)

Anderson notes Ambassador Kennan’s prescient analysis (the long memorandum) reflects the duplicitous nature of Joseph Stalin.  Kennan recommends a surreptitious and aggressive American containment policy enacted through the practice of espionage.  Kennan plays an important role in the formation of the American Intelligence service.  The first director of this operation is a close friend of Kennan’s, a man named Frank Wisner.

“The Quiet Americans” Anderson profiles are Edmund Michael Burke, Frank Wisner, Peter Sichel, and Edward Lansdale.  In their stories, Anderson reveals the beginnings of the CIA and a history of minor espionage successes and significant failures.  In the back of a listener’s mind is the consequence of American espionage—their cost in human lives and dollars, and American truths about what measures are taken to presumably secure freedom and equality in other countries.

             

This is not a pretty picture.  American efforts to change the world for the better through covert action is shown to be, at best, questionable, and at worst horribly misguided.  As an American, it seems clear that most covert activity is meant to do good but the definition of good is distorted by human nature.

America’s role in Albania, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan raises the hopes of many but at a cost of too many lives and dollars.  Hope of many of these country’s citizens becomes despair. How many lives and dollars could have been saved and repurposed for freedom and equality, rather than destruction of cultural difference.  What Anderson makes clear is that national purpose (American or other) is distorted when it is undisclosed because human beings are seduced by self-interest, whether that interest is money, power, and/or prestige. 

Government disclosure offers visibility to the public.  Disclosure offers opportunity for public  influence on government policy.  America prides itself on being a government of, and by the people–through popularly elected representatives.  Covert government action that is undisclosed to elected representatives gives no opportunity for citizens to influence government policy. 

The idea of full disclosure discounts poor intelligence like that given about “weapons of mass destruction” that compelled America to invade Iraq and depose Saddam Hussein.  False disclosure by American intelligence misled both citizens and elected officials about what America should do in Iraq.

Dulles Brothers (John Foster on the right, Allen on the left.)

Anderson’s exposure of John Foster Dulles’s tenure as Secretary of State and his brother Allen, as the fifth CIA Director, exemplifies the worst characteristics of covert activities without oversight by elected representatives. 

Anderson’s view is America’s opportunity to change the course of history after Stalin’s death is lost because of Dwight Eisenhower’s actions based on the Dulles brother’s political influence. 

To Anderson, the course of the U.S.S.R. and American relationship may have been entirely different if the Dulles’s had not run Eisenhower down the wrong diplomatic road.  It is impossible to judge what may have happened if a different course had been taken, but Anderson infers the Dulles’ Road led to years of lost opportunity.  On the other hand, hindsight is always more perfect than foresight.

Though Burke, Wisner, Sichel, and Lansdale are great patriots, Anderson implies their patriotism and actions often failed to serve American ideals.

Burke’s extraordinary life led him to Italy, Albania, and Germany. He served his country by trying to save Albania from communism, and Germany from further encroachment by the U.S.S.R. At best, his success is limited to non-existent. Albania remained in the fold of communism and success in Germany is the split of Berlin from the eastern block at the expense of food deliveries by air and an agreed upon East and West Berlin.

Wisner kept the light on for covert operations of what became the CIA but failed to get the top job or temper the excesses of secret operations.

Sichel survives them all but appears to compromise a principle of not using bad actors who participated in the holocaust that murdered over 6,000,000 Jews and Nazi resistors.

And finally Wisner, who manages to gain the trust of Philippine and Vietnamese leaders, many of which America abandons by leaving them to fend for themselves.

Trapped, as all humans are, by the times in which they live, they were the instruments of many wasted lives.  How many people must die because of undisclosed covert Intelligence operations? 

Listening to “The Quiet Americans” makes one understand how important freedom of the press is to America.  

Americans must lead by example, not by covert action. More recent episodes in Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan show America continues to ignore history’s lessons.

MINDFULNESS

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Your Brain at Work

By: David Rock

 Narrated by : Bob Walker

David Rock (Author, business consultant, received a doctorate in the Neuroscience of Leadership from Middlesex University in the UK)

“Your Brain at Work” was originally released 2009 and revised in 2020.  This review is based on the 2009 edition.  David Rock is a business-management consultant and co-founder of an institute called NeuroLeadership Institute.  Rock brings together neuroscientists and leadership experts to reveal works of the human brain that improve business management skills.

What Rock suggests is that human neurological activity is at the heart of effective business management.  The expressed objective of Rock’s recommendations is to produce more effective and efficient businesses.  His method for explaining this process is a case study of a husband and wife who represent two kinds of managers.  One is a self-employed, and cybernetic systems designer.  The other is a mid-level manager, recently promoted to manage a business division.

The first manager is a solely-owned business entrepreneur.  The second is a division manager within a larger business.  The first is a line manager. The second is a staff manager.

Rock shows there are crossovers in their management skills but their goals are different. Though Rock does not mention it, the first person’s job is zero-sum with profit as a measure of success.  The second manager is within a larger organization where effectiveness and efficiency, rather than profit, are measures of success. Both are intent on being good managers but profits are of incidental importance to a staff manager.  Both managers desire positive results. Rock suggests both can train their minds to use similar management methods to achieve their different business objectives.

Rock argues that both managers must better understand how their minds work to mitigate bad business decisions. 

There are an estimated 100 million cortical columns in the neo-cortex that transmit information to different parts of the brain through neurons in each column.

The example Rock gives for the entrepreneur is in the sales pitch and planning for automating billing and sales for 200 stores.  The entrepreneur is given an opportunity to bid a job that requires cybernetic and management skill.  The entrepreneur has done similar jobs but none quite as large as this one. 

When the request for bid is received, the entrepreneur underestimates the complexity of the proposal. The entrepreneur rushes to prepare a proposal after procrastinating for 4 days with only 30 minutes left to complete a proposal before meeting with the buyers.  In the rush, the entrepreneur runs into printer problems, typos, and miscellaneous minor problems that conflict with mindfulness required to complete and present the proposal.

Rock goes into the mechanics of thought to explain how stressors distort self-awareness and make one lose sight of reasoned performance. 

The entrepreneur is nearly late for the meeting which is another stressor that affects the sales presentation.  When the customer asks if a deadline can be met, the entrepreneur hesitates because of the stressors accompanying lack of mindful preparation. The entrepreneur’s thoughts are momentarily derailed because of an inability to recall a former memory, a similar client experience that had a tight deadline that the entrepreneur met. 

The entrepreneur’s thoughts and actions did  not come from quiet self-understanding but from fear of losing a sale.  Rock introduces the idea of a mind’s “director” that tells one to relax and remember relevant experiences that give confidence to sellers and measured acceptance by buyers.  Rock emphasizes the importance of mind preparation before arriving at an important meeting. He goes on to explain how to train one’s mind to be calm to thoughtfully review what is laying dormant in one’s recollections. A good manager should practice mindfulness.

A similar story is created for the newly promoted staff manager.  Many people in this newly formed division were fellow workers of this newly promoted manager. 

The promoted manager has ideas based on personal knowledge of some of the employees about who should get particular jobs to make the new project a success.  With little self-reflection, the promoted manager assigns a job to one of the employees without preparing everyone for their new roles. 

Rock suggests first meetings should be designed to allow people to reacquaint themselves with each other in a new management arrangement.  He suggests letting the flow of reacquaintance influence job assignment for productivity of the team.

Though the promoted manager may have made a good decision based on previous experience with someone who is now a subordinate, the decision creates unnecessary conflict between aspirational division employees.  

Rock argues that the mind’s “director” can be trained to interrupt bad decisions through contemplation of prior experience, and a period of mindfulness can lead a team of people to become more comfortable with their roles in the company’s management change. 

Rock goes on to explain the importance of social connection and how status needs to become a constant presence in a manager’s mind when steering a team toward a corporate goal. 

The author uses the stories of two managers showing how failure to recognize the role of social contact and status can threaten success.

Much of what Rock explains is summarized by the ancient phrase “know thy measure” (more colloquially known as “know thyself”).  Regardless of one’s status in a company or in life, a better understanding of oneself is at the core of human success and failure.  Rock’s point is that successful managers develop their inner “director” with mindfulness (“Your Brain at Work”) as a guide to what the author argues is a predetermined future.