Unintended Consequence

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Dombey and Son
By Charles Dickens

Narrated by John Richmond

Charles Dickens’ wrote many works picturing life during the industrial revolution. His books motivated more than writers to write.

Dickens describes many of the negative consequences of the industrial revolution; particularly, child labor abuse and family-value deterioration.  Dickens becomes a source of information for societal reform. His reflection on business profitability at any human cost plagues the world even today.

Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstory (1828-1910)

Tolstoy said that Dickens’ literature was a source of motivation for him.   

“Dombey and Son” is a lesser known work of Dickens that pleases the senses and gladdens the heart.  For anyone who has children, “Dombey and Son” teaches parenthood and touches on errors of parental commission and omission.

The consequence of hubris and greed in “Dombey and Son” are well told in this story of father/husband arrogance, and business manager misdeeds.

Like a Shakespearean play, Dickens writes about the difficulty of life with a dénouement of “Alls Well That Ends Well”. Dickens infers human cost must be weighed in determining value of any end.

In the mid 1800s, a patriarch in “Dombey and Son”, Paul Dombey marries.  The industrial revolution is in full swing. 

A daughter is born to a father who pines for a son.  Fate chooses to provide a son but the boy loses his mother in child birth. The boy is sickly and destined to live a short life that never fulfills the desire of his father for a son to inherit the family business.  

Paul Dombey only grieves for his son.  He alienates and ignores his daughter, and marries again for appearance and convenience.  Paul Dombey lacks empathy or understanding of others or himself.

Dombey’s loss of a son and his hubris get in the way of any human compassion or love for others.  He is abandoned by his new wife.  He accuses his daughter of aiding the abandonment.  Dombey strikes his daughter and she runs away.  Through the connivance of his business manager, Dombey’s business is bankrupted.  Dombey spirals into a pit of despair and self loathing.

The beauty of Dickens’ writing is in his character development.  His skill is exhibited in multiple story lines that weave together to change the course of a story. Dickens juxtaposes pitiable despair with great joy. 

When his daughter flees she begins a new life, presaged by an earlier encounter with an apprentice.  The apprentice, after exile and ship wreck, becomes her husband.

The daughter, though neglected by her father, loves him deeply.  She attempts to reconcile Paul Dombey with his second wife.  Because of his second wife’s childhood miseries reconciliation is not possible, but Dickens suggests forgiveness is in Dombey’s future.

The relationship between father and daughter begins to heal.    Paul Dombey begins to understand himself; i.e. he recognizes his failure as a father and husband and begins to rebuild his life through his grandchildren.

The fracture of family values caused by yesterday’s industrialization is depicted in Dickens writing and well documented by sociologists and historians.

Fracturing of family values is exacerbated by today’s technological revolution.

Dickens’ stories dramatize parental psychological abuse; an abuse that resonates with modern society. Much of the abuse is unintentionally caused by the demands of modernization.

The widening gap between rich and poor is harmful and reinforces human alienation. Less time is used to raise children because both parents work or are distracted by self-interest.

2 + 2 Makes 5

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

1984


By George Orwell

Narrated by Simon Prebble

George Orwell (1903-1950, Author born in India, a British Citizen)

Orwell published “1984” in 1949.  Orwell’s vision of totalitarianism, technology, and thought-control match today’s fears and failures in America.

Technology (then and now) is a threat to everyone’s privacy and self-determination.

However, technology has a much wider; more intrusive role today than in 1949

Advances in social media through Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and others–with the help of Google, Amazon, and Apple, are encroaching on everyone’s right to privacy and personal thought.

Jingoism, war threats, and propaganda fill newspapers, television reports, and the Internet to influence and manipulate indigenous and exogenous populations. 

7/31/2019-China blames America for Hong Kong demonstrations. .

American, Chinese, Iranian, Syrian, Russian and Turkish governments tell the world that their internal turmoil is caused by outside influences.

Some leaders lead by falsehood. The truth is hidden by leader’s divisive diversions and subversion.

Yesterday it was gangster-ism in Ukraine; today it is abandoning Kurdish allies who fought by the side of Americans in Syria.

History reveals murders, imprisonment, and rigged elections caused by malignant use of the internet. Though the victim/hero of “1984” is tortured to say “2 + 2 make 5”, the use of the internet gives forum to lies and hate that make the unwary believe “2 + 2 makes 5”.

Orwell’s vision of totalitarianism and population indoctrination in “1984” is more direct than today’s media manipulations. Google argues that search-engine’ clicks are meant to customize consumer searches for information, but how far is that from thought control?

The inherent subtlety of social media seduces rather than tortures people into thinking in a particular way. 

People are killed by media manipulation of the truth. Media manipulations cause conflict, but rarely cause death on a mass scale.  (Of course, it is a mass scale to the mother, father, grandparent, sibling or friend who loses someone they love.) Orwell is saying there are no ideological differences between a media-manufactured war and a real war when people die. 

Orwell points to media-manufactured wars that are not really wars between nation-states. Thought diversions and public-conflict misinformation spread by the government and the media make indigenous populations endorse, obey, and follow their leaders.

Add private sector big data use to government sector misinformation, and individuals lose both privacy and independence.

Acquisition of nuclear weapons to foment a war is a fiction. It is a fiction designed to manipulate public opinion.

The concern over nuclear proliferation is about fear of mistakes and nuclear accidents; not nuclear war.

This is not to say nuclear proliferation is not a danger to the world. It is a danger, but more because of its use as a political weapon than a tool of war.

The fact is, nuclear accidents occur; for example, Russia’s recent nuclear-weapon’s failure in August 2019.

Iran and North Korea incite their people to expand nuclear weaponry to gain status in the world. It is not an irrational move in the real politic of public affairs. A former Israeli spy master (Meir Dagan) noted on national television that Iran’s government officials are rational; mutual nuclear destruction is not rational.

Orwell characterizes nation-state populations as three tiered; e.g. upper, middle, and lower.  The upper class conception is a ruling class that controls a nation; the middle class strives to become a part of the upper class, and the lower class (the largest part of the population) is suppressed by both the upper and middle class to maintain the three tiered structure. 

Orwell suggests the upper class becomes a kind of collective with a particular ideology that usurps capitalist ambition by trading wealth for collective power. This is the concern one has over the widening gap between rich and poor.

Today’s Moneyocracy is the upper class described in “1984” and the “Occupy Wall Street” protesters are Orwell’s revolutionary hero/victims

One might say that the “collective” concept has more relevance in a socialist country but money is power in America so Orwell’s upper class definition is equally relevant in a largely capitalist country.   The difference is a matter of degree; i.e. rather than an oligarchy of socialists, America has an oligarchy of wealthy corporations and multi-millionaires.

A striking parallel between Orwell’s “1984” and today is western culture’s 21st century “Occupy Wall Street” movement.  The “Occupy Wall Street” movement has protesters but they cannot articulate actions that can practically actualize their revolution.

All revolutionaries cannot be subverted, imprisoned, or murdered. One might argue Orwell’s “1984” torture of revolutionaries is being replaced by corporate use of private data and government propaganda to achieve the same purpose.

Orwell is as prescient today as he was in 1949.

FREEDOM OF CHOICE

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

East of Eden


By John Steinbeck

Narrated by Richard Poe

John Steinbeck (1902-1968, Author, Nobel & Pulitzer Prize Winner)

“East of Eden” is a judgement on the nature of humanity.

In “East of Eden”, every human being has a choice; the choice to be good or evil. An inference is that individuals choose who they want to be regardless of economic circumstance, or genetic inheritance.

Mixing and matching diverse personalities are a part of Steinbeck’s oeuvre.  An audio book listener sinks into the first few chapters of “East of Eden” thinking they know how the story ends.  However, each new character reveals some new facet of humanity that turns and twists the story.

Steinbeck’s anti-hero, Cathy Ames, seems destined for execution; the Trask family for tragedy, the Hamilton family for peace and prosperity, and Chinaman Lee for Saint-hood. What happens is only partly expected.

Steinbeck invents characters that show the best and worst of humankind; without making life a morality play. 

A listener cares what happens to Steinbeck’s characters.  The beauty and transcendence of Steinbeck’s writing informs; sometimes intimidates, those who think they know something about life.

Children of the world are raised in the best and worst conditions of existence.  Children are raised in the happiest families, the saddest families; in enslaved minorities, in blue collar majorities, in one parent, two parent and no parent families. Children die or mature to become someone or no one, but Steinbeck infers chance and choice are theirs to follow. 

Steinbeck raises questions about life and how one lives it.  Steinbeck writes a story showing that becoming oneself is influenced by genetics and environment but not determined by either. In “East of Eden” life’s journey is made of human choices and chances.

The most evil character in “East of Eden” is Cathy Ames.  She comes from a two parent “Ozzie and Harriet” family that owns a relatively successful leather tanning business.  Cathy Ames is loved by her family.  She is an only child that is doted on by her mother and loved by her father.  Cathy Ames chooses to murder her parents, and merry an unsuspecting man.

A good-hearted, trusting man–Adam Trask marries Cathy Ames. The Trasks have two children– twin boys who seem to reincarnate differences in their parents. The boys names are Cal and Aron with each seeming to take a different path in life.

Aron is more like his father. Cal is more like his mother–less trusting, prone to getting in trouble, and intent on finding and understanding the life of his mother.

Cathy Ames shoots her husband after the twin’s birth.  She abandons her wounded husband and newly born children. Cathy chooses to become a prostitute and Madam, and lives her idea of the American dream. 

Chinaman Lee is the Trask family’s servant. Lee is an outlier observing the American dream with a philosophical belief that good and evil exist in all human beings. Lee views existence of good and evil as a God-given choice; not a fate or pre-ordination. Lee’s wisdom and philosophical beliefs influence the Trask family sons; particularly as their father’s health deteriorates.

One of the most laudable characters in “East of Eden” is Samuel Hamilton.  He is an Irish immigrant that comes to Southern California, and has a past that touches evil. Hamilton flirts with a “Cathy Ames kind” of relationship, but breaks away from its evil influence to become a sage and seer in Salinas County. 

Hamilton becomes the patriarch of a big family that is poor in wealth but rich in love, respect, and familial affection.  Samuel Hamilton lives a different American dream.

Lee is a cornerstone character in Steinbeck’s story. Lee’s philosophical belief in human choice is illustrated by Cal’s decision to avoid a life lived like his mother. Cal chooses good over evil after finding and recognizing his mother’s poor choices and their consequences.

Freedom of choice is both a human burden and benefit. Steinbeck implies each person chooses their course in life. Their choices are their own responsibility; not genetics, or economic circumstance.

In light of Steinbeck’s “…Grapes of Wrath”, one might argue there is a false bottom in belief that economic circumstance is irrelevant. One can certainly choose to be good rather than evil, but the consequence of poverty seems to compel evil.

Compelled evil is even more starkly reflected in Richard Wright’s “Native Son”. Is evil strictly a choice? Some would argue environment and genetics compel choice.

COLLECTIVIST BELIEF

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Darkness at Noon

By Arthur Koestler

Narrated by Frank Muller

Arthur Koestler (1904-1983, Author)

Though Stalin is never named in “Darkness at Noon”, Stalin is the “one” that encapsulates a vision of Communism that demands submission by the individual to the collective. 

When a young communist refuses to distribute Stalinist Party’ literature that ignores Nazi attacks on local Communist’ cells, he is expelled from the Party.

In real life, Koestler joined the Communist Party in Germany in 1931.  His resignation from the Party in 1938 is a likely motivation for writing “Darkness at Noon”.

Koestler’s hero is a young communist leader that disagrees with his Russian controller and is expelled from the Party in the 1930s.  The substance of the disagreement is the heart of the story.

The central character of “Darkness at Noon” is Nicholas Rubashov. Rubashov enforces Stalinist’ Communist belief in the collective, but he has doubts. Rubashov is the apparatchik who is ordered to expel a young German’ Communist because he looks at Russian Communism as a personal rather than collective savior.

Rubashov is characterized as one of the original participants in the 1917 revolution. As he ages, his blind acceptance of Stalin’s Communist belief in the collective waivers.  Rubashov is imprisoned and ordered to sign a confession.  The interrogators, Ivanov and Gletkin, are responsible for getting a signed confession from Rubashov. 

Ivanov, who is a former acquaintance and civil war comrade of Rubashov’s, offers an opportunity for Rubashov to redeem himself. Ivanov suggests that Rubashov confess to a lesser charge to justify incarceration for five years with a chance to return to political power. 

Rubashov initially says “no” but Ivanov’s “plea bargain” approach works and Rubashov signs a confession. 

However, Ivanov is later removed from power and Gletkin takes charge of Rubashov’s case.  Gletkin argues Ivanov’s approach is a mistake.  Gletkin insists on a complete confession of guilt; i.e. no redemption, only execution.

Much evidence is brought before Rubashov.  The evidence is weak but Rubashov becomes convinced through sleep deprivation, and a clever manipulation of Rubashov’s logic, that he must be executed. Rubashov’s personal feelings of guilt come from his denial of collective good. He reasons–the way he has been judged is the way he has lived his life; therefor his life should be forfeit for the cause; in the interest of the many over the few.

Gletkin might be characterized as a mindless Neanderthal because of his belief in torture, but one of many of his clever manipulations suggests he is diabolically clever.

Gletkin suggests Rubashov was given a watch when he was 7 or 8, which Rubshov acknowledges is probably correct.  Gletkin says he did not have a watch until he was a teenager and that he did not know there were 60 minutes in an hour until then.  No one in his social class looked at time in segments; waiting in line was not characterized by time but by results from waiting in line. 

This recollection was another way of saying that the end result is what is important; not the means and time that one stands in line. This is a quintessential belief of the “true believer” in Stalinist communism.

AMERICAN JURISPRUDENCE

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Snow Falling on Cedars

By: David Guterson

Narrated by George Guidall

David Guterson creates a court room drama in “Snow Falling on Cedars”.  The court case is presided over by a competent Judge, a determined prosecuting attorney, and a detail-oriented public defender.

“Snow Falling on Cedars” reflects on a criminal trial’s strengths and vulnerabilities.  It is a story of institutionalized discrimination that is as relevant today as in the 40s and 50s.  Though Guterson is not a lawyer, he is the son of a criminal defense attorney. 

As an author, Guterson tells the story of a Japanese American citizen accused of first-degree murder.

The story unravels slowly but with beautifully written descriptions of an island community off the Washington coast.  The setting begins in the 1940’s and ends in the 50’s. 

The accused, Kabuo Miyamoto, is a gill-net fisherman like the person who is murdered.  The crime allegedly occurs on a foggy night when both fishermen lay their nets in the open sea.

The victim is Carl Heine, a childhood friend of Kabuo before the war.  Kabuo’s wife is Hatsue Miyamoto who also grew up on the island.  A fourth major character is Ishmael Chambers, the local newspaper publisher.  All three men serve in WWII.

In early chapters of Guterson’s story, a young Ishmael falls in love with Hatsue.  However, at a critical point in their burgeoning feelings, Hatsue, her family, and all Japanese-descent Americans are interned in a northwestern camp during the war.  The internment separates Ismael from Hatsue and she eventually marries Kabuo.

A NORTHWEST JAPANESE INTERNMENT CAMP:

This is the era of Pearl Harbor, WWII, and Japanese American internment. 

The story explores the nature of human beings in a small American community.

Kabuo, Carl, and Ismael serve in the military during WWII.  Kabuo serves on the German front; Ismael on the Japanese front.  Carl’s location during the war is superfluous except that he served and was the son of a local strawberry farmer who employed Hatsue’s father.

Before WWII, Americans of Japanese descent were not allowed to own property on the island.  Hatsue’s father makes a deal with Carl’s father to buy 7 acres of land for strawberries on an unrecorded contract. (This private contract violates the intent of the law.)  The last 2 payments on the property are not made because of Japanese American internment during the war. 

A feud rises between the Miyamoto family and the Heine family because the 7 acres is sold to another, based on Miyamoto’s payment default.  There had been a verbal agreement for the last two payments but it is dishonored because Carl’s father, who had made the agreement, died. This is interpreted as Miyammoto’s motive for the murder of Carl on a foggy night of fishing.

The American judicial system’s intent is to mitigate unfairness by having 12 jurors of one’s peers, competent legal investigators, judges, and attorneys. However, fairness often takes a back seat to politics.

Facts of a trial, whether true or not, are subject to interpretation.  What one sees, hears, or feels affects opinions. 

Guterson creates characters that fulfill the intent of the American judicial system.  The 12 jurors are islanders (though none are Japanese Americans).  The investigators are thorough (though they miss two important but obscure facts).  The judge is competent.  The prosecution and defense attorneys are fully prepared in presenting their arguments.

In spite of America’s intent, Guterson illustrates how America’s judicial system is subverted by human nature.  Guterson peels back the layers of human nature that distorts truth. 

Facts are immutable but facts are woven into stories by the human mind.

Those stories fit preconceived notions borne from personal experience and internalized opinions.  Personal opinions are a fungible commodity that can distort the truth.

Facts are clear.  Miyamoto is a Japanese American.  Carl Heine is a white American.  However, during the trial these facts are interpreted differently.  The prosecutor points to facts for guilt and the defending attorney points to facts for innocence.  The truth of facts is to be adjudicated by a jury of peers. However, a jury of “peers” listens to prosecution and defense arguments and makes a judgement based on their personal interpretation of the facts and arguments of the attorneys. 

Guterson cleverly interjects the feelings generated by the main characters who served in WWII.  Kabuo feels guilty for having killed a young German soldier who seemed to be asking for mercy.  Kabuo’s guilt for murdering the young German makes him feel a cosmic force, like fate, is leading him to the gallows.  He begins to think he should die.

Ismael lost an arm in the war and led a broken-hearted life because of Hatsue’s marriage to another man.  Ismael resents Hatsue’s rejection of him and chooses to withhold a crucial fact in the trial.

Layers upon layers of human nature’s fragility bares witness to the truth.

A man’s life hangs in the balance.  Will he be convicted for murder based on facts or truth?  Is Miyamoto guilty or innocent?  Or, like all human beings, is he guilty of some things and innocent of others?

In some sense, the American judicial system is on trial in “Snow Falling on Cedars”.  Truth is a slippery slope.  Facts are immutable but interpretation is fungible.  Knowing facts is only part of the truth.  Therein lies the tragic reality of institutionalized discrimination.

WORDS MATTER

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Milkman

By: Anna Burns

Narrated by Brid Brennan

Anna Burns’ “Milkman” touches on Ireland’s conflict over independence. Though the story is set in Ireland’s period of conflict, the books fundamental message is “words matter”. 

“Words matter” is a timely subject in the era of President Trump’s America.

Burns tells the story of an 18-year-old girl, a middle child of a presumably Catholic family, who is defined by other people.  This is an old story; philosophically revealed by David Reisman in a 1950s book, “The Lonely Crowd”. 

Contrary to the main character’s professed independence, this 18-year-old allows herself to be defined by what other people think of her.  Reisman called this malady “other directedness” meaning humans being more concerned about what other’s think of them than what they think of themselves.  This “other directedness” erodes independence. The development of a personal, moral inner compass is subverted by concern over what other’s think.  We become what others want us to be rather than who we choose to be based on a personal moral code.  In Reisman’s language we become “other directed” rather than “inner directed”.

There are two milkmen in Burns’ story.  One is a 30ish leader of a violent Irish independence group; the other is a 30ish bachelor emotionally connected to the 18-year-old’s family.  Rumor is spread that the independence leader, who is married, is sleeping with the young girl.  The girl’s mother believes the rumor and berates her daughter for an affair that does not exist.  The 30ish bachelor is generally viewed as a maverick in the town who likes no one and chooses to live alone.  In fact, he is a caring human being that decries the violence of Ireland’s conflict and treats people with respect and kindness.  In Reisman’s vernacular, he is “inner directed”.  He lives his life in accordance with a personally developed inner moral compass.

Ironically, the young girl is intimately involved with a young man who she later finds is having an affair with another man.  There are many ways to look at these characters’ circumstances but fundamentally it clarifies the truth that humans are more than what words make them to be.

Words can do great harm when used by a showman who has no inner moral compass.  

Importantly, a showman’s words reinforce what other people think rather than what a singular person’s inner moral compass would dictate.  Relationships become infected by what people think; more than by what they do.  It is particularly confusing to a young person of 18, but it is a confusion that pervades all human relationships, regardless of age.

“Jane Eyre”, by Charlotte Bronte, is a story about a young woman who listens and follows her inner moral compass.  She refuses to bow to what other people say she should do.  She chooses her own path. 

This is a crossroad that Burns’ 18-year-old is confronted with in “Milkman”.  It is a crossroad that her gay boyfriend fails to negotiate.  It is unclear that Burns’ main character is ready to come to grips with “other directedness” but leaves one with the impression that she is beginning to find her own way.

“Milkman” addresses a universal need for internalized morality.  Words are weapons of mass destruction in the hands of “other-directed”, amoral leaders.

MYTH’S APPEAL

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Age of Myth

Written by: Michael J. Sullivan

Narrated by: Derek Tim Gerard Reynolds

Fans anxiously wait for the finale of “Game of Thrones”. Why has this fascinating mythological story captured the world’s interest? Why listen to a book of fiction; particularly when freighted with supernatural events? Michael Sullivan offers an answer in “Age of Myth”.

It is the thrill of discovering a good story with characters one likes, or reviles. Tribal bravery, cowardice, betrayal, honor, and morality are crystallized in each chapter of Sullivan’s story.

Sullivan begins and ends “Age of Myth” with battles. The beginning battle introduces Raithe, a killer of false gods (aka, the god killer). The god killer becomes protector of Persephone, the leader of a Rhune tribe. Persephone is introduced as the former 2nd chair of Dahl Rhen (a Rhune village). She is the widow of the deceased ruler of Dahl Rhen.

The ending battle produces Gryndal, a wielder of the black art. Gryndal is First Minister to the Fane (the Fane is leader of the Fhrey tribe). Gryndal can harness the forces of nature to destroy all that block his path to power. Gryndal’s obstacles are removed through guile, deception, and force.

Sullivan’s characters represent a fundamental conflict in life. He describes an age of tribal war with all against all. Mysteries are explained while Sullivan tantalizingly ends the first book of the series. In this tribal age, Sullivan offers a slender hope for freedom and equality of all living things.