The Anti-Christian

Audio-book Review  By Chet Yarbrough


Blog: awalkingdelight) Website:


The Four Books

By: Yan Lianke, Translated by Carlos Rojas

Narrated by: George Backman

Yan Lianke (Chinese author of novels and short stories based in Beijing. Received the Franz Kafka Prize in 2014. Winner of the Man Booker International Prize twice.)
“The Four Books” is a satire exposing the fallibility of belief in a Christian God. Yan Lianke is a Chinese author living in Beijing whose books and short stories are banned by the government.
Lianke’s book satirizes most religions and government leaders.
The main character in Lianke’s story is called “Author” who is charged with responsibility for two of “The Four Books”. Two books are titled “criminal records” and “secret reports” written by “Author” for a camp commandant to know who and what everyone is thinking and doing in a prison camp. The other two books are less clearly identified but there is the “Scholar’s” book and presumably, the Christian Bible. The main characters in Lianke’s book are the “Boy”, the “Scholar”, the “Musician”, and the “Author”.
The character named “Author” reports thoughts and actions of fellow re-education prisoners in return for special privileges. The “Boy” is the camp commandant. The “Scholer”, “Musician”, and “Author” are college educated prisoners, along with other city intellectuals, who are sent to re-education camps in the country. Their jobs are to farm the land and manufacture steel from black sand deposits in the country. The idea is to re-educate scholars on the importance of serving the economic advancement of their country with labor, rather than thought.
The setting of Lianke’s story is the Chinese famine during the “Great Leap Forward” which occurred between 1958 and 1962.
Neither the “Great Leap Forward” nor Mao are mentioned in Lianke’s book. Undoubtedly it is because of personal risk that such mention might have for Lianke. However, “The Four Books” universal appeal goes beyond Mao’s mistakes in China.
Most, if not all, religions and governments fail to provide an economic and social environment in which prosperity and peace can be equitably maintained.
Lianke chooses one period in China’s history as an example of religions and governments’ failure to peacefully guide or manage society. Undoubtedly, Lianke chooses China’s story because that is the culture he most intimately understands.
Lianke shows how religion and government ineptly handle human nature.
Whether one is rich, poor, formally educated, or uneducated–the masculine, feminine, neuter, and common person is motivated by self-interest. Religions and governments have tried to deal with human nature by preaching belief in something greater than the individual. Religions have threatened, cajoled, and forgiven society in a vain attempt to control human self-interest. Governments have done the same with similar mixed and failed results. “The Four Books” uses the history of the “Great Leap Forward” because human nature is at its worst in times of great upheaval.
What Lianke reveals is the reality of human nature when neither religion nor government forthrightly deals with human nature under stress. The philosophy of leadership in “The Four Books” is to mandate economic development at whatever cost society is compelled or willing to bear. The choice of China’s leadership is to turn all formally educated urban citizens into rural workers by moving them from whatever jobs they may have had to jobs needed by leadership to rapidly advance China’s economic growth. Little consideration is given to the self-interest of individuals by government leaders’ preaching “the good of the country”.
What Lianke’s story shows is that government uses the same tools as organized religion to advance institutional rather than the self-interests of its people.
Religion preaches heaven, like government preaches economic growth. Religion and government do not deal with today but with a future to be realized. Human beings are viewed as means to an end rather than ends in themselves.
There is no supreme God or deity in Buddhist’ teaching.
Is it possible to serve society with a belief system that equitably treats individual self-interest? Lianke implies Christian religion, other religions, and government cannot offer a solution. However, Lianke implies Buddhism may be a solution. A Buddhist, in contrast to other religions or governments, seeks enlightenment in this world through an individual’s search for inner peace and wisdom. Lianke’s answer to individual self-interest is Buddhist belief in achievement of inner peace and wisdom.
The weakness in Lianke’s argument is that self-interest is an individual human characteristic. Self-interest cannot be erased by Buddhism, any religion, or government. Buddhist belief does not ameliorate aberrant self-interest that deviates from those who choose not to seek peace and wisdom. It may be that there are two types of self-interest, one hostile and the other enlightened. Of course, the weakness of the second is the same as the first. Can any religion or government elicit enlightenment?
Self-interest can generate great economic wealth but when unregulated it diminishes peace and often leads to unwise choice. History shows neither government nor deistic religion moderates nor contains individual self-interest. A governing system of checks and balances may be a step in moderating and containing self-interest, but it remains a work in progress.
Lianke shows in a famine, self-interest offers two choices. Either one gives up or fights for survival. There is no middle ground.
Self-interest in a famine leads some to prostitute themselves, murder their equals, inferiors or superiors, and become cannibalistic or some combination thereof. No widely accepted religion or government seems to have found a solution to equitably treat individuals’ self-interest. Lianke believes Buddhism is an answer, but one wonders how an individual’s search for peace and wisdom will feed the hungry.


Audio-book Review 
By Chet Yarbrough 

Blog: awalkingdelight) 

Cuba (An American History) 

By: Ada Ferrer 

Narrated by: Alma Cuervo, Ada Ferrer- prologue. 

Ada Ferrer (Author, historian, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for her American History of Cuba.)

Ada Ferrer’s “Cuba” offers an insightful history of Cuba. She reveals how this island nation became a Spanish and American obsession and explains its complicated relationship with the world and America. In Cuba, Columbus finds three Indigenous inhabitants, the Tainos, the Ciboneys, and the Guanajatabeyes. Though Columbus may have tasted the sweetness of sugarcane, he was looking for gold and failed to appreciate sugar’s commercial value.  

The Italian explorer, Christopher Columbus, lands in Cuba on his historic and misguided exploration of the Western world in 1492.

Ferrer notes Spanish conquistador, Diego Cuellar, arrives in 1511 to establish a Spanish settlement in Baracoa, Cuba.

Spain becomes the de facto ruler of this island, less than four hundred miles off Florida’s coast. With Cuba’s declaration of independence in 1868, Spain’s control is challenged by years of Cuban rebellion until American intervention in 1898. Spain had colonized and controlled Cuba for over three hundred years. In 1898, America declares war on Spain and ejects Spain’s suzerainty in the Spanish-American War. However, Cuba fails to become truly independent until 1902 when the U.S. ends its military occupation. Ferrer notes in the years between 1898 and 1902, American leaders like John Quincy Adams covet American assimilation of Cuba. However, Cubans had other ideas.  

Ferrer infers Cubans felt the same about America’s control of Cuba as they did of Spain’s. With liberation of Cuba in 1898, America chose to appoint the same Spanish bureaucrats to manage the country as when Spain controlled Cuba.

America influences election of a President of Cuba’s new Republic by supporting Thomas Palma. Palma lasts for 4 years. In general, Ferrer implies Cubans were glad to see America withdraw in 1909. However, American withdrawal is tempered by the Platt Amendment that would allow American military intervention if American leadership believed Cuban independence was at risk. 

Cuba neglected to form a government that could or would govern the inherent self-interest of human beings.

Failure to understand human self-interest exacerbates the economic challenge of the Great Depression. The first act of one of Cuba’s kleptocrats in the early 1930s is to pilfer the treasury, escape to America, and build what became known as “Little Havana” in Florida; leaving Cuba without funds to govern their newly formed government. 

Cuba’s kleptocratic government copes through the years of the depression to become fertile ground for the American mob, led by Lucky Luciano and Myer Lansky. Lansky meets with Batista and hands over suitcases of money to cement a relationship between the mob and the Cuban government. Lansky establishes a Cuban gambling industry and makes Cuba a transportation hub for illegal drug distribution. 

Ferrer notes at times in history, the conflict between Black and white citizens becomes as violent in Cuba as in America.  

In subsequent years, Cuba writes a new constitution that theoretically guarantees social equality but fails to enforce its idealistic intentions. Considering Ferrer’s studied and detailed history of Cuba’s government struggles, a reader/listener recognizes the wisdom of America’s founding fathers in creating a government of checks and balances. One realizes Cuba runs through several Presidents that fail to achieve the ideals of their Constitution. The ideal of equality among men and women of all races and creeds, though preached in both Cuba and America, is not achieved in either country.

Ferrer recounts the story of Lucky Luciano carrying suitcases filled with money to corrupt Batista’s government to transform Havana into a mecca for gambling and prostitution. 

Fulgencio Batista (1901-1973) U.S. backed dictator of Cuba.

After a series of difficulties in the economy, Fulgencio Batista becomes President in 1940 and again in 1955 after a seven-year interregnum with two other Cuban Presidents.

Ferrer notes Cuba in later days of Batista and during the depression is a kleptocratic state. The failure to establish a government that serves its people rather than its corrupt leaders, and Batista’s cruel administration set the table for citizen’s discontent and rebellion. That discontent led to Fidel Castro’s rise to power in 1976. 

Fidel Castro (1926-2016) Photograph in 1959. Castro served as President and then Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba but always considered himself a Socialist.

Ferrer clearly explains Castro was a committed revolutionary socialist, not a communist. Castro makes the same mistake China and Russia are making in understanding the economics of Karl Marx. This is not to say Marx is right about the evolution of government but that the ideal of a socialist’s or communist’s success is dependent upon economic growth. Without wealth, there is no equity to equally distribute.  

Ferrer shows Castro to be an idealist, a person committed to the equality of humanity but unable to create the economic viability needed for socialism to work.

Fidel Castro is both revered and reviled by Cubans, let alone many Americans. The inherent self-interest of humanity makes socialism and communism an ideal, not a reality. Neither China, Russia, nor Cuba, seem to understand, as Marx infers–to become either a socialist or communist state, a state must begin with capitalism.  

Self-interest will always interfere with the idealism of socialism and communism. The missing requirement of all forms of government is the perfection of checks and balances that can fairly mitigate inherent human self-interest. 

“Cuba” is an excellent historical account that illustrates the strength and weakness of autocratic leaders and government idealism.  Ferrer’s work deserved the Pulitzer Prize.


Audio-book Review
 By Chet Yarbrough

Blog: awalkingdelight)

Hubert Humphrey (The Conscience of the Country)

By: Arnold A. Offner

Narrated by: Jonathan Yen

Arnold A. Offner (Author, American historian, president of the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations.)

Arnold Offner offers a biography of Hubert Humphrey, a former Minneapolis, Minnesota Mayor, U.S. Senator, and Vice President of the United States. Offner notes Humphrey ran for President in 1960 but was defeated by John F. Kennedy.

Hubert Humphrey (1911-1978, died at age 66, V.P. 1965-1969, Senator 1971-78)

What makes this biography interesting is that few American V.P.s are remembered, let alone biographized. The V.P.s who are remembered are only those who become Presidents. Even then, most American Vice Presidents are not remembered. Three exceptions are Theodore Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and Lyndon Johnson.

There are 16 V.P.s to become Presidents of the United States. Out of 46 Presidents, 16 V.P.s (approximately 34%) became President. Eight became President because of a President’s death in office.

  1. John Tyler-Only 1 month as V.P. when William Harrison died from an illness contracted at his inauguration.
  2. Millard Fillmore became President after the death 1.5 years into Zachary Taylor’s presidency.
  3. Andrew Johnson replaced Abraham Lincoln.
  4. Chester A. Arthur replaced James Garfield after he was assassinated by Charles Guiteau, only 6 months after serving as President.
  5. Theodore Roosevelt replaced William McKinley in his second term when he was assassinated by an anarchist.
  6. Calvin Coolidge replaced Warren Harding who died halfway through in first term.
  7. Harry S. Truman replaced Franklin Roosevelt after he had served 3 months in his 3rd term.
  8. Lyndon B. Johnson replaced John Kennedy after his assassination.

The strength of democracy is in a candidates’ skill in representing the will of his/her supporters. The weakness of democracy is in a candidates’ dependence on the wealth of special interests that contribute to their candidacy.

Humphrey’s biography is an interesting example of the strength and weakness of American Democracy. On the one hand, one person can change the course of democratic government.  On the other hand, a candidate for President cannot be elected without the support of people and businesses that contribute a lot of money.

Money comes with strings. The influence of special interests and the power of elected representatives distort objectivity.

Offner shows the choice of running mates for Vice President in an American democracy is based on two qualities. The first is how a V.P. candidate increases voter base for the prospective President. The second is the skill that a V.P. may have in rallying political support for the President’s ticket. V.P.s in their positions as possible President replacements have little visibility to the public. Vice Presidents are forgotten in public memory unless they become President. Even as Presidents, if they fail to become impactful, they are forgotten.

Offner shows Humphrey wished to be President, but he had little chance of achieving that goal for two reasons.

One, he did not come from a wealthy family and two, his political base came from his experience as a mayor of Minneapolis, Minnesota and as a relatively new Senator for the State. Though Offner shows Humphrey had great political skill, his only realistic avenue to the Presidency is by being Vice President.

Offner shows Humphrey as a prime mover in civil rights.

Fight for civil rights is not shown as a singular political maneuver but a lifelong pursuit by Humphrey. Offner shows how Humphrey became a civil rights leader in his home State. After becoming Vice President, Humphrey successfully pushed for the greatest civil rights legislation since Reconstruction after the civil war.

The importance of money in American elections is made clear when Humphrey runs for President against John Kennedy. The wealth of the Kennedy family doomed Humphrey’s chances.

Humphrey is characterized as an indefatigable debater and negotiator in a Congress held hostage by a 2/3’s cloture rule that gave civil rights legislation little chance of passage because of southern opposition. With the help of Mike Mansfield, the Democratic Senate Majority Leader, Humphrey maneuvers the Senate to approve the Civil Rights Act of 1964 despite the 2/3s cloture rule. It prohibited discrimination in public places, provided for integration of schools and other public facilities. It also made employment discrimination illegal.  

Then Offner’s subject becomes the great escalation of American involvement in Vietnam. Offner explains Lyndon Johnson made the decision to turn America’s military role into a pro-active rather than defensive action. Johnson deployed over 23,000 soldiers to Vietnam.

American involvement in Vietnam did not begin with Johnson. America’s entry into Vietnam began soon after WWII because of America’s paranoia over Russian Communist infiltration in Asia and the 1950s growth of the Viet Minh’ guerillas. The Viet Minh were a guerrilla force led by Ho Chi Minh to contest French colonization of Vietnam. The Viet Minh were supported by both Stalin and Mao and their respective communist beliefs.

After Johnson’s American expansion into North Vietnam, Offner notes Ho Chi Minh demanded total withdrawal of America, the right of South Vietnam to vote on whether they wished to be a part of one country, and Vietnam to be left to govern their own territory.

Ho Chi Minh (1890-1969, died at age 79, President of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam.)

These terms were unacceptable to Johnson. Retrospectively, that would have been the best, least costly, and most diplomatic action that could have been taken by America.

Offner explains President Johnson requires his Vice President, above all, to be loyal. Offner shows Humphrey was loyal, at least until 1965, when he sent a memorandum to Johnson recommending an exit strategy. Johnson ignores Humphrey’s memorandum. The rest is history. Therein lies the risk of Democracy in America.

The checks and balances of Democracy fail to protect America from the mistakes of Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan because money and power influence Democratic elections, policies, and Presidents. This is the risk both Republican and Democratic Presidents have noted. (Dwight Eisenhower’s comments about the Military/Industrial Complex, and Barack Obama’s address to the Senate on campaign finance reform.)

The last chapters of Offner’s book recount the race for the Presidency after Johnson’s speech saying he will not run for another term. Humphrey chooses to run for President with Muskie as his choice for V.P. In the end, Humphrey and Muskie are defeated with the return to political office of Richard Nixon and his soon to be revealed corrupt V.P., Spiro Agnew.

As Churchill noted in 1947, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.”


Audio-book Review
 By Chet Yarbrough

Blog: awalkingdelight)

Landfall (A Novel)

By: Thomas Mallon

Narrated by: Robert Petkoff

Thomas Mallon (Author, novelist, essayist, and critic.)

Thomas Mallon’s book is a fictionalized account of George W. Bush’s administration. Mallon cleverly includes a fictional love story that adds some drama to his story. What one should be wary of is Mallon’s political bias and how it might color the story.

In listening to a book of fiction that uses the names of the known, it is difficult to separate fact from fiction.

Fictionalizing history-making characters is particularly difficult when it is written about events of the near past. What helps is the knowledge that all history books are partly fictionalized by choice of an author’s facts. Revisionist history is why past Presidents have both risen and fallen in the eyes of historians and the public.

George W. Bush makes some bad decisions as a young man, but more importantly and significantly, as a two-term President.

The son of former President H. W. Bush comes across as a decent and flawed human being. America’s consequence from Iraq and Afghanistan invasions and George W.s response to Katrina show American government hubris and failure. Mallon’s story shows American’s fallibility as a democratic government. Both Republican and Democratic parties in America have made good and bad domestic and international decisions; some of which have been reversed, others not.

Mallon writes of the difficulty of working through America’s deadly mistakes in Iraq.

Mallon chooses to write a fictional account of the bad decisions made by President George W. Bush. Some of us have short memories but Mallon reminds listeners of the last four years of George W.’s Presidency. Some in Bush’s administration reluctantly suggest America must withdraw from the mess America created by removing Iraq’s autocratic and brutal dictator, Saddam Hussein. Some of George W.’s leaders were misled (or lied to themselves) about Iraq’s threat of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). No one in George W.’s administration manages to persuade policy makers that American nation-building in foreign cultures is a fool’s errand.  

Autocratic governments know little about what it means to be free, or at least free within the rule of law.

Mallon creates a story that implies there is a great deal of descension in the second term of George W.’s administration. This is particularly evident in the intellectual conflict between the Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, and Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice. There is a growing recognition by leaders in the administration, that America could not re-build Iraq’s government. Rumsfeld may have suggested immediate withdrawal of American troops from Iraq with political spin that infers America’s job is done.  The President and Secretary of State Rice realize the Presidency and American resolve is tarnished by withdrawal, whether it is militarily or diplomatically accomplished. Mallon’s novel concludes G.W.’s legacy is the Iraq debacle and the mishandling of the Katrina disaster in Louisiana.

Katrina disaster in Louisiana

As time passes and history is rewritten, Mallon’s conclusions are likely to be repeated. Neither George W. Bush, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, nor Secretary Rice will be remembered as great leaders. It is not judgement about their patriotism or their desire to make America safer or better, but a consequence of political mistakes.

George W’s administration fails to understand nation-building is folly, and natural disasters are not about the dead but about quick and organized aid to survivors. Mallon’s book is a reminder of how difficult it is for any organization’s leader to become great in the eyes of history.


Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog: awalkingdelight)

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.

However, America’s homelessness is evidence of a gap between rich and poor that belies America’s great wealth.

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.

A value-added tax (VAT) is a consumption tax on goods and services that is levied at each stage of the supply chain where value is added, from initial production to the point of sale. The amount of VAT the user pays is based on the cost of the product minus any costs of materials in the product that have already been taxed at a previous stage1.

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.


Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog: awalkingdelight)

The Fifth Risk

By: Michael Lewis

Narrated by: Victor Bevine

Michael Lewis (American Author.)

“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.

The American Federal Government is not a business. It was never organized as a business but as representative and aid to the people of the United States.

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.

Trump’s greatest failure as a President is in not understanding or caring about the difference between running a government and running a business.

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.


Audio-book Review
 By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog: awalkingdelight)

The Data Detective

By: Tim Harford

Narrated by: Tim Harford

Tim Harford (British Author, Master’s degree in economics, journalist.)

Tim Harford gives listeners a practical application of “Thinking Fast and Thinking Slow” in the art of statistical analysis. Sounds boring, just as the title “The Data Detective” but in this day of media overload Harford castes a warning. Be skeptical of conclusions drawn by statistical data, whether accumulated by business interests, science nerds, or algorithms. Think slow because thinking fast obscures understanding of statistical analysis. Above all, be curious when reading a statistical analysis that either adds or subtracts from your understanding. With that admonition, Harford offers ten ways to question the veracity and truthfulness of statistical analysis.

Tim Harford gives listeners a practical application of “Thinking Fast and Thinking Slow” in the art of statistical analysis.

Harford argues it is important to investigate a writer’s qualifications as an analyst, and the “how, why, and when” data is collected. As the famous economist Milton Friedman said, “Statistics do not speak for themselves.” Or, as Mark Twain made famous, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” It appears Harford agrees with Friedman, but not Twain, because he believes understanding a statistical study can reveal possible or at least probable truth.

Dr. Cuyler Hammond and Dr. Daniel Horn were smokers up until they finished their statistical report that correlated smoking with cancer.

Harford gives an example of statistical reports that correctly correlated smoking with lung cancer. Cuyler Hammond’s and Daniel Horn’s 1952 statistical study led to the 1964 Surgeon General report that confirmed cancer’s correlation with smoking. The disheartening story Harford tells is the tobacco industry’s purposeful effort to deny correlation. The tobacco industry’s methods were to suggest other causes, like auto exhaust or other carcinogens, as likely causes of lung cancer. They created doubt, whether true or false, which poisons belief in statistical studies.

Like the cowboy Marlboro smoker demonstrating a healthy image of a smoker, advertising obscures facts. The smoking industry successfully created doubt.

Harford explains personal investigation based on curiosity and detective work is necessary if one is looking for a probability of truth.

American free enterprise is created to produce product, service and jobs while making enough profit to stay in business. Sometimes those goals interfere with truth.

As human nature would have it, some businesses care less about truth than profit. This is not meant as a criticism but as an affirmation of human nature.

Harford explains there are many statistical studies purporting rises in crime, inequality, poverty, and medical health that need to be closely examined for validity. He argues every conclusion drawn from statistical surveys that contradict interest-group’ or individual’ belief should be closely examined. The methodology of a good statistical study must be understood within its era, its compiler’s biases, its stipulated human cohort, its conclusion, and its tested repeatability by others.

Harford challenges the supposition that violence has increased in America. This is undoubtedly music to the ears of elected officials who resist national gun control measures. Harford and the famed psychologist, Steven Pinker, suggest statistical analysis shows violence of earlier history is greater than in the 21st century. Harford acknowledges this is no comfort to the heart-rending reality of a child lost to suicide by gun or the horrendous school shootings of the last 3 years. As Horford explains statistics do not register human grief. Statistics are an impersonal unfeeling view of human life.

Harford does not read statistical surveys as truth but as a roadmap for discovery. He looks at a statistical survey like a detective searching for details. Who are the gatherers of the statistics? How were they collected? Why are they relevant? What period do statistics represent and do they relate the present to the past? Without answers, Harford argues statistical surveys are no better than propaganda.

Harford offers a graphic example of the context needed to clearly illustrate the value of statistical studies. The history of America’s invasion of Iraq and its human cost is dramatically and comprehensively revealed in one statistical picture.

Harford’s story shows how graphics can capsulize a statistical truth that shocks one’s senses. Simon Scarr summarizes a statistical report on deaths from the Iraq war with one graph.

Harford advances his view of the metaverse and its growing role in the world. He gives examples of Target’ and Costco’ algorithms that tells a father his daughter is pregnant, and infers a wife’s husband is cheating. A Target algorithm sends a note to a father about the pending birth of a baby based on his daughter’s purchases at the store. Costco sends a rebuy message for condoms to a wife when she calls and explains they never use condoms. Both stores apologize for sending their notes and say their stores made auto-response mistakes. Harford notes email apologies are a common response of stores that use similar algorithms.

Harford notes the irony of a metaverse that invades privacy with algorithms that can easily mislead or affirm societal trends or personal transgressions.

The last chapters of Harford’s book reinforce the importance of statistical studies by recounting the history of Florence Nightingale’s heroic hospital service in Turkey during the Crimean war (1853-1856). Harford explains Nightingale’s interest in mathematics and association with luminaries like Charles Babbage (an English polymath that originated the concept of a digital programmable computer). Nightingale’s hospital service and interest in mathematics lead her to correlate patient’ diseases with causes. The hospital to which she was assigned by the U. K. was without proper food and water. The hospital was dirty, and disease ridden. She had two objectives. First to have food and water supplied, and second to clean the hospital. Her statistical analysis made her realize cleaning was as important as food and clean water in reducing contagion among her patients. Like the statistical analysis of smoking and cancer changed smokers, Nightingale changed nursing.

Florenvce Nightingale (1820-1910, English social reformer born in Italy, Founder of modern nursing.)

“The Data Detective” is a disturbing book that shows the power of media and how it can mislead as well as inform the public.

This is a disturbing book that shows the power of media and how it can mislead as well as inform the public. With poorly or intentionally misleading statistical studies, opposing interest groups harden their political beliefs.

Harford concludes with an appeal to discordant interest groups to be curious about why they disagree with each other.  Reputable statistical analysis can improve one’s belief in probable truth and decrease echo chamber‘ adherence of disparate interest groups.


Audio-book Review
            By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog: awalkingdelight)

Leaves of Grass (1855 Edition)

By: Walt Whitman

Narrated by: Edoardo Ballerini

Walt Whitman (Poet, 1819-1892)

“Leaves of Grass” is perfectly rendered by Edoardo Ballerini. Walt Whitman’s masterpiece shines in Ballerini’s narration. Whitman lived in one of America’s most tumultuous times. He lived through the build-up of the civil war, worker displacement from American industrialization, and the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Despite the horrors of his time, Whitman celebrated life.

Today is a good time to listen to Whitman’s masterwork. Living in the time of Covid19, Russia’s attack on Ukraine, January 6 violence in the nation’s capital, probable arrest of a former President, natural disasters, climate change, threat of Armageddon, American poverty, immigration, and homelessness—all can overwhelm one’s senses. Whitman understood the difficulties of his time but rises above them by celebrating what being American means.

Being American means having a written Constitution.
Being American means balance of power based on independent judicial, legislative, and executive branches of government.

Being American means being free within the context of rule-of-law. Being American means freedom to vote for representative government. Being American means freedom of speech and the press within the bounds of slander toward others.

Just as was true in the time of Walt Whitman, there is no guarantee of peace and tranquility, but his blank verse reflects on the many positive values of living life as an American. Whitman implies Americans should celebrate what they have, not what they want.


Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog: awalkingdelight)

Be Like the Fox (Machiavelli in His World)

By: Erica Benner

Narrated by: Karen Saltus

Erica Benner (Author, British political philosopher and historian)

Erica Benner gives context to Machiavelli and his role as a diplomat and advisor to leaders of the 15th and early 16th century. Machiavelli is not depicted as a supporter but as a clever advisor to tyrannic leaders of Florence and city-state regions of Italian power. What Benner reminds one of is that there is no country called Italy at this point in history.

There are three centers of power in the country now known as Italy. One is Florence where Machiavelli is born and raised, the second is in city-state regions, and the third is the Catholic Church in Rome. All are centers of power.

Benner’s history infers most of Machiavelli’s life is a duel with the Medici family’s power. The Medici family initially controls Florence when Machiavelli is a young man. The Medici family is dethroned in 1494. Machiavelli comes under suspicion as a possible co-conspirator. In August 1512, the Medici’s return to control of Florence.

Nicolo Machiavelli lives (1469-1527) in interesting times. The Renaissance occurs between the 1300s and 1700s. Benner infers Machiavelli is like a fox with nine lives.

When the Medici family is overthrown, Florence comes under the rule of a Dominican friar in 1494. The new leader is Girolamo Savonarola. Savonarola is an ascetic who unwisely ridicules the Pope’s Catholic Church leadership and influence. He accuses the bishops of simony, mismanagement, and greed. Pope Alexander VI, a Borgia family descendent, becomes Pope and has Savonarola beheaded. Savonarola’s experience undoubtedly influences Machiavelli to keep his own counsel when dealing with power.

Girolamo Savonarola (1452-1498, Ruled Florence from 1494-1498

Benner explains Machiavelli counsels the Borgia’s but only serves in a way that seems supportive. Benner suggests Machiavelli’s advice to the Borgias hides his real beliefs about city-state’ leadership. Machiavelli is in his twenties when serving the Borgias. These seem the formative years of Machiavelli’s future book, “The Prince”.

Cesare Borgia (1475-1507, died at the age of 31)

There are three Borgias that become Popes. It is the second, Pope Alexander VI, which has a son named Cesare Borgia which appears to be a model for Machiavelli’s “…Prince”. Benner suggests interpretation of Machiavelli is often wrong. After the Borgias, Machiavelli’s leadership beliefs are shown by Benner to be more nuanced. One might consider Machiavelli a political genius, ahead of his time. Benner explains “The Prince” is filled with irony while appearing to laud tyrannic power while his true belief is in just treatment of the ruled. Machiavelli warns of tyranny’s negative consequence.

Caterina Sforza (Noblewoman of Forli.)

An interesting acquaintance of Machiavelli in 1499, before the Medici restoration, is Caterina Sforza, an Italian noblewoman who succeeds her husband as a leader of an area identified as Forli. Women are shown as a force, even in the 15th century. She shows herself to be a tigress by facing down Borgia’s martial control of the town. The reason this is an interesting note is because Benner refers to a dream Machiavelli has of a forceful woman who counsels him to confront the new Medici rulers of Florence and offer his services as an experienced diplomat.

A not widely known contribution in Benner’s history is that Machiavelli promotes the idea of drafting citizens of a city-state into an army for defense of their homeland.

Most Italian city-states hired mercenaries to fight their battles and expand their fiefdoms. Machiavelli recognizes the concomitant risk with mercenaries who can turn on their benefactors for their own interests. Machiavelli convinces Florence’s leaders of the folly of using mercenaries because of their loyalty to whomever pays them best. Machiavelli is charged with raising what we today call a national guard. Soldiers would spend several days for training, and later be called-up when there is a threat to their country. By being citizens of their homeland, Machiavelli argues a home-grown army is more effective and reliable than a mercenary military force when defending their homeland.

Machiavelli is imprisoned and tortured when the Medici’s return to power. He is implicated in an effort to keep the Medici’s out of power in Florence.

With the support of Spain, and a Medici Pope, the Medici family returns to power in Florence. In 1513, a Medici Pope is elected by the Catholic Church. The Medici family returns to rule in the 16th century. Machiavelli’s career is partly resurrected when he writes to the Medici’s about how foreign powers should be handled. He is known to be speaking from personal experience. Though the Medici’s mistrust Machiavelli, they note the value of his understanding of negotiation and diplomacy.  Machiavelli is now in his 40s. “The Prince” is generally thought to have been published in 1513.

Another interesting note in Benner’s history is that Machiavelli becomes an accomplished playwright when the Medici family returns to Florence. His plays are comedies, dramas, and satires about Florentine customs and habits,

Two other momentous occurrences happen during Machiavelli’s life. One is Martin Luther’s attack on the Catholic Church and its purposeful belief that one can buy their way to heaven with indulgences offered for sale (aka simony) by the Church. The second momentous occurrence is the rise of the Muslim religion with the advance of Sulieman the Magnificent. Both were viewed as direct threats to the Church and Catholic faith. Machiavelli is near the end of his eventful life.

Martin Luther’s attack on the Catholic Church with the 95 Thesis in 1517.

Sulieman the Magnificent captures much of the middle east and spreads belief in the Muslim religion. (6 November 1494 – 6 September 1566)

Benner implies “The Prince” is a compilation of Machiavelli’s life as a diplomat. She suggests “The Prince” reflects on the dual nature of leadership with one side beneficent, the other maleficent. Bennet’s history suggests Machiavelli dies penniless and in obscurity because of his sly political fencing with great powers like the Borgia’s and Medici’s.

Machiavelli’s life story shows two leadership styles that effectively lead Italy’s city-states. In Benner’s opinion, Machiavelli’s life experience reinforces belief that beneficent (more democratic and enabling) rather than maleficent (autocratic, and top down) leadership is best. She argues “The Prince” satirically criticizes the second and extolls the first.


Audio-book Review
            By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog: awalkingdelight)

We Don’t Know Ourselves: A Personal History of Modern Ireland

By: Fintan O’Toole

Narrated by: Aidan Kelly

Fintan O’Toole (Author, award winning Irish journalist and political comentator for The Irish Times)

Fintan O’Toole helps one understand something about mid-20th century Ireland. O’Toole is born in Northern Ireland in 1958. That year becomes the beginning of his story. O’Toole touches on pre-1958 Ireland but only through literature and brief mentions of earlier history.

O’Toole’s story is fascinating but knowing an Irish population as an “…Ourselves…” is elusive. O’Toole is an excellent writer who reveals his self-understanding, but it is a vain effort to understand a singular society’s self-understanding. No population in the world can understand itself because of its complexity.

O’Toole explains post-WWII’ aid did not come to Ireland because of its neutrality during the war. The hardship in Ireland is difficult in years before and after WWII.

One suspects most Americans do not know that Ireland remained neutral in WWII. (This is not to say the Irish did not side with the west because thousands joined Allied forces on their own.) Education levels in Ireland were low because of little industrialization that would provide taxes or revenues needed for teachers and classrooms. The teaching available is through the Catholic Church in Northern Ireland and it is only after 1958 that the church began to fund education beyond grade school.

Great emphasis is placed on classroom order in Catholic schools with a ruler or open hand slap at young students who have wrong answers or who act in what is considered disruptive behavior.

Conditions of school in Northern Ireland were harsh with Catholic brethren who severely punished students for minor classroom disruptions. O’Toole notes many who experience that disciplinary environment retrospectively praise it as a character builder. However, O’Toole notes some students were sexually abused by their Catholic school masters. Pedophilia is a festering sore in Catholic church’ history. O’Toole implies it is a pox spread in Ireland’s 1960s Catholic schools. As history has shown, Catholic pedophilia extends far beyond Ireland.

O’Toole tells of many conflicts in the sixties through the nineties, without enough context. Because there is a mixture of religious conflict and Irish independence, it is difficult for a reader/listener to have perspective on O’Toole’s history of 30 years of “Troubles”.

Even we self-centered and ignorant Americans know one of the great conflicts of the world is between Irish Catholic’s and Protestant’s. The violence of each against the other is unfathomable to most Americans. O’Toole underestimates American knowledge of the causes and consequences of the “Troubles” in Ireland.

It seems most religions argue there is no God but God or Allah but Allah. Whether one calls themselves Catholic or Protestant, God seems the only concept upon which the largest religions agree. Religious conflict in Ireland is made more complex by the desire of some Irish to be independent of England while others wish for union. It would have been helpful to have a clearer explanation of the origin of the “Troubles”.

The cruelty during the time of the “Troubles” is horrendous. O’Toole’s stories of IRA atrocity are mind-numbing, including children in the wrong place at the wrong time. At the same time, captured IRA prisoners are as poorly clothed and cared for as though they were abandoned dogs. Many lived in their sweat, and excrement which made them either sick or dead. Some went on hunger strikes to resist with death as their end.

The Ireland of which O’Toole writes is Catholic because he is raised Catholic.

O’Toole explains “don’t ask, don’t see, don’t say” is a mantra of those who plan and do wrong. It applies to Irelands loosely explained “Troubles”, but he argues it also applies to the Catholic Church, and later the financial industry in Ireland in the late 1980s and early 1990s. As wealth accumulates among those who benefit from Ireland’s economic growth, they look for ways to hide their earnings. The earnings are sometimes legitimately earned, sometimes not, but all wish to evade taxation and/or incarceration. O’Toole explains Ireland’s banking industry colludes with those money makers who wish to hide their income.

On February 6, 2002, Allied Irish Bank – Ireland’s second-biggest bank was investigated for apparent currency fraud at its Baltimore-based subsidiary, Allfirst, perpetrated by a trader named John Rusnak. 

Irish bankers and businessmen colluded to make it appear Irish residents lived abroad and should not be taxed for their income in Ireland. O’Toole explains the Irish government loses millions of pounds that could have been used for public services because of that collusion.

O’Toole’s notes women in Ireland of the 1950s and 60s are treated as child bearers and servers to men. They could not sue for divorce for any reason. They could not work outside the home. Women could not practice any form of birth control. Women were subject to their husband’s desires and could not object to either beatings or sexual intimacy.

O’Toole shows that any intelligent human being will overcome denied rights by fighting, fleeing, or subverting unequal treatment. Many Irish emigrate, some surreptitiously rebel. The example O’Toole gives is Irish doctors and pharmacists provide birth control pills to women based on falsely claimed menstrual problems to hide their real intent of avoiding pregnancy. Women had to fight unequal treatment or flee.

Misogyny in Ireland seems even more pernicious than in the earlier years of America.

O’Toole explains how prosperity comes to Ireland with acceptance into the European Union. (Northern Ireland later rejects the E.U. along with Great Britain.)

Eliminating trade barriers enriches farmers and begins industrializing the country while broadening economic diversification. To the church, O’Toole explains there is a concern over the loss of Catholic influence on the population. To the public there is great hope for an improvement in the Irish standard of living.

The benefit to farming is significant because of the price paid for goods within the E.U. O’Toole explains success in industrial growth is less significant, undoubtedly because of lack of infrastructure. There were also displaced workers in trades that could not compete with European prices. However, O’Toole notes women were significantly benefited by job opportunities created in a growing economy. Women were finally liberated from only working at home.

O’Toole explains economic improvement did not cure all Ireland’s ills and in fact created new 20th century problems beyond sexual inequality.

The gap between rich and poor did not change with economic wealth. Drugs became a serious health problem that O’Toole compares to the slums of New York. The biggest beneficiaries of joining the European Union were Irish farmers who were able to get better prices for their produce. Industry lagged and craftsmen disappeared. The truth of O’Toole’s view is that human nature is the same everywhere. America, China, Russia, Ukraine, North Korea- all are motivated by money, power, and/or prestige. Human nature corrupts us all, regardless of government form, rule of law, or intent.

O’Toole chooses to become a journalist despite discouragement by a local paper that might have hired him out of college. O’Toole explains his life in a way that infers he is smarter than many of his peers. That intelligence paves his way through college and on to a successful career as an investigative journalist and author.

Neither Ireland nor the world have reason to believe they are morally or economically better or worse than other nations of the world. We are all in the same leaky boat. Only time and societal evolution will cure or kill us.