SYRIA’S FAMILY BUSINESS

Audio-book Review
           By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog: awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

No Turning Back (Life, Loss, and Hope in Wartime Syria)

By: Rania Abouzeid

Narrated by: Susan Nezami

Rania Abouzeid (Author, Lebanese Australian journalist based in Beirut.)

“No Turning Back” is a “just the facts” reveal of the Syrian civil war that began in 2011 and still simmers in 2022.

General Hafez al-Assad, (seated to the right), the father of Bashar, created a military dictatorship which became a totalitarian police state run by the Asad family business.

Rania Abouzeid interviews many sides of the war which seems to imply the Syrian civil war is not over. The president of Syria, Bashar al-Assad, remains. The Assad family business has ruled Syria since 1971.

Abouzeid’s picture of the Syrian civil war infers authoritarianism is the only way for Syria to survive as an independent nation. This sticks in the throat of democracies’ idealists. Checks and balances in America imperfectly regulate the excesses of capitalist enterprise. There seems nothing in Syria’s autocracy that even tries to moderate government leader’s self-interest.

Abouzeid shows disparate religious beliefs and ethnic diversity make Syrian democracy highly improbable. Factional leaders during the Syrian civil war demonstrate it is only “their way or the highway”. Without government checks and balances, today’s Syria is only manageable as an autocracy. Sadly, one family and a religious minority choose to victimize Syrian citizens who are not part of the “in” group. Abouzeid infers that is the proximate cause of the 2011 revolution.

The western world seems incapable of understanding that democracy is not a universal need or desire of all nations.

There are differences that cannot be resolved by votes of constituents in an environment that has few of the hard-won tools of democracy. That is particularly true in non-secular countries with strong religious beliefs. The slaughter of innocents and torture of prisoners noted by Abouzeid during Syria’s civil war is appalling.

Bashar al-Assad or some demented factions in war-torn Syria choose to use poison gas to murder Syrian men, women, and children.

Abouzeid’s stories rend one’s heart. The worst parts of human nature are unleashed to torture and mutilate many who only desire peace and fair treatment. This is an unforgivable tragedy compounded by President Obama’s empty “red line” speech that further alienated Syrian people from the ideal of democracy.

What is often missed in reports of Syrian atrocity is the leaders who led factions in Syria.

Some plan to erase Syria from the map and create a religious state to replace the Assad family business with their view of the Islamic religion. This is not to say suppression is not an Assad tool to benefit the Alawite sect of Shia Islam, but that outside Islamic zealots wanted to install their own form of authoritarianism.

The Syrian government manages to draw on foreign powers (particularly Putin’s Russia) to help to strengthen the Assad family’s autocratic control. Though Abouzeid does not address Russia’s assistance, one doubts Assad would have survived.

What Abouzeid reveals with her facts is that one autocracy could have been replaced by another. The question becomes would Syrian citizens be better or worse off under a different autocracy?

Obama’s “red line” is an empty promise that may have been made in good faith but is viewed by Syrians as a betrayal. In one sense, Obama is right in not having America become directly involved in Syria’s civil war. America has made too many mistakes in recent history to warrant invasion in another country’s sovereignty.

Abouzeid suggests Russia acts as a more reliable friend to the Syrian people than America. In view of the factional nature of Syria’s population, Abouzeid has a point. Syria, and all nation states are on their own in working out what their citizens feel is right. The inference one draws from Abouzeid’s facts is that in Syria’s stage of social development, democracy will not work. Democracy is a choice, not an inevitability.

The Assad family and the Alawite sect remain autocratic rulers of Syria. The best one can hope is that Assad’s autocracy will more equitably treat all Syrian citizens, whether they are a part of the family business or not. If Assad has not learned that lesson, civil war will return with greater force, and possibly a more repressive autocracy.

COLLEGE OR NOT

Audio-book Review
           By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog: awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Excellent Sheep (The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life)

By: William Deresiewicz

Narrated by: Mel Foster

William Deresiewicz (American author, essayist and literary critic.)

William Deresiewicz offers a view of life and education in “Excellent Sheep”. The author begins by arguing students of the Ivy League are disadvantaged in their acceptance by the best universities in the world. One presumes Deresiewicz comes from a wealthy family because he is a student, and later, professor at Yale.

One thinks about eight of the nine Supreme Court Justices being graduates of Harvard. It is difficult to feel sorry for an American who has guaranteed life employment in one of the most prestigious jobs in the world.

When listening to any audiobook, one thinks of titles of a review for what one hears. In the first few chapters of “Excellent Sheep”, Deresiewicz’s book might be titled “Mostly Baloney”. However, “Mostly Baloney” is disrespectful, and somewhat unfair, as becomes clear in later chapters.

Lack motivation or ability to sustain effective action. Rigid. Unyielding, unable to accept new ideas, etc… Intemperate. Lack self-control and enabled by followers. Callous. In uncaring or unkind, ignores needs of followers. Corrupt. Lie, cheat, and steal; put self-interest ahead of public interest. Insular. Draws clear boundaries between welfare of organization and outsiders. Evil. Use power to inflict severe physical or psychological harm. Incompetent. Lack motivation or ability to sustain effective action. Rigid. Unyielding, unable to accept new ideas, etc.. Intemperate. Lack self-control and enabled by followers. Callous. In uncaring or unkind, ignores needs of followers. Corrupt. Lie, cheat, and steal; put self-interest ahead of public interest. Insular. Draws clear boundaries between welfare of organization and outsiders. Evil. Use power to inflict severe physical or psychological harm.

Toward the end of his book, one finds Deresiewicz is raised in an upper middle-class family but with no college graduates. A listener begins to realize Deresiewicz’s acceptance at Yale comes from hard work, and good grades, even if his family could afford the Ivy League. The author’s presumed hard work and good grades demands respect and fairer evaluation of what he has to say.

Many (if not most) Americans go to college because it is a ticket to better paying jobs, not to become better educated citizens.

To a large extent, this critic went to college to get a ticket for better pay—of course, not to the ivy league but to a State University and graduate education at a midwestern university. The point being most American’s purpose in higher education is to get a ticket for higher paying jobs, and only secondarily, to become better educated. The “ticket mentality” is part of what Deresiewicz is trying to explain.

Deresiewicz explains Ivy League students are pushed throughout their lives to strive for admittance, not to become better educated but to have the best job opportunities in America.

The author suggests that push makes them unsure of themselves because they are constantly measured at every point of their life by the artificiality of SATs, class grades, student activity, and the wealth and influence of their families. What Deresiewicz misses is that despite these student pressures, those who go to any school beyond high school have more tools to help them cope with life. College, contrary to Deresiewicz’s opinion, is not a transition from childhood to adulthood. College is only a continuation of childhood.

Deresiewicz is prescient when he explains how important it is for students to follow their passion.

However, not all people are motivated by passion. Most follow paths of least resistance. The path of least resistance is influenced by education, but not formed by it. To infer that is a bad thing is unreasonable because most of society follows rather than leads. The followers are not motivated by passion. It is leaders who have passion. That, of course, is a two-edged value because leaders can lead to the worst, as well as the best outcomes in life.

An added criticism by Deresiewicz is that upper income families push their children to achieve good grades for admittance to the Ivy League and are damaged by the experience. That seems false.

Basic liberal arts and sciences for adolescents (before college) are exposure that may or may not become passions for the geniuses of life. Parents should encourage, if not push, their children to get good grades in school. That is where passion is born.

No one would deny Sir Isaac Newton’s, Einstein’s, and Dirac’s are needed as much as the George Eliot’s, Dostoyevsky’s, and Tolstoy’s of life. Without knowing if they were pushed by their parents is not the point. It is the passion each had for a discipline they were exposed to early in life. Undoubtedly that exposure is either encouraged tacitly or directly by parents or guardians.

What Deresiewicz attacks in his last chapters is the nobles oblige of Ivy League graduates who dominate America’s leadership class. That domination reinforces class distinction and exacerbates the gap between rich and poor.

The author notes many Presidents of the U.S., before the mid-twentieth century did not go to Ivy League universities. With few exceptions, a majority of American Presidents after the 1970s are Ivy League graduates. Deresiewicz suggest the Ivy League aggravates class distinctions in the U.S.

More importantly, Deresiewicz argues Ivy League education narrows the thinking of American leadership because graduates fall into a camaraderie trap and fail to understand the needs of most Americans.

Deresiewicz suggests higher education fails to teach the value of liberal arts. Whether true or not, emphasis on liberal arts seems superfluous. Most who listen to the author’s book cannot feel sorry for Ivy League students that are fearful of what life has in store for them. Every student transitioning to adulthood has that fear. Teaching liberal arts is not going to change that fearfulness. Of course, that is not Deresiewicz’s point, but America’s attention needs to be focused on improving liberal arts and science education for all, not just Ivy League students.  

DEMOCRACY’S STORM

Audio-book Review
           By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog: awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The Lies That Bind (Rethinking Identity)

By: Kwame Anthony Appiah

Narrated by: Kwame Anthony Appiah

Kwame Anthony Appiah (Author, philosopher of history, politics and social sciences.)

Kwame Appiah implies western democracy is the best form of government.

The democracy of which Appiah writes is one in which rule-of-law, freedom within the limits of rule-of-law, and equal opportunity are evident.

However, contrary to Langston Hughes’ poem, the sea is not calm. Democracies’ sea is stormy because its principles are inconsistently practiced.

Kwame Anthony Appiah casts a lifebuoy to those swimming in the stormy sea of democracy.

Appiah’s chapters on religion may be a slog for some but they offer understanding of the inconsistency of religious belief. Religious contradictions are legion. Sermonizers pick and choose paths they like rather than any truth biblical writings may impart.

“The Lies That Bind” examines the role of religion, culture, and government in society.

Agnosticism, and atheism grows with revelations of science, stultified freedom of thought, and (though not mentioned by Appiah) ecumenical abuse.

Appiah’s life story reinforces the importance of culture. Both his parents were highly accomplished people. His mother was a British artist historian and writer. His father, from Ghana, was a lawyer, diplomat, and politician. Both parents come from accomplished families. Their son chooses to marry a man when same sex marriage only slowly becomes culturally accepted.

Appiah’s history addresses the ascendence of the Mongol empire to illustrate the breadth of Mongol conquest while noting its style of government control. His point is that control is exercised with a level of tolerance for independence, cultural understanding, and religious belief among Khan’s descendants.

Genghis Khan (1162-1227 Leader of the Mongol Empire)

In summary, Appiah argues democratic societies need to rethink identity in terms of human equality. Whether a man or woman is a successful entrepreneur, CEO, server in a restaurant, or laborer in construction, all are equally human. Appiah notes Trump’s political success in America relates to his intuitive understanding of what many political aspirants ignored—the importance of American labor, whether highly educated, unschooled, rich, or poor.

A leader of an enterprise can be right, even damn right, but fail without the help of labor. Disrespecting labor ensures failure. This is a lesson Henry Ford understood when he raised the wages of his work force. This is a lesson Elon Musk will undoubtedly find in his acquisition of Twitter.

Appiah’s lifebuoy is meritocracy, a government holding of power by people selected on the basis of their ability. The idea of meritocracy came about in the 1960s. However, there are academicians, like Daniel Markovits who believe the concept of meritocracy increases inequality and causes decline in the middle class. Markovits argues middle-class families lose equal educational opportunity because of high cost. Without equal opportunity for education, too many Americans are left without Appiah’s lifebuoy.

Appiah does not directly address issues of equality of opportunity in a democratic-meritocratic society. Though Appiah may be a minority in white western culture, one doubts his educational opportunity was ever a question of cost.

On balance, Appiah offers insight to how democracy can be improved. The key is equality of opportunity which implies democracy needs to focus on safety-net’ issues which entail more help for lower- and middle-class income earners. In democracy, that means election of leaders who are willing to ensure equality of opportunity for all.

SLAVERY

Audio-book Review
           By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The Other Slavery (The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America)

By: Andrés Reséndez

                                                           Narrated by: Eric Jason Martin

Andrés Reséndez (Author, Historian, Ph.D. in history from the University of Chicago.)

One suspects “The Other Slavery” is unknown or misremembered by most Americans. “The Other Slavery” is not about America’s civil war, the Emancipation Proclamation, or Abraham Lincoln. It is about indigenous peoples and their adaptation to a world turned upside down by newcomers from foreign lands.

Andrés Reséndez mostly focuses on the North American continent, particularly west and southwestern American territories and Mexico, but he also touches on slavery in Chile.

As is well known, slavery has been a societal constant since the beginning of recorded history. Today, it appears in pornography, low wage peonage, so-called re-education camps, and political/social incarcerations. What Reséndez explains is that Indian tribes of the west are increasingly incentivized by slavery with the arrival of foreigners. Though slavery may have been used by Indians earlier in history, it became a significant source of revenue for warring tribes.

Hernán Cortés de Monroy y Pizarro Altamirano (aka Cortez), 1st Marquess of the Valley of Oaxaca.

Reséndez reminds listeners of internecine wars of early America when conquistadores and Indians ruled the American southwest.

One Indian tribe captures a different tribes’ sons, and daughters to trade for money, horses, guns, and butter from the Spanish or later settlers who need cheap labor or who seek domestic help and/or carnal pleasure. Reséndez notes young women’s slavery prices are higher than young men’s because of their dual service as domestic laborers and sex objects. Over time, as Spanish land holders are replaced by American land holders, Indians remain a source and victim of the slave industry.

Men, women, and children are used by land holders and competing Indian tribes as barter for trade.

Though slavery is the primary story, Reséndez notes wars between Spanish land barons and Pueblo Indians occur over rights to the land.

Santa Fe, New Mexico becomes a focal point of conflict between Pueblo Indians and the Spanish. The victimization of Pueblo Indian slaves leads to a rebellion that removes Spain from the New Mexico territory, at least for several years. However, the lure of silver brings Spain back with a slave trade resurgence in southwestern territories of America. Reséndez  explains the slave trade becomes endemic as silver is discovered in Mexico and the southwest territories.

The need for cheap labor in silver mines multiplies the value of Indian slaves in the southwest.

The slave trade never dies. Greed drives Indian tribes to steal people from different Indian’ tribes to profit from human sales to landowners looking for cheap labor. Reséndez notes it is not just Indians victimizing Indians but American and Spanish landowners buying young men and women Indians and other human victims to serve as low-cost labor for silver mining, farming, and domestic service.

Reséndez notes male slaves were more difficult to manage than women slaves but for strength males were coveted for their labor in silver mining. Some of the mines were deep in the earth, all were dangerous. Underground mines were flooded with carcinogenic mercury tailings that shortened the lives of those who worked there.

Slavery goes by many names. As is known by historians, the Dawes act further victimizes native Americans.

Reséndez reveals how slavery has always been a part of society. Self-interest is a motive force of human nature. Slavery is found in penal colonies of authoritarian governments to provide cheap labor. Slavery is also found in democratic governments that legislatively reduce the cost of labor based on corporate influence on public policy. A free market, not lobbyist influence, should determine public policy.

The hope for elimination of slavery lies in government policy that reinforces belief in human equality and a balance between corporate profit and cost of labor as determined by a free market.

AUTHORITARIANISM

Audio-book Review
           By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

East West Street (On the Origins of “Genocide” and “Crimes Against Humanity”)

By: Philippe Sands

                                        Narrated by: David Rintoul, Philippe Sands

Philippe Sands (British Author, attorney, specialist in international law.)

“East West Street” is narrated by two people, the first narrator defines the origin and legal definition of “Genocide” and “Crimes Against Humanity”. The second narrator recounts real-life’ details that relate to those definitions.  

The defendants at the Nuremberg Nazi trials. Pictured in the front row are: Hermann Goering, Rudolf Hess, Joachim Von Ribbentrop, Wilhelm Keitel and Ernst Kaltenbrunner. In the back row are: Karl Doenitz, Erich Raeder, Baldur von Schirach, and Fritz Sauckel.

The first public use of “genocide” is introduced in the Nuremberg Trials of former Nazi administrators. Raphael Lemkin (1900-1959) wrote a book, “Axis Rule in Occupied Europe”, that introduces the term “genocide” in 1944. He becomes a needling gadfly in the Nuremberg trials. The word “genocide” is initially rejected but becomes a part of the trial as it proceeds.

Sands suggests Lemkin’s role is diminished by his uncooperative behavior when first selected to serve on the Nuremberg’ adjudication team. Lemkin is relegated to a lesser role as a consulting attorney, in part because of his insistence on the use of “genocide” in the Nuremberg trials.

Raphael Lemkin (1900-1959, Polish lawyer, coined the word-genocide.)

Regardless of Lemkin’s alleged attitude, one is compelled to agree–the perpetrators of the holocaust committed both “genocide” and “crimes against humanity”. Individual men, women, and children were murdered. At the same time, specifically identified groups of people were murdered by the Nazis. The largest group is Jewish, but many groups were not affiliated with religion. Poland lost an estimated 3 million Polish Jews, but Poland also lost an estimate 1.8 million Poles with no Jewish heritage. An estimated 3,000,000 Ukrainians were enslaved and/or murdered, some undoubtedly were Jews, many were not.

Hans Frank (German governor of Poland 1939-1945).

On several occasions, the son of Hans Frank (the German governor of Poland during WWII) is interviewed. Frank’s son believes his father knew nothing of the atrocities of Poland’s concentration camps when first interviewed. In subsequent interviews, Frank’s son realizes his father enforces orders of the Third Reich to exterminate the Jews of Poland. His son begins to realize his father is not who he thought him to be. The former governor of Poland is convicted and executed after his Nuremberg trial.

Ironically, Governor Frank essentially confesses to his crime against humanity and suggests Germany will suffer for his crime for the next 1000 years. His fellow German defendant’s scoff. One wonders if that disrespect for Frank’s opinion is because of their belief that what they did is right or that Germany should feel no guilt for what they personally chose to do. Susan Neiman suggests Germany does feel guilty but is diligently trying to make amends. If she is right, one wonders if it will take a hundred years?

In the end, defendants in Nuremberg are accused of “crimes against humanity”. “Genocide” is a group accusation while “crimes against humanity” is a person-specific indictment. What makes “East West Street” more than a definition of words and indictment is the detailed research that illustrates war’s personal consequence to innocent men, women, and children who suffer from war.

The author notes “Genocide” has become international law used for the first time in 1998 to convict Jean-Paul Akayesu for Rwandan murders. Sands suggests the concept of genocide remains controversial in the sense that it magnifies potential for conflict between groups.

There is no question that Jews were the largest singular group to be systematically tortured and murdered by the Nazis, but Lemkin’s definition of “genocide” is a label applicable to other groups of humanity. We have ample examples in the 21st century. There are the examples of indigenous Indians and Black slaves in America, and Uighurs and Tibetans in China.

The truth that Sands reveals is that every rape, torture, enslavement, and murder is individual, personal, and tragic. Sands meticulous research shows how brutal and singular “crimes against humanity” are to the individual. He finds his family is torn apart by Hitler’s Jewish obsession. The wounds engendered by Hitler’s leadership are shown unhealable to generations of Jews.

Hitler’s abhorrent beliefs festers in the 21st century.

Sands captures the true threat of authoritarianism in “East West Street”. One person can enslave, torture, or kill another person. More ominously, one person can influence a government to become an enslaver, torturer, and killer of millions. The first is a crime against humanity; the second portends genocide. Of course, today we see Putin’s attempt to eradicate the Ukranian nation and its people. One must ask oneself, is this not the genocide of which Lemkin wrote?

THEY ARE US

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The Storm is Here: An American Crucible

By: Luke Mogelson

 Narrated by: Rob Shapiro

Luke Mogulson (Author, reporter for various national and international publications.)

Luke Mogelson’s “The Storm is Here” carries the risk of being an echo chamber for those who believe Trump is the worst thing to have happened to the Republican Party and politics of the United States.

One must ask oneself, who is this author? The following is a brief review of Mogelson’s life, noted on the internet.

  1. Luke Mogelson is an American reporter who is known for shooting the riot footage of the US Capitol video.
  2. He was born in 1982 in St Louis, Missouri, United States of America. Fogelson is of American nationality having a white ethnic background.
  3. Currently, Luke Mogelson’s age is 38 at the time of this writing.
  4. Luke Mogelson does not have an official Wikipedia and bio made in his name.
  5. As such, there is not much information about his family and educational qualifications.
  6. Luke is a daring and brave reporter and has covered reports for the New Yorker on the Syrian War and West Africa’s Ebola epidemic.
  7. He has lived in places such as Paris and Mexico. On the other hand; Luke Mogelson has not officially revealed to us his wife‘s name and her current whereabouts.
  8. Luke is also a famed contributing writer at The New York Times Magazine and won the prestigious National Magazine Award in 2014. His work has appeared and allegedly been well-appreciated in The New Yorker, The Hudson ReviewThe Paris Review, The Kenyon Review, and many more.
  9. He has written books titled; These Heroic, Happy Dead: Stories which was released worldwide in 2016.

At the least, Mogelson is a respected, brave, and well-travelled reporter, published in several national and international publications. If “The Storm is Here” is viewed as only an echo chamber for Trump haters, one should measure Mogelson’s credibility as a reporter and respected writer, published by notable national and international papers and magazines.

Governor of Michigan, Gretchen Whitmer.

Mogelson begins his book with freedom loving Americans who resent Michigan Governor Whitmer’s autocratic response to the Covid 19 pandemic. She orders businesses to be closed and mandates masks to protect Michiganders from spread of the virus. The consequence devastates local businesses that needed income to survive during the pandemic.

Karl Manke (Michigan barber.)

Mogelson focuses on an elderly barber’s business and his refusal to close his doors during the pandemic. His business becomes a rallying cry for freedom fighters who believe freedom is more important than what became over 1,000,000 American deaths from Covid19.

Mogelson recounts the tumultuous years of the Trump presidency. Every listener will have a visceral response to Mogelson’s reporting. In the end, all one can conclude is that “They are Us”. America, like all countries of the world, has a flawed form of government.

The flaw is universal because citizens of every country and government are flawed by the insecurities and prejudices of being human.

Trump is a proven liar, a showman with the ability to martial support of some of the smartest and honest Republicans in America.

They know who they are and still hope to be vindicated by history. Mogelson reveals how misled the Republican party has been by a showman. Trump has no understanding or concern about how destructive his actions have been to the potential of democratic equality and freedom. America has taken two steps back from the one step forward. The last step forward is in the Obama years of governance. This is not to suggest Obama is an exemplar of the best America can be but that he advanced democratic equality and freedom by one step forward.

Mogelson leaves judgement of activists who support Trump’s lies and incitement to the facts of history.

We must be judges of ourselves by clearing understanding “they are us”. Many of these activists who support Trump believe in white supremacy, and the inferiority of others based on skin color or place of birth. It is not a matter of forgiveness but recognition of the threat of authoritarianism in democracy. Trump is not the first President (Democrat or Republican) of the United States to martial the hate of Americans for others. He will not be the last.

Mogelson’s facts are here for all to hear, believe, or disbelieve. The real message is “they are us” and democracy is, and always will be, a work in progress.

SCANDINAVIA

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The Almost Nearly Perfect People

By: Michael Booth

 Narrated by: Ralph Lister

Michael Booth (British Author, food and travel writer.)

Later this month, we will travel to Scandinavia and Finland. As a suggestion by our guide, “The Almost Nearly Perfect People” is a fascinating introduction to Denmark, Norway, Finland, Sweden, and Iceland. To be fair to indigenous people of the Nordic countries, one might keep in mind the author is British while living for ten or more years in Denmark with his Danish wife and family. The author notes they moved from Denmark for a short time, but his wife convinces him to return.

Booth is a travel and food writer. He explains that an extra motive for writing this book is because a wide part of the world knows little about Scandinavia and much of what they think they know is wrong. I am more in the first than second category but have an interest in the subject because of my Finnish grandparents.

On a per capita basis, Norway is among the ten richest nations in the world. America is around 11th. Sweden and Denmark are not far behind.

In contrast Finland is a laggard at 21st position but Booth claims Finland is his favorite among the five countries.

For public education systems, Finland is historically ranked among the best in the world while Norway, Sweden, and Denmark are among the top ten. To give perspective, America is around 27th place.

The Danish-Swedish company Arla Foods is the 7th largest dairy company in the world. The industrial transportation and shipping company Maersk is a Danish company. IKEA, Volvo, Assa Abloy (key card locking systems for hotels), Electrolux, Ericsson, and H&M are Swedish conglomerates. Denmark and Sweden are industry power houses in the world.

Booth notes Norway became rich with the discovery of oil. Denmark’s and Sweden’s wealth lies in different strengths and weaknesses revolving around their respective international businesses.  

What makes Booth’s book interesting, and entertaining is his view and contrast of Nordic societies. Booth suggests both Danes and Swedes are somewhat cliquish and standoffish but act differently among themselves. Both prefer working with their own countrymen and women. Danes revel in individualism whereas Swedes are more clannish. Neither particularly welcome outsiders but Swedes like working together with fellow Swedes as teams with common purpose. In contrast, Danes work within a hierarchical structure that relies on positional direction. Finns are characterized as less ambitious with a live and “let be” view of life. A Finn works to live rather than lives to work. Booth suggests Norwegians appear standoffish to many but its more from a wish to be self-reliant and reserved. The idea is to preserve personal space among themselves and to have respect for others who may or may not be Norwegian.

Iceland is not a part of the trip we are taking, and Booth only skims Icelandic culture but suggests Danish influence is the predominant characteristic of their population. (Iceland was founded by Danes.) Booth’s primary story of Iceland is in their errant decision to rely on banking system managers that nearly collapse the economy in the 2008 economic crises. Belief in hierarchal structure and positional direction nearly bankrupted Iceland because of unwise risks taken by bank managers.

A listener’s general impression from Booth’s book is that the Nordic countries are uniquely different but generally socialist with the highest tax rates in the world.

Those tax rates provide the best education and health systems in the world. However, their socialism does not impede their innovative entrepreneurial and capitalist interests. In Booth’s opinion, the Nordic countries represent the future of the world by melding capitalism with socialism.

Booth infers the success of Nordic countries begins with their education system. Teaching is an honored profession that is difficult for potential employees to join.

Teaching positions and teachers are highly educated and respected by the general population. Contrary to what one would presume, classes for students are medium size (20 to 23 students), teacher salaries are middle class, class days are limited to 4 hours, and every family has access to any school in their area. Tutoring is widely practiced for students needing help. There are no private schools.

As is true in all countries of the world, immigration is being horribly mishandled. Fair immigration policy in Norway and the world remains a work in progress.

Booth notes Nordic countries have not achieved perfection. With the threat of authoritarianism that diminishes the value of human life, histories of these countries show mistakes were made in WWII and are still being made in the 21st century. On the other hand, Booth shows native Nordic residents endorse and practice equal rights for men and women, a laudable example for the rest of the world.

RISE OF TYRANTS

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Tyrant

By: Stephen Greenblatt

Narrated by: Edoardo Ballerini

Stephen Jay Greenblatt (Writer, Harvard University Professor.).

Shakespeare’s plays expose the perfidy of tyrants that reminds one of Vladmir Putin’s actions in 2022.  Greenblatt notes Shakespeare explains tyrants rise when governments show weakness at their center. One can conclude the economic collapse of the U.S.S.R. is the proximate cause of Putin’s ascension.

Stephen Greenblatt offers a clever summary of tyrants in Shakespeare’s plays. Greenblatt’s book is published in 2018.  

Shakespeare’s tyrants are destined to fail in a variety of ways. One must remember that Shakespeare’s plays are not history but have elements of history in their story. Dramatic affect and a livable wage are what motivate Shakespeare to write for the theatre.

Prescient insight to the nature of human beings is what makes Shakespeare a seer whose prose and plays survive centuries of analysis and earned adulation.

King Richard III is a martinet who barks orders for little reason other than to exercise power. He acts with the arrogance of a narcissist. He murders brothers, nephews, and subordinates who get in his way or refuse to obey his orders. He expects loyalty first, with any opposition viewed as disloyalty.

King Richard cares nothing for rules or human life. His followers are sycophants at best and enablers at least. King Richard III murders brothers and confidents to secure the throne.

He marries for lust and control, murders King Henry VI, marries the assassinated King’s widow, and dies in an ignominious battle. Having killed everyone near him, he grows paranoid of those around him. That paranoia cripples his effectiveness as a sovereign. He may have lost his crown in battle, but his murder of followers and managerial incompetence destine him for failure.

Russian Kleptocrats

Greenblatt recounts the many tyrants exposed in Shakespeare’s plays but none, other than Richard III, seem comparable to Putin. Putin gathered support of kleptocratic sycophants that are beginning to recognize their wealth and success is threatened by Putin’s foolish attempt to re-annex Ukraine.

Like Shakespeare’s Richard III, Putin is alienating followers and murdering or imprisoning competitors who challenge his leadership.

Greenblatt summarizes events of Shakespeare’s plays to show how tyrants are editors of their own defeat. One hopes there is enough Russian resistance to forestall a nuclear war caused by a tyrant who cares nothing for human life, other than his own.

MODI’S INDIA

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The Association of Small Bombs

By: Karan Mahajan

 Narrated by: Neil Shah

Karan Mahajan (Indian American novelist.)

“The Association of Small Bombs” ticks slowly but makes a loud noise as its message becomes clear. Karan Mahajan explains something about India that is only marginally understood by most Americans. It is no surprise that terrorism comes from racial, religious, and ethnic difference, magnified by inequality. What is a surprise is India’s terrorist acts are local events, poorly prosecuted and soon forgotten by those not directly involved.

Mahajan’s story is about perpetrators of terrorism, who they are, where they come from, why, and how they become terrorists. The President of India is Hindu. An estimated 80 percent of India is Hindu with 13% Islamic, 2.3% Christian and other religions at less than 2% each.

(Mahatma) Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (1869-1948, Lawyer, Leader of India’s independence from British Rule.)

As most know, during the time of Mahatma Gandhi, there was a concerted effort to secularize India and keep two predominate religions in India, Hindu, and Islam. Gandhi fails and Pakistan becomes a separate Islamic state in 1947.

Modi, the current President of India, is said to believe–India’s Muslims must prove their Indianness to be citizens of the country.

Modi effectively dismantles Gandhi’s effort to secularize India. Like the stain of slavery in America, Modi pollutes India’s secularization at the expense of a restive Muslim population.

Mahajan’s story begins with a terrorist bomb explosion. The bomb is set by a Muslim terrorist that kills two Muslim boys and wounds a third.

The irony is that Muslims are killing Muslims to undermine a government that already discriminates against Muslims. “The Association of Small Bombs” is meant to destabilize the government regardless of who is being killed.

“The Association of Small Bombs” explains how one Muslim youth becomes a terrorist and how another, who is a victim of a bombing, is falsely accused and convicted for terrorism.

Mahajan explains how injustice is compounded by an inept prosecution system, biased against Muslims who are often victims of the bombings. India’ residents, whether Muslim or Hindu, are victimized in two ways. One, actual perpetrators are rarely caught, and two, victims are rarely compensated for their loss.

India-protest in Kolkata, India against Indian citizenship for Muslims.

Mahajan illustrates how inequality is an equal opportunity victimizer in India. The wider point of Mahajan’s story is that denial of equal opportunity for all races, religions, and ethnicities in any nation-state is a crime against humanity.

EMPIRES

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The Vanquished

By: Robert Gerwarth

Narrated by: Michael Page

Robert Gerwarth (German Author, historian, specializing in European history, graduate of University of Oxford.)

At times, a reader/listener becomes jaded by books written about war. However, Robert Gerwarth’s “…Vanquished” is a timely review of the origin of war, particularly with Vladmir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

Vladmir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

Gerwarth implies all wars come from unravelling empires. He argues post 20th century wars are a result of the Austro-Hungarian, Ottoman, Japanese, French, Romanov (Russian), and British empires demise. Gerwath explains future generations of fighters from these former empires live on. Many continue to bare grudges for their lost existence as part of an empire. This reminds one of Vladimir Putin’s life as a KGB agent in the former U.S.S.R.

Gerwarth implies all wars come from unravelling of empires.

Gerwarth explains in detail the wandering fighters of dismantled empires who do not accept their defeat. They raid, rape, and pillage countries (often as mercenaries) that were part of their former empire. Of course, there are other circumstances that motivate these fighters, but loss of empire demeans and unmoors identity which energizes anger, motivates reprisal, and initiates atrocity.

Few historians disagree about the unfair reparations demanded from Germany after WWI. That unreasonableness weakens the post war German government which is soon overrun by Nazis; ironically, not led by a German citizen, but by an Austro-Hungarian citizen named Adolph Hitler. Hitler is a former fighter for the Austro-Hungarian empire.

Hitler’s extraordinary ability to martial rage with his rabid antisemitism rallies German extremists to believe Germany can establish a new European empire.

Hitler’s success is largely made possible by a weak German government and Germany’s war-ravaged poverty, exacerbated by worldwide depression.

Vladimier Putin is not Hitler. However, Putin’s view of the world is that of a former KGB agent of the U.S.S.R.

Putin is a fighter for an empire that lives in his heart and mind but not in reality. One might conclude from Gerwarth’s view of history that Putin will fail in his effort to make Ukraine a part of Russia.

British Empire–Empires are passe in the 21st century. Colonization is the history of the past.

None of the 20th century empires have been resurrected, and like Thomas Wolfe’s novel, “You Can’t Go Home Again”, only force of arms can hold empires together. Empires are too big and culturally diverse to remain one entity.

Though Gerwarth does not address China, it seems China’s effort to gain control of outlying China interests is limited to government will and martial suppression.

Uighur Re-education camp in China.

The suppression of Uighurs is a first step to concentration camps.

It seems cultural difference and interests between Xi’s followers, and Uighurs, Tibetans, Hong Kong residents, and Taiwanese will require suppression to make them part of the supersized Chinese nation-state. It is likely that future generations of fighters will resist China’s enforcement if it pursues its present course.

Map of the United States of America with state names.

Gerwarth offers an interesting historical perspective; supported by a lot of detail. It would seem the only hope for peaceful empires is through federalism. There needs to be an acknowledgement of cultural difference, with access to equality of treatment and opportunity for all citizens, regardless of race, religion, or ethnicity. Of course, that is what America has tried, and only partly achieved, among States. It would seem a greater task for empire, or within large multi-ethnic nation-states like China.