IGNORANCE IS NOT BLISS

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Half Lives

By: Lucy Jane Santos

Narrated by : Deirdre Whelen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CLINICAL PROOF

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The Skeptics’s Guide to Alternative Medicine

By: Steven Novella MD

Great Books Lecture Series

STEVEN NOVELLA (AMERICAN CLINICAL NEUROLOGIST, ASST. PROFESSOR AT YALE UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF MEDICINE)

Many listener/readers will be disappointed, if not outraged, by Steven Novella’s criticism of alternative medicine and medical treatments.  He notes that many such treatments are untested by properly conducted experiment, and replication.  He notes many alleged medical treatments and cures either fail clinical tests or are not tested at all. 

The significance of Novella’s argument strikes at the heart of anecdotal evidence used to advertise unproven cures for minor, as well as major medical conditions.  With freedom of advertising, unproven claims of miracle cures are fed to the public.  Their claims are to improve health for everything from fatigue, to joint pain, to erectile dysfunction. 

Over the counter supplements and game playing are alleged to improve health and memory. Their only proof is anecdotal experience.  Some advertisements of the OTC’ treatments claim to improve memory, abate Alzheimer’s, and reduce the negative effect of dementia. Support in the media comes from anecdotal stories from users of these alleged remedies. 

One of the most heavily advertised health supplements for brain health today is Prevagen.  Prevagen is dosed with a protein found in jelly fish.

Novella takes on the vitamin and herbal industry by noting vitamin supplements, plant and animal extracts are an unregulated industry.  The FDA gives free reign to manufacturers, advertisers, and sellers of supplements which:

  • 1) vary dramatically in their alleged ingredients, and
  • 2) have no clinically proven benefits. 

Novella explains (and most have heard this) that a balanced diet is the best prescription for healthy living.  Novella notes the only exception is when there is a vitamin deficiency revealed in a blood test.

Many OTC drugs are supported by lab-coat wearing and white-shirt-and-tie actors.  No reputable clinical trials are required to sell Ginkgo Biloba, Ginseng, Echinacea, and other herbal medicines.

Next, Novella takes on the Chiropractic and Acupuncture industry.  Novella argues these two industries have never had clinically proven benefits.  Novella implies Chiropractors talk of “vertebral subluxation” as a cause for disease that can be cured with manipulation of the body. He suggests that is quackery.  Novella implies this is junk science foisted on an unwary public. No clinically reproducible experiments of this Chiropractic diagnosis and treatment have proven such a claim.  Novella attacks the validity of acupuncture with the same argument.  His conclusion is that any positive results are from the placebo effect, not from clinically reproduceable tests.

The body naturally fights disease with one’s own immune system.  People get better and feel better because their immune system cured them. Novella explains feeling better after taking a herbal supplement may be a result of the placebo effect.  Feeling better is reinforced by testimonials of those who say it worked for him or her.  The obvious risk of the placebo effect is that someone who needs medical treatment will choose an alternative medicine that delays proper treatment by a qualified medical professional. 

Novella suggests feeling better is not a measure of efficacy.  Feeling better may be from getting over an illness. 

The public is forearmed by Novella’s critique of alternative medicine.  Be skeptical about what your friend, an acquaintance, a mother, a sister, a brother suggests is a remedy for your malady. Be particularly skeptical of an industry unsupervised by the FDA.  Everyone should be wary of unqualified medical treatment, prescribed medicines, vitamins, and herbs.  Companies in the field of alternative medicine are not in the business for your health. They are in the business of making money.

It seems prudent to suggest one should reserve a measure of skepticism for all purveyors of cures, even medical professionals.  As is true of all humans, medical professionals can be seduced by the desire for money, power, and prestige–even at the expense of those who seek care.

After listening/reading Novella’s book, it seems prudent to be skeptical of all who prescribe cures for mental and physical illness. 

EVOLVING PANDEMICS

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Mysteries of the Microscopic World

By: Bruce E. Fleury (Great Courses)

Lecturer-Professor Bruce E. Fleury

Bruce E. Fleury (Professor of Practice in the Dept. of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Tulane University)

“Mysteries of the Microscopic World” is a reflection on the “The Invisible Realm”, the world of bacteria, viruses, fungi, and protozoa. 

It is somewhat dated because of today’s history of Covid19.  However, Fleury offers a modern understanding of pandemics and the role germs play in human life.

Antonie van Leeuwenhoek (1632-1723)

Fleury explores a world unseen until the 17th century.  Antony van Leeuwenhoek is identified as the first to see the “…Microscopic World” in 1683. 

However, the microscopic world was not considered important until the 19th century when puerperal fever was found to be caused by germs.  A germ theory of disease originated with Ignaz Semmelweis, a Hungarian physician in the 1840s. Many babies were dying from puerperal fever because doctors were going straight from deceased patients’ autopsies to delivery operating rooms. 

An interesting side note by Fleury is Semmelweis’s germ theory required careful hand washing before delivering babies.  Washing hands is still not carefully followed, even by the medical profession.  Fleury suggests only 50% of doctors and nurses properly wash their hands.

In the late 1850s Louis Pasteur suggested the spread of microorganisms (germs) could explain infectious disease.  Pasteur, and later Robert Koch, began to isolate bacteria of diseases like anthrax, TB, and cholera.  The race for understanding the microscopic world’s relationship to disease is launched.

Fleury explains this microscopic world is not only a disease producer.  It also aids human existence by offering microorganisms that get rid of wastes and remove toxic chemicals from the body.  Fleury notes some humans die from microorganisms, but they cannot live without them.

Fleury explains how the microscopic world follows the same Darwinian evolutionary path as the macroscopic world.  The microscopic world, like the animal world, evolves with random adaptation that sustains all life.

The two edges of this microscopic world can cure or kill.  Fleury explains how this unseen world evolves in the same way the animal kingdom evolves.    Today’s Covid19 virus changes to preserve itself.  Covid19 evolves like any life force to become resistant to current drug treatment. Pfizer and other drug manufacturers are tasked with modification of their drug formulas to defeat viral and bacterial evolution.

In Fleury’s history of pandemics, listeners/readers will find interesting facts that parallel today’s Covid19’ experience.  A striking parallel is the 1918 Flu pandemic. It killed an estimated 50-100 million people. 

Today the world has lost over 2.5 million people from Covid19, but it pales against the 1918 pandemic’ loss of an estimated 50 to 100 million people.

The 1918 world population is estimated at 1.8 billion.   The world’s population today is at 7.674 billion, over a six-fold increase.  Today’s 2.5 million people lost from Covid19 could become several times greater based on today’s population.

This reminds one of the Texas and Mississippi governors’ choice to return to business as usual with no mask mandates and reopened businesses.

It may be that medical science and vaccination is so much better today than in 1918, but these governors are gambling with American lives.  Covid19 may kill many more.

Fleury reminds reader/listeners of the history of wars and how the microscopic world of poisons, and disease-producing germs were used to defeat combatants.  He notes how small armies were able to defeat large armies.  Fleury tells stories of smaller military forces throwing bags filled with poisonous snakes into enemy camps to create chaos and death, lethal gas use in explosive devices that are thrown into enemy foxholes, and deadly smallpox impregnated blankets given to native Americans by American settlers.  He notes how small expeditionary invasions decimated empires by introducing germs that came from their home countries.  Explorers and soldiers were carriers of germs that had never been seen in the new world.  Millions have died from this newly weaponized unseen world.  Fleury notes that biological research and warfare are ongoing threats to the human race.

In the Sunday NYT’s on 3/7/21, an article criticizes the use of public funds to stockpile an Anthrax vaccine when so many problems have arisen in the fight against Covid19. The complaint largely revolves around one company’s high profitability and government influence in preparing an anthrax antidote stockpile to protect against biological attack by terrorists.

Fleury notes that anthrax bacterium is “…a perennial favorite in every nation’s biological arsenal.” Anthrax causes a rapid and painful death within 12-24 hours and the bacterium can last for 40-80 years in soil.

One has to wonder why can’t government “chew gum and walk” at the same time. Stockpiling an Anthrax antidote and being prepared for a Covid19 type of pandemic could be done at the same time. After all, America is the richest nation in the world.

Many presume Aids has been cured because it is not in the press like it used to be.  Something not widely known is that Aids has no known cure.  It remains a killer.  Only palliative treatment has been found to extend life and Fleury notes the treatment is quite expensive.  Aids is caused by a germ that attacks the immune system.  It is introduced through sexual contact or re-use of hypodermic needles. 

Aids eventually kills nearly all Aids carriers, either from cancer or some other disease that takes advantage of a carrier’s compromised immune system.  Fleury notes an exception is a small minority of carriers with a genetic variation that allows them to live a long life.

Fleury explains there is a race between microbes and humans.  As antibiotic treatment improves, microbes mutate into strains that resist treatment.  What worked yesterday may not work tomorrow.  Fleury implies there is a natural balance among all living things.  Humans may be destined for extinction, but Fleury reminds us of the myth of Pandora.  She left hope in the bottom of the box when all the evils were unloosed on the world.

MINDING YOUR BRAIN

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The Disordered Mind (What Unusual Brains Tell Us About Ourselves)

By: Eric R. Kandel

Narrated by David Stifel

Eric Kandel (Author, Austrian-American MD, Neuroscientist. recipient of the 2000 Nobel Prize in Physiology)

In “The Disordered Mind”, Dr. Kandel offers an explanation of what is known about the physiology of the human brain.  What is thinking?  How does the brain work?  What is consciousness?  What causes brain dysfunction?  What is mental illness? How can mental illness be diagnosed and treated?

Most know there are two distinct halves of the human brain.  What is less well known is that the left and right brain hemispheres conflict with each other.

Kandel explains that right brain activity generates much of human creativity while the left brain is tasked with logic.  It is not that the two halves of the brain never cooperate with each other.  However, regions of the brain frequently interfere with each hemisphere’s understanding of what humans see, feel, hear, and think. With those senses, human thought and action is affected.

MAPPING THE BRAIN

Damage or disease of either side of the brain is a proximate cause of psychiatric disorder but the interconnection of the two sides makes diagnosis and cure a hit and miss proposition.  The physiology of the brain is complex and difficult for today’s practitioners. To diagnose or cure symptoms of brain injury or disease requires precise information about location and physiological characteristics of brain function.  Kandel notes that brain imaging has been a boon to understanding how the brain functions and where thought and action originates and initiates, but interconnectedness thwarts precise understanding.

Kandel informs us of symptoms of various brain injuries and diseases and how science searches, stumbles, and recovers to find ways to ameliorate physical and mental disorders caused by brain dysfunction.  He explains how too much or too little of naturally produced chemicals like dopamine and melatonin affect brain function.  Kandel notes how normal behavior becomes unbalanced with excess or diminishment of brain chemistry.

The origin of artist creativity is explored by Kandel.  Kandel implies the dada movement reflects bizarre subconscious images that titillate the public because they resonate with one’s own subconscious.   

Artists are exhibiting right brain evocations.  This reminds one of Edmund Munches’ Scream and his note hidden in the painting that says, “Could Only Have Been Painted by a Madman”. Kandel dismisses that characterization of artists.  Kandel suggests they are simply magnifying right brain neural activity.

Kandel notes the progress that has been made in abating, if not curing, psychiatric disorder.  It is surprising to find how many treatments have been discovered accidently.  This is not meant to diminish leaps of science in mapping the brain, or creating medicinal treatments for psychosis and neuropathy but it discloses much of the luck that leads to palliative, if not curative, care. 

Kandel notes a fundamental cause of certain psychiatric disorders have been found to be misfolded proteins that negatively affect biological activity and, in some cases, increase neuronal toxicity. This misfolding is considered to be a cause of antitrypsin-associated emphysema, cystic fibrosis, and other maladies.

A somewhat surprising disclosure by Kandel is that physical change of the brain is shown from use of psychotherapy as well as physical or chemical intervention.  Kandel suggests psychotherapy is an important part of treatment for patients being treated with drugs or surgical intervention.  Kandel infers physiological change in the brain can be as consequential with psychotherapy as with drug or surgical treatment.  However, he suggests both forms of treatment offer more lasting success.

There is a lot to unpack in Kandel’s book about “The Disordered Mind”.  Many who read/listen to this book will conclude that treatment of drug addiction and other psychological imbalances need more scientific research and better diagnosis and treatment.

HEALTH CRISES

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The Body, A Guide to Occupants

By: Bill Bryson

Narrated by Bill Bryson

BILL BRYSON (American-English Author)

Bill Bryson’s skill as a researcher and writer pleases the mind but as John Milton noted, “the mind…can make a heaven of Hell, a hell of Heaven”. 

Bryson published “The Body” in 2019, months before Covid19 became known to the world.  Bryson’s greatest fear, gleaned from his research, is the potential of a world-wide infection from a flu-like virus.  Bryson’s comment about the body’s greatest 21st century risk is prescient.  Bryson suggests the United States, and most nations, have not prepared well for national medical crises. This is a particularly poignant observation when one looks into the 1918 flu pandemic. America has lost over 500,000 people to Covid19.

National and international medical crises reach back to antiquity.  Among many of Bill Bryson’s insights in “The Body” is his history of medical crises in the world.

The 1918 flu killed more than 600,000 Americans. The difference is that there were only 103 million American citizens in 1918. Today, there are an estimated 331 million.

Governors Abbott and Reeves of Texas and Mississippi.

Today is not 1918 but how foolish it is for the Governors of Texas and Mississippi to remove mask restrictions in the face of a pandemic that could kill over a 1,000,000 Americans.

Bryson recalls the Bubonic plague, smallpox, typhus, yellow fever, influenza, Polio, and Ebola and other outbreaks as examples of national unpreparedness.  With failure to prepare, nation-state’ responses have ranged from careful, reasonable, and effective, to careless, illogical, and ineffective. 

America’s response to Covid19 shows America’s lack of preparation.  America’s national response speaks for itself.

This is only a small part of Bryson’s enlightening research on “The Body”.  He recounts many incredible medical discoveries made by science.  As with all disciplines, some discoveries are made by chance; some by the exigency of illness or medical emergency, others by curiosity, and yes, some by diligent scientific research and experiment.

Alexander Fleming (1881-1955, credited for discovering penicillin.)

A green mold forms on a mistakenly, un-discarded petri dish used to study bacteria.

In 1928, Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin by chance while growing bacteria for research. One of many petri dishes had been accidently contaminated. When Fleming returns to his lab, a mold appears to be killing the bacteria on the dish.  Bryson explains the serendipity of the discovery while reflecting on lesser known information about Fleming’s life.

Bryson gives a similar description of the discovery of blood transfusion by Dr. James Blundell in 1818. The first transfusion is a success. However, the success is as much from luck as misfortune because the importance of blood typing was unknown in 1818. The first transfusion was luckily from a donor (Dr. Blundell himself) and patient with type 0 blood.

Karl Lansteiner (1968-1943, Austrian biologist, physician, and immunologist, discovers and names blood types in 1900.

Bryson recounts Samuel Pepys diary and his harrowing experience in having a gall stone removed from his bladder in 1658.  With no anesthetic, a gall stone the size of a tennis ball was removed.  Pepys keeps the gall stone in a glass jar to show others while telling his story.  He describes the hellish pain as the scalpel pierces his abdomen.

Not until 1882 does Carl Langenbuch remove the first gall bladder. Langenbuch studied 17th century records of dogs that exhibited gall bladder problems. Langnbush’s experiment on a human body comes from that research. His medical judgment leads to a pragmatically successful surgical treatment.

Mukherjee offers a grim history on the evolution of cancer treatments.  Mukherjee details, and Bryson confirms, many errors made by physicians who presume more surgery, more chemotherapy, or more radiation will cure, rather than kill, the patient.  Experience shows that presumption incorrect. 

William Lane (1856-1943, British surgeon and physician killed many patients with what was called colonic innertia by removing large sections of intestine in the early 1900s.)

With improved knowledge, intestine removal became limited with better recovery statistics for patients.

Bryson notes many medical experiments offered no cure and killed patients in the process.  Physicians sometimes ignored their failures and skewed results to reinforce their poor medical decisions.  Some patients who did not die, were irreparably harmed by medical practitioners who believed they were right.  Practitioners ignored failures and continued to treat patients with medications and treatments that offered no cure but death or disfigurement.

One of many insights Bryson notes is that approximately 50 percent of the cause for premature death in humans is self-inflicted.  Poor diet, tobacco use, and lack of exercise are principle causes. 

Other chapters cover longevity, predictions of life span, medical symptoms of old age, and the story of telomeres’ role in cell death. Bryson notes some scientists believe scientific research will lead to extended life well beyond current life spans.

One of the most disconcerting observations made by Bryson is that Americans, who pay most in the world for medical service, fall (at best) into the middle of industrialized countries for general public health. 

Who should America turn to in the 2020 election?

Bryson infers sociological difference between the United States and other industrialized countries affect the health and longevity of America’s population.  The specifics of sociological differences are left unwritten.  Having a national health system in those countries with better health care statistics is undoubtedly one of the sociological reasons.

Bryson’s book is an enlightening journey into the mysteries of “The Body”.  Bryson gives a good account of the methodologies and myths of the body’s history and its discoveries.  There are many discoveries yet to be made that will tell us more about physical existence and our body’s possible future.

BLINK OF THE EYE

Audio-book Review

By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)

Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The Overstory

THE OVERSTORY

By Richard Powers

Narrated by Suzanne Toren

RICHARD POWERS (AUTHOR, AMERICAN PROFESSOR OF ENGLISH)

RICHARD POWERS (AUTHOR, AMERICAN PROFESSOR OF ENGLISH)

Humanity’s years of life are but a blink of an eye.  Richard Powers, like Cervantes’ Don Quixote, tilts at a windmill that neither generates power, grinds corn, or pumps water.

You love Powers way with words but come away from “The Overstory” feeling like Quixote’s relatives–mourning his loss of sanity but rejoicing in his belief of love and life.

Humans think themselves the center of the universe.  To we puny creatures, no life is more important than human life.  Powers argues otherwise.

Humans are not the center of the universe.  Humans are part of an ecosystem; a system millions of years older.  A conclusion drawn by “The Overstory” is that the earth’s ecosystem will live millions of years after humans are gone.

TREE HUGGER

Powers tells a story that offers slim hope for humanity.  A congregation of misfits grow to understand the frailty of humanity and its essential need to support nature.  “The Overstory” begins in seemingly random stories of disparate characters who become part of a group of revolutionaries.  In some parts of the country, they are called “tree huggers”.

Powers forcefully develops the argument that trees are the foundation and future of life.  Every tree tells natures’ story of birth, life, death, and rebirth.  Every character in Powers’ story either supports forest preservation through protest or example.

TREE OF LIFE

Powers’ story is about the preservation of all life.

In Power’s story, a protest results in an accidental death.  It is a story of a husband and wife who symbolize the importance of a singular tree that cannot speak in a language that people can understand.

ECO-TERRORIST INCIDENT IN CALIFORNIA 2006

ECO-TERRORIST INCIDENT IN CALIFORNIA 2006

The protest is by a disparate group of eco-terrorists who sabotage a lumber harvesting company’s property.  One of the rebels dies from a firebomb meant to stop the harvest.  The consequence is the death of one, and the guilt carried by surviving rebels.  Those who survive, get on with their lives.  Many years after the incident, two of the participants are caught.  One chooses to implicate another to receive a lighter (7 year) sentence.  The other is sentenced to two seventy-year life sentences.

Powers’ symbolic example of human ecological ignorance is a highly successful corporate lawyer who has a stroke and cannot communicate with his wife.  He deeply loves his wife, but she insists on being free of any ownership by another, whether from love or physical possession.

The lawyer reminds one of trees that live but cannot communicate with humans.  His wife chooses to stay with him in his tree-like existence and begins to realize how he sees and understands without being able to clearly communicate.  She is free and begins to comprehend what freedom means when she looks out the window and interprets what her husband sees.

If there is revelation in Power’s story, it is not human centered.  The only slender hope Powers offers is for the language of trees to be understood by humanity.  The disparaging term “tree huggers” implies there is no hope.

In travels around the world, one sees our world in crises. Indigenous Chinese drink bottled water. An India’ guide notes his country is on the brink of ecological catastrophe. Why worry–our American President says global warming is a hoax.   It seems unlikely the world will wake up before it is too late.

THE LANGUAGE OF TREES

THE LANGUAGE OF TREES

Trees may have a language, but technology is unlikely to provide any translation that humanity will accept.  One hopes Powers’ imaginative story is a Cervantes’ tale;  not a prophecy.

REWIRING THE BRAIN

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Rewire: Change Your Brain to Break Bad Habits, Overcome Addictions, Conquer Self-destructive Behavior

rewire

Written by: Richard O’Connor, PhD

Narrated by: Fred Stella

DR. RICHARD O'CONNOR (AUTHOR, CLINICAL THERAPIST)
DR. RICHARD O’CONNOR (AUTHOR, CLINICAL THERAPIST)

In 1971, Brickman and Campbell coined the term Hedonic Treadmill to explain that people have a baseline level of happiness, regardless of what occurs in their lives.  That definition infers winning the lottery, or being diagnosed with cancer have opposite happiness quotients–one joyfully positive; the other horrendously negative.  The Hedonic Treadmill theory suggests happiness will return to a baseline level of individual happiness when the initial joy or sorrow subsides.

Toward the end of Richard O’Connor’s book, “Rewire”, the term Hedonic Treadmill is used to infer that America’s materialist predilection is like a psychological cul-de-sac; i.e. a mental trap with only one exit. O’Connor explains, in a different way, that the cul-de-sac is created by life experience that imprints memories that become automatic responses to current events.

DAVID R. HAWKINS (1927-2012, DIED AT AGE 85, AUTHOR, PHILOSOPHER, MD, PSYCHIATRIST)
This reminds one of David Hawkins expressed belief in “Letting Go”. 

O’Connor argues that rational behavior is unconsciously modified by subconscious imprinting from early life experience. The only exit from the cul-de-sac is to leave the way you came, recall how and why you entered, and teach your brain not to take that turn again.  This reminds one of David Hawkins expressed belief in “Letting Go”.

More fundamentally, O’Connor infers American society is more materialistic today; and, as a consequence, Americans are more mentally unbalanced than in the past because happiness from material acquisition is a road to nowhere, a Hedonic Treadmill.

HEDONIC TREADMILL
O’Connor argues that Americans are more mentally unbalanced than in the past because happiness from material acquisition is a road to nowhere, a Hedonic Treadmill.

Rewire offers a great deal of information about causes and cures for individual mental dysfunction in America.  A reader or listener may disagree with O’Connor’s causal analysis but his examples of psychological dysfunction can be seen in one’s self and in others.  What makes “Rewire” interesting is O’Connor’s suggested cures, based on thirty years of experience as a therapist.

MAPPING THE BRAIN
What makes “Rewire” interesting is O’Connor’s suggested cures, based on thirty years of experience as a therapist. O’Connor endorses the belief that the brain’s functions can be rewired at any age with repetitive practice. 

O’Connor endorses the belief that the brain’s functions can be rewired at any age with repetitive practice.  As an example, he explains the utility of the 12 step program designed by Alcoholics Anonymous for addicts to avoid being trapped in a mental cul-de-sac.  The AA steps are 1) Admit powerlessness, 2) find hope, 3) surrender, 4) take inventory, 5) share your inventory, 6) become ready, 7) ask God, 8) make a list of amends, 9) make amends, 10) continue your inventory, 11) pray and meditate, and finally, 12) help others.

Though AA presumably requires a Supreme Being in their 12 step process, the point of the treatment is to train one’s mind to act differently when confronted with influences that make a person turn into a cul-de-sac rather than back to an individuated baseline happiness.

AA
Though AA presumably requires a Supreme Being in their 12 step process, the point of the treatment is to train one’s mind to act differently when confronted with influences that make a person turn into a cul-de-sac rather than back to an individuated baseline happiness. 

drug use in war
O’Connor suggests drugs are sometimes used incorrectly and become part of the patient’s problem. 

O’Connor suggests drugs may be used to treat mental illnesses like depression for immediate results but that underlying causes need to be revealed to change longer-term aberrant psychological behavior.

O’Connor notes that drugs are sometimes used incorrectly and become part of the patient’s problem.  With knowledge of triggering events for depression or addiction, behavior can be retrained to make the mind react differently.

O’Connor cautions the reader/listener to understand that negative triggers may be ingrained over years and will not disappear without repetitive behavioral training that avoids or consciously assesses negative emotional triggers.  The key to success is enough behavioral repetition to make curative responses to triggers for depression, or aberrant behavior, automatic.

BEHAVIORAL REPETITION
O’Connor argues the key to success in rewiring the brain is enough behavioral repetition to make curative responses to triggers for depression, or aberrant behavior, automatic.

O’Connor offers several mental exercises to change how the mind works.  Rewire is an insightful book but one wonders if O’Connor is not on the Hedonic Treadmill he criticizes.  After all, one presumes the book is only selling to people who can afford it, and read it.  Rewire seems unlikely to help all who are on the real American treadmill–those who cannot afford the book, pay a therapist, or practice its contemplative methodology.

COSMIC MIND

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Letting Go

Written by: David R. Hawkins

Narration by:  Peter Lownds

DAVID R. HAWKINS (1927-2012, DIED AT AGE 85, AUTHOR, PHILOSOPHER, MD, PSYCHIATRIST)

AUTHOR–David R. Hawkins died in 2012.  He was 85 years old.

David R. Hawkins died in 2012.  He was 85 years old.    At turns, Hawkins transitioned from agnosticism to atheism to belief in God.  This progression seems correlated with education and experience but ends in philosophical belief.  In each transition, Hawkins uses his intellect to form a philosophy that has appeal to many in search of life’s meaning. 

At times, Hawkins seems beyond reason but each step he takes offers insight to how one may live a more fulfilling life. Hawkins might be broadly characterized as a mystic.  Even so, he was a formally educated, practicing physician, and psychiatrist.

Mysticism lies in Hawkins belief in human dualism, a belief dating back to Plato and adopted by many later philosophers. 

PLATO'S BELIEF IN DUALITY-BODY AND SOUL

Hawkins dualism is belief in a distinct separation between mind and body.  More precisely for Hawkins, it is a separation between mind and brain.

The power of this cosmic mind can cure all the maladies of humankind, both physical and mental.  Hawkins implies this cosmic mind can cure physical disease manifested in the body.  If you cannot see; if you cannot hear; if you cannot feel, your condition can be cured by a force of will that engages the cosmic mind.

COSMIC MIND BELIEF

Hawkins becomes a mystic when he posits belief in a cosmic mind shared by all humanity. 

This is a point at which Hawkins loses some believers.  However, before one gets to a point of rejection, Hawkins offers wise counsel on how to live life and approach a level of what Abraham Maslow labeled self-actualization.

SELF-ACTUALIZATION

Abraham Maslow’s self-actualization.

The mind gets trapped in Plato’s cave and only sees shadows of reality.  Reality is obscured by what the human mind tells them.  The mind’s interpretation of life’s events distorts reality.  A child remembers a father’s or mother’s rebuke as an eternal judgement when reality may have been to protect a child from harm.  The shadow is created and remains with the child for the rest of his/her life.

PLATO'S CAVE

PLATO’S CAVE (Hawkins argues that everything that happens in one’s life is because of the mind’s interpretation of the world.)

LETTING GO GRAPHIC

To escape the trap of Plato’s cave, Hawkins explains one must use their senses to accept the mind’s perception of reality and continually let it go until its negative power disappears.

An example would be one who gets angry over some event or action and accepts the anger; looks at it, accepts it, uses the mind to understand why there is anger, where it is coming from, and then letting it go.  In the process, one finds anger has no meaning other than what one’s mind gave it.

With continual use of this process, Hawkins believes individual minds tap into a cosmic mind that shows the world as it really is; not simply as shadows on a cave wall. 

There is wisdom in Hawkins’ perception of life and how one can more constructively deal with its vicissitudes. In this time of Covid 19, “Letting Go” is wise counsel for those troubled by emotional and/or physical trauma.  However, the principle of a cosmic mind takes a leap of faith.

CLIMATE CHANGE

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate

This Changes Everythiing

Written by: Naomi Klein

Narration by:  Ellen Archer

NAOMI KLEIN (CANADIAN AUTHOR, SOCIAL ACTIVIST, FILMAKER)
NAOMI KLEIN (CANADIAN AUTHOR, SOCIAL ACTIVIST, FILMAKER)

A change of book titles comes to mind in reviewing Naomi Klein’s book, “This Changes Everything”.  A first thought is a title like “Beat the Drum.”   On second thought, it is the question “Who Gets to Decide?”  Ninety seven percent of “…actively publishing climate scientists” say climate warming trends are likely due to human activity.

TRUMP AND CLIMATE CHANGE
Deniers think current weather phenomena are a natural aberration that will be corrected by time. 

Deniers think current weather phenomena are a natural aberration that will be corrected by time.  Others are apathetically fatalistic and call global warming a myth.  But almost universally, science is saying climate warming is real.

GLOBAL WARMING
Deniers think current weather phenomena are a natural aberration that will be corrected by time. But almost universally, science is saying climate warming is real.

A “Beat the Drum” title is meant to convey appreciation of Naomi Klein’s studied effort to awaken the general public to the truth of global warming.  (She is not a scientist but a writer, researcher, and social activist.)  However, the title “Who Gets to Decide?” is meant to convey a monumental weakness in Klein’s spun presentation on solutions for the problems of global warming.

CAPITALISM-COMMUNISM
Klein’s argument that global warming is a consequence of capitalism is false.  Global warming is a consequence of human nature.

Klein’s argument that global warming is a consequence of capitalism is false.  Global warming is a consequence of human nature.  To date, democratic capitalism is the only economic form of government that offers a degree of freedom for all Peoples subject to rule of law.  Democratic capitalism unleashes the power of human nature, both good and bad.  Until some better form of governance is created, the best chance for a global warming solution is captialism.  History shows freedom, subject to rule of law, is essential to a deliberative process that will provide best-case solutions to seemingly unsolvable problems.

GOVERNMENT
Capitalism is not the proximate cause of global warming.  It is the failure of the E.P.A., the President, and congressional legislators to do their job.

POLITICS AND SCIENCE
Global warming solutions lie in politics and science; not one or the other, but both.

Global warming solutions lie in politics and science; not one or the other, but both.

Einstein and fellow scientists prove that energy and mass are always equal.  That scientific proof leads to Nagasaki and Hiroshima’s atom bombs just as 97% of the scientific community’s proof leads to earth’s climate bomb.

Great Britain, France, Russia, and Germany were worn down by WWII.  American democratic capitalism makes the decision to end the war by using the atomic bomb.  One may argue that this decision is morally reprehensible but it ended a war that would have continued without definitive action based on the deliberative process of a democratic capitalist country. The same may be said for a pragmatic solution for global warming.

The world is suffering from a global warming war.  Eventually, that suffering will create a political consensus for something to be done to combat its consequence.  Evidence of something being done is everywhere.  By beating the drum Klein is creating sense of urgency about global warming.  What is misleading and spun by Klein is discounting of rich entrepreneurs, like Gates, Bloomberg, Branson, and Buffett, who are taking self-interested steps to curb global warming.  Yes, they are self-interested steps but self-interest is not inherently bad.  Self-interest is in the fight to abate global warming.

RICHARD BRANSON
Klein suggests that Branson expands his airline to make more money at the cost of further pollution.

Klein suggests Branson expands his airline to make more money at the cost of further pollution.  (In truth Branson did sell his airline in 2016.)  Branson is a pariah to Klein because of his self-interest in vertically integrating research for alternative fuels for plane travel.

Klein explains Branson is only spending two to four hundred million dollars for research on alternate fuels while having pledged three billion dollars over ten years.  One wonders, how many rich have spent one million dollars, let alone two to four hundred, on alternate fuels.  Klein infers Branson is all show and no go by reaping publicity benefit while raping the global environment.  Whatever Branson’s motive may be, two to four hundred million dollars for a less polluting fuel is better than doing nothing.

Klein vilifies Buffett for buying railroads because they are transporting coal.  Klein offers no suggestion that railroads are a more energy-efficient than some other forms of material transportation.  Klein infers Buffett made the railroad investment out of self-interest.  He probably did but that is not proof of a lack of concern about global warming.   Klein infers Buffett’s investment decisions should be dictated by whom?  Who gets to decide?

WARREN BUFFETT (NET WORTH 75.2 BIILLION DOLLARS)
Klein vilifies Buffett for buying railroads because they are transporting coal.  Klein offers no suggestion that railroads are a more energy-efficient than some other forms of material transportation.

Because people like Klein are beating the drum, the largest coal producer in the world has lost 95 percent of its stock value.  The investing public finds that the industry misleads investors on its liability as a climate polluter.  This is democratic capitalism in action.

Self-interest, good and bad, is the nature of human beings.  Klein and others need to continue to “Beat the Drum” but decisions on what is to be done will be from a political consensus and action from leaders of the world and the scientific community.  It is not what Klein says so much as how she says it.  Money, power, and prestige are human nature’s motivations.  It will be a matter of competing self-interests that reach a consensus on the preservation of life.

Klein and others should continue to raise awareness and sense of urgency but it is self-delusion to think human nature will change within the time frame of this world’s declining envionment.

In a free society, all realize they have “skin in the game”.  Those governments that validate individual freedom offer the best hope for a global warming solution.  The answer to the question of “Who gets to decide?” is best left in the hands of nation-states that validate individual freedom.  America is one that holds the hope for a solution to global warming, in spite of its democratic capitalist leaning and today’s inept Executive and Legislative branch leadership.

SUDAN’S RELEVANCE

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

What Is the What

By: Dave Eggers

Narrated by Dion Graham

As Ronald Reagan famously said in his successful campaign against Jimmy Carter, “There you go again”.

Dave Eggers writes another book about a tragic human event. However, Eggers avoids character controversy like that which followed “Zeitoun”, a story about the Katrina disaster.

Eggers classifies “What Is the What” as a novel, without any claim to source-vetted facts or the integrity of its primary character.

SUDAN IN THE WORLD

SUDAN IN THE WORLD 

“What Is the What” is about Sudan and its 20th century genocidal history. This is a story of the complex religious, ethnic, and moral conflict that exists in Sudan and in all nations peopled by extremes of wealth and poverty.

“What Is the What” is a tautology exemplified by a story of one who has something, knows it, and another that has nothing, and knows not why. 

Valentino Achak Deng, the hero of Eggar’s story, tells of his father. Achak’s father explains the story of “What is the What”.

God offers man a choice of cows or something called the What.  God asks, “Do you want the cows or the What? 

But, man asks, “What is the What”?  God says, “The What is for you to decide.” 

Achak’s father explains that with cows a man has something; he learns how to care for something; becomes a good caretaker of a life-sustaining something, but a man who has no cows has nothing, learns nothing about caring; and only becomes a taker of other’s something.

By mixing truth with fiction, Eggers cleverly reveals the story of Sudan’s “lost boys”, refugees from the murderous regime of President Al-Bashir in Sudan.  At every turn, Achak is faced with hard choices. 

Omar Al-Bashir is deposed in April 2019 after almost 30 years in power.

Omar Al-Bashir, a Muslim Sudanese military leader who becomes President, releases dogs of war by condoning the rape and pillage of indigenous Sudanese by Muslim extremists.  It is partly a religious war of Muslims against Christians but, more fundamentally, it is about greed.

Greed is engendered by oil reserves found in southern Sudan in 1978.  Bashir strikes a match that ignites a guerrilla war.  Eggers reveals the consequence of that war in the story of Achak, one of thousands of lost boys that fled Sudan when their parents were robbed, raped, and murdered.  Bashir’s intent was to rid Sudan of an ethnic minority that held lands in southern Sudan.

Eggers cleverly begins his story with Achak being robbed in Atlanta, Georgia.  But, this is America; not Sudan.

Robbers knock on Achak’s door with a request to use his telephone.  Achak is pistol whipped, tied, and trapped in his apartment while his and his roommate’s goods are stolen.

There is much to be taken from the apartment.  The robbers leave a young boy to guard Achak while they leave to get a larger vehicle to remove the stolen goods.

SUDAN'S LOST BOYS

Achak identifies with the young boy.  Achak recalls his life in Sudan and his escape to America; i.e.the  land of the free; the land of opportunity.  Achak sees the young boy as himself, victimized by life’s circumstances, hardened by poverty, and mired in the “What” (the takers of other’s something).

Eggers continues to juxtapose the consequence of poverty and powerlessness in Atlanta with Achak’s experience in Sudan. Achak’s roommate returns to the apartment to find Achak tied and gagged in an emptied apartment.  He releases Achak.

They call the police to report the robbery and assault.  An officer arrives to investigate.  The police officer listens, takes brief notes, offers no hope for the victims, and leaves; i.e., just another case of poor people being victimized by poor people.

The episode reminds one of the Sudanese government’s abandonment of the “lost boys”.  They are citizens governed by leaders who look to rule-of-law for the rich, and powerful; not the  poor and powerless.  They are leaders of the “what” (takers of other’s something); rather than leaders of all citizens.

Crowded emergency room waiting area.

Achak has been injured in the robbery.  He goes to a hospital emergency room for help.  Achak waits for nine hours to be seen by a radiologist.  He presumes it is because he has no insurance but it is really because he has no power. 

He has enough money to pay for treatment but without insurance, this emergency room puts Achak on a “when we can get around to it” list.  The doctor who can read the radiology film is not due for another three hours; presumably when his regular work day begins.  Achak waits for eleven hours and finally decides to leave.  It is 3:00 am and he has to be at work at 5:30 am.

As Achak waits for the doctor he remembers his experience in Sudan.  When the Muslim extremists first attack his village, many boys of his village, and surrounding villages are orphaned.  These orphans have nowhere to go.  By plan or circumstance the lost boys are assembled by a leader who has the outward-appearing objective of protecting the children.  The reality of the “what” (takers of other’s something) raises its head when the children are recruited by this leader for the “red army” of South Sudan (aka SPLA or Sudan People’s Liberation Army).

SUDAN'S BOY ARMY

The reality of the “what” (takers of other’s something) raises its head when Sudanese children are recruited by this leader for the “red army” of South Sudan (aka SPLA or Sudan People’s Liberation Army).

SUDAN'S 700 MILE WALK

These are boys of 8, 9, 10, 11 years of age.  This army-of-recruits begins a march from South Sudan to Ethiopia, a journey of over 700 miles, gathering more orphans as they travel across Sudan.  Along the way, they become food for lions, and crocodiles; they are reviled as outsiders by frightened villagers and, unbeknownst to Achak and many of the boys—they are meant to become seeds of a revolution to overthrow Al-Bashir’s repressive government.  These children are to be educated and trained in Ethiopia to fight for the independence of South Sudan.  They are led by leaders of the “what” (takers of other’s something).

The lost boys are victims of believers in the “what”.  Achak and other Sudanese’ refugees walk, run, and swim a river to arrive in Kenya, hundreds of miles south of Ethiopia.  Some Sudanese were shot by Ethiopians; some were eaten by crocodiles; some died from disease and starvation.

KENYA'S REFUGEE CAMP

Then, in 1991, Ethiopia’s government changes.  The lost boys, a part of an estimated 20,000 Sudanese’ refugees, are forcibly ejected by the new government.

The Sudanese’ refugees arrive in Kakuma, Kenya.  Achak says Kakuma is a Swahili word for “nowhere”.  In 1992, it becomes home to an estimated 138,000 refugees who fled from several different warring African nations.  The SPLA remains a part of the refugee camp but their recruiting activity is mitigated in this new environment.  The camp is somewhat better organized but meals are limited to one per day with disease and wild animals as ever-present dangers.  Education classes are supported by Kenya, Japan, and the United Nations to help refugees manage themselves and escape their past.

Achak survives these ordeals and reflects on his unhappiness in Atlanta, Georgia.  Achak clearly acknowledges how much better living in America is than living in Africa. However, Achak makes the wry suggestion that Sudanese settlement in America changed his countrymen from abusers to killers of their women.

He suggests Sudanese killing of their women is because of freedom.  He explains freedom exercised by women in America is missing in Sudan.  In Sudan, Sudanese women would not think of doing something contrary to wishes of their husbands.  Achak infers Sudanese women adapt to freedom while Sudanese men feel emasculated.  The emasculation leads to deadly force in Sudanese families; a deadly force that includes murder of wives or girlfriends and suicide by male companions.

AMERICAN DREAM

Eggers successfully and artistically reveals the tragedy of Sudan.  Cultural and religious conflict in the world and American freedom are called into question.  The cultural belief of parts of the Middle East, Africa, and America drive Achak from nation to nation.  Achak, despite misgivings, appears to love America.  But, American democracy is no utopia. Achak realizes no system of government is perfect.  His ambition is to educate himself and his home country.  Achak realizes education is the key to a life well lived.

What is the What?  Ironically, it is more than cows; it is education that combats cultural ignorance and celebrates freedom and equal opportunity for all.

Eggers story implies America needs to re-think its policy on immigration.  We are a nation of immigrants.  Achak’s story highlights what is wrong with America and other parts of the world.  But it also shows the “what” (“the ‘what’ that is for you to decide”) can be made better because it is more than cows.