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

AMERICAN SPIES

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

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

By: Scott Anderson

                                  Narrated by : Robertson Dean, Scott Anderson

Scott Anderson (Author)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

             

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TIBET

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Eat the Buddha

By: Barbara Demick

                                       Narrated by : Cassandra Campbell

Barbara Demick gives listeners a picture of Tibet with a darkness that rivals the narrative she creates for North Korea in “Nothing to Envy”. 

“Eat the Buddha” is a reminder of China’s insistence on Tibet’s acceptance of Communist authority in the face of Buddhist and Tibetan ethnic and religious identity.  Like the Uyghurs in mainland China, Tibetans practice a religion that conflicts with Communist atheism.  Unlike Islamist Uyghurs, Buddhists eschew violence against oppressors.

Demick addresses self-immolation as an example of Tibetan protest which does not harm others but only one self. Well over 100 men and 28 women have set themselves aflame.

Demick bases “Eat the Buddha” on living seven years in Beijing, with personal visits to Tibet. She interviews Tibetans and Chinese, including the Dalia Lama who is exiled in India. 

Demick interviews many who consider Buddhist teaching a positive and integral part of their lives and culture. 

Demick’s history of the treatment of Tibetan citizens under Maoist communism reminds one of America’s treatment of Indian tribes in America.  Mao tries to erase Tibet’s nomadic culture by murdering Tibetan leaders and excommunicating the Dali Llama. Mao’s object is to thwart the influence of Buddhist religious belief and indoctrinate Tibetan citizens into the ways of Communism.

Mao era attack of Buddhism during the Cultural Revolution.

Demick tells the story of Maoist cadre’s eviction and eventual murder of a regional Tibetan King and his wife during the cultural revolution.  The daughter of the former King is one of Demick’s many interviews.  The irony of this daughter’s experience with Chinese culture offers both positive and negative memories of her early life in Tibet.  She adapts to Chinese doctrine but eventually becomes an assistant to the exiled Dali Lama in India.  She cannot abandon her Tibetan cultural beliefs.

Tibetan demonstration in 2020.

Mao, and today’s Chinese leaders, believe any ethnic self-identification, other than Communist party doctrine, conflicts with the State. 

Like America’s treatment of Indians, China’s leaders use carrots and sticks to integrate Tibetans into Communist doctrine and Chinese culture. 

Rather than accepting culture difference, both America and China suppress their ethnic minorities.  However, the suppression is qualitatively different. The significant difference is that China sees minority ethnicity and religion as a direct threat to Communist ideals.  In contrast, American history implies ethnicity and religious difference are an evolutionary characteristic, bending toward freedom and equality.  That does not make American history less violent, but it suggests hope for something better than China’s expectation of ethnic and religious absorption by Communism.

Demick suggests Tibet is currently in the carrot stage of influence by the Chinese government.  Having personally traveled to Tibet in 2019, much of what Demick describes about the modernization of Lhasa, the capitol of Tibet, is obvious. 

The restoration of the Potala Palace by the Chinese government is astonishingly beautiful.  It is the burial place of past Dalai Lamas.  Though it is no longer a practicing Buddhist temple, it is a tacit acknowledgement by China of Tibetan culture.

The last chapters of Demick’s book acknowledge her extensive research. She notes Tibetans are better off now than they were during the Mao years.  However, she explains Tibetans do not have the same economic opportunity as the ethnic Chinese.  It is important to be Chinese and even more important to be a member of the Communist party. (Our guide in a trip to China and Tibet reinforces the value of being enrolled in the Communist party. Though he abjures the tragedy of Tiananmen Square, he has a slender hope to join the Communist Party because of the opportunity if would afford him and his family.)

Demick infers Tibetans face the same discrimination as American minorities (these pics are not of Tibetans but American Asians attacked by non-Asian Americans in 2021), and presumably the same discrimination felt by many women in the world.

In Demick’s interviews of the Dalai Lama, she finds he is optimistic about Tibet’s future and survival as a Buddhist haven.  The Dalai Lama continues to negotiate with China’s leaders with hope of a return to Tibet.  (He was exiled in the 1950s by Mao’s government. That exile remains in place.)   His successor is to be chosen by the Gaden Phodrang Trust, an India-based group set up by the current Dalai Lama. However, the Chinese government says it will approve the Dalai Lama’s successor.  The Buddhist belief is that the Dalai Lama must be a reincarnation of former Dali Lamas.

GADEN PHODRANG FOUNDATION OF THE DALAI LAMA

Demick writes of a Padme Dalai Lama in Tibet with a marginal explanation of their importance in Buddhism. The Padme Dalai Lama plays an important role in selecting the next Dalai Lama. The Padme Dalai Lama is second in the hierarchy of primary Dalai Lamas. A Padme Dalai Lama is identified (chosen) by a current Dalai Lama. The 14th Dalai Lama chose a 6 year old boy but he was taken by the Chinese government after his selection. Demick explains the Chinese government chose to select the next Tibetan Padme Dalai Lama despite the 14th Dalai Lama’s choice. No one with certainty knows of the Padme Dalai’s fate.  Some suggest he is now a college graduate living an anonymous life. Theoretically, today there are two living Padme Dalai Lamas.

Today’s Dalai Lama is Tenzin Gyatso.  He is the 14th Dalai Lama. As of this writing, he is 86 years old.

Pictures of the 14th Dalai Lama are forbidden in China. Demick notes that a travel book in her carry on luggage is confiscated by a Chinese Airport inspector as she returns to the United States in 2o20. The confiscation is because the travel book had a picture of the Buddhist leader.

Demick draws an interesting picture of Tibet. It reveals both the truth and weakness of one historian’s view of China and Tibet. It is founded on the truth of what a number of Tibetans remember of the Mao’ years and the current relationship of China and Tibet. As is true of all books of history, China’s and Tibet’s past is not perfectly clear and the future, at best, becomes a cloudy past.

LUMINARIES

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Albert Einstein, Creator and Rebel

By Banesh Hoffmann, Helen Dukas

Narrated by : Wanda McCaddon

CO-AUTHORS OF “ALBERT EINSTEIN, CREATOR AND REBEL”

The impact of extraordinary human beings is partly the result of chosen facts–there repetition, and future generations’ revisions of history.  The best known are men, undoubtedly due to misogyny that reaches back to the earliest writings of history.  Whether because of misogyny or other reason, mostly men have had the greatest influence on the course of politics, arts, and science. None more than Aristotle, Jesus Christ, Leonardo da Vinci, Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein.

Banesh Hoffman and Helen Dukas reveal why Einstein is among a select group of extraordinary human beings.  Presumably, Hoffman (because he is a physicist) offers explanation of Einstein’s contribution to the world of science.  However, in an equally revealing light (because Dukas is secretary to Einstein), one presumes she offers understanding of Einstein’s personal correspondence and innate humanity.  To we who are not scientists, Dukas is the star of the book.  Whether searching for understanding of E=mc2 or Einstein’s humanity, this book is worth reading and re-reading.

Newton versus quantum mechanics.

Einstein did not overturn the physics of Isaac Newton, just as he did not deny the validity of quantum mechanics. 

Einstein added to Newton’s understanding of physics by confirming belief in quantum mechanics with the caveat that quantum mechanics does not reveal everything about physics of the universe.  Einstein argues to his last days–their remains an unrevealed fundamental truth about physics. He believes physics will explain why things exist and why manifestation of things is predictable.  Like the inviolate speed of light, Einstein insists there is a physics law that gives predictability rather than probabilistic answers for ways of the world.

Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677, Dutch philosopher of the Enlightenment, biblical critic.)

Einstein believes in God but it is the God of Spinoza. Einstein believes God is not a corporeal being but a principle.

To Spinoza, God is everything in nature.  Religions look at Einstein and Spinoza as heretics, and as some argue, atheists.  However, Einstein suggests “God does not play with dice”. He is saying there is a fundamental cause for everything in the world.  That fundamental cause is God. However, that God is nature which, like energy and mass, has equivalence. Einstein believes there is an unknown fundamental law that explains life’s predictable existence which will prove God is real because, in his view, nature is real and predictable.

Einstein clearly identifies himself as a Jew but in the sense of ethnic association, not religion.  Part of Einstein’s self-identity comes from his disgust with Germany and its systemic murder of Jews in the holocaust. 

Dukas reveals Einstein’s sponsorship of Jews who wish to escape Nazi Germany.  She notes that Israel asks Einstein to serve as President of Israel.  He is deeply honored but chooses not to accept because his life experience is as a scientist, not a politician.

Dukas explains Einstein has an implacable belief in scientific predictability and an unstoppable drive for proof.  Both authors make it clear that Einstein’s greatest discoveries come in his early twenties. He doggedly pursues intuitive truth, even when faced with experiments that fail to support his beliefs.  Einstein does not become discouraged. He casts failed experiment and mathematical calculation aside and re-doubles his effort to confirm his intuitive beliefs.

Einstein did not initially realize the potential of E=mc2 as a weapon because he thought too much energy would be required to create nuclear fission that would change mass into energy. 

With the discovery of neutrons by Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassmann in 1938, Einstein realizes there is destructive potential in his discovery of mass and energy equivalence.  Neutrons used to bombard particular fundamental atoms demonstrate transmutation of mass into energy.   That transmutation unleashes a cataclysmic force.

Einstein is shown to be an avid pacifist, but atrocities perpetrated by Germany in WWII leads him to recommend early efforts of America to create a nuclear bomb.  However, he is appalled by the bombs use in Japan.

The thought among Allied forces is that Germany would develop a nuclear bomb before Allied forces could end the war.  There is the suggestion by some that Germany’s last-ditch effort at the Battle of the Bulge was a desperate attempt to delay defeat to have time to develop a nuclear bomb.

It is clear in this biography that Einstein’s contribution to science is as immeasurable as aforementioned luminaries of politics, arts, and science.  Einstein, and Newton stand as the elite of the elite in science.  One hopes there are others in this century.

CROATIAN SERBIAN ATROCITY

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Girl at War – A Novel

By Sara Novic

Narrated by : Julia Whelan

Sara Novic (American author, translator,and professor of creative writing at Stockton University.)

Sara Novic writes of war in Croatia that is tentatively settled by the dismantling of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s.  Yugoslavia’s splits into 6 ethnic territories–Bosnia/Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Slovenia, and Serbia.

In a personal 22-day visit to five of the six countries, a Croatian guide tells our small group of travelers that he does not offer a trip to Serbia.  (Our trip was several years ago. The guides’ name is not given for obvious reasons.)  He explains his father was killed by Serbian soldiers in the Croatian war.

A little history gives perspective to our guide’s and Novic’s story.  After WWII, Yugoslavia is set up as a federation of six republics to be ruled by one leader, Josip Broz Tito. 

Josip Broz Tito (Yugoslavian ruler 1953-1980, died in May of 1980.)

Though Tito is considered a dictator, under his rule the six ethnic republics experience a period of strong economic growth and relative political stability. 

In having dinner with a family in Bosnia/Herzegovina, a grandmother says she misses Tito’s government.  She felt life was better with Tito as leader of the six territories.

Mass grave in Croatia in 1991.

Novic’s story is of a 10-year-old girl who loses her mother and father when stopped at a Serbian check point in the early 1990s.  The Serbian army gathers a group of Croatians, lines them up in a circle around a pit, and shoots them one by one. 

Serbian soldiers murder every adult and child, each of which fall into their grave.  The father tells his 10-year-old daughter to hold his hand and fall into the pit when he is the next to be shot.  She plays dead as the Serbs complete their circle of horror.  She escapes the pit before bulldozers cover the dead and dying.

Croatian Defense Force fighting in the Croatian War of Independence.

The orphaned girl runs from the scene.  She finds refuge among a group of resisters.  She is recruited by fellow Croatians who have gathered to fight for independence of their country. 

She becomes a soldier for a short time before finding her way back to her abandoned home.  With the help of her godfather’s family, she is illegally aided by a UN representative who smuggles her to America.  She is adopted by an American family, goes to college, and eventually returns to Croatia.

On return to Croatia, she renews acquaintances and finds the place where she had taken refuge after her parent’s murder.  The mass grave is near where she had found refuge ten years earlier. 

This is not our guide’s story, but his story reinforces Novic’s picture of Serbia’s and Croatia’s conflict.  Our guide explains how the United Nations helped Croatia survive the 1991-1995 war.  Interestingly, the guide denigrated America’s role in the war.  In his opinion, America stood on the sidelines when Serbs were perpetrating mass killings.

Novic’s story is well written.  It clearly reinforces our guide’s perception of what happened in Croatia.  The concerning part of the story is its analogous relationship to America’s intervention in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan.  

The troubling issue with all international conflicts is where the line is to be drawn between being American “helpful Hannah’s” and exemplars of good and responsible behavior.

WORDS THAT UNMAKE US

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The Words That Made Us: America’s Constitutional Conversation, 1760-1840

By Akhil Reed Amar

Narrated by Fajer Al-Kaisi

Akhil Reed Amar (Author, Professor of Law and Political Science at Yale University.)

“The Words That Made Us” spins history in ways that may offend some historians.  Akhil Amar reveals interesting historical facts that arguably diminish the reputations of Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and James Madison.  On the other hand, Amar bolsters the legends of Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, and Alexander Hamilton.  Along the way, Amar offers praise for lesser-known visionaries like John Jay, Edmund Randolph, John Marshall, and Joseph Story.

Thomas Jefferson and James Madison are characterized as unrepentant slave holders who form a close friendship that reinforces the human stain of American slavery.  Both are characterized as apologists for slavery who purport to write and support equality while politically endorsing and promoting American expansion of the slave trade. 

Amar’s greatest praise is for Washington.  Washington is noted to have been a steady influence on the drafting of the American Constitution. His experience in the revolutionary war exposed the inadequacy of the Articles of Confederation. Washington clearly understood the importance of a national government for a proper defense of the colonies. His reputation and actions taken during the revolution were well known to the framers of the Constitution. Without having to take a public stance, Washington exemplified what had to be done to correct the weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation.

Though Washington is a slave holder and acted as most colonists of his time, he emancipates his slaves upon his death.  However, Amar notes Washington, in his time, pursued his fugitive slaves and sold them when they were captured.

Amar’s peon to Franklin is for his belief in science, experiment, and enlightenment.  Franklin consistently promotes American independence from England in Parliament, in France, in local American meetings, and in every public forum he attends in his era.  

Though initially a slave buyer and holder, Franklin quits the slave trade and becomes part of the American conscience that abhorred slavery’s inhumanity.  Amar’s research reveals Franklin’s last essay, one month before death, satirically attacking slavery and unequal treatment of non-white Americans.  Amar implies Franklin’s advanced age is the only circumstance that prevented him from being more influential in the implementation of the American Constitution.

Washington is the Cincinnatus of American history.  He eschews power in the interest of a Democratic nation-state. 

Washington is characterized by Amar as a wise surrogate father for many, particularly the brilliant Alexander Hamilton who is too volatile to act as a prudent manager of public affairs.  Washington brings  out the best in those who offer ideas that promote and build the colonies into one Nation.

Duel between Hamilton and Burr from which Hamilton dies.

Amar channels and re-enforces Hannah Arendt’s analysis of revolution.  Amar argues the American revolution’s success is based on careful preparation of American colonists.  Long before Amar’s book about “…Words…”, Arendt explains in “On Revolution” that lack of citizen preparation is why France’s revolution fails and America’s succeeds.  Amar’s research clearly reinforces Arendt’s observations.

Arendt argues there is no preparation for French citizens to become a Republic that rejects monarchy.  As a result, France experiences anarchy, heedless bloodshed, and democratic failure after their 1789 revolution. 

In contrast to the French revolution, citizens of the American colonies are psychologically and politically prepared for a nation-state Constitution before its writing, adoption, and implementation.  

Colonial Americans listen to and debate many reasons for creating the Constitution that places man-made laws above the nature of man.  Proliferation of pamphleteers, newspapers, and town hall meetings prepare both literate and illiterate colonists for revolution.  Blood is shed in America before, during, and after the 1776 revolution but Amar explains how and why 13 independent colonies agree to become a nation-state in 1789.  In Amar’s opinion, it is the result of “ The Words That Made Us”, and the men who spoke, wrote, and lived them.

Amar suggests accomplishments of Jefferson, Adams, and Madison are diminished for different reasons.  Jefferson and Madison are slave holding Virginians who distort the truth of their words about equal rights for all Americans.  Amar suggests Jefferson lies about his personal life and exaggerates his role as the sole source of the written Declaration of Independence.  Jefferson had little to do with the final adoption of words in the American Constitution while becoming a strong advocate for States’ rights at the expense of national unity and emancipation.

Madison is acknowledged as a diligent advocate and negotiator in the creation of the American Constitution. 

However, Amar notes Madison’s change of heart about states rights as he ascends to political office as the 4th President of the United States.  Amar suggests Madison’s change of heart is related to his fellow Virginian’s (Jefferson’s) concern about abandonment of equal representation in Congress based on the 3/5s’ clause that allows slaves to be counted for congressional apportionment. 

Amar vilifies John Adams for long absences from America in his role as Ambassador to France, the Netherlands, and England.  Amar argues Adams’ discussions about the course of events in America relies on the classics of the Greek polis more than the opinion of colonists of the current day.  

Amar suggests Adams’ loss of touch with colonists’ opinion distorts his judgment.  Amar notes Adams’ proclivity for self-aggrandizement in his role as a revolutionary.  As the 2nd President of the United States, Adams’ ego leads him to the Alien and Sedition Act that jails and fines Americans for criticizing his Presidency.  Amar notes that Adams fails to get a second term, in part because of his over weaning ego but also because of secret political machinations of his professed friend, Thomas Jefferson.

To Amar, appointment of John Marshall as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court redeems much of Adams’ reputation.  Amar explains even Adams expresses a belief that the best thing he did as President was to appoint Marshall. 

Marshall establishes the Supreme Court as a powerful third branch of the federal government.  By the same token, Amar infers appointment of Story to the Supreme Court by Madison somewhat redeems Madison’s reputation as 4th President of the United States.  

In contrast to Adams, Madison is elected for a second term.  However, Amar suggests Madison is too beholding to Jefferson to be an independent thinker and actor.  Amar believes Madison’s selection of Story for the Supreme Court gave balance to the Court.   Story is not anti-Jefferson but believes states rights do not abrogate Constitutional rights or condone singular State secession.

Though Story is not Madison’s first choice and not a favorite of Jefferson, he is selected because of his youth and perspicacity.  Amar suggests Madison’s friendship with Jefferson nearly makes the federal government an instrument of Jeffersonian politics.  Justice Story tempers the state’s rights movement attributed to Jefferson’s influence.

Facts of history may be immutable but new facts seem to change history with every new historian’s research.  One is left with a feeling of unease about truth.  “The Words That Made Us” are also words that unmake us.

AMERICA’S 2nd REVOLUTION

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The Quartet (Orchestrating the Second American Revolution, 1783-1789)

By: Joseph J. Ellis  

Narrated by Robertson Dean

Joseph J. Ellis (Author, American historian.)

Joseph Ellis explains why creation of a Constitution constitutes America’s second revolution.

“The Quartet” is a well-reasoned history that touches on the 1765-1783 revolution and the subsequent adoption of an American Constitution.   Ellis notes America’s fight for independence meant 13 individual colonies (not a nation-state) fought for freedom from government control by Great Britain.  It was a revolution of many governments against one. Ellis notes most Americans in those early years identified with their own colonies, their own governments, and their singular independence.

The revolutionary war exposes the weakness of the Articles of Confederation.

Though formed to prosecute an American uprising against the British, a confederation of disparate colonies often failed to provide either pay, food, or clothing to its soldiers who were fighting for their colony’s independence.

Adopting a Constitution in 1787-1788 creates a national identity and a singular nation-state. Ellis implies the adoption of a Constitution is a forcible overthrow of 13 governments. The American Constitution creates a nation-state that complements, and in many ways supersedes, the authority of 13 colonial governments. It addresses many of the weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation.

There is an element of hyperbole in naming the Constitutional convention a revolution but it certainly is a revolution in political ideas. Arms to overthrow colonial governments were not taken up by the framers of the Constitution. However, Ellis reasons the force of four men’s intellects foment what he calls a second revolution.

The Constitution not only consolidates 13 disparate colonial governments but offers a democratic nation-state that could grow and compete with every country of the world. Reification of the maligned ideals of democratic government by the American Constitution may well be classified as a revolution.

Ellis argues a “…Quartet” orchestrates a second American revolution.  The preeminent member is George Washington.  Two are less well known, John Jay and James Madison.  The fourth, Alexander Hamilton is well known today, in part because of the New York rap musical, “Hamilton”. Hamilton is an important spoke in the wagon wheel of early American history.

The diminutive James Madison is identified by Ellis as the primary motive power behind the creation of the Constitution.  Ellis suggests, without Madison’s astute handling of arguments for union, the Constitution would have not been approved by the colonies. 

Ellis notes that Madison would not have been successful without the support of Washington, Hamilton, and Jay. It is clear from Ellis’s history that Madison could not have won his arguments for union without the stature and influence of George Washington.  Madison’s friendship with Thomas Jefferson and other revolutionaries enhanced his efforts.  However, Ellis explains Madison’s intellect and studious preparation for debate carried the weight for public acceptance of the Constitution. Madison effectively argues for and designs a Constitution that preserves a level of State sovereignty with a powerful Federal government that becomes acceptable to the colonies.  

A “…Quartet” forms a governing union of colonies to provide defense, health, education, and welfare for a singular nation. 

One of many interesting facts Ellis reveals is how Madison, though short in stature, towered over great orators like Patrick Henry.  Henry insisted on preservation of independence for the colonies.

Madison is shown as an intellect who is always fully prepared for debate.  His ability to draw on historical fact sways enough of the public to see through the voluble and seductive speeches of great orators like Henry.

Ellis notes there is a fundamental difference between Jefferson’s and Madison’s view of the need for a federal government.  Both believed in the importance of a federal government but Jefferson looked to a federal government as a light handed, nearly invisible form of influence on local States.  Madison viewed federal government as a more dominant and influential force on State governance. 

(Parenthetically, Ellis notes that Madison reverses course in his later years to become more in tune with Jefferson’s view.  Both men were Virginians.  Ellis speculates Madison’s change in belief is in his recognition of growing disadvantages southern states would have in a Federal government.)

In drafting the Constitution, Ellis notes Madison understood the importance of compromise in dealing with State prerogative.  The importance of having State representation and a mechanism for adjudicating disagreement were folded into a concept of Senate and House representation.  Every State, regardless of population, would have two senators.  However, the House would have representatives based on population.  The Senate and House would have different responsibilities but each would have to compromise with the other in order to pass legislation.  Though Madison may not have clearly appreciated the power of a Supreme Court, the idea of balance of power with three branches of Federal government garnered more support for union of the colonies.

The role of John Jay, except to historians, is not well known.  Jay became the first Chief Justice of the United States.

Before that position, John Jay plays a vital role in forming American independence.  He becomes the Secretary of Foreign Affairs under the Articles of Confederation and is a strong proponent of centralized government. He was chief negotiator of the Treaty of Paris, in which Britain recognizes American independence.  As co-author of the Federalist Papers (along with Hamilton and Madison) he supported a strong Federal government.

A fundamental point that Ellis emphasizes in “The Quartet” is that the Constitution is proposed by its founders to be a living document. Ellis strongly objects to political leaders that are classified as “Originalists”. In Ellis’s story of the second revolution, the framers did not want to be identified as divinely inspired. They recognized they were Americans of their time, not of all time. They did not believe they were so forward thinking that the Constitution would not be changed by interpretations that fit circumstances of changing times.

Ellis view of America’s formation as a nation-state appears to defy the odds. It seems there was a 2nd American revolution.

INTERNATIONAL IDEALISM

Personal Observation

Author: Chet Yarbrough

Qualifications: None

Idealism is a fine quality within the borders of one’s own country.

America should drive to be the best democracy in the world. However, idealism outside the borders of one’s own country leads to disaster, not peace or prosperity.

Barack Obama’s tenure as President of the United States made America a better country.

Because of idealism, Obama succeeded in improving race relations, medical treatment for millions of uninsured citizens, and return of some American’ international respect.

However, Obama’s success in international intervention is arguably less exemplary. That is true of many Presidents of the United States who fail to gain the explicit cooperation of other sovereign nations when intervening militarily in another country.

Our intervention in Libya had 4 U.N. abstentions for U.S. bombing of the country. After America’s intervention, Muammar Gaddafi is murdered by the Libyan people. This is not to say Gaddafi did not deserve his fate, but American intervention left Libya a failed state that remains failed 9 years later.

With the exception of WWI and WWII, America’s history of military intervention is abysmal. One must ask oneself–are Bosnia/Herzegovina, Afghanistan, Libya, Iraq, Iran, or Korea better off today than before American intervention? Idealism is not exportable, whether it is America, Germany, China, United Kingdom, France, Russia, or any other militarily powerful sovereignty.

Though people of the world may have similar ambitions and motivations, they are raised in countries that have their own cultural traditions, religions, legal systems, and histories. Even if all humans have a desire for money, power, and prestige; they are bound by their own country’s history and culture.

One might argue Khadafy, Saddam Hussein, Ayatollah Khomeini, Hosni Mubarak, Xi, Putin, and Kim Jong-un either led or are leading the most repressive and authoritarian countries in the world. Their reigns are readily associated with imprisonment, torture, and murder. (Some would argue America has a history of the same transgressions.)

In America’s recent history, with the exception of H. W. Bush’s ejection of Hussein from Kuwait, American Presidents have improperly intervened in other countries’ sovereignty.

H.W. chose not to eliminate Hussein once America achieved its objective of removing Iraqi forces from Kuwait.

Clinton’s intervention in Bosnia/Herzegovinian, George Bush’s intervention in Iraq, and Obama’s intervention in Libya are three examples of countries that remain in turmoil. America had little effect on meaningful change from American intervention in these countries.

Sovereign idealism is not exportable. Only national examples can be set for sovereign nations to show how their form of government is better than another’s. “Example” is the best one country can do for another. In the world of realpolitik military intervention, without overwhelming international cooperation, is a fool’s errand.

This is not to argue that international influence and political diplomacy should not be used to fight against false imprisonment, torture, rape, and murder but sovereign nations must be respected for their own choices. Only a sovereign nation’s citizens can make right or wrong decisions about their country’s leadership.

This is not to argue for isolation but to realize no nation has a right to invade another nation’s sovereignty. It is up to each nation to choose their own path.

Every sovereign nation has a right to condemn another through national example, economic sanction, economic support, or political persuasion. But, American military intervention in a sovereign country is an error of immense consequence. In the case of Iraq—American soldier’s deaths, injuries, and American dollars are wasted. The evidence of that waste is in the Iraqi government’s continued dysfunction.

EVOLUTION OF POWER

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The Age of Surveillance Capitalism

By: Shoshana Zuboff

Narrated by Nicol Zanazrella

Shoshana Zuboff (American author, former Harvard Professor of Business Administration).

Shoshana Zuboff analyzes the evolution of power wielded and enabled by Google, Amazon, Microsoft and other media giant’s that invade personal privacy. 

In the October 17-18, 2020 WSJ, the headline is Mark Zuckerberg is “Washington’s New Power Broker”. Reporters Deepa Seetharaman and Emily Glazer note that “…Mark Zuckerberg now takes an active role in the platform’s policy decisions–and checks in regularly with officials like Jared Kushner”.

Zuboff’s scholarly examination of American internet mavens concludes “…Surveillance Capitalism” will lead to Orwell’s “1984” or B.F. Skinner’s “Beyond Freedom and Dignity”.

Orwell notes in “1984” that invasion of privacy is a way of conditioning human beings to believe in “truths” manufactured by whoever leads.  In contrast, B.F. Skinner’s “Beyond Freedom and Dignity” argues behavioral observation and reward is a tool for making people live morally “good” and peaceful lives. 

The words “truths” and “good” are in quotes because they are determined by what Zuboff calls “the big other”.  “The big other” is a knowledge leviathan that knows everything about everyone. 

In Orwell’s world, humans will be managed by a totalitarian government. The government monitors all private and public actions of its citizens. These governments have a set of propagandized “truths” that demand and compel obedience. Orwell’s world relies on knowledge of every detail of its citizen’s life. When a citizen’s actions do not conform to government rules, they are psychologically bombarded, and re-programmed to believe.

In Skinner’s world, individual citizens will act as they think they want, as though they have free will. However, operant conditioners (“the big other”) will reward citizens for fulfilling desires of respective employers, vendors, and governments which are holders of private information. These operant conditioners will use personal and private data to offer rewards for “good” behavior.  (Zuboff calls these holders of private information “the big other”.)  

Orwell and Skinner offer views of a future where privacy no longer exists.  Orwell’s view is obviously dystopian.  Skinner’s view is utopian, hiding in the skin of dystopia.  Zuboff explains how either future is conceivable in “The Age of Surveillance Capitalism”.  Her conclusion finds both futures reprehensible and possibly inevitable.

“The Age of Surveillance Capitalism” exposes America and the world to the greatest economic and social change since the industrial revolution.  In “The Age of Surveillance Capitalism” every human action is catalogued, distributed, and utilized by entities interested in influencing human’ thought and action. 

“The big other” is enabled by media giants to seduce the public into buying technical products that are connected to the world wide web.  Products, like Nest, Google Search, Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel, Quick Books, etc. record everything humans do and see, with extraordinary insight into what they think.  That data base becomes a tool for modifying behavior without conscious knowledge of its users. 

Is the government’s suit against Google important? Shoshanna Zuboff implies it is monumentally important.

In Skinner’s view, freedom and dignity are a fiction.  To Skinner, only behavior is currency for future peace and prosperity. That behavior can be conditioned by “the big other” in Skinner’s world.

In one sense, Skinner’s recognition of positive reinforcement’s value to society is exemplified by moguls like Henry Ford.  Ford’s recognition of the value of raising wages for his workers (an operant conditioning reward) increases production and lowers product price.

Zuboff systematically builds her argument with the history of industrialization and the dramatic change it brought to society.    Ford grew his fortune by positive reinforcement of worker’s higher wages and the public’s consumption of a lower cost product that revolutionized travel. 

The credibility and threat of Zuboff’s argument is reinforced by George Bush’s accelerated invasion of privacy after 9/11, and Barack Obama’s use of technology from Google’s Eric Schmidt (Google’s CEO, at the time) in his run for election. 

One might also argue the rise of Donald Trump is a harbinger of the threat of “…Surveillance Capitalism”.  Evidence suggests Trump’s election campaign drew on Russian surveillance of Hillary Clinton and political research from Cambridge Analytica to win election. 

Cambridge Analytica provided detailed information on voters who agreed with the anti-science convictions of Donald Trump. They voted, and Trump won the election.

(As noted in Wikipedia.org–Analytica is a visual software package developed by Lumina Decision Systems for creating, analyzing and communicating quantitative decision models.)

Zuboff argues the principle of positive reinforcement takes a giant leap forward with the technology of “Capitalist Surveillance.  Henry Ford’s personal insight is replaced by “the big other”.  Potentially, every capitalist or government entity now has access to the details of everyone’s lives. 

In a capitalist country, there is no singular controller but a multitude of public and private entities that manipulate human life like Skinner’s pigeons in a cage. 

In a communist or fascist country personal surveillance easily slips into Orwell’s “1984”.  Zuboff offers the example of the social categorization of Chinese residents by President Xi’s government. Assigning a number to a Chinese citizen capsulizes their support or opposition to communism. That number influences every aspect of that citizen’s success or failure in China.

Zuboff warns that tools for predicting future behavior are in the hands of “the big other”.    Zuboff speaks from her personal experience with Skinner. Skinner was one of Zuboff’s professors during her college days.  She infers today’s surveillance economies bend toward totalitarianism borne by behavioral reinforcement.

A fundamental question is: Do we have free will?  Or as Skinner and Alex Pentland suggest are we just vessels for behavioral modification?

The other side of “Surveillance Capitalism” is the benefit offered to the general public by data compilation.  There is a leveling of cost for consumer items because of pricing and consumer criticism gathered and distributed to the general public when buying a product or service.  There is a value in being able to arrive at a destination on time without worrying about getting lost in the country or city.  There is the ability to control utility use, and guard one’s house by using tech products like Google’s Nest.  There is the potential of producing more product at cheaper price because of “Surveillance Capitalism”. The idea is similar to the way Ford grew his automobile company by rewarding employee behavior and producing lower priced product.

The question remains—what price are humans willing to pay for convenience? 

The industrial revolution just as the technological revolution changed society.  It seems fair to say the American standard of living has increased as a result of industrialization.  Is there reason to believe the same may be true with a technological revolution that makes life easier but less private? 

Zuboff questions the trade off but so did the Luddites when they destroyed machines that replaced craftsman.  One cannot take Zuboff’s scholarly study lightly, but the genies of the tech revolution are out of the bottle. 

If there is a such thing as free will, there seems no harm or foul.  However, manipulating human behavior belies Google’s founder’s unofficial slogan of “Don’t be evil”.  (Interestingly, in April or May of 2018, Google abandoned the slogan.)

God and Science

Audio-book Review 
By Chet Yarbrough 

(Blog:awalkingdelight) 
Website: chetyarbrough.blog 

The Big Picture 

BySean Carroll 

Narrated by Sean Carroll 

Sean Carroll (Author, theoretical physicist in quantum mechanics, gravity, and cosmology.)

Being a fan, Sean Carroll is usually a good source for understanding science but “The Big Picture” is not his best work. Traveling through centuries of discovery and science’ revisions is too broad a picture for a layman’s understanding.  Many attempts at clear communication about current physics fail to enlighten “The Big Picture”. 

Carroll does clarify the difference between “is” and “ought” that explains why science is important.  God may be the origin of life on earth but proof relying on faith is an “ought” without an “is”.  Science reduces knowledge to facts based on repeatable experiments and predictable results.  If experiments are conducted by different experimenters with the same results, what “is” becomes predictable and more likely correct. Carroll explains science deals with the world as it “is”; not how the world “ought” to be.   

Preachers preach a gospel based on what is not experimentally proven and only anecdotally predictable.  Anecdotes are not necessarily true or reliable because they are based on personal accounts rather than facts or research.  Numerous studies have shown that human cognition relies on brain patterning which influences, matches, or melds information stored in the brain. 

The consequence of patterning distorts reality.  Eye-witness accounts of events are notoriously misleading because of human patterning.   

“The Big Picture” recounts the history of physics and how human understanding has evolved over the centuries.  Carroll explains how past discoveries based on science have evolved.  Newton lived in the same world as Einstein.  Both discovered fundamental truths about “The Big Picture”. 

Newton’s laws apply to earth’s realm.  Einstein’s laws apply to the universe.  Both are correct within their spheres.  Carroll notes neither Newton nor Einstein contradict the laws of physics, but their laws are confined by the earth or universe in which they are proven. 

Carroll believes all essential particles of the atom have been discovered.  This reminds one of the scientists in the late 19th century who said, “in this field, almost everything is already discovered, and all that remains is to fill a few unimportant holes”. 

It is difficult not to enjoy Carroll’s way with words but with the unexplained essence of gravity, dark matter, and dark energy, it seems premature to suggest no new particle discoveries will change our view of the world and their impact on reality.