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. 

LABELING

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America

By: Nancy MacLean

Narrated by Bernadette Dunne

Nancy MacLean (American author, historian, professor at Duke University)

Labeling people is mind numbing.  Labeling of political and economic interests is a crime against reason.  Democrat, Republican, conservative, liberal, libertarian, Tea Partier, right-wing, and left-wing are some of the most common political labels. In the light of reason, none of these labels make consistent sense. 

In politics, labels attach themselves to people like Nancy Pelosi, Mitch McConnell, Sarah Palin, and the Koch Brothers. 

In economic theory, political labels attach themselves to Adam Smith, Ludwig von Mises, John Maynard Keynes, Friedrich Hayek, James Buchanan, Milton Friedman, and others.

The only common characteristic of these representatives is that they are human’.  Their labels only speak of partial truths about what they believe and what economic policies they support.  Nancy MacLean uses most of these labels to make her case for “Democracy in Chains”. 

Depending on one’s point of view, MacLean enlightens one side of her argument that, indeed, democracy is in chains.  The chains of which she writes are manufactured, distributed, and applied by corporate America. MacLean identifies Noble Prize winner in Economics, James Buchanan, as the theorist that gave momentum to the Koch brothers’ political drive for unfettered free-enterprise.

Humans, even historians, are not omniscient.  They are burdened with personal experiences that shape their beliefs and often compound their biases. 

Beliefs are not objective.  They are right and wrong within the boundaries of facts and societal norms.  Facts are facts, but norms are accepted behaviors that conform to a group, community, or culture. 

An appeal Trump has to some Americans has to do with his consistency in denying the truth. Covid19 is a devastating killer but Trump gives comfort to many who want to believe his denial of reality. The same might be said about Trump’s global warming opinions. The science shows his chosen facts are wrong and America will pay for it in one way or another.

Trumpism is a disease of America’s own making but this too will pass. History will reflect how dangerous modern media is in promoting the worst qualities of the American electorate.

Societal norms change with time and human experience.  Facts do not change but their interpretation is changed by new societal norms.

A prime example of facts that change, based on social norms, is the fact of world misogyny. “Me Too” has changed the meaning of the fact. Harvey Weinstein is now in prison and Jeffrey Epstein killed himself.

Slavery, misogyny, discrimination based on race, color, or creed, religious intolerance, and murder in war have been societal norms at different times in world history.  MacLean suggests “Democracy in Chains” comes from a conspiracy of libertarians hiding among Republicans to reinterpret the Constitution of the United States.

That part of the American Constitution’s preamble that says the purpose of government is to provide for “general welfare” of all, is at issue with political and economic labels. 

MacLean creates an argument that sounds like a conspiracy theory, a cabal of rich benefactors and political zealots who collude to reinterpret the American Constitution. 

The principals of this conspiracy are the Koch brothers based on a theory grounded on an interpretation of von Mises’ economics. 

Ludwig von Mise’s economic theory is artfully resurrected by the economist James Buchanan, modified by Friedrich Hayek, and reinforced by Milton Friedman.

Buchanan’s fundamental argument is that free enterprise should be free. He argues that the profit motive outweighs the negative consequence of social inequity by offering equal opportunity.

In Buchanan’s opinion, the only purpose of government is to provide for the common defense of the country. Education should be financed by private ownership of schools. Buchanan argues government financing of social service interferes with the benefits of a free market.

Buchanan reinforces a Spencerian belief in a “survival of the fittest”, a beggar thy neighbor distortion of Darwinian evolution. MacLean suggests the Koch brothers adopt Buchanan’s economic theory and implement it through clandestine proselytizing of others, and financial support for candidates who will vote for maximal unregulated free enterprise.

Herbert Spencer (1820-1903) conflates Darwinian evolution with free enterprise.

MacLean points to the folly of Buchanan’s economic policy in his consultation with President Augusto Pinochet in Chile. Buchanan recommends creation of a constitution that establishes and enforces Buchanan’s free-enterprise theories that forbade trade unions and encourage privatized social security. Unlike America, Pinochet’s free-enterprise government had no checks and balances.

Augusto Pinochet (Junta leader, military Commander and Chief, and then President of Chile from 1974-1990, died in 2006.)

With military oversight and control, Pinochet’s government victimized its citizens in the guise of a government that supposedly embraced libertarian free-enterprise. In fact, Pinochet’s constitutional government enriched a small minority and victimized (both economically and physically) the majority of the Chilean population.

Ludwig von Mises, an economics professor of the Austrian school, is the teacher of Friedrich Hayek.  MacLean reviews papers written by James Buchanan who endorses von Mises economic theory; without any acknowledgement of Hayek’s tempering of von Mises’ “no quarter” for the poor or disabled.  Buchanan becomes a theorist who motivates the Koch brothers to spend millions of dollars to undermine Government regulation of free enterprise.

MacLean explains how the Koch brothers create a non-profit foundation to elect Senators and Representatives to undermine unionization, government support of public health, public education, social security, and other public services supported by government tax dollars.  This cabal is formed in the 1960s, particularly after Johnson’s “Great Society” movement.  The cabal is built on belief that health, education, and welfare are best served by free enterprise, not government programs.

MacLean notes how this cabal fights increased taxes on the rich to pay for public services that subsidized public health, education, and welfare.  Buchanan identifies federal taxes as a form of confiscatory government action, tantamount to a tyranny of the majority over a rich minority.

The cabals’ argument is that private enterprise is the real engine of improved public health, education, and welfare for all Americans. Their supporting evidence is the rising wealth of the economy, and the general health of the American population. 

The “libertarian” Koch followers imply the gap between rich and poor is a motivation for climbing the ladder of American opportunity.

Though MacLean labels this cabal as Libertarian in motive, it hides behind a cloak of Republicanism. MacLean argues that Republicans who fight this secret organization either change their tune or lose their public office.  Her evidence is Republicans who have lost their seat in Congress, like John Boehner, or switched their tune, like Orrin Hatch, who retired after 42 years as a Republican Senator from Utah.

Putting aside labels, “Democracy in Chains” is simply about self-interest.  Human nature is to seek one’s own interest whatever one’s political or economic label.  Until self-interest becomes care for all Americans, there will be opposition to government tax dollars for public health, education, and welfare.

MacLean implies American Democracy is chained by the self-interest of the rich and industry lobbyists who feed the electoral process. The issue of government competence is deeply affected by dollars spent by corporations and the rich to elect sycophants.

The election process in America needs reform.    Government competence in providing public welfare is distorted by lobbyists pursuing their own agenda. 

Only competent government can deal with the complex causes of homelessness, a failing public education system, international conflict, pandemics, and environmental disasters.

When homelessness, poor education, crime, a pandemic, or physical disaster directly affects the self-interest of the many, even the …Radical Right…will turn to government for help. 

An irony of MacLean’s labeling of the Koch cabal is Donald Trump’s election as the President of the United States.

Trump is his own label, neither Republican, conservative, libertarian, or liberal, but he is a product of the Koch brothers’ division of the Republican party.

Trump’s veto of Congress’s approval of a Defense bill and Covid19 relief reflect the temper tantrum of an eight year old.

Trump’s life may be spared by the experimental medicine he has been given. His response is “don’t be afraid” of Covid19. Whether he lives or dies, all people should be afraid.

Trump is a carnival barker trying to attract patrons to an entertainment venue. He has no particular philosophical underpinning. That may explain why he became the President of the United States. America has lost its way.

Toward the end of MacLean’s book, the libertarian attack on social security is shown as a penultimate example of the threat of ideas in the United States. The irony of that statement is that the U.S. is a monumental beneficiary of ideas in its Constitution.

MacLean explains how Buchanan recognizes how social security in the United States is an election killer for anyone who argues it should be privatized. Buchanan, and presumably the Kochs and their followers, devise a scheme to split the electorate that supports social security.

  • Co-opt those nearing retirement by making them exempt from any changes in the social security benefit.
  • Offer IRA’s as an attractive alternative to government subsidized social security.
  • Enlist the finance industry into a campaign for privatization of social security as a benefit to them for more private investment through their investment houses.
  • Emphasize the frail financial viability of social security for the younger generation by suggesting it will go bankrupt before they are eligible.
  • Explain the potential for increase in taxes on the rich to maintain social security when now their contribution is limited to the same payroll contribution as the poor and middle class.

If this divide and conquer scheme works, opposition to privatization of social security becomes less of a problem for “libertarians” who wish to be elected. The principle of divide and conquer exemplifies a nation founded on self-interest. To true believers-everyone needs to fend for themselves. Only the strong (the relatively rich, and/or clever) will survive in Buchanan’s world.

As Supreme Court’ Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “Taxes are what we pay for a civilized society.”  That may be liberal jargon, but private enterprise would have foundered, and society would have been less civil without checks and balances written into the Constitution.  MacLean makes a strong case for reducing corporate influence in the American electoral process.

Music, Opera, and History

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Music as a Mirror of History

By: Robert Greenberg

Narrated by Robert Greenberg

Robert Greenberg (American composer, pianist, and musicologist.)

Robert Greenberg offers an introduction to the history of classical music and opera. Its appeal is to a wide audience of dilettantes that know a little but not a lot about anything. Greenberg argues classical music’ and opera’ composition is a creation of its time. (Undoubtedly true of all music and theatre.) 

However, Greenberg supports his argument with a fascinating critique of classical composers and events of history that influence composers’ work. Greenberg argues that one can better understand classical “Music as a Mirror of History”.

In reflecting on the history of music, Greenberg offers his perception of the era in which music is composed. He makes wry comments about each era with the hindsight of an obviously well-read consumer of history. At the same time, Greenberg offers expert analysis of classical music and its composers. With snippets of each composer’s work, an Audiobook is a perfect venue for his presentation.

English religion wavered back and forth between Roman Catholicism’s control by the Pope and the Church of England’s control by the King of England. English King Henry the VIII demands control of Catholicism (particularly the church’s land assets and taxes collected on those assets).

After two failed royals (after King Henry VIII’s death), Elizabeth stabilizes England’s governance. She reigns from 1558-1603. Greenberg explains the many challenges facing Queen Elizabeth before she gains the throne.

Greenberg notes Queen Elizabeth’s reign is a perceived golden era, in spite of the squalor of 16th century London living.

Greenberg notes that Queen Elizabeth is the first English monarch, after two predecessors, to sustain Henry VIII’s Church of England. With Queen Elizabeth’s reign, the King, not the Pope, controls the role of Catholicism in England.

Greenberg begins by explaining how madrigals reflect the myths of nationalism. He defines a madrigal as a song for several voices, without instrumental accompaniment. Madrigals began in the 14th century in Italy but Greenberg introduces Thomas Morley, a composer in the 16th century.

Thomas Morley’s Piaine and Easie Introduction to Practicall Musicke (1557)

Morley is a 16th century composer. He composes a madrigal to Elizabeth I. As is typical of this form of music, it idealizes England’s suzerainty and Elizabeth’s reign as Queen of England.

Greenberg moves on to the 18th century. He introduces George Frideric Handel. Though Handel is German, he chooses to move to London, after successfully touring Italy. Greenberg notes Handel tells his Prussian patron (King Frederick I) that his sojourn to London is only temporary, but Handel’s intent is to stay.

George Frideric Handel (1685-1959)

King Frederick I of Prussia (1657-1713)

Handel persuades the King of Prussia to allow him to stay in England by dedicating the three suites of “The Water Music” to him.

Ironically, Handel becomes renowned in London for his “Water Music”, even though its dedicated to a foreign monarch. Greenberg offers a snippet of the 1717 “Water Music” which makes one interested in hearing more.

Handel composes the opera Rinaldo that makes him the toast of London in 1719. His most famous work is “Messiah”, an oratorio (an orchestra and voices production) composed in 1741. He becomes an English citizen in 1727, goes blind in 1751, and dies in London, in 1759.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

Moving on, Greenberg introduces Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. As one may remember from the movie, Mozart is a phenom with an unusual predilection for risqué ideas. Greenberg notes this is the time of the rise of the Ottoman empire.

Turkish influence is widely adopted in the late 18th century.  Mozart capitalizes on its popularity with the opera called “The Abduction from the Harem”. In spite of Mozart’s introduction of Turkish influence in music, Greenberg explains Mozart is fatally affected by the rise of the Ottoman empire because of its economic impact on Europe.

Mozart falls ill in Prague and dies in poverty in Vienna, at the age of 35. Greenberg suggests Mozart brings Turkish influence into opera’s mainstream with the Ottoman Empire’s expansion.

Greenberg reflects on the Napoleonic era and its affect on Haydn and Beethoven who were great composers of their time, and ours. Greenberg’s characterization of these composer’s view Napoleon with “ambivalence”.

Napoleon began his conquests with an image as liberator (from religious persecution, royalty, and social inequality), but when he crowned himself as Emperor, many felt betrayed. The betrayal was Napoleon’s pact with the Roman Catholic Church and his assumption of the throne as Emperor of France.

As Austrians, both Haydn and Beethoven reviled Napoleon’s royal ascension. Haydn composed “Mass in the Time of War” that memorialized Napoleon’s creation of a war machine that threatened Vienna.

Beethoven composed “Wellington’s Victory” in 1813 that became his most successful composition. Ironically, Greenberg suggests that “Wellington’s Victory” is one of Beethoven’s lesser musical achievements. He argues that Beethoven creates a bombastic rather than melodic tribute to the English general that defeated Napoleon at Waterloo.

This is only a small part of what Greenberg covers in this 24-lecture series. He analyzes Russian composers and their early disdain for European musical traditions. Greenberg observes Russia is shown to be a “…riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma”, as referred to by Winston Churchill.

Greenberg touches on the histories of the Straus family (a father and son who competed against each other), Brahms, Gottschalk (an American composer surprisingly unknown by many), Verdi, Wagner, Dvorak, Rimsky-Korsakov, Holst, Berg (who composed an opera reflecting on the madness of war), Shostakovich, Copland, Gorecki, and Crumb.

Wilhelm Richard Wagner (1813-1883, German composer, theatre director, polemicist, and conductor.)

Of interest is Greenberg’s analysis of Richard Wagner because of Wagner’s repugnant philosophy, but incredibly inventive and beautiful operas.

“The Ring of the Nibelung” reminds one of Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings”. Greenberg explains “The Ring…” is a critique of 19th century European society and its self-interested pursuit of capitalist wealth. Greenberg infers the subject is ironic because Wagner pursues wealth as diligently as any European of that era. The repugnant part is the horrendous and false accusations made against people of the Jewish faith by Wagner and his acolytes (one of which becomes Adolph Hitler).

Nickolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908, Russian composer.)

Of note is recognition of Rimsky-Korsakov as one of Opera’s greatest composers.

Greenberg notes that anti-European sentiment of earlier Russian composers is still present but Rimsky-Korsakov studies much of what is practiced by European composers. “The Golden Cockeral” is Rimsky-Korsakov’s last opera. It is based on a Pushkin’ poem but staged as a parody of the failure of Russian Royal’ leadership.

Tsar Nicholas II (1868-1918, assassinated by the Bolsheviks.)

To the Russian Tsar’s dismay, it is an opera that satirizes the autocracy of Russian imperialism and Russia’s inept war with Japan in 1904-05.

Greenberg shows Rimsky-Korsadov’s life as example of how current times mirror a composer’s work. Tsar Nicholas II is not pleased with “The Golden Cockeral”. Rimsky-Korsakov retires, but one wonders if his last opera is not a forewarning of 1917.

(Greenberg notes that Rimsky-Korsakov draws some of his operatic ideas from fairy tales).

One wonders what he could have composed if “Animal Farm” (published in 1945) had been written in his life time.

Greenberg finishes music’s mirror of history in the 1970s with a review of Gorecki and Crumb. This is an enlightening tour of classical music. It offers many reasons for modern audiences to attend symphony and opera performances.

RUSSIAN ESPIONAGE

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

In the Enemy’s House (The Secret Saga of the FBI Agent and the Code Breaker Who Caught the Russian Spies

By: Howard Blum

Narrated by David Colacci

Howard Blum (American author and former reporter for NYT and The Village Voice)

Howard Blum offers some clarity and historical perspective on the infamous Rosenberg spy case.  One might argue it is as much a revision of history as a clarification.  Blum accesses historical files not available in the past to write this book. 

These files explain how a Russian spy network was set up, who the agents were, why and how American collaborators were recruited, and the way information was transmitted.

Though the Rosenberg’s may be guilty of espionage, their motive appeared ideological, not economic.  Blum raised the question whether the Rosenberg’s betrayal of America warranted execution.

“In the Enemy’s House” reveals some facts about the halcyon days of the FBI.  A listener finds how FBI agents are chosen, the internecine conflicts that occur when investigations go awry, and how difficult it is to live an agent’s life.

FBI agents are chosen from the general public.  Some may be highly educated, others less so, but all are patriotic, loyal, and committed to American ideals and pursuit of truth.  They are subject to judgement errors in their personal lives, their suspect’s lives, and in their understanding of the truth. They, like all human beings, make mistakes. 

Expertise in the field for FBI agents varies.  The example is in the way suspects are followed, how long suspects are tracked, and how suspects are questioned.  As in all life’s endeavors, some are better than others in doing their jobs.

The isolation of agents and the long hours of suspect’ investigations have an impact on personal lives.  Like police work in general, stress is put on family relationships.  In the era the author covers, being married makes a wife a potential liability because of inadvertent disclosure of classified information.  Blum notes that Robert Lamphere, the principle agent in the story, is personally warned by Herbert Hoover about disclosure risks because of marriage’ intimacy.

Robert J. Lamphere (1918-2002, FBI Agent.)

Lamphere joined in 1941.  In 1945, he is assigned to the Washington, DC office to investigate Soviet atomic espionage, particularly regarding the Manhattan Project.  In 1947 he is assigned to supervise Soviet code breaking and is introduced to Meredith Gardner, who is considered by many to be a linguistic genius. 

Meredith Gardner (working among mostly women in the cryptographic Arlington bldg) provides leads to the FBI that reveal two of the most famous names in communist espionage history, the Rosenberg’s, and Karl Fuchs. Gardner dies in 2002.

A looming issue in Blum’s history is the decision to execute the Rosenberg’s for spying for the Russians.  Blum tells the story of an FBI investigation of Russian espionage, code name Venona.  Russia’s spy network recruited western scientists and ideological converts who believed communism is the future.

Blum describes “Operation Enormoz” as a Russian spy network that recruited Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, and Karl Fuchs to pass information about the nuclear bomb to agents of the U.S.S.R.

The judge in the Rosenberg case warranted execution for both Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. The judge reasoned, with the advent of the Korean war and communist China’s invasion of the northern peninsula, the Rosenberg’s gave license to Americans who might betray their country.

Irving Robert Kaufman (1910-1992–Presiding judge in the Ethel and Julius Rosenberg case.)

Blum infers, even if that judgement is correct, the facts revealed in his book suggest Ethel Rosenberg was not an active participate in her husband’s betrayal of America.  Blum’s research shows deciphered encryption from Russian messages show Ethel Rosenberg did not participate in the spying activity of her husband. 

An FBI agent and a brilliant linguist expose the Russian spy network in America by deciphering coded messages. The agent and linguist could not provide evidence that might have exonerated Mrs. Rosenberg because the Russians did not know their coded messages had been cracked.  If the evidence the FBI agent had were revealed, America would have lost a critical source of intelligence.

One of the greatest surprises in Blum’s book is that the spy network that led to Stalin’s atomic bomb has little to do with financial bribery.  It had more to do with the success of communist propaganda. 

In the internet age, Russia’s success in the 1940s suggests how dangerous Russian interference in American elections is in the 21st century.

Blum touches on growing communist hysteria gripping America after the war.  As history books reveal, Stalin tries to thread a needle by entering an alliance with Germany to expand the Russian empire and avoid a ground war with Germany. 

Stalin realizes his mistake in 1941 when Germany invades the U.S.S.R. Stalin is compelled to join the Allied Powers against Germany.  Both Americans and Brits are suspicious of Stalin. However, Stalin’s change in sides becomes critical to the outcome of the war. 

The Russian army is the only effective fighting force on the eastern front.  Russia is estimated to have lost 16,825,000 civilians and soldiers in WWII.   The WWII’ casualty estimate (both Allied and Axis powers) is 60,000,000.  If these estimates are correct, over 20% of WWII casualties were U.S.S.R. soldiers and citizens. 

By any measure, the eastern front and Russia’s fight with the Germans was critical to Allied success in WWII.

Some Americans were sympathetic to the ideological goals of Russian communism.  The truth of Stalin’s Russian gulags and the KGB were generally unknown to many Americans before, during, and immediately after the war.

Some civilians were seduced by communist propaganda to become tools of a Russian spy network.  Blum recounts the two most notorious Russian spy’ incidents.  Blum tells the story of the discovery and prosecution of the Rosenberg’s and an British scientist named Karl Fuchs.

Klaus Fuchs (1911-1988, served nine years in prison for providing theoretical information on nuclear weapons to Russia in the 1940s.)

America’s realization of the Russian spy network’s existence became widely confirmed with Russia’s detonation of its first atomic bomb in 1949.  This is during the McCarthy era when Russian spies were alleged to be under every bed and in every government agency. 

Joseph McCarthy (Republican Wisconsin Senator who fanned the flames of communist infiltration in America).

President Truman initially did not believe the Russian’s had the scientific capability to create the bomb. 

But the facts prove otherwise.  In one sense Truman may have been right.  Russia’s atomic bomb success does not strictly come from Russian scientists. Stalin creates a world wide spy network to steal other countries’ scientific work. 

Daniel Patrick Moynihan (1927-2003, NY State Senator)

Blum notes that Patrick Moynihan said Russian scientists, with German expatriate help, would have discovered the bomb anyway.  

The point is science is a universal pursuit.  (After all, America used Wernher Von Braun to accelerate experiments in rocketry that led to America’s moon landing in 1969. This is the Von Braun who created Nazi Germany’s V-2 rocket program that terrorized London.)  

What is surprising to America is a nuclear detonation by Russia, only four years after Hiroshima.  Blum suggests Russia could not have done it in such a short time without stealing American and British scientist’s work.  On the other hand, Blum infers Russia would eventually succeed in creating a nuclear bomb, without stolen scientific documents. 

As most will recall, trade secrets have always been an issue in international trade.  In the past, Japanese, South Koreans, and now Chinese are accused of stealing American trade secrets.  Of course, weapons of mass destruction are a more serious threat, but the principle is the same.  

All nations seek economic and social advantage, with science as a universal pursuit.

“In the Enemy’s House”, there is a nagging feeling that execution of the Rosenberg’s was wrong. The inference is that if all the facts were known, the Rosenberg’s execution would have been commuted to a term in prison. Blum’s argument is not particularly compelling when taken out of the context of its time. However, considering no one else was executed for treason in the Venona investigation, the Rosenberg execution seems unjust.

AMERICAN TRIBALISM

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The Red and the Blue (The 1990s and the Birth of Political Tribalism)

By: Steve Kornacki

Narrated by Steve Kornacki, Ron Butler

Steve Kornacki (American political journalist and correspondent for NBC News.)

Steve Kornacki identifies the source of 21st century political tribalism in his book, “The Red and the Blue”.  

Political tribalism is not new.  Political tribalism shows itself many times in history. Tribalism is shown in the early days of political party formation, in the American Civil War, in the South’s reconstruction after the Civil War, and in the 1929 depression’s aftermath. Though Lindsay Graham has been wrong in pandering to Trump, he seems right to vote against trial of Trump in the Senate.

As reprehensible as Trump’s actions were on January 6, 2021, impeachment seems an inappropriate way of addressing political tribalism represented by misinformed and misled Trump supporters.

Granted, the twenty first century is not the eighteenth. The #internet and its wide open falsehoods unquestionably mislead the public. But, 70,000,000 Trump2020 Americans act on what they believe is truth. Most are not criminals. Trump will be punished by history and a state judicial system that will prove his guilt for crimes as an dishonest human being and business man.

In the late 18th century, it was the Federalist Party versus the Democratic-Republican Party.  Alexander Hamilton’s tribe is the Federalist’ party.  Thomas Jefferson’s tribe is the Democratic-Republican’ party.  Hamilton’s tribe insists on a strong central government.  Jefferson’s tribe insists on State’s rights. 

In the Civil War, the stage is set for the northern state’s political tribe (largely Republican) versus the southern state’s political tribe (largely Democrat).  In some sense it is a continuation of the two tribes represented by Hamilton and Jefferson.  The respective leaders of the northern and southern tribes are Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis.

During the Franklin Roosevelt years, the followers of Herbert Hoover headed the Republican tribe, rallying against Roosevelt’s National Industrial Recovery Act.

The vituperative relationship between earlier political tribes was as vicious then as it is now. What Kornacki tells us in “The Red and the Blue” tribalism is revivified, if not reborn, in the 1980 s and is playing out in today’s America. 

Of course, tribalism in America goes beyond political parties.  Tribalism exists in the long history of American discrimination. Kornack touches on that reality with his recollection of Jessie Jackson’s 1984 and ’88 presidential campaigns.

Discrimination is a tribal conflict.  It is not exclusively held by any political party but by a cultural divide. 

Murder and isolation of Indians, and slavery are the most egregious examples of cultural tribalism in American history.  That conflict is seen when a tribe with political power discriminates against another.  Indians, blacks, Italians, Japanese, Hispanics, and Indians (not to mention various religions) have experienced tribal discrimination because of their weaker political power.

In America, the tradition of slavery began in mid-17th century.  Indian discrimination dates to the American revolution and reaches a peak with President Andrew Jackson’s enforced “Trail of Tears”.

Donald Trump and Andrew Jackson are polarizing political figures that drink from the same trough. They reflect the tribalism of both Red and Blue political power brokers against minorities. 

Trump’s attack is disingenuous chest thumping that is being supported by Republicans and sycophants hoping to receive some of the public contributions received by the Trump campaign to overturn the election.

Andrew Jackson is the Father of the spoils system in which the president uses his power and position to appoint civil servants. 

Trump is a “spoils to the victor” and “loyalty above all else” President. Jackson, like Trump, appoints civil servants based on loyalty to the President, without necessary qualification.  To Trump and Jackson, the goal is to win, and when they win, they expect all who report to them to be loyal to their President. Trump and Jackson consider themselves Kings in their roles as Presidents. Neither defer to Congress, or the Judiciary.  They use their power and position to prove their “royalty”. 

Sexual discrimination is the oldest tribal conflict of all.  It is shown in the beginning of recorded history, and undoubtedly began with humanities’ dawn. 

The 20th and 21st century exemplars of sexual tribalism are the behaviors of Clinton and Trump.  Kornaki’s book reminds listeners of Paula Jones. Her story is no less reprehensible than Trump’s dalliance with Stormy Daniels when his wife is pregnant. Many men use power and position to disrespect women. Men’s reasons are many but the consequence reinforces the world’s history of gender inequality.

What is striking about “The Red and the Blue” is its political spin.  Living through the years of which Kornaki writes, one is struck by how much one forgets.  From Kornaki’s reminder of Clinton’s caricature as “Slick Willie”–to his conclusion that Newt Gingrich is the source of 21st century tribalism–to Patrick Buchanan’s “make America Great Again” campaign—to Ross Perot’s “Bloomberg like” pitch for the presidency, Kornacki’s reminders are revelatory.

Clinton seems heir to Franklin Roosevelt, while Trump seems heir to Andrew Jackson.  (This is a personal observation; not Kornaki’s suggestion.)  Clinton is a dissembler, like Roosevelt.  Clinton and Roosevelt knew what they wanted and pursued it through manipulation of legislators, either by the clever use of words or through the power of office. 

Bill Clinton (42nd President of the Untied States.)

Clinton understands politics and how to translate the will of Washington’s Red and Blue tribal leaders. 

In contrast, Trump bulls his way through the Presidency. Trump bypasses, intimidates, or co-opts Washington’s Red and Blue leaders. 

One realizes after listening to Kornaki’s book, Clinton is twin to Trump in respect to moral turpitude.  However. Clinton is a cleverer and more effective President.  Trump, like Perot, finds politics is not for sissies. History shows politics cannot be separated from governance. Neither Trump or Perot understand politics.

Kornaki reflects on Clinton’s rise to the presidency.  Kornaki shows how politically astute Clinton is in dealing with the scrutiny of candidates for public office.  Kornaki artfully illustrates the era by recalling the details of Reagan’s appeal and defeat of Mondale, the weakness of the Dukakis’s campaign, Jesse Jackson’s misreading of Clinton, Patrick Buchanan’s tribal speech at George H.W. Bushes second nomination, the Clinton “White Water” and Lewinski scandals, and other stories. Kornacki shows how the table is set for deep Red and Blue conflicts in the 21st century.  Kornacki explains how and why Bill Clinton defeats George H.W. Bush and Bob Dole despite Clinton’s disingenuous dodge of military service, extramarital affairs, budget crises, and ultimate impeachment. 

Clinton is considered by some to be the greatest politician of the 20th century.  His intelligence, charisma, and ambition overcome personal sexual scandals, draft dodging accusations, Red and Blue tribal conflicts, and the tumultuous effects of minority discrimination. Despite all of his personal challenges, Clinton manages to become a two term President.

The national debt grew to over 1.4 trillion dollars during the Reagan years. After the election of George H.W. Bush, the deficit remained high which led Bush to raise taxes when he has said “read my lips-no new taxes”. That and Clinton’s political skill derailed Bush’s election for a second term. Some would argue America prospered under Clinton.

“The Red and the Blue” is not about the birth of tribalism.  Trump shows himself to be an inept politician. The emperor has no clothes. To overcome tribalism, American leaders must have political skill.

In the foreseeable future, tribes will exist. Steve Kornacki shows America is a Red and Blue nation disrupted by political tribalism.  It is its strength and its weakness.  Politics is the art of getting things done despite tribal differences.  What is needed in America is a leader who can bridge tribal differences.

Democrats believe Joe Biden is the person to bridge tribal differences. Republicans seem not to care and continue to support President Trump.

The only way forward is through politics (the activities associated with the governance of a country).

EGYPTS REVOLUTION

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The Buried-An Archaeology of the Egyptian Revolution

By: Peter Hessler

Narrated by Peter Hessler

Peter Hessler (American Author, and journalist.)

Peter Hessler chooses to move from China to Egypt just before the 2011 Egyptian revolution.  He, his wife, and twin newborns live in Egypt for five years.

Hessler worked for The New Yorker as a staff writer from 2000 to 2007 and became the magazine’s correspondent for China from 2011 to 2016. 

Hessler looks at Egypt through the eyes of an American who lived in both China and Egypt as a reporter.  His perspective melds Chinese and American acculturation with interesting incite to Egypt’s history, language, and politics.

Egypt is a fascinating country for anyone who has visited or read about its ancient civilizations.  With brief comments about Egypt’s historic monuments and museums, Hessler touches the culture of modern Egypt. 

Hessler notes the extraordinary ability of Egyptians to hold two opposing thoughts and adjust behavior to accommodate both beliefs.  On the one hand, there is a sense of “let it be” when minor or major events occur in the lives of modern Egyptians.  On the other, there is a history of autocratic Egyptian rulers who insist on strict control of society.   In view of the many non-Egyptian’ governments after the Pharohs, it comes as no surprise that Egyptians are adaptive.

Sadat, Mubarak, & Nasser were military dictators before the election of Morsi who is deposed in the revolution by today’s military leader, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

Hessler comments on the ability of Egyptians to learn languages at varying ages of maturity.  Language skill is the lingua franca of the ability to adapt. 

From ancient times of the Assyrians, Persians, and Greeks; to more modern times of the Ottomans and British–Egypt remains Egyptian despite their adaptability.

Hessler offers an understanding of Egypt through the eyes of its citizens.  He recounts the tumultuous relationship of an entrepreneurial garbage collector and his wife.  The garbage collector is illiterate.  His wife can read and write.

The garbage collector is in his 30s when he marries his 18-year-old wife.  Their marriage leads to three and then four children.  The garbage collector is exiled from his children with the threat of divorce initiated by his conservative wife.  His wife follows Egyptian culture in covering her face but rejects some of the discriminatory aspects of a patriarchal society.

Hessler’s garbage collector is a great source of information about Egyptian culture because of the details he knows of other lives based on what Egypt’s citizens throw away.  The collector is scrupulously honest about the garbage he collects.  When he finds something in the trash that has value he returns to his customer.  It is a matter of pride; stoked by belief in a cosmic or religious wheel in his mind that tells him what is right.  However, the wheel seems to stop when it comes to relationship with his wife and children.  This leads to what Hessler suggests is a fundamental flaw in modern Egypt; i.e. women’s inequality. 

Because the collector’s wife knows how to read and write, she files an appeal to the court to strip her husband of his house and property.  She files for divorce but recants after finding the consequence of such action would make her and her children destitute.

Surprisingly, their tumultuous relationship becomes less combative as their life together matures. Their personal trials seem a paradigm of Egypt’s “let it be” and autocratic culture.

Hessler reports on the ponderous, corrupt justice system that both aids and thwarts the intentions of married couples seeking help.

Women are discriminated against based on their sex in Egypt. 

Women are raised to believe their role in life is to have and raise children, and take care of their husbands and families.  Girls are not afforded the same educational opportunities as men.  Women are expected to sacrifice their entrepreneurial right to a job when they are married.  Hessler notes female children are routinely genitally mutilated. This is a tradition based on a belief that sexual pleasure and desire are a threat to society. Hessler compares the torture of genital mutilation to the Chinese tradition of binding women’s feet.

Hessler compares Chinese with Egyptian culture to expose the consequence of sex discrimination.  The potential of women’s contribution to the economy in Egypt is eviscerated by its culture of discrimination.

In an adults most productive years, Egyptian housewives cannot work for pay outside of the home.  If a woman has a good job, she is expected to relinquish it when she is married.  In contrast, Chinese women are full participants in the economy.

 

Parenthetically, Hessler notes Egyptian homosexuals are persecuted for their sexual preference.  The irony of that homosexual persecution is in Egypt’s patriarchal culture that discourages social contact between the sexes.  Putting aside genetic predisposition, without social contact with women, male relationships become the only acceptable form of intimate relations.

Egypt’s demonstration against a crackdown on LGBT’ rights.

Hessler’s book is interesting because of his firsthand knowledge of the revolution that removes Morsi from the Egyptian Presidency.  In many conversations with Egyptian residents, Hessler notes the weakness of the Brotherhood in Egypt; both in number and in qualification for political leadership. 

Hessler contrasts the military with the Muslim religion of the Brotherhood.  The military has a long history in modern Egypt.  The tradition of strong leaders has an even longer history.  The Brotherhood is characterized by strong leaders who only press religion; without understanding the nature of society that desires order, safety, and economic opportunity. Order, safety, and economic opportunity are a “good despot’s” alleged intent.

Mohammed Morsi (Fifth President of Egypt for 1 year until removed from office by General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Morsi dies of a heart attack in 2019.)

Hessler shows the Brotherhood as an association of religious believers that have little organizational skill.  They are not educated to lead.  They are educated to worship.  That educational limitation exhibits itself in Morsi’s weak government.  Egypt flounders economically with the election of Morsi.  One can argue it is still floundering under el-Sisi but Hessler shows the military is more prepared to lead based on the tenants of worldly desire rather than religious worship.

Egyptian Brotherhood Rally

(In a population of 80,000,000, there are an estimated 600,000 dues paying members of the Brotherhood; of which 100,000 are considered militant.)

Hessler explains there are many conspiracy theories surrounding the Brotherhood’s influence in Egypt. Their small numbers and inept management skill seem unlikely to create a successful uprising in Egypt. The Brotherhood’s revolutionary impact seems symbolic more than real. However, one realizes Russian Bolsheviks were a small minority in 1917.

Abdel Fattah el-Sisi (Current President of Egypt)

Hessler notes that el-Sisi’s popularity is diminished by missteps in funding infrastructure improvements at the expense of more direct economic need.  He cites the expansion of the Suez Canal as an example of a prudent long-term aid to the economy but a neglect of medical services, justice reform, and housing needs for today’s general population.

There is also the issue of repression by el-Sisi.  Hessler recalls the incident of a tortured, and then killed, foreign student that criticizes the current government.  The author notes that el-Sisi’s defenders suggest the murder was an accident caused by young and inexperienced supporters of el-Sisi. 

In recalling my personal trip to Egypt in 2019, the Brotherhood is a big concern of the government. Tourism is a big industry for Egypt. That industry nearly dies with the election of Morsi. Some Egyptians feel something is getting done with el-Sisi; while no economic progress happened with Morsi.

Hessler offers a glimpse of the hardship Egypt faces in the 21st century.  His observations are at a local level of Egyptian society; not at the obscure level of a thirty-day tourist.  Time will tell if el-Sisi is the answer to Egypt’s failing economy. 

Sisi is acknowledged by Hessler as a good communicator.  Sisi is truly an Egyptian focusing on his perception of what Egypt needs now; not the religious salvation of the eternal.  The biggest criticism of Egypt’s leadership in Hessler’s book is the unequal treatment of women.  There seems no action taken by el-Sisi to address that reality. One wonders if the economy is likely to grow quickly enough to avoid another revolution without gender discrimination reform.

BULLY OF THE WORLD

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The Accidental Superpower

By: Peter Zeihan

Narrated by Peter Zeihan

Peter Zeihan (Author, American geopolitical strategist)

“The Accidental Superpower” is a wild ride.  Peter Zeihan is a geopolitical strategist and futurist who argues that geography is destiny.  His prognosis for America is perversely positive.

Zeihan suggests America is in the “cat bird” seat for this and the next (yet to be born) generation.  The “cat bird” seat implies a superior position of survival in a world headed toward crises.

“The Accidental Superpower” is a cautionary tale that suggests the tail will wag the dog. 

If America’s current actions and future intent is to abandon Bretton Woods’ history, then Zeihan implies wars will continue, famine and pestilence proliferate, millions will die, and self-interest will be humanities’ only interest.  In the era of Trump, Zeihan shows the reach and potential of bullies in the world. 

Zeihan builds a credible and terrifying argument.  The Bretton Woods Agreement was created in 1944.  Its purpose was to set up a system of rules to ensure economic stability around the world.  Zeihan notes that America has steadily abandoned the principle of Bretton Woods since 1973 when the U.S. suspended the gold standard for the American dollar. 

It is not to suggest that the gold standard should be re-instituted but that the American dollar became the new standard for world economies.  In part, because the basis for economic wealth became the American dollar.

The American dollar gives the United States an outsize influence in the world. That influence is reinforced by an unparalleled military/industrial complex.

The resources of America became a primary standard for economic stability in the world.  Zeihan argues the legitimacy of Bretton Woods is replaced by the geographic existence of the United States.  America is bordered by two oceans, blessed with an internal river transport system, natural energy resources (including Shale oil which makes the U.S. oil independent), a replenishing labor force (supplemented by immigration), and economic growth. Therein, Zeihan explains America is capable of ignoring the rest of the world.  

This is a disturbing view of realpolitik.  It opens the door to an America dreamed of by ignorant nationalist like the past President of the United States. Zeihan infers the United States can be the bully of the world because of its military superiority, wealth, and geographic isolation. 

Empathy is an essential characteristic missing from a nationalist credo that believes it is “my way or the highway”. With a belief system based on “self-interest”, and the mantra of philosophers like Ayn Rand, the world seems destined to destroy itself. 

The question is — Will President Biden’s more supportive view of American government and empathetic support for the poor and lower middle class really change Zeihan’s perverse view of the world’s future? Zeihan infers no American President, whether empathetic or uncaring, will make much difference.

Zeihan supports his future predictions with a logic borne from geographic facts, history, and philosophical belief.  Zeihan’s perception of the world’s future creates fear and trembling in any who choose to believe it.

A few of Zeihan’s predictions are:

  1. China will not grow to be a superpower and will follow the path of Japan with an aging population that cannot maintain its economic growth.  The diverse nature of its population is hidden by the false belief that the Han people are of one mind.  Internal dissension will rise.  China is subject to river flooding and hemmed in by mountains and narrow waterways.
  2. Russia will covet the land of other nations because of an economy that rests on dwindling natural resources, a harsh environment, and lack of international trading ports.  The Tatar and Chechen populations will continue to plague consolidation of power in Russia.
  3. South African nations will suffer from starvation because of its lack of arable land.  Angola is one of the few African nations that may escape that fate because of its fertile land and young population.
  4. The European Union will fail because of nationalism, a lack of a viable common currency, and its failure to consolidate political power.
  5. Great Britain will become more dependent on the U.S. for trade and survival.
  6. Turkey will strengthen its influence and control over the Middle East through military strength and a young and growing population.
  7. Uzbekistan will become a more powerful independent nation because of its relatively young population and abundant clean energy (largely from hydroelectricity).
  8. Australia and New Zealand will prosper because of its vibrant agricultural economies, and ocean-bound isolation.
  9. Saudi Arabia will fail as an economic powerhouse because of its dependence on foreign labor for all industrial development. Saudi citizens are minor participants in the labor market, and unprepared to compete in an industrialized world.
  10. Iran is demographically young but burdened by an arid climate.  Its religious intolerance will be an impediment to economic growth.
  11. Spain, Portugal, and Italy are vulnerable to outside influence, inflation, high unemployment, and growing economic weakness.
  12. Germany may once again rise as a belligerent state because of its need to expand to continue its economic growth.  Its driven and well educated population reinforces industrial and technological growth.
  13. Canada will become a failed nation because of its aging demographics and diverse population.  Failure will only be abated by its relationship with the U.S.  Zeihan suggests Alberta should consider becoming part of the U.S. because of its one industry dependence (oil).
  14. The relationship between Mexico and the U.S. will improve because of proximity and mutual trade benefits.  The drug war will continue and perversely improve the Mexican economy. Drug war areas will be isolated to narrow parts of the country.
  15. Climate change is real, but its impact will be mitigated in the U.S. with hardening infrastructure in coastal cities that will mitigate or abate flooding.  Most of Florida will disappear under water.  Many island archipelagos will also disappear.
  16. Pakistan’s diverse population will continue to disrupt political control of the country.  Its conflict with India will continue despite diminishing financial support from the U.S.
  17. India’s economy will suffer from environmental degradation.

In conclusion, Zeihan suggests America will remain a superpower with outsize influence on the success or failure of other nations. 

A caveat might be America may become the bully of the world; at least until a nuclear war or accident decimates the environment. 

There is good reason to have fear and trembling for this world’s future if “self-interest” is the only criteria for well-being.