SPHERES OF INFLUENCE

Audio-book Revie
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Destined for War (Can America and China Escape Thucydides’s Trap?

By: Graham Allison

Narrated by Richard Ferrone

Graham Allison (Author, American political scientist, Professor of Government at Harvard.)

Allison briefly reviews the history of war to reinforce an argument about its causes.  He suggests wars come from the rise of competing hegemonic powers. A quibble one may have with Allison’s argument is that it diminishes reasons beyond power that led to WWII. The rise of Hitler may not have occurred if reparations for WWI had not been excessive.  However, his main point is that cultural differences are seeds from which power and conflict grows.  Allison suggests, when nation-state’ cultures are different, countries competing for political and economic power incline toward war. He gives many relevant and convincing examples.

Graham Allison suggests the cause of war is defined by Thucydides (Greek Historian of the Pelopnnnesian War, Born 460-455 B.C., Died 400 B.C.) in the fifth century BC. 

The “Thucydides’s trap” is when one country achieves a competitive level of political power it challenges existing hegemonic powers, leading to conflict and probable war. 

Allison argues that war is not inevitable but that to avoid it requires acceptance of spheres of influence.  This is not a new concept.  The terms “sphere of influence” became legally significant in the 1880s when Africa was being colonized by European countries.  It was meant to explain a colonizer’s political claim for exclusive control of a particular area of the world.

Allison notes that China’s Chairman Xi is, in a singular respect, the same as America’s Ex-President, Donald Trump.  That “sameness” is Xi’s goal of making China “Great Again”.  In no other respect, does Xi seem comparable to the bombastic Trump. 

Allison explains China is culturally unique based on its history, reaching back to 1600 B.C.  Like Ancient Egypt (3400-3200 B.C.), China is as culturally different as any nation-state in the world.  Allison offers a highly intelligent and informative analysis of how different Chinese culture is from American culture.

To avoid war, Allison argues America, the current hegemon of the world, must couch its political behavior and power in ways that acknowledge cultural difference between itself and rising hegemons of the world.

Allison recalls the history of England’s dealings with America after the 1776 revolution.  England reluctantly accepted America’s eventual rise to hegemon of the world. (Some would argue, England’s decision to remove itself from the European Union accelerates that decline.)

The United Kingdom’s economic, military, and political power (its sphere of influence) diminishes as America’s flourishes.  England remains a power in the world, but its sphere of influence steadily declines.

Russia struggles with their sphere of influence because of the collapse of the U.S.S.R.  In 2021-22 Russia may invade Ukraine, just as they did Crimea in 2014, to re-expand its sphere of influence.  Russia maneuvers to politically enlist China as an ally to accomplish that end. Putin undoubtedly cultivates China’s objection to America’s attempt to expand its sphere of influence in the far east.

The issues of Ukraine and Georgia are more precarious for Russia than the rest of the world. Putin’s demand to expand Russia’s sphere of influence renews a cold war that will inevitably become hot. The only question is where the heat will lie.

Robert Kagan reveals the fundamental mistake made by Putin in a May-June 2022 “Foreign Affairs” article. History reveals mistakes of great nations like France, Great Britain, Germany and Japan in thinking they could remain or become world hegemons by force.

Kagan’s point is Great Britain adjusted to its changed role from hegemon to a nation among nations. England prospered and maintained its integrity as an independent nation, capable of improving the lives of its people without falling on the sword of its hegemonic past.

Ukraine and Georgia will become Putin’s Vietnam. It is a war that can only be resolved at the expense of many Russian’, Ukrainian’, and Georgian’ soldier’s lives. The most other countries can do is support Ukrainian and Georgian resistance while pursuing a diplomatic solution that respects sovereign independence.

The inference one draws from Allison’s book is that America must recognize the cultural difference between itself and China to avoid war.  Like the United Kingdom, France, Spain, and other hegemons of world history, America must gradually adjust its behavior as a hegemon of the world.  America, like all hegemonic powers, effectively operates within a sphere of influence. America’s sphere of influence is being challenged in the Far East by China.

Allison’s view of the world gives weight to Putin’s great concern about Ukraine’s independence and implied wish to join NATO. The fear Putin has is a reminder of even Gorbachev’s opposition to western encroachment on eastern bloc independence.

The sense one draws from Allison’s insight about culture is that no country in history has ever treated its citizens equitably.  In America, the stain of slavery and native Indian displacement remain festering wounds.  When and if those wounds heal, America’s sphere of influence will either grow or diminish.  In China, it may be the wounds of Uighur discrimination and Han superiority that wounds its future as a hegemon.  In Afghanistan, the unfair treatment of women may doom its sphere of influence.  In Russia, it will be the mistakes Putin makes in violating the sovereignty of Ukraine and Georgia.

Every nation’s sphere of influence is affected by internal cultural errors and external cultural influences.  Only a state that adjusts to the demands of its culture will survive.  Culture is not exportable, but it has weight.  Foreign cultures can only be an influencer to other countries.  A culture imposed by force will fail as both America and France proved in Vietnam.  Cultural change must come from its own citizens as it did with the U.S.S.R. in 1991. 

Spheres of influence evolve.  They are not static. 

America’s goal should be to understand other cultures.  In that understanding, there must be acceptance of a competitor’s sphere of influence. Allison is not suggesting America withdraw from the world stage, but that engagement be along the lines of a containment strategy like that proposed by the former ambassador to Russia, George Kennan, in the 1950s.  Kennan’s long memorandum is born of an intimate understanding of Russian culture.

Allison argues America should pursue a policy of minimizing conflict while promoting democracy to citizens who seek freedom and equality. 

Allison recommends engagement with rising hegemonic powers with an eye on their respective cultures.  Allison argues, only with understanding of cultural difference is there a way to avoid Thucydides’ trap.

One cannot deny the economic success of China.  At the same time, anyone who has visited China in recent years knows of dissidents who object to communist monitoring and control of citizen freedom.  Tiananmen Square remains a rallying point for mainland China resistors.  Hong Kong continues to demonstrate against Xi’s influence on the lives of local business owners. Taiwan objects to Xi’s intent to repatriate their island country. Tibetans are denied their rights as followers of Buddhist belief.

In sum, one comes away from Allison’s book with the hope of a future without war.  Hegemonic powers will rise, and fall based on the evolution of their respective cultures.  History suggests governments that rely on the “rule of one” in modern times will not last.  Adding population demographics and ecological threats, China’s “rule of one” suggests the best policy for American democracy is acceptance of spheres of influence with a policy of Kennan-like’ containment. 

Chairman Xi is mortal, and mortality is the penultimate harbinger of change. In the long run, freedom and equality will change the nature of even the oldest cultures.

MIDDLE EAST AGENDAS

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Black Wave (Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the Forty-Year Rivalry)

By: Kim Ghattas

Narrated by: Kim Ghattas, Nan McNamara

Kim Ghattas (Author, Dutch Lebanese Journalist for the BBC)

               Kim Ghattas capsulizes the causes of cultural and religious conflict in the Middle East. Her complex explanation of politics in the Middle East shows the importance of religious freedom and the negative consequence of mixing religion in nation-state governance.  Ghattas’s intimate understanding and experience in the Middle East illustrates how ignorant America has been in confronting Middle Eastern leaders in their struggle for peace in their own countries.

              “Black Wave” is a difficult book to summarize.  Some reader/listeners will conclude from Gattis’s book that the heart of Middle Eastern conflict is religious intolerance.  However, it is not religion itself but political leaders who distort religious belief for personal power that roils the world.  America has its own religious zealotry, but it is tempered by a political culture that demands freedom of religion, independent of political governance.  It does not keep American political leaders from distorting religion for their own agendas, but it tempers its potential for state acceptance of orchestrated violence.

Osama bin Laden used religion to justify his directed murder of innocents.  He sought political power at the expense of religion. 

              Ghattas dances around America’s bungled effort to democratize the Middle East.  Some would argue Iran democratically elected an Imam to lead their country. Ghattas notes the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia clearly fears popularly elected leaders.

In ancient times, the middle east is known as Mesopotamia, the Arabian Peninsula, the Persian Empire, and Babylonia (Iran, Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Egypt, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and today’s Saudi Arabia). 

America’s self-interest has made many enemies in the Middle East.  America is a cultural and political baby in respect to the ancient cultures of the Middle East. The birth of the Islamic religion dates to 7th century in Saudi Arabia. 

As is true of all religions that have stood the test of time, the Islamic religion has broken into different factions that consider themselves Islamic but with different interpretations of their faith. 

The added dimension of poverty, cultural identity, and economic inequality encourage belief in religion. A religious believer’s purpose in the world is to gain some peace in this world, with hope for eternal life in the next. Therein lies the source of much violence within and among all countries of the world. There can be little peace in a world where people are being indiscriminately murdered, starving and treated unequally.

An example of how violent and unfair nations can be is Syrian leaders’ murder of its own people.

Ghattas explains there are two major versions of the Islamic religion in the Middle East.  One is Sunni, the other is Shite. 

              The hegemon for the Sunni Islamic religion lies in several countries but its center of power is Saudi Arabia.  The center of power for Shite belief is Iran.  “Black Wave” recounts a history of both power centers and how they use religious belief to increase their influence and power in the Middle East.

  Ghattas argues religious interpretation is a tool used by Saudi Arabian’ and Iranian’ leadership to gain power and influence in the Middle East.  Ghattas infers the leaders of Iran and Saudi Arabia do not believe in peaceful coexistence but in hegemonic power.  They use the Islamic religion to maintain control of their power.  When state power is threatened, their leaders’ resort to interpretations of Islam that preserve their control. 

Citizens of any country may be murdered by zealots, domestic terrorists, or foreign invaders. Leaders seeking power care little for those who believe in an afterlife or the luxury of their current life as long as they are obedient servants of the state.

Ghattas recounts many examples of Middle Eastern leadership that show little concern for their citizens, e.g., Saudi Arabia’s murder and dismembering of Jamal Khashoggi, Syria‘s gassing of Syrian citizens, and Iran’s imprisonment and torture of citizens who choose not to follow political leaders’ interpretations of the Koran.

              Ghattas’s book implies the consequence of American ignorance of Islamic beliefs victimizes the poor, powerless, and disenfranchised.  A western country that does not understand the subtlety of religious beliefs in the Middle East has little influence on the course of events.  With a better understanding of Islamic faith and how it is being used by Saudi Arabia and Iran, there is some hope for peace. 

Understanding and acceptance of those who fervently believe in a religion, along with economic opportunity for those who are victimized by hardship and/or violence, offers some hope for peace.  Without understanding of foreign cultures and economic assistance for those victimized, world conflagration is an ever-present danger. One must ask oneself–how wise is it to use political policy or trade to victimize the poor and disenfranchised?

CIVIL RIGHTS

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Great Figures of the Civil Rights Movement

By: The Great Courses

Narrated by: Hasan Kwame Jeffries

Hasan Kwame Jeffries (Author, associate professor of history at Ohio State University,)

A timely refresher on the civil rights movement is given by Hasan Kwame Jeffries in the “Great Figures of the Civil Rights Movement”.  It is timely because of the resurrection of the assassination of Malcolm X and its reification of a fundamental split in the black civil rights movement in America.

Marcus Garvey (1887-1940, publisher and jornalist, black nationalist.)

Jeffries reminds us of the movement initiated by Marcus Garvey.  Though the idea of a return to Africa has come up many times in the history of America, Garvey established a black movement for the creation of an independent African nation.

To one who believes in the principles of freedom and equality for all, the idea of equality through independence is wrong.  All humans live on space ship earth. It is the principle of our equal humanness that preserves civilization. Separate is not equal. The problem is human freedom, equality, and equality of opportunity are works in progress toward a goal of equal treatment by society. 

Women and minorities are not treated equally in America or in most places of the world.  Since America’s beginning as a republic, many believed in qualified freedom, and a few in universal equality, but equality is falsely preached by white power and never achieved.  Slavery is an undeniable truth in world history.  In America, atrocities of black slavery in the south and institutional discrimination in the north are well documented.  It is no wonder that Marcus Garvey successfully tapped into a desire of many black Americans to achieve equality through separation.  Separation’s appeal is in its potential as a base for political power. Even though that power is limited by being a faction in a dominant social and political power structure.

What Jeffries shows is that Garvey is the father of the idea of Black Power that is symbolized by the Black Panther movement in the mid-20th century. 

From Jeffries’ history, one can see and understand a more nuanced and broader American civil rights movement.  White American power did not exhibit much understanding of the black power movement in the 1960s. White America responded with violence. White America murdered Fred Hampton, the Chicago Black Panther Chairman and local leader.  This unjust murder lies at the feet of the City of Chicago and the FBI.

Stokely Stanford Carmichael aka Kwame Ture (1941-1968, 4th Chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.)

Jeffries notes the idea of Black Power came from a Stokely Carmichael’s rallying slogan in the 1960s.  (The phrase is said by some to have originated in a non-fiction book, “Black Power”, written by Richard Wright and published in 1954.) Carmichael participates in the 1961 Freedom Rides in Alabama.  They were organized by CORE (Congress of Racial Equality) to desegregate public transit services and restaurants.  In 1961, Carmichael and others travel to Jackson, Mississippi to sit in a segregated restaurant.  Carmichael, along with other freedom riders, is arrested for disturbing the peace. He is sent to prison for 53 days in Sunflower County, Mississippi.  Because of Carmichael’s bravery and oratorical skill, he became a full-time organizer for SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee).

Of course, the stars of the non-violent black movement are best known as men like Martin Luther King. 

King’s history is well known but Jeffries notes there were many black women that became extremely important to the movement for black emancipation.  Ella Baker becomes involved with the NAACP (1938-53), SCLC (1957-60), and the initial foundation of SNCC (1960-66) as a black activist and highly successful recruiter. Rosa Parks becomes the face of the bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama.  Diane Nash, as a Freedom Rider, is known for integrating lunch counters in Nashville, Tennessee.  Nash is also a co-founder of SNCC.  Fannie Lou Hamer fights for women’s rights as the vice-chair of the Freedom Democratic Party in Mississippi.  The newly formed party successfully gets several local black politicians elected in Mississippi.  Jeffries notes the FDP is less successful on a national level, but Hamer is elected to the U.S. Senate in 1964, and later serves in the Mississippi State Senate.

In order pictured left to right: Ella Josephine Baker (1903-1986, Political activist for the NAACP, SCLC, and SNCC.), Rosa Parks (1913-2005, Civil Rights Activist, best known for the Montgomery bus boycott.), Diane Judith Nash (Freedom rider and co-founder of SNCC.), Fannie Lou Hamer (1917-1977, Civil rights leader, Vice charwoman of Freedom Democratic Party, Co-founder of National Women’s Political Caucus.)

Eldridge Cleaver (1935-1998, spent 7 years in exile in Cuba, returned in 1975, joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and became a conservative Republican.)

Jeffries glosses over Eldridge Cleaver’s leadership in ambushing Oakland police officers (two officers were wounded) and his arrest and escape to Cuba to avoid trial.  However, Kathleen Neal Clever, who married and divorce Cleaver, became an active member of the Black Panther Party that helped feed people, provide family medical care services, and provide transportation for families to visit loved ones in prison.  Jeffries notes Kathleen Neal Clever came from an upper middle class black family and supported the early founders of the Black Panther organization with her father’s witting or unwitting financial support.

One of the most interesting chapters of Jeffries book is about Malcolm X, particularly because of the recent release of a wrongly accused assassin.  Jeffries implies Malcolm X is assassinated by the Nation of Islam.  Jeffries infers the assassination is related to Malcolm X’s disillusion with the founder’s (Elijah Muhammad) dissolute sexual behavior, and NOI’s belief that the races should be separated to form a black nation to compete with all nations. 

Malcolm X came to believe all people are created equal in the eyes of God, while arguing the separatist ideal of NOI and Marcus Garvey were wrong.  The history of Malcolm X’s journey through life is fascinating, short, and impactful.  One cannot help but wonder how Malcom X could have changed the course of history had he not been assassinated.

Jeffries could have gone further back in history to tell the story of American black nationalism but he has done a great job of identifying the history of the 20th century heroes of the movement.

U.S. PRESIDENTS

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Means of Ascent

By: Robert A. Caro

Narrated by: Grover Gardener

Robert Caro (Author)

Robert Caro is a great biographer but his history of the early years of Lyndon Johnson is diminished by his political idealism. 

Politics is the pursuit of power.  Some pursue that power by any means necessary.  Others may be less constrained, but the goal is the same–To Be Elected to Rule. 

Caro shows the young Johnson as a Machiavellian politician in the vein of Donald Trump but without a silver spoon.  History shows Johnson and Trump are willing to lie their way to power.  Both are willing to do whatever it takes.  Caro shows Johnson, like Trump, are bullies who intimidate subordinates to get what they want.  There is no moral or ethical line that these two ex-Presidents would not cross to stay in power.  Trump lost his second term because of rejection by the voters, and Johnson resigned because of embarrassment by Americans who opposed the Vietnam war.

Caro reveals Johnson’s bullying treatment of his wife and people who report to him. 

Caro shows Johnson is far superior at getting his way when compared to Trump. Caro notes Johnson stole his first election to the Senate from former governor of Texas, Coke R. Stevenson. 

Coke R. Stevenson (1888-1975, Former governor of Texas, died at age 87.)

Without big money contributors like Brown (of Brown and Root) to pay monitors to stuff ballot boxes in San Antonio, Texas, Lyndon Johnson would have lost.  With a legal maneuver by Johnson’s friend, Abe Fortas, and illegal help from election monitors, Johnson beats Stevenson for election to the Senate by 97 votes. (Fortas became an Associate Supreme Court Justice appointed by Johnson in 1965. He resigned in disgrace for unethical practice in 1969.)

In every election, the elected is beholding to someone.  Caro notes Brown and Root received a great deal of federal and State financed work in Texas because of Johnson’s support.

Johnson is shown to be a consummate politician, a good storyteller with the ability to persuade superiors like the leader of the House of Representatives, Sam Rayburn, to support his ideas.  This is no small thing because Rayburn is history’s longest serving Speaker of the House, with possibly more power and influence than any past or modern Speakers of the House.

Sam Rayburn (1882-1961, 43rd Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.)

President Johnson, as the Senate Leader kissing the head of Sam Rayburn.

Caro notes Johnson uses his 6-foot, 2.5-inch height, to dominate associates who are either reporting, beholding, or superior to him. 

Johnson is shown to be extraordinarily energetic when pursuing power.  Caro explains how Johnson uses helicopter visits to Texas communities when he runs for the Senate against Stevenson.  Johnson works himself into a frenzy that makes him ill (recurring kidney stones) because of an indefatigable need to do everything he can to be elected. 

In Johnson’s presence, many were awed by his stories, even when they knew the stories were lies or gross exaggerations.  During the war years, Caro notes how Johnson appeals to Texas voters by claiming he will go to the front to fight Germany and Japan.  To fulfill that pledge, he accompanies a “band of brothers” flying a bombing mission on a Japanese island off the coast of Australia. 

Johnson’s (Observer Mission in Austrailia during WWII.)

Caro explains Johnson’s only direct combat experience is as an observer in Australia.  

In Caro’s telling, the mission did occur.  There is great danger.  The plane is damaged by enemy gun fire.  Caro’s research shows Johnson maintains a cool demeanor during the flight. Johnson plays no combatant role in the mission. But, he was an observer on the plane when it is strafed by the Japanese.

Caro notes the story of the flight is changed many times. In Johnson’s retelling he explains he is a hero who fought in many bombing raids, a lie.  Caro dispels Johnson’s brave hero characterization by telling of Johnson’s childhood that shows him to be a physical coward.  Caro interviews former childhood friends who recall Johnson’s cowardice.  When confronted with violence, Johnson is reported to lay down and kick his feet out to ward off anyone who might attack him.

Caro notes Johnson’s will power is extraordinary when it comes to doing whatever it takes to be elected to public office.

Caro’s research suggests Johnson is a focused and relentless seeker and user of power.  Johnson could use his position for either good or bad depending on whether it increased or diminished his power.  One example Caro gives is Johnson’s rejection of an oil interest offered to him by a constituent.  It could make him rich.  Johnson’s concern is it would diminish his chances for election to higher office if he were recognized as an oil interest’ owner. 

In contrast to the oil interest rejection, Caro shows how Johnson acquires a radio station to become a source of income for his family and a tool for his political ambition.  Johnson had been appointed to the FCC as a junior congressman.  He used his influence with the FCC to acquire and grow the radio station, with his wife as the holder of record.  A competitor is shut out of buying that station through Johnson’s influence with the FCC.  The FCC also expedites the gift of a popular frequency that widely expands the radio station’s area of coverage in Texas.

Lady Bird and her ownership of KTBC in Texas.

“Means of Ascent” is not Caro’s finest work.  Johnson is painted too harshly in the context of American Democracy. 

Like America’s experience with Trump, there is much to hate about Johnson’s rise to the Presidency. 

The reality is–Democracy is a messy process that brings both good and bad leaders to the world.  No President of the United States has been totally bad or totally good.  Democracy remains, and will always be, a work in progress.

POLITICAL LEADERS

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

A Christmas Carol

By: Charles Dickens

Narrated by Sir Derek Jacobi, Kenneth Cranham, Roger Allam, Brendan Coyle, Miriam Margolyes, Time Mcinnerny, Jamie Glover, Emily Bruni, Jenna Coleman, Joshua James, Hugh Skinner

Charles Dickens, Author.

Dickens appeal in the 21st century is magnified by economic change.

The industrial revolution, like the tech revolution, put people out of work. In Dickens’ time, Great Britain’s and the world’s industrial growth demanded change. 

Today’s tech revolution demands the same.  The change required is different in one sense and the same in another.

The industrial revolution occurred in a time of scarcity while the tech revolution takes place in a time of abundance.  Both revolutions require training for new kinds of jobs.

Smog plagued Great Britain as it grew in the18th century. 

(This is smog in today’s Beijing.)

Dickens is born in 1812 and dies in 1870.  He witnesses and writes of the squalor that existed in London during his adult years.  “A Christmas Carol” is one of many stories he wrote that reflects on the human cost of economic change.

London fog 1952

In 1952, the streets of London were enveloped in a fog caused by coal used for domestic heat and industrial production. 

An incident of London fog in the 20th century is comparable, on a local scale, to the world’s pollution crises today.  An estimated 4,000 people were said to have died, with 100,000 made ill because of unusual windless conditions in that year. 

Today, air pollution is compounded by global warming. 

“A Christmas Carol” is a reminder of the damage world leaders can do by ignoring the plight of those who are most directly impacted by economic change.  Too many American leaders are acting like Ebenezer Scrooge and Jacob Marley by ignoring the Bob Cratchit s and Tiny Tim s of the world. 

For those who may not remember, Scrooge and Marley were capitalists who believe all that matters in life is personal wealth.  Marley comes back as a ghost to offer Scrooge a picture of past, present, and future Christmases, based on how he lives the remainder of his life.

Todays’ political leaders are in Jacob Marley’s ghostly presence with a chance to change the future for the Crachits, Tiny Tims, and wage earners of the world.  The world needs leaders who are not blinded by the allure of money, power, and prestige at the expense of the jobless, homeless, and disenfranchised.

WINE

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

A History of Wine in Ten Glasses

By: Paul Wagner

                                                    Narrated by : Paul Wagner

Paul Wagner (Author, Podcaster, Lecturer)

“A History of Wine in Ten Glasses” is a journey around the world of wine. 

Paul Wagner is a wine instructor at (where else?) Napa Valley College. 

There are several revelations about wine for us amateur wine drinkers.  Thomas Jefferson tried and failed to create a good wine in his home state of Virginia.  

Jefferson’s failure is related to a grapevine disease in Virginia’ soils that attacked the roots of plants he brought with him from his diplomatic mission in France.  The root disease is discovered after Jefferson’s death.  Once the disease is diagnosed and treated, Wagner notes Virginia began producing some fine wines.

Wagner dates the production of wine back to 6000 BC in what is now known as Georgia.  Some would dispute that and suggest China had a rice and grape mixed fermented wine in 7000 BC.  Others suggest Iran may have been the origin of the first wines on the the Persian Gulf.  In any case, wine has been with us for centuries.

Wagner argues the Roman Empire is the primary disseminator of the art of wine making.

Rome’s conquest of countries surrounding the Mediterranean spread wine making throughout the known world, sometime between 27 BC and 476 AD.  Even today, the greatest wine volume comes from Italy with France and Spain, the second and third biggest producers

More than ten glasses are identified by Wagner, but the primary libations are from Italy, France, Spain, U.S., Australia, Greece, South Africa, Chile, Argentina, and Germany.  However, Wagner takes side trips to smaller countries like Portugal and New Zealand. 

Having traveled to some of these countries, his assessment of their wines seems spot on. Interestingly, his assessment of Chile’s inexpensive Malbec is a favorite of mine. In Italy, the selection of wine at dinner seems the simplest of all decisions.  Rarely is red wine in Italy served that is too bitter or too sweet.  Retsina in Greece is a horrible drink but adding water makes all the difference.  Retsina remains an acquired taste but with water it becomes palatable. Traveling to Argentina and New Zealand confirms Wagner’s assessment of the quality of their wines.

The idea of adding water to wine is a surprise but Wagner notes added water was often the habit of early wine drinkers. (Of course, watered wine is common in religious ceremony.)

Wagner also notes that a pinch of salt can smooth the acidic taste of an inexpensive wine.  Potassium chloride, not salt, is what is recommended by some wine connoisseurs.  

German wine Labeling system.

A surprising note by Wagner is that German and New Zealand wines are tightly controlled by a labeling system to assure the quality of their wine. 

Wagner reports on Germany’s and New Zealand’s precise label certification. One suspects precise wine labeling is a characteristic of the precisionist culture of Germany.  However, New Zealand’s labeling is a result of some Marlborough wines that were contaminated by runoff from lumber harvesting activities in 2005.   Both countries labeling assures the quality of their wines.  Undoubtedly, there is a concomitant cost for the right label.

Wagner lives in Napa Valley and, not surprisingly, suggests many of the best wines in the world come from Napa Valley’ vineyards.  Blind wine testing in Paris confirms his opinion.  What he says is true about many Napa Valley wines, but prices of those great tasting wines are often higher than many can afford.

“A History of Wine in Ten Glasses” is a nice introduction to the vagaries and mysteries of wine selection. For we amateurs wine selection remains hit and miss because it is only our personal taste and affordability that matters.

MUSIC

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Chopin’s Piano

By: Paul Kildea

                                               Narrated by : Mathew Waterson

Paul Kildea (Author, Austrailian conductor, Artistic Director of Musica Vivia Australia.)

Paul Kildea is a multifaceted talent who has written an interesting biography of Frederic Chopin and a lesser-known Polish musician, Wanda Landowska, who revivified Chopin’s  music. 

Frederic Francois Chopin (1810-1849, Composer and virtuoso pianist.)

Whether one knows anything of music or history, Kildea expertly entertains listener/readers with “Chopin’s Piano”. 

Chopin is noted as a Romanticist composer considered among the most creative of all time.    For that reason, the sound of Chopin’s work has changed with the times.

There are several ironies in Kildea’s history of Chopin.  Chopin is shown to have been pleased by being considered French though he was Polish.  Chopin is characterized as anti-Semitic though at times financially supported by Jews and resurrected by a world-renowned harpsichordist, Wanda Landowska, a proud and nationalist Pole who escaped Nazi persecution and extermination. Landowska, a woman of the Jewish faith, flees Paris when Germany invades France. 

Wanda Landowska in front of the Bauza piano owned by Chopin.

One of her treasured pianos is the Bauza piano used by Chopin to create his greatest masterpieces, the Preludes.

George Sand (1804-1876, French novelist and 10 year companion of Chopin)

Kildea reflects on Chopin’s diminutive physique and self-effacing nature. Chopin never marries but has a ten-year relationship with George Sand, a divorced woman with a broadly libertine reputation. 

One wonders what Sand’s influence is on Chopin’s creativity.  What Kildea explains is that Sand admires Chopin’s dedication to music and supports Chopin through his frail health during the most productive period of his life.  However, at the end of their ten year relationship, Sand leaves because the burden of their relationship is either too much or she just chooses to return to a life of independence.

The thread of Kildea’s history is the Bauza piano’s location in the 21st century. It’s whereabouts remains unknown.

This piano was used by Chopin between 1838-39 when living with  George Sand in Majorca.  A striking point in Kildea’s story is that the Bauza piano is a crudely formed instrument carved from local softwood.  Its innards are made of felt, pig iron, and copper but its cultural importance is extraordinary and its provenance unquestioned.  It disappeared when confiscated by Nazi Germany when they ransacked Landowska’s home in Paris.

Wanda Landowska in 1953.

The last half of Kildea’s story is about the trials and achievements of Wanda Landowska.  In reflecting on Landowska’s rise to fame, the Bauza piano is a symbol of Chopin’s creative genius. 

This flawed instrument is used to create compositions that are endlessly translated by pianoforte (soft and loud sound) from the use of harpsicords to modern Steinways.  Landowska, and many pianists of the 19th through the 21st century are listed by Kildea, showing the brilliance and variety of Chopin’s compositions.  Only a musical conductor turned author like Kildea could explain this to the public.  “Chopin’s Piano” is a small opening to a big world.

NAMING NAMES

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The Sword and The Shield

By: Christopher Andree, Vasilli Mitrokhin

 Narrated by : Robert Whitfield

Only historians and former secret service agents are likely to be enraptured by “The Sword and The Shield”.  The book is based on a detailed record kept by Vassilli Mitrokhin when he served as major and senior archivist for the Soviet Union’s foreign intelligence service. To a generalist, Mitrokhin’s detailed naming of names is mind numbing. 

Later chapters are more interesting than earlier chapters of “The Sword and The Shield” because they reveal details about motivation, interpretation, and consequence of spying during the cold war that have application to today’s American and Russian secret service.

What this and other recent histories imply to some is that international intelligence services rarely achieve objectives that are worth their costs. 

However, cost is of little concern to a national government that believes international intelligence service is critical to its survival. Modern Russia is as beholding to its intelligence service today as it was when Joseph Stalin ruled the U.S.S.R. It is suggested by the authors that Stalin successfully prepared for a hegemonic agreement (resisted by Churchill) at the end of WWII with the help of intelligence gathered by Russian spies about FDR’s secretly held intensions. There is little reason to believe Putin thinks any differently about secret intelligence on American Presidents with whom he deals. Putin, like Stalin, undoubtedly uses the Russian secret service to spy on personal beliefs and activities of America’s presidents, or as many suggest, imprison or murder Russian dissidents.

Based on current events and this book, an argument may be made that human and material cost of an American intelligence service is necessary because of Russia’s driven intent to remain a world power by any means necessary. In this era of nationalism, it seems unlikely Russia will ever become another union of independent eastern block nations. However, Russia intends to strengthen its position as a world power regardless of other nation’s concerns or interventions.

Despite Russia’s drive to maintain world power–to paraphrase Martin Luther King’s optimism “The arc of history and the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” 

Some argue we are entering a second cold war today. The questions is can we learn anything from secret service failures of the first cold war.  “The Sword and The Shield” details past successes and failures. The final chapter reflects on the power of intelligence service to influence the course of history. Today’s surveillance technology certainly magnifies the power of secret intelligence services. The question is–do today’s American and Russian secret services improve results or magnify mistakes?

Details of “The Sword and Shield” show paranoia, as well as realpolitik, led Stalin to create a network of spies. 

Stalin’s spy network’s duty is to reveal secrets held by the west and then bend public opinion to the will of Stalinist communism with the goal of expanding and controlling Socialist Republics within the U.S.S.R. 

The authors suggest Stalin’s paranoia leads him to believe all western nations and some leaders within the Soviet Bloc are in league to destroy or weaken his regime.  Churchill’s iron curtain speech confirms some elements of Stalin’s beliefs.  The authors note that classified foreign documents provided by Stalin’s network of spies is interpreted in ways that lead Stalin to imprison or murder many of his own citizens.  Stalin’s successful use of that information is evident in the brutality of his regime and his survival until death from a presumed heart attack.

The Stalinist Soviet Union perseveres at the expense of many innocent people. The author’s infer U.S.S.R. citizens appear to respect Stalin but fear imprisonment or murder by their paranoid leader. One wonders if Putin’s regime drinks from the same poisonous cup.

Andree/Mitrokhin’s history of the U.S.S.R.’s acquisition of the atom bomb reveals Americans and Brits who willingly provide classified documents that give Joseph Stalin plans for development of an atomic bomb.  The totalitarian Stalinist’ State steals English and American secrets by seducing scientists like Klaus Fuchs with propaganda that distorts and glorifies Stalinist communism.  If political persuasion did not work, Stalinist’ money is offered to both American and British scientists, political officials, and citizens to acquire government, science, personal, and social secrets. 

In listening to “The Sword and The Shield” it seems western economies are at the forefront of most initial scientific discoveries because of relative human freedom.  No amount of secret surveillance defeats human nature whether one lives in a democratic or totalitarian state.  Every nation has dissidents willing to betray their countries.

Putin once said on a “60 Minutes” interview–what he admired most about America is its innovation without seeming to understand that the heart of innovation is freedom

On the democratic side, Americans like the Rosenberg’s, and Aldrich Ames, became tools of the U.S.S.R. The Rosenberg’s reveal American nuclear research secrets, and Aldrich Ames offers the names of CIA agents to the U.S.S.R.   In England, Klaus Fuchs, Ray Mawbey, and the Cambridge Five (including Guy Burgess, Kim Philby, Donald McClain, Anthony Blunt, and John Cairncross) feed critical science and intelligence information to the KGB.  During WWII, a Latin-American double agent, Juan Garcia, uses false reports to mislead Germany on the D Day invasion by Allied forces.

On the totalitarian side, the co-author of this book betrays his own country by revealing the names of the U.S.S.R’s secret service actors and their nefarious activities.  Mitrokhin also notes the betrayal of Russian electronic engineer, Adolph Tolkachev, who reveals secret military capabilities of the U.S.S.R. to the CIA.    

Adolf Tolkachev (1927-1986, CIA agent working in the U.S.S.R.)

This history of the KGB shows the dissemination of science is a force unto itself.   No amount of secret service effort is shown by Mitrokhin to protect or retard the advance of world-wide scientific research and understanding. Motives for spies range from patriotism to greed. 

Some scientist’s betray their country’s science discoveries for what they believe is a greater good, others betray their country to be paid thousands, sometimes millions, of dollars.

“The Sword and The Shield” shows how both patriots and enemies of the state are equal partners in trading scientific discoveries for either money, power, or prestige.  There is the obvious lure of money as evidenced by Ray Mawby who is paid 100 to 400 English pounds for details about English Parliament’ gossip.  For money, over a nine-year period, Aldrich Ames is paid nearly $3,000,000 by the Soviet Union for disclosing hundreds of American CIA agents.  For power and prestige, “The Sword and The Shield” notes Kim Philby coveted the title of general in the Soviet Union when he escaped England’s arrest for espionage. (Interestingly, Philby is denied the title or the pension that would have gone with it when he arrived in the Soviet Union.  Philby died 25 years after defecting to the Soviet Union.  Some say he became a disillusioned communist.)

It is more difficult to understand Klaus Fuch’s motivation.  He eschewed Russian money.  He was a nuclear scientist who seems to have preferred working in obscurity.  One presumes he believed in Stalin’s communist propaganda or divulged critical information on the atom bomb to serve what he believed was a “greater good”. 

Fuch’s may have revealed the secrets of the atom bomb to preserve balance of power, with the presumption that no rational human being would start a nuclear war.

Much of the last section of this long book recounts the history of Soviet Union’ secret service use of propaganda and misinformation to create turmoil in countries that are opposed to authoritarian communist beliefs.  Russian effort at influencing other countries domestic affairs with misinformation and lies is recounted in detail by “The Sword and The Shield”.  Attempts to destroy personal reputations, exploit democracy’s failures, and influence domestic elections during the cold war are detailed.  America’s recent elections suggest that policy is used by Russian secret intelligence today.

Alexander Litvinenko (Former Russian Intelligence agent accuses Vladmir Putin of ordering his assassination.)

Litvinenko died in London weeks after drinking tea that was later found to have been laced with the deadly radioactive compound polonium-210.

In completion of this tome about the KGB, some will be left with the thought that nothing much has changed.  The U.S.S.R. has become Russia, but its leader appears to use the same tactics as Stalin in punishing dissidents.  Accusations of murder and false imprisonment by Russia’s spy network continue to be reported in the western press.   Western countries continue to employ secret service organizations to undermine non-aligned authoritarian nations.  America, like Russia, has been accused of using torture, false imprisonment, and murder to further its political agenda.  What “The Sword and The Shield” ends with is a kind of warning. 

The dismantling of the U.S.S.R. has left few binding organizational consistencies in governance of its reformation as a nation-state.  The one system of governance that has survived the reformation is the Russian secret service.  It is no surprise that the longest serving government leader since the collapse of the U.S.S.R. is a former KGB trained officer.  Continuity and identity of a modern Russian state lies in its continued use of covert intelligence to retain its status as a world power.  The fear accompanying that realization is that secret service thought, action, and consequence is monumentally expanded and improved with the advance of surveillance technology. 

Rodney King (1965-2012, died at 57 from accidental drowning.)

Some wonder like Rodney King, who was beaten by Los Angeles police in 1992—when he said: “People, I just want to say, you know, can we all get along? Can we get along?”.  The answer lies somewhere in the cloud of surveillance technology. 

As history is revealed in “The Sword and The Shield”, secret services imprison and murder the innocent as well as the guilty. With surveillance technology, the power of the sword is exponentially more dangerous.

IGNORANCE IS NOT BLISS

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Half Lives

By: Lucy Jane Santos

Narrated by : Deirdre Whelen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.