Audio-book Review
 By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog: awalkingdelight)

The Year of Lear: Shakespeare in 1606

By: James Shapiro

Narrated by: Robert Fass

James Shapiro (Author, Shakespeare Scholar, Professor at Columbia University.)

As a Shakesperean scholar, James Shapiro addresses Shakespeare’s plays during King James I’s reign. His history reveals the times in which Shakespeare is producing his most memorable plays. The three most relevant in this review are King Lear, Hamlet, and Macbeth.

King James I (Scottish King of England 1603-1625, Succeeded by Charles I.)

Part of Shapiro’s theme is the use of the word equivocation. The word first appears in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. It is a common technique used in Shakespeare’s plays to avoid giving definitive answers to questions. Shakespeare is purposefully obscuring some unclearly expressed truth. It is a way of misleading without flatly lying. Shakespeare conceals the evil nature of the witches. Their predictions of Macbeth’s existence are true, but they obscure the precise truth of events that unfold.

King James I is possibly best remembered by Americans as the English King who commissioned the first English translation of the bible.

King James also lent his name to the first permanent English colony in America. Shapiro reminds reader/listeners King James I was the first joint ruler of Scotland and England and was nearly assassinated by treasonous Catholic terrorists in the gunpowder plot of 1605.

A presumed rendering of the House of Lords (where the gunpowder plot was to be executed).

Though Shapiro’s book is about Shakespeare’s plays, it is also about the history of that era in which the gunpowder plot of 1605, the plague, and the reign of James I occur. The events of that time offer precedent for today’s makers of history.

Most interestingly, today’s master of equivocation is former President Trump.

In a January 26, 2017, article in GQ by Jay Willis, the following examples were noted as Trump’s classic use of equivocation:

  • If people are registered wrongly, if illegals are registered to vote, which they areif dead people are registered to vote and voting, which they do. There are some. I don’t know how many.
  • Our country has enough problems without allowing people to come in who, in many cases or in some cases, are looking to do tremendous destruction.
  • You’re looking at people that come in, in many cases, in some cases with evil intentions. I don’t want that. They’re ISIS.
  • I had a tremendous victory, one of the great victories ever. In terms of counties I think the most ever or just about the most ever.
  • There are millions of [illegal] votes, in my opinion. … I didn’t say there are millions. But I think there could very well be millions of people.

And of course, there is the 2021 “stolen election” equivocation that misled thousands of Americans who storm the US Capitol. None of these Americans committed treason but all appear to have fallen prey to Trump’s equivocations that led to the January 6, 2o21 rebellion.

Another parallel to the King James I era to modern times is Covid19’s impact on today’s society and economy. London’s social interactions became hostile as the spread of plague diminished care and respect for others. Violence became commonplace as plague attacks neighbors and diminishes social gatherings. Shakespeare’s plays and other entertainments were no longer conducted. The London economy spiraled downward. These events are repeated today as Covid19 subsides, with a rise in violent crime and a halting return to economic growth. Today is not yesterday but, as Mark Twain suggested, history may not repeat itself, but it certainly rhymes.

Treason is a proper appellation for Robert Catesby and the Wintour brothers in Shapiro’s Shakespearean history. They hatched a plan to bomb The House of Lords, the seat of English government, in London.

Guy Fawkes is caught in the basement of the House of Lords with barrels of gunpowder and fire ignitors that would have killed or injured anyone meeting at this chamber of government. Shapiro explains many, if not all, who had a hand in the conspiracy were caught, tried, hung, and quartered when the plot was revealed.

The gruesome detail of quartering is explained by Shapiro. While still conscious after being hung, bodies are castrated and then dismembered. (Shapiro notes Fawkes avoids the conscious brutality of castration and dismembering because his neck is broken when he is hung.)

Protestant discrimination of Roman Catholics and religious intolerance motivate the gunpowder rebellion. Religion plays a part of Americans’ discontent in modern times but not to the degree of treasonous acts; undoubtedly, because of America’s Constitutional guarantee of religious freedom.

The 1605 gunpowder rebellion is principally motivated by different religious belief. In England, Catholics suffer from discrimination because of the dominance of the royally mandated Church of England and the control of a Protestant King.

The gunpowder rebellion’ conspirators are relentlessly pursued by officers of James I’s rule. Though the conviction consequence is not the same for America’s January 6 ,2021 rebellion, the perpetrators are relentlessly pursued.

Many of the January 6’ participants have been arrested and taken to court. Some have been jailed and fined. Others have been reprimanded and released. Some are still in court or at large.

Though Spiro is not addressing any of what has happened in America today, it seems relevant to consider Donald Trump as the “equivocator and chief” that fomented America’s January 6,2021 rebellion.

Another interesting parallel revealed in Shakespeare’s plays is America’s aged Presidents in the last two elections.

Like the story of King Lear, one wonders if dementia is not a threat to American governance.

James Spiro offers an insightful history of the greatest playwright of all time. For today’s events, Shakespearean plays are as relevant today as in the 1600s.


Audio-book Review
 By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog: awalkingdelight)

You Bet Your Life (From Blood Transfusions to Mass Vaccination, the Long and Risky History of Medical Innovation)

By: Paul A. Offit, MD

Narrated by: James Hoban

Paul Offit (Author, American pediatrician specializing in infectious diseases, vaccines, immunology, and virology.)

Like Siddhartha Mukherjee’s “The Emperor of All Maladies”, Paul Offit reflects on patients who risk their lives based on medical treatment and prescribed drugs by educated scientists, physicians, and drug manufacturers. Both Mukherjee and Offit write of the medical causes of death and attempts made by the medical profession to save lives. What both books have in common is that the medical industry, just as in all life’s work, is influenced by money, power, and prestige. Those influences carry risks and rewards.

Both Mukherjee and Offit are doctors with wide expertise in their respective fields. Offit’s book is shorter but equally important and impactful. Medical practice is just what the words mean.

Both physician/authors imply the word “practice” entails experiment on human beings. A physician can only be sure of successful medical procedures and treatment based on repeated healthful results for human beings.

Doctors, scientists, drug manufacturers, and medical employees make good and bad decisions based on educational achievement, hands-on medical experience, and personal motivation. That is true in all forms of work employment. The difference is we who are not part of the medical industry are intimately and mortally affected by its practice and advertisement.

Bad medical decisions can end a life; good medical decisions can save a life.

As a surgeon, Mukherjee reviews the history of cancer treatments and medical decisions that both killed and saved lives. Offit, a pediatrician, and member of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), reviews the history of medical innovations and treatment of infectious diseases that killed and saved lives. In the age of Covid19, Offit’s history is enlightening and somewhat frightening.

The hard push (called “warp speed) for a vaccine that treated Covid required risks to be taken. Putting aside the politics enshrined in American freedom of choice, in 2020 nearly 700,000 Americans may not have died if the vaccine had been accepted more quickly by the public. On the other hand, Offit’s history shows errors have been made by both physicians and drug manufacturers that have killed Americans in search for cure. Even with the great success of polio elimination in America, some died from improperly manufactured vaccines.

Offit reminds listeners of the history of heart transplants, blood transfusions, and anesthesia that reminds one of the gruesome details reported by Mukherjee about cancer in the early days of a search for cure.

Louis Washkansky lived for 18 days after having his heart replaced by a human donor’s heart. Only after years of research on rejection, did heart transplants give years of life to recipients.

Ryan White, a teenage Indiana boy, is saved from hemophilia after being given a blood transfusion that infects him with HIV. He was diagnosed in 1984 and given six months to live. He lived until 1990 but was ostracized by schools and society because of American fear of the disease. Too little was known about how the Auto Immune Deficiency was transmitted.

The search for a way to conduct surgery without pain led to the use of chloroform in the 1800s. Hannah Greener, a 15-year-old, dies from application of chloroform for surgical removal of an infected toenail in 1848. Offit does go on to explain chloroform became notorious for criminal use in robberies. In any case, the principle of anesthesia made a great contribution to surgical practice.

Hannah Greener (1833-1848, dies from an overdose of chloroform when anesthetized.)

Contrary to Offit’s claim of an overdose, the cause of death may have been aspiration of fluids in trying to bring her back to consciousness.

There are many more interesting stories from Offit’s historical account of medical innovation. The fundamental point of both Offit and Mukherjee is that errors will be made by the medical industry. Risks are taken by patients who rely on the industry to cure or ameliorate the ravishes of ill health. Government oversight, like the FDA, CDC, USDA, and the World Health Organization, work on minimizing risk to society but risk reduction is a work in progress. Offit notes there are many ways for medical cures to go wrong. From misleading advertising to poor medical practice, to human greed for money-power-prestige, human risk abounds. Of course, the ultimate risk is the patients.

The lesson one draws from these two physicians is that the public has a right to be skeptical but there is no right to be stupid. Dying will always be a part of our lives, whether mistakes are made or not.


Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog: awalkingdelight)

The Future of Money (How the Digital Revolution is Transforming Currencies and Finance.)

By: Eswar S. Prasad

Narrated by: Stephen R. Thorne

Eswar Prasad (Author, Economist.)

“The Future of Money” offers a short history and long explanation of the strengths and weaknesses of filthy lucre.

Prasad begins with the often-told story of how money began as a precious metal transforming to paper for easier exchange between seller and purchaser. The value of money has always been malleable. Its value changed in early times based on authoritarian rule and later in ways Prasad’s book explains as an evolutionary trust of money.

Genghis Khan is at one end of the spectrum where currency value is based on the value set by the ruler. If one disagrees with money’s mandated value, you are executed. Later the value of money is supported by full faith and credit of respective governments, inferring execution is less likely.

In modern times, value of money is turning to technology. Still, in every case, Prasad notes money’s value is based on trust.

Eswar Prasad explains money’s transformation from coin to paper to digital exchange. Prasad shows digital money is less tactilely filthy, but its form and value is as impactful as ever. In the remainder of Prasad’s long book, reader/listeners find how difficult it is to provide foundational legitimacy for digital currencies.

A number of chapters of Prasad’s book reveals the many financial transaction rails (electronic payment methods) that have been created with the widening use of the internet.

A cashless society began with credit cards and has proliferated to where “coin of the realm” is not accepted by some vendors. Prasad explains transaction fees on credit cards have led to alternative payment rails to reduce costs to both vendors and buyers.

As of 2021, the most commonly used alternative methods of payment are PayPal, Apple Pay, Google Pay, Bizum, WeChat, and Alipay. The number of users of these payment rails is increasing because of credit card’ fees.

Two with the most customers, WeChat and Alipay have over a billion users each.

Today, particularly after the FTX fiasco, digital money’s value has lost trust. All forms of value in money are subject to human fallibility. The fallibility of any form of money is in humankind’s nature which is subject to ignorance, greed, and power.

An attempt is made to mitigate greed and power with bitcoin. One suspects ignorance of digital currency remains for most of the public. Anyone can access the bitcoin platform. Theoretically no one can identify a singular person’s account without that person’s personal access code that can only be entered from the owner’s computer device. However, there remain fundamental reasons for one to be skeptical of a bitcoin owner’s security. Trust continues to be a concern for cryptocracy’s utility and value.

Aside from business ineptitude, having one’s own key to a bitcoin entity is no guarantee of security, even if any entry from another computer cannot use the key? What keeps a hacker from capturing a user’s code in blockchain and cloning a bitcoin computer to use the key to steal bitcoin value?  

Theft of passwords and private keys is hackable if information is kept anywhere in a computer file. This is not to mention the capability of social engineering by smooth-talking hackers.

FTX is in court today. Value of bitcoin assets has fallen to the point of FTX’s possible bankruptcy. It is unclear if the FTX collapse is from weakness of bitcoin transparency or its founder’s ineptitude. In any case, there is a precipitous loss of trust in bitcoin value.

How is bitcoin blockchain security significantly different in today’s tech-savvy world? One argument is that its control is decentralized rather than centralized. So what? Decentralized control carries its own set of risks.

The reality is bitcoin’ blockchain use and creation is part of what has led to the FTX mess. The so-called strength of not having centralized regulation of digital currency is shown to be a weakness. The pitch is that bitcoin is designed and intended not to require government regulation because of the mystical belief that regulation magically appears because of user transparency. Blockchain security does not appear to be any more trustworthy than a paper dollar in a tech-savvy world.

Another issue raised by Prasad is value instability of bitcoin.

Crypto currency is being tested by different governments around the world. These governments are trying to widen crypto currencies trust and value through greater diversification of support from nation-state’ assets. The idea may reduce instability, but there remains a question of oversight. Yes, oversight–that dreaded function labeled government regulation. User transparency is not enough as is proven by the failure of FTX.

Prasad tackles the complexity of inflation and the difficulty of controlling its negative impact on public welfare and economic health. Inflation often leads to a cycle of impoverishment that hits those who are poorest the most.

When inflation occurs, the cost of living (particularly food and shelter) is disproportionally lost by the poor. What is called helicoptering of money to families below a certain income level mitigated the worst consequence of unemployment during Covid in the United States. Covid’s impact and the decision to helicopter money caused a cycle of inflation in America, but it also reduced hardship and stabilized the economy.

Prasad notes inflation is being mitigated by Federal Reserve’s tightening of monetary policy by raising interest rates. The risk of that action is that those at the lowest end of the income market may lose their jobs because of industry layoffs. Prasad explains rising interest rates reduce business investment which can trigger a downward spiral in the economy.

It seems no coincidence that homelessness has become a national problem in America at the time of monetary policy disruption. Some argue change in monetary policy and Covid recovery have nothing to do with homelessness. Some argue citizens have just lost their motivation to work. Believing it is a loss of motivation seems ridiculous when one looks at conditions in which the homeless live. Whatever the cause, America is the wealthiest nation in the world and can reduce homelessness by acting responsibly.

Though not addressed by Prasad, homelessness is a national problem that should be funded by the national government at a local level so cities can adequately attack its multiple causes.

Prasad notes helicopter funding is only one arrow in monetary policies government quiver. Digital currency has made some people rich, but its control needs to be regulated to serve the needs of society more broadly.

One idea Prasad explains is the idea of a central bank digital currency (aka CBDC), presently being studied by the Federal Government.

Bitcoin, under the supervision of government, is a contradiction of the original inventor’s intent. However, the idea of blockchain, technology, and bitcoin opens a door to improving economic conditions of the poor around the world. The potential for CBDC, in concert with today’s access to internet payment rails, is a growing 21st century economic opportunity. It is not because of the idea of CBDC alone, but CBDC in concert with the internet and mobile phones could change the course of economic history. The evidence Prasad points to is Africa and the creation of a mobile phone service that offers the poor a way to pay bills without a checking account and collect income for product created for sale.

Prasad explains how people in the lowest economic classes have gained access to money for pay and income by using features of mobile phones.

Prasad explains the many experiments with digital currency are changing the world’s economy. Prasad notes the general concern is the amount of influence and regulation a government digital currency might have on its country of origin. On the one hand it offers opportunity for economic improvement. On the other, it creates a vehicle for an intrusive invasion of privacy. Anything entered into a computer potentially becomes public knowledge.

Further, Prasad notes the American dollar is already the most influential currency in the world. The idea of an American controlled digital currency is threatening to many countries, both in western and eastern blocs.

One who reads Prasad’s book is likely to conclude America will eventually create a digital currency. FTX shows digital currency cannot regulate itself without oversight. Whether America will remain the big dog in currency influence depends on an unknown future. No government’s digital currency has been successful as of this date.


 Audio-book Review
 By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog: awalkingdelight)

A Life on Our Planet (My Witness Statement and Vision for the Future)

By: Sir David Attenborough, Jonnie Hughes

Narrated by: Sir David Attenborough

In a memoir of one man’s life, David Attenborough (with the help of Jonnie Hughes) reviews earth’s degraded environment and humanity’s future. Sir Attenborough tells a personal story of his life as an English broadcaster, biologist, natural historian, and author.

Attenborough recalls his education as an educated naturalist, BBC commentator, and program producer of travels, the environment, and species decline around the world. His career spans over 50 years of experience–from meeting famous conservationists like Jane Goodall to exploring remote islands in search of native culture.

In nearly a century of life, Attenborough reflects on what he has personally experienced on earth with a life-long interest in environment. The first half of the book is about the beginning of civilization and environmental despoliation. The last half of Attenborough and Hughes’ story is about their “…Vision for the Future”.

From recollections of the 1950s to the present, “A Life on Our Planet” is earmarked by population growth and wilderness decline.

Attenborough and Hughes describe earth as a closed system. His analogy is that earth is a petri dish that grows bacteria that will consume the world if humans fail to change their ways. Interspecies dependance is challenged and changed by environmental degradation caused by human activity. From the destruction of whales in the era of whale hunting to deforestation of land by farming and industry, the authors argue the earth is being murdered by humanity.

Global warming from industrialization and deforestation accelerates earth’s death by warming oceans. Just as the cycle of life in the sea is disrupted by global warming–removing forests, overhunting, and species extinction disrupt life on land.

Coral turns from a living, colorful paradise to a dead and crumbling, bleached underwater forest. Great Barrier Reef in Australia

Much of what Attenborough notes is evident when one personally travels the world. In a recent trip to Southeast Asia, a Hmong guide explains how diet of people in Cambodia changed because of the loss of wild game in the country. Snakes and spiders were rarely eaten by native Cambodians. Now they are considered a delicacy and a source of income for people who raise them for consumption. In visiting Norway, fish farming is a growing industry to replenish depleted salmon stock, and despite Norway’s oil wealth, wind farms are seen throughout the country.

Listening to “A Life on Our Planet”, one holds their breath to hear the last half of Attenborough and Hughes’ book for their “…Vision for the Future.” So many authors decry the fate of humanity, one becomes jaded by dire predictions of ecologists and environmental experts.

Is there a solution that does not end with the extinction of human life? Life on earth is unlikely to end from human environmental mistakes, but human beings are one of many species on earth that will disappear if humanity fails to respond to the environmental crises of its own making.

The author’s “…Vision for the Future” gives one hope.

Except for their mistaken belief that measuring GDP (gross domestic product) as a measure of success is an underlying singular cause of the world’s environmental disaster, they offer the idea of re-wilding the world. GDP will always be a part of societies’ measurement of success. However, the idea of re-wilding earth is a realistic solution to human life’s environmental Armageddon.

The principle of re-wilding the world is a practical solution that does not deny the natural instincts of humankind. The authors are suggesting countries of the world need to focus on bio-diversity policies that re-introduce lost species and promote current species of life.

A big step would be international agreement on fishing restrictions in different areas of the world (for enforced periods of time) that will allow ocean and waterway fish and mammal species to naturally propagate.

Similar to that is happening with Western Australia Fishing Restrictions.

According to science and experimental proof of established fishing area restrictions, food availability for a rising human population will improve.

A second point made by the authors is that women around the world must be liberated.

Repression of women has kept half the world from realizing its full potential. With free choice, women will be able to make their own decisions about work, family, and productivity. It is no coincidence that population growth in America slowed with the liberation of women who chose to have or not have children.

A third visionary idea is a nation’s choice on sources of energy.

Geothermal energy in New Zealand as an example.

Choosing to abandon fossil fuels will improve the air we breathe and reduce overheating of land and sea. In choosing renewable energy sources, the authors note two small countries have abandoned fossil fuels. Surprisingly, one is Albania. Having traveled there a few years ago, one could see how enterprising and vibrant the economy of Albania appears to be. The other fossil fuel independent country is Iceland which uses earth’s thermal energy to warm their homes from a sustainable, pollution free energy source.

A concern is raised about an aging population like that in Japan where women have chosen not to have children. What is unwritten by the authors is that many countries fail to open their borders to young people from other countries that have no work and limited opportunity in their home countries. There needs to be a growing understanding that all people of the world are on the same spaceship. In a perfect world, all people would be treated equally. It is not a perfect world, but GDP can drive countries to be more open to immigration.

“Dallas, Texas, United States – May 1, 2010 a large group of demonstrators carry banners and wave flags during a pro-immigration march on May Day.”

Attenborough has lived a long and interesting life. He offers listeners wisdom from being a witness to the truth about the world in which we live. This is not a story of the end of “…Life on Our Planet” but a formula for humanity’s continuation.

Humans can continue to despoil the environment. The consequence only makes human habitation impossible. Trees and wildlife are rewilding Chernobyl. Only humankind is unable to return.


Audio-book Review
 By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog: awalkingdelight)

Mad Enchantment: Claude Monet and the Painting of the Water Lilies

By: Ross King

Narrated by: Joel Richards

Ross King (Canadian Author of books on Italian, French and Canadian Art and History.)

Ross King refreshes one’s interest in the history of WWI while revealing much of the mystery and appeal of Claude Monet and his art. Monet’s diminutive size contrasts with his giant impact on impressionism. As a founding father of impressionism, Monet’s passion is to show the effect of light on life and nature.

Monet lived in Giverny, France in a modest house with a well-maintained lily pond and garden that served as a subject of his art.

Having read biographies of Leonardo da Vinci and Caravaggio, Monet is certainly not the first to have had a passion for the effect of light on a subject. Monet produces light that moves an admirer from objective observation to subjective pleasure.

In 1874, Monet exhibited “Impression Sunrise” that received hostile reviews. That painting exemplified the beginning of Impressionism. King shows Monet insists on his vision and the era of modern art is born.


King recounts Monet’s relationship with Clemenceau, known in France as the tiger before WWI, and the Father of Victory at its end. King explains Clemenceau is a duelist in his early years who becomes a physician, newspaper writer/publisher, and then politician.

Clemenceau at Age 24 in 1865.

Clemenceau is recognized as a great orator and leader of men by no less than Winston Churchill.

Clemenceau becomes prime minister of France during WWI.

Clemenceau cheers French resistance to the German assault of France. At defeat of Germany, Clemenceau presses for German reparations, including return of the Alsace-Lorraine region of France. He insists on full compensation for German destruction from WWI.

King offers a Eurocentric view of WWI. France is not a great fan of America’s reluctance to join the war when France is pummeled by Germany. Though Clemenceau appreciates the ideal of Wilson’s 14-point plan, he objects to the League of Nations and insists on German reparations that set the table for WWII.

Monet is also not a great admirer of America. He considers American buyers of his art as profligate and ignorant of fine art and their value. King notes both Clemenceau and Monet admire Japanese artists and collect many of their works. Many of Monet’s paintings are sold to Japanese buyers.

Clemenceau and Monet are close friends until death. Monet is the first to go but Clemenceau is ill and soon to die. Both were of a similar age. Both were hard working Frenchmen in their respective professions. Monet’s art is sold or bartered during his life to private and public museums. Many of Monet’s works are donated to the French government at his death. A government financed museum is created for an exclusive exhibit of Monet’s paintings.

Mussee Marmottan in Paris

King notes Monet loses much of his eyesight in later years, but he perseveres with the help of eye surgery that returns some vision to one eye. Clemenceau plays a large part in convincing Monet to donate his art to France. As both are approaching death, Monet’s penchant for procrastination nearly fractures their close relationship. Part of the fracturing is related to the government’s problems with creating a museum that would meet Monet’s requirements. Some of his canvases were huge and Monet wished to have them displayed in an oval shaped museum. Additionally, King notes Monet is often dissatisfied with a painting and would destroy it and start over. Monet is also noted to dawdle when nearing a paintings completion by leaving a detail that is planned but never executed. King explains Monet’s work ethic is phenomenal. He wakes at dawn and works through the night until his energy is spent.

Clemenceau is a significant character in King’s biography of Monet. In some respects, the two men are alike. They are both relentlessly energetic in their respective professions. Though Clemenceau is a doctor, his passion is in publishing and politics. He travels the world. Monet restricts his travel to France, mostly between Paris and Giverny but with a passion for work equal to Clemenceau’s. Monet’s passion is for impressionist renderings of the natural world.

As Monet’s vision deteriorates, later work reimagines impressionism based on failing vision–but more poignantly, it seems Monet’s later paintings reflect on the trials of a long life.

Water Lillies 1919 at The Met Fifth Avenue in New York.

King suggests looking at one of Monet’s water lilies paintings long enough gives one’s imagination free reign to see something more than a pond. Some see figures of women, others–spirits of the dead. A lily pond seems as much a tribute to life as to decay.

Rose Trellises in Giverny 1922

In King’s epilogue, Monet is glorified in a review and contrast of early and late impressionist paintings. King reminds listeners of Monet’s initial vilification by the art world, his resurrection, demise, and reification in modern times. What Monet could see with younger eyes, before cataracts obscured his vision, King recognizes as a new era of art. King offers tribute to two great men, Clemenceau’s political renown which revels in his time and Monet’s art celebrated for all time.


Indochina is changing based on its own history. America’s war is only a small part of that history. Sadly, that small part killed more than 50,000 Americans and indirectly resulted in deaths of many more Indochina citizens.


Written by Chet Yarbrough

There are no excuses for one to be uninformed about the world in this era of “phone-net” access. However, what is at issue is an echo chamber that traps unwary reader/listeners and fellow travelers in false beliefs.

An echo chamber is a media repeater that only reaffirms one’s beliefs, whether true or false.

An echo chamber is populated with tailored information that only reinforces what one already believes.

Facts of an echo chamber are tailored to its audience, rather than to truth.

To avoid the echo chamber trap, one must diversify what they read and hear. One must become a skeptic. Personal experience, reading of other’s experience, and listening to different news sources are essential requirements of the skeptic. Diversification begins by reading books of history, and periodicals with different political views. Like all books of history, truth is distorted by a writer’s chosen facts. It is impossible to precisely contextualize the complexity of the past.

History is infected by experiences of the present and fact-choices of the past.

Television news reports, local and national newspapers, and news magazines offer subtlety different views of world events. They may report on the same issue but often show different facts and perspectives. Those differences refine and expand one’s understanding of events. Few writers or news reports are perfectly right but each have a perspective that can be measured by the education and experience of reader/listeners.

Diversification of information does not guarantee truth, but it gives reader/listeners choice. In that choosing, we become ourselves.

A case in point is Jim Webb’s interview in the Wall Street Journal, 1/21/23. The title of the article is “Echoes of Vietnam”. Webb is a veteran of America’s Vietnam war. The interviewer asks Webb if the war was worth fighting. The reported response is “…America won–only a different way. We stopped communism, which didn’t advance in Indochina any further than it reached in 1975. We enabled other countries to develop market economic and governmental systems that were basically functional and responsive to their people. The model stayed and I like to think it will advance in Vietnam.”

Jim Webb (Former U.S. Senator from Va., 66th U.S. Secy. of the Navy, Age 76.)

This is a powerful statement by Webb with a view based on Vietnam war experience and the interviewee’s reported Vietnamese language skill. However, it seems Webb’s and the interviewer’s truth is only a snapshot of Indochina from the perspective of one who risked his life in America’s war.

Having traveled recently to Indochina (specifically Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand) what Webb quoted seems partly true. What the interview does not reveal is an uneasiness felt by Laos and Cambodia about a Vietnamese communist threat to borders of adjacent countries.

Communism and Democracy are changing.

As Webb notes communism has elements of capitalism throughout Indochina. Democracy’s form of capitalism is becoming more socialist, which is particularly true in Scandinavian countries and to a lesser extent America.

The striking concern expressed by Vietnam’ and Cambodian’ guides is the fear of China and its authoritarian form of communism, even though it incorporates elements of capitalism.

It seems the American war in Vietnam had little to do with today’s Indochina’ governments. America’s war seems to have had some effect on Indochina’s governmental evolution but not as much as their own history.

Indochina has its own history of authoritarianism, ranging from monarchy to colonialization to its present form of authoritarian capitalism.

Indochina is changing based on its own history. America’s war is only a small part of that history. Sadly, that small part killed more than 50,000 Americans and indirectly resulted in deaths of many more Indochina citizens.


Ferguson’s book is an excellent biography of an American WWII veteran, a hero, an intellectual giant, and a flawed human being. Ferguson shows Henry Kissinger certainly is the first three, but also a flawed human being-just like the rest of us.

Audio-book Review
           By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog: awalkingdelight)

Kissinger: Volume I: 1923-1968: The Idealist

By: Niall Ferguson

Narrated by: Malcolm Hillgartner

Niall Ferguson (Author, Scottish American historian, former professor at Harvard University, London School of Economics, and New York University.)

It is a tribute to Kissinger’s intelligence to have chosen Ferguson as his biographer. However, in some ways Ferguson’s story reminds one of Shakespeare’s characterizations of Marc Anthony’s speech at the burial of Caesar. “I came to bury Caesar, not to praise him”.

“Kissinger: Volume I” is as objective as seems possible for the biography of an important man of history. It is written by an historian of erudition and intellect.

Niall Ferguson’s biography begins with Volume I that covers Henry Kissinger’s life from 1923 to 1968.

Ferguson’s erudite assessment of Kissinger seems so comprehensive that little is left to be known for a second volume.

One’s view of Kissinger will be changed by this detailed biography. Many who lived through the 60s and the Vietnam war think of Kissinger as a primary influence in Nixon’s withdrawal from war and America’s belated welcome of communist China.

Ferguson reinforces belief in Kissinger’s influence but implies Nixon is the prime mover. Nixon directs the end of the American war in Vietnam and opens communist China to the world of diplomacy and trade.

Kissinger is revealed as a brilliant teenage boy who lives in and experiences the beginnings of WWII in Germany. Along with his immediate family, he escapes Nazi Germany before the holocaust. When he returns as a soldier in the U.S. Army, he bares the consequence of relatives lost in his home country.


Ferguson shows Kissinger to be a good soldier. He is promoted to staff sergeant and awarded a medal for his work in exposing Nazi sympathizers in post-war Germany. Many believe Kissinger’s recommendations as adviser to American politicians is Machiavellian in the sense that fear is the best form of diplomatic control of adversaries. Ferguson suggests that labeling is a mischaracterization of Kissinger’s view of diplomacy.

Ferguson infers Kissinger’s experience in Germany were formative in respect to what is characterized as an idealized view of power in the politics of diplomacy. That experience is reinforced by Kissinger’s research and education at Harvard, after the war.

Ferguson explains Kissinger is an idealist. Like the founding fathers envision the structure of American government, Kissinger focuses on balance of power. Kissinger advises American leaders to adopt international policies based on balance of power among adversaries.

Ferguson’s evidence is Kissinger’s doctoral thesis on the history of Metternich and the Austro-Hungarian empire in the mid-19th century. In Kissinger’s thesis, he explains Metternich withstood Russian and Ottoman incursions by using censorship, a spy network, and armed suppression against rebellion to maintain a balance of power between opposing forces interested in dismantling the Austrian empire. When Bonapart and Russia covet the Austrian empire, Metternich influences Napoleon to marry Austrian archduchess Marie Louise rather than the sister of the Russian Tsar. Ferguson explains the approach Kissinger uses in nation-state diplomacy is Metternich’s balance of power idea, not Machiavellian fear.

Kissinger, like Metternich, looks at balancing power among vying nations to achieve stability within one’s own state.

However, Ferguson infers there is a flaw in Kissinger’s reliance on balance of power diplomacy. America’s support of Pol Pot makes some sense in respect to Kissinger’s “balance of power” argument, but its cost exceeds its value. Cambodia fell to communism whether either warring party would prevail. America’s support of Pol Pot did not stabilize or improve America’s position in Vietnam.

Some might characterize America’s support of Pol Pot is Machiavellian. However, another way of looking at it is America’s support balanced two warring factions (the Vietnamese army and the Khmer Rouge who are both opposed to American hegemonic influence) to maintain America’s national stability. If anything, it increased American instability by inflaming anti-war demonstrations in the U.S.; not to mention the horrific human consequence of Pol Pot’s directed murder of 1.5 to 2 million Cambodians. Pol Pot is never tried or executed for these crimes against humanity.

A memorial is filled with the skulls of men, women, and children murdered by Pol Pot in the Cambodian “killing fields”.

What Ferguson makes clear is Kissinger focuses on the ideal of “balance of power” when recommending actionable political policy to American leaders. Kissinger focuses on stability, not equity or fairness when recommending American political policy. Cambodian massacre of its own citizens shows the weakness of Kissinger’s idealization.

Where “balance of power” becomes even more difficult as a diplomatic tool is in a nuclear age where annihilation of a nation becomes a zero-sum game. There is no balance of power. There is only mutual destruction and end times.

Ferguson shows Kissinger believes there is a place for limited nuclear bombing in war. Ferguson infers Kissinger agrees with those who believe nuclear weapons can be used as a strategic weapon. Kissinger believes diplomacy based on “balance of power” can ameliorate Armageddon. It seems a faith-based conclusion from a diplomat who is driven by intellect, not emotion. The problem is political leadership is often driven by emotion, not intellect.

Is Putin driven by emotion or intellect? Western support of Ukraine is a test that will answer the question.

Human emotion makes the idea of “balance of power” in a nuclear age chimerical and useless.

Ferguson shows, like all great leaders in history, there is education, experience, and often a mentor that influence one’s intellect. Education and experience are clearly evident in Ferguson’s story of Kissinger’s life. Ferguson reveals two influential people, one clearly identified as a mentor: the other as a great influencer.

Kissinger’s early mentor is Fritz Kramer whom he met when serving in the U.S. Army (Kramer is pictured below in a conference with President Nixon). Ferguson explains, Nelson Rockefeller, the governor of New York, former V.P. of the U.S., and candidate for President becomes a great influence in Kissinger’s life. Rockefeller’s influence is personal as well as professional.

Kissinger promotes the idea of limited nuclear war as a tool for balance of power. This is an argument inferred by Putin in Ukraine’s invasion. To some Americans, and to Ferguson, that seems a slippery slope.

Ferguson’s book is an excellent biography of an American WWII veteran, a hero, an intellectual giant, and a flawed human being. Ferguson shows Henry Kissinger certainly is the first three, but also a flawed human being-just like the rest of us.


Yarbrough (Blog:awalkingdelight)

Southeast Asia 2023, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam

Written by Chet Yarbrough

Over Christmas 2022 and New Year’s 2023, America’s storied history in Southeast Asia is vivified in a 20-day trip to Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam.


Chaopraya River in Bankok

Visting the Thompson house in Thailand is quite a treat. The mystery of Thompson’s disappearance remains unsolved but the tour through his custom home, built from sections of different houses, is a remarkable display of architectural ingenuity. As an architect, Thompson designed a unique house with tapered doors to each room. Every room is protected from evil spirits by traditional high wood partitions at the bottom of each entry door.

The mystery surrounding Thompson has to do with his background as a former CIA agent. Some suggest CIA association might have something to do with his disappearance. Others suggest he was kidnapped for ransom. Still others suggest he just got lost and was eaten by the jungle. His real story is about the beginning of the silk trade for which he became well known. In any case, his home is a monument to East Asian art and a fitting end to a well-lived life.

Recalling America’s war in Vietnam, one becomes reacquainted with America’s carpet bombing of the Ho Chi Minh trails. The trails extend through Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam. Hearing of mid-20th century and Asia’s ancient history of Hinduism and Buddhism, some Southeastern Asia’ travelers will leave with a sense of guilt, shame, or sadness.


Feeling guilt comes from hubris in believing American Democracy is desired by all people of the world.

Shame is in the reality of continued loss of lives from America’s undetonated cluster bombs in Laos, Cambodia and Vietnamese farm fields.

Sadness comes from the many Asian believers in non-violent Hindu’ and Buddhist’ teaching that are diminished by war.

The atrocity of war in Cambodia spits in the face of humanity. The Khmer Rouge gather together to enforce Pol Pot’s demented idea of forcing farmers to join communal farms under one leader’s bureaucratic control. Such an idea was tried and shown to be a failure by Mao in China. America supports Pol Pot’s genocidal attack on citizens who resisted Pol Pot’s forced indenture and relocation. 1.5 to 2 million Cambodians were murdered.

The Nixon/Kissinger administration supports Pol Pot in part because of their belief in the domino theory of communism (Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand would become communist if one became communist).

The irony of America’s support of Pol Pot is that Vietnam’s communist army, not America, liberates Cambodia from Pol Pot’s atrocity.

The Nixon/Kissinger policy of Pol Pot support is compounded by America’s decision to carpet bomb the southern route of the Ho Chi Minh trail. America’s hope is to interrupt the communist takeover of Vietnam. Of course, this is taken out of the context of a sincere belief in the domino theory of one country falling to communism leading to more countries falling to the same fate.

To some Americans, the support of Pol Pot is justified because communism did gain some level of control of Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand. What seems clear is the southern part of Vietnam, and all of Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand have endorsed a form of communism. However, all four countries show a level of economic competition and prosperity that suggests capitalist influence exists in every sector of the economy.

No communist party in these four countries appear in complete control. All four governments seem more like a work in progress than an inevitable probability of either communism or democracy. Corruption is alleged in all four countries we visited but that is a refrain one hears in every form of government, including America.

A level of discontent is exhibited by a young college graduate in Thailand. He explains his ambition to become less controlled by government, with freedom of speech, and a right to pursue an independent career. Student protest is rising in Thailand.

In Laos, our local guide (ironically named Lao) explains how he chose to walk 13 miles to school every day to become the first formally educated person in his family. Lao belongs to a Hmong minority in Laos.

The Hmong were recruited by the CIA during America’s Vietnam war. A few of the fighters were evacuated to American after the war, but many were left to fend for themselves. Laos is the least developed of the four countries visited on this trip. However, some small villages seem to have done well for their residents.

Our local guide suggests there is a threat to this rural life. An elevated train system has been built by China that crosses the river near this local community. China approached local residents with a proposal to relocate their village. China wishes to build a casino on their land for the entertainment of Chinese tourists.

Elevated rail from China to Cambodia

On one of several village visits in Laos, we visit local artisans plying their trade.

Later, visiting the Cambodian “killing fields” one recognizes the atrocity citizens lived through. No thoughtful Cambodian would want to return to a Pol Pot authoritarian government. Cambodia’s monument to Pol Pot’s atrocity is a reminder of his misanthropic idea of an agricultural utopia.

The first two pictures are of a vertical tower filled with the skulls of the “killing field”, victims from Pol Pot’s reign of terror.

Southeast Asia is undoubtedly influenced by communism. However, resistance to authoritarianism is apparent in every nation we toured. What is striking in all four countries is the continued investment in ancient Hindu and new Buddhist temples. An equally surprising realization is that the younger generation places much less faith in these dominant religions than seems warranted by the investment.

In a dinner in Thailand with the son of our guide, the son explains he is 50/50 on belief in Buddhism. The inference one draws is that the value of investment in Hindu’ and Buddhist’ temples is for its tourism value more than belief in religious doctrine. On the other hand, one cannot discount a fundamental belief in these religions that have a “let be” attitude about life that offers a level of social stability beyond any government influence on life.

There is a sense of uneasiness in Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia in regard to Vietnam encroachment. Vietnam seems the “big dog” in the kennel. Though our local guide in Vietnam believes there is no chance of war, there seems fear of invasion or dominance by a stronger, more experienced military in Vietnam than in the other peninsula countries we visited. However, the greater concern in all four countries seems to be the potential for domination by China. Though relations appear quiescent at the moment, the authoritarian character of China’s current leadership seems worthy of some concern. In Vietnam, our local guide, who is 30 years of age, explains neither he nor the older Vietnamese generation wish any war in Southeast Asia but express guarded concern about China’s intention.

The following pictures are of the seat of power in Ho Chi Minh city (formerly Saigon) Vietnam during the American war. It is now a museum showing the government offices and a bunker in the event of an attack.

All our guides in Southeast Asia were excellent. Our primary guide, Lucky, practiced for a short time as a novice monk. As a part of the tour, we were able to ask questions of a monk that exemplifies the resilience and strength of Buddhism and its teaching. Questions were answered with grace and intelligence that reinforce one’s un-schooled understanding of Buddhism and its place in world religions.


And, of course, no one can leave Cambodia without a visit to Angkor Wat the largest religious monument in the world, built in the 12th century.

Many personal conversations with Lucky, our primary guide, gave insight to the strength of Buddhism and a way of life that eschews conflict and promotes peace. Lucky believes in the traditions of his Thailand upbringing with acceptance of things as they are with the hope that the traditions of his country will continue.

In a sense, Lucky is a royalist who believes in the importance of the blood line of royalty as a moral compass for the country. The many experiences we had on this brief trip suggest Lucky’s hope for a limited monarchy is possible but with reservation. History never repeats itself in the same way.


Audio-book Review
           By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog: awalkingdelight)

Goebbels: A Biography

By: Peter Longerich

         Translated by Jeremy Noakes and Lesley Sharpe

 Narrated by: Simon Prebble

Peter Longerich (Author, German professor of history, received Ph.D from University of Munich.)

Every chapter of “Goebbels” history of the rise of Nazism pricks the conscience of 21st century Americans. Was American democracy condemned or vindicated by January 6, 2021’s, attack on the capitol?

Some who attacked the capitol think–what they did was heroic. That belief elicits fear when listening to Longerich’s biography of “Goebbels”.

Adolph Hitler is shown as a consummate political strategist who fails in his first attempt to overthrow the German government.

Despite an initial defeat, Hitler hangs on and eventually becomes Germany’s head of State. He gathers the power of the press through Goebbels to actualize the final solution that exterminates six million Jews and causes the death of millions in WWII.

Paul Joseph Goebbels, chief propagandist for the Nazi Party became Minister of Propaganda for all German media from 1933-1945.

Hitler begins his campaign to resurrect and expand Germany by reacquiring the Rhineland in 1936 and invading Poland in 1939.

Today’s parallel is Putin’s stealthy acquisition of the Crimean Peninsula in 2015 and Russia’s reinvasion of Ukraine in 2022.

So far, the western world has condemned Putin’s ambition with the West’s financial and material support of Ukraine. However, there is growing talk of reducing support for Ukraine.

While listening to Longerich’s history, one wonders–what stands in the way of the west’s wavering support of Ukraine? What stands in the way of America’s fall into anarchy?

President Trump is narrowly defeated by Joseph Biden in the 2021 election.

Trump’s followers believe the election was stolen and chooses to attack the capitol to reverse the election results. Trump’s position is supported by a portion of the media and some elected officials.

The difference in America is–no singular media leader like Goebbels is here to martial the distortions of truth that turn the tide for Hitler. As evident in America, there is a mixed, often negative, reaction to the internet and its use to distribute a lie as easily as truth.

QAnon is an example of how harmful lies can be to a country’s people. However, QAnon’s lies, and distortions of truth have been exposed by reputable media outlets. QAnon has many heads but, like Alex Jones, its lies will be exposed. QAnon will disappear from the weight of its lies and distortion of truth.

Today, every American should salute the free press. American media does distort the truth, but that distortion is not controlled by one media leader.

Truth ultimately prevails, even when there are alternative interpretations of the facts. Extremism will continue to roil American society. Inequality, racism, sexism, and the tragedies of Sandy Hook, Tops Market, and church bombings remain a part of America, but the circumstances of Hitler’s orchestrated assault on humanity is unlikely to be repeated in today’s America as long as a free press is preserved.


Audio-book Review
           By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog: awalkingdelight)

The Hidden History of Burma (Race, Capitalism, and the Crisis of Democracy in the 21st Century)

By: Thant Myint-U

Narrated by: Assaf Cohen

Author, Thant Myint-U, is the son of the former secretary-general of the UN, U Thant (1961-1971). His circle of acquaintances ranges from Presidents to diplomats to people on the street.

U Thant (Secretary-General of the United Nations 1961-1971, died in 1974 at the age of 65.)

Thant Myint-U’s report on Burma (aka today’s Myanmar) reveals a capitalist’s “canary in a coal mine”. “The Hidden History of Burma” reveals what can happen in capitalist countries that ignore the rising gap between rich and poor.

Like canaries, all people are not the same.

Thant Myint-U resurrects the reputation of Aung Suu Kyi, a leader of conscience. He exposes Myanmar’s 2021 military revolution and its unfair trial of Burma’s storied and unfairly maligned national patriot. Thant Myint-U’s history implies no leader of conscience could withstand the inept Burmese government’s management of human diversity that led to the accusation of Rohingya genocide in 2020.

Aung San Suu Kyi (Burmese politician, diplomat, author and 1991 Nobel Peace Prize Laureat. She is the daughter of Aung San, the Father of Independent Burma.)

Aung San (Burmese politician, Father of Burma independence from British rule, assassinated six months before independence granted.)

All capitalist economies are threatened by human greed when capitalism is unregulated. Capitalism falters when it fails to provide an adequate safety net to its citizens. When countries fail to offer an opportunity to acquire the basic needs of life, the poor disproportionately die. When the poor are not treated equitably by society, they have two choices. One is to bare unfair treatment and die. The other is to fight unfair treatment and die. (Note that is not to suggest hand-outs but to suggest hand-ups to jobs, income, and opportunity.)

Human nature compels a turn to God when one feels out of control.

One reason the Islamic religion is the fastest growing religion in the world is because many Muslims are poor. They live in countries where governments fail to treat diversity as a strength, not a burden.

Burma’s return to military autocracy is shown by Thant Myint-U to be a consequence of the gap between rich and poor, largely caused by an unregulated capitalist economy. Lack of capitalist regulation in autocracies or democracies make the rich richer and the poor poorer, the twain do meet but mostly in conflict.

Diversity in countries of the world is not new. Some level of diversity exists in every country.

Democracy is a form of government that can offer a voice to diversity. When democracy fails to respond to that voice, it risks revolution, and its consequence-autocracy. In “The Hidden History of Burma, Thant Myint-U shows Myanmar’s government is not listening to the voices of diversity.


There is a lesson for America in the story of Burma. The gap between rich and poor is rising. American Democratic capitalism is listening but struggling with its response. America does not have the history of Burma, but government leaders can learn something from Burma’s inept reaction to diversity.