FORK IN THE ROAD

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The Wizard and the Prophet: Two Remarkable Scientists and Their Dueling Visions to Shape Tomorrow’s World

By: Charles C. Mann

                                                   Narrated by : Bronson Pinchot

Charles C. Mann (Author, journalist, contributing editor fo Science, The Atlantic Monthly, and Wired.)

“The Wizard and the Prophet” is a cogent analysis of an environmental fork in the road.  Charles Mann chooses two twentieth century scientists to represent this fork in the road.  One road is to limit economic growth by conserving the environment. The other advocates economic growth by using technology to ameliorate environmental resource diminution and degradation.  Both Mann’s scientists are advocating preservation of human life.

Mann’s detailed history of the two representatives of conservation and amelioration of natural resources are, at times, tedious and unrewarding.  The prophet Mann chooses is William Vogt.  He is a prophet because he predicts environmental catastrophe from humanity’s overuse of natural resources.  The wizard is Norman Borlaug who uses science to improve agricultural production. 

Vogt is famous for writing the best-seller “Road to Survival”.  Borlaug is  famous for culturing a wheat variety that saves millions of people from starvation.

Mann recalls Borlaug’s research and seed hybridization that hugely increases wheat productivity in Mexico and throughout the farming world.

In listening to “The Wizard and the Prophet”, the fundamental difference between these two protagonists is Vogt believes less is more while Borlaug believes more is better because it improves the quality of life for current generations.  Both agree nature seeks balance, but one chooses conservation through science while the other chooses technological innovation. 

In their differences of opinion, Mann suggest both men believe nature’s balance can only be achieved by an either/or, not a common, proposition.  To Vogt, balance of nature requires living within one’s environment without upsetting nature’s balance.  Mann explains how Vogt and others explain human overpopulation is a principle cause of nature’s imbalance. Mann recalls Vogt’s history of telling nation-state leaders that humans should not deplete natural resources or interrupt natural process because imbalance of nature threatens human existence.  In contrast, Borlaug, believes nature’s balance can be maintained through technology.  The inference from Borlaug is that nature will rebalance on its own if resources are depleted or natural processes are interrupted.  Borlaug argues use of resources benefits people who will have a better life, while innovation can and will re-balance nature’s depletion and process. 

Population growth is a clear and present danger.  Mann argues life is a cycle. 

What Mann shows as weaknesses in both visions of the environment is that nature’s balance is a moving target.  Neither conservation nor technology assures humanity’s future.  Mann recounts experimental speculation that reaches back to the  4th century BC.  All living species follow an “S curve”.  (It’s not an “S” but that is what it is called.) A new species begins at the bottom, achieves a certain level of success, slows down, and begins recovery, declines again, and then disappears.  Presuming humanity follows other animal species that have disappeared over the centuries, so will humans.

 Human life has always been ephemeral.  Improving children’s lives today at least improves living standards for one more generation.  Each generation should focus on the best lives for the next generation.  Nature will always be in control of humanity’s destiny in this and other universes.

Mann chooses not to take sides, but it seems clear that whatever the wizards of science can find that improves the lives of today’s generation (wherever humans are on that “S” curve) is better than Vogt’s argument for conservation by any means necessary.

Be a pessimist if you must, be an optimist if you can, or be a realist, and know where we are is who we are.

HOW THE BRAIN WORKS

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

A Thousand Brains, A New Theory of Intelligence

By: Jeff Hawkins

                                   Narrated by : Jamie Renell, Richard Dawkins

Jeffrey Hawkins (Author, electrical engineer, neuro-science researcher, business person.)

Jeff Hawkins presents an enlightening and, to some, frightening view of humanity’s current condition and future existence. 

Enlightenment is in the explanation of how the brain works.  Fear is in Hawkins explanation of how human beings make their own choices, with inference that humans have free will.

Jeff Hawkins explains a brain has two fundamental parts.  One is a brain stem that extends from the limbic center of the brain. The new part is the neocortex.

The brain stem is the “old brain”, the seat of control for body function, with connection to the limbic mid-brain which contains emotion.  The “new brain” is an evolutionary consequence of “old brain” origin. The neocortex surrounds and sits on top of the brain stem and constitutes approximately 70% of the human brain.  The neocortex is Jeff Hawkins characterization as a “new brain”. 

The remarkable insight of the author is that these two brains are interconnected by cortical columns that give humans superior intelligence.  That insight opens the door to consciousness and the possibility of creating a dynamic relationship between man and machine.

Richard Dawkins, a British evolutionary biologist, writes a laudatory forward to “A Thousand Brains”.

Richard Dawkins comments give listeners clues to the momentous potential of Jeffrey Hawkins experimentally reproducible theory of how the brain works.  Richard Dawkins ground-breaking explanation of “The Selfish Gene” explains why Jeff Hawkins theory of “A Thousand Brains” has two fundamental parts, an “old brain” and a “new brain”.  Both brains are made up with cells with genes that have a singular purpose. Genes purpose is to genetically replicate themselves. Jeffrey Dawkins implies genes in the cells of the “old brain” came first and the “new brain” came later through natural selection.

Genes are deeply imbedded in cells, the basic building blocks of life.

Jeff Dawkins argues an old brain is the seat of life sustaining action with direct connection to the mid-brain below the neocortex. To Jeff Dawkins, a new brain is an evolutionary change for humans to reach beyond emotions and action for gene survival. The purpose of survival evolves with interaction between old and new brains to accommodate social change. The new brain recognizes gene survival requires more than a “kill or be killed” mentality inherent in “old brain” evolution.

Jeff Dawkins experimentally proves there are synaptic connections between new and old brains within cortical columns that offer choices for change to ensure gene survival.  That synaptic connection allows humans to draw on thousands of recorded memories from a person’s life.  These memories are hundreds of thousands of models of everything a human brain experiences.  As models they are only representations of reality, but humans make decisions based on those remembrances.

The flaw is that human decisions are made based on representations of reality, not necessarily true reality.  Experience models in human’ memory can be completely wrong. 

The implication of Jeff Hawkins’ research is two edged.  One edge leads to fictional characters like Dr. Moreau and Dr. Strangelove.  (Moreau is a mad scientist who creates “humanimals” and Strangelove is a fictional Nazi American advisor who wants to drop a nuclear bomb on the Soviet Union during the cold war.) The other edge may lead to a possible eternal future for humankind with travel to other worlds should this one become uninhabitable.

The first edge implies an “old brain” mad science geneticist who creates a software program for cortical columns to rule the world with an “old brain” use of force. 

The second edge is a software program for cortical columns that provides rational control of the “old brain” by the “new brain”. Both are intended to make decisions based on perceived circumstances for survival.  However, the “old brain” uses force, while the “new brain” uses memory of past experience and reasoned accommodation to circumstance. In either case, humans take advantage of genes survival imperative.  That imperative reinforces Richard Dawkins’ theory of the immortal gene that will do whatever it takes to survive.

Though the Dr. Moreau and Strangelove future is obviously negative, there is a flaw in Hawkins second edge.  It is the unreliability of human memory. Hawkins answer to this flaw is that a meld between human and machine mind can improve the accuracy of memory.  If memories are quickly and accurately recalled, machine/human choice is more likely to preserve life, at least a form of human life.

Still, one wonders who wins when there is conflict between human and machine memory.  Does the “old brain” overtake “new brain” cortical column software and respond with emotion and violence?

Jeff Hawkins endorses Richard Hawkins explanation of “The Selfish Gene”.  Evolution is simply a reflection of a gene’s desire to survive.  Jeff Hawkins infers a “new brain” uses a genetic survival meme that controls “old brain” inclinations. The question is—will the selfish gene of an “old brain” recognize this change as consistent with gene’s evolutionary imperative.

Jeff Hawkins believes A.I. research fails to follow the path of the “I” (intelligence) in A.I.  Jeff Hawkins has significantly contributed to human understanding of how the brain works.  His remarkable engineering perspective posits immense potential for artificial intelligence. However, if machines can truly be made to think and adapt, will they be allies or adversaries as their thinking evolves?  Hawkins, to avoid that possibility, suggests human brains and machines might be integrated to avoid extinction. With Richard Hawkins’ theory of gene survival instinct, a meld between human and machine assures, if not guarantees, human survival.   

With true A.I, constructive work can be done in inhospitable human environments like Mars.  However, to unleash machine intelligence requires a leap of faith.  Can humans trust machines without melding minds with machine technology?

Dawkins notes it is impossible for A.I., as it is presently being developed, to be capable of terra-forming another planet for human survival. Machines have to be able to think like humans in order to deal with the unknown difficulties of terra-forming another planet. Using cortical column programing to create thinking machines might offer the human race many worlds but nature has always gotten in the way of species immortality.

This is an easily understood book for non-scientists to appreciate where genetic science may lead humans. To some, it offers hope. To others, it denies existence of species demise (nature’s cycle of life and death), pre-destination, and belief in God.

DRUG ADDICTION

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Cherry

By: Nico Walker

                                                    Narrated by : Jeremy Bobb

“Cherry” is classified by critics as a semi-autobiographical novel.  It is written by an Army veteran of the Iraq war. 

The author, Nico Walker, judiciously introduces his novel as a work of fiction.  However, his life history parallels much of what he writes.  He is a veteran of the Iraq war and is now serving 11 years in prison for bank robbery. 

“Cherry’s” main character is a veteran of Iraq.  He robs banks to feed a heroin addiction.  Nico Walker’s real life seems a version of these  experiences.  As some critics suggest, write what you know, but only if “what you know” is interesting.  Walker’s novel is certainly interesting.

He marries and divorces a beautiful woman who is also an addict. 

It is difficult for many Americans, particularly those of us who have lived long, to understand how a handsome young man can waste his life.  That seems the underlying story of Walker’s main character.

Walker’s main character experiments with drugs early in his life. 

Some Americans choose the military because they are making a life transition.  The transition may be to escape parental supervision.  Or enlistment may be related to mistakes in one’s life and a court order tells them to join the service or go to jail.  Some young men and women just can’t figure out how to make a living on their own.  Any one of these reasons might apply to Walker’s main character.

Walker’s character joins the Army because he doesn’t know what else to do.  His reasons are not clearly identified. 

Cherry is slang for a green soldier newly arrived in a combat zone.  

Like all new recruits, Walker’s main character takes a military aptitude test which steers him toward assignment as an Army medic.  After basic, he is sent to Iraq.  He gets a front row seat to the carnage of war.  On the one hand, it appears war carnage may have driven Walker’s main character to drug addiction.  On the other, this fictional character has experience with drugs before Iraq. 

The troubling part of “Cherry” is that it conflates atrocities of combat with drug addiction.  The main character in “Cherry” uses drugs before he goes to war.  One doubts a veteran who did not use drugs before war is either more or less likely to become an addict after war. 

The story of addiction is bigger than war. 

Putting atrocity of war aside, Walker offers a profile of a person hooked on drugs.  Anyone who reads or listens to Walker’s vision of human addiction will be appalled by the downward spiral of an addict’s life.  Life revolves around an addict’s next fix.  It makes no difference if one is good or evil if one is an addict. The only thing that matters to the addicted is the next euphoric high.

Wars are a broadly shared political atrocity; drug addiction is a singular personal tragedy that infects society.  Both may lead to the end of humanity.

WHERE R U FROM

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The Committed

By Viet Thanh Nguyen

Narrated by : Francois Chau

Viet Thanh Nguyen (American author, 2016 winner of Pulitzer prize for fiction.)

“The Committed” carries forward the life of three Vietnamese blood brothers introduced in “The Sympathizer”, Viet Thanh Nguyen’s earlier novel.  Nguyen’s story begins during America’s Vietnam war. 

In the beginning of “The Committed”, the main character, Vo Danh, arrives in Paris with his blood brother Bon.  Their first night’s stay is with a  communist sympathizer who is Vo Dahn’s aunt.  Bon is incensed by the aunt’s support of communism. Bon’s job as a Vietnamese counterspy in America was to murder communist sympathizers.  Bon wishes to leave immediately, but Vo Danh calms him down and they stay the night. However, Vo Danh continues to visit his aunt and for a time lives with her. 

The main character of “The Committed” believes all social beliefs one commits oneself to are corrupted by human nature.  To Vo Danh, his aunt is just who she is committed to be, without being either good or bad.

Vo Danh and Bon leave the next morning to find jobs at a Vietnamese restaurant near the Eiffel tower.  The restaurant is owned by a mobster.  They are hired and choose to rent a room from the mobster.  Bon mostly leaves Nguyen’s story until the last chapters of the book.  He chooses to keep a low profile as a restaurant employee. 

Vo Dahn takes an entirely different path. Vo Dahn becomes a customer procurer and seller for the mobster’s drug business.

Vo Danh’s experience in a Vietnam re-education camp taught him to believe in nothing.  That teaching came from his third blood brother who is commandant of the camp during the Vietnam war. 

This third blood brother is a communist sympathizer in name only.  Before becoming  camp commandant, this third blood brother is badly disfigured by an American napalm attack. He realizes Democracy’s liberation of Vietnam from communism is a meaningless chimera.  In that realization, he re-educates Vo Danh to understand communism, authoritarianism, and democracy are fictions. 

Re-education camps are a euphemism for detention and torture.

Committed beliefs about government mean nothing.  One’s first thought is that the third brother is simply a nihilist.  Vo Dahn understands something different.  In sum, the commandant teaches Vo Dahn that commitment to any ideological belief is a trap.  Even in accepting his blood brother’s re-education, Vo Dahn recalls the love of his mother.  He believes the selfless love of his mother saves him from being a nihilist.

Vo Dahn does not consider himself a nihilist but agrees that believing in nothing liberates humanity. 

In Paris, Vo Danh chooses to become a mobster who sells drugs for a percentage of profits.  He lives life as he chooses.  He expresses no personal scruple about sale or personal use of drugs or alcohol.  He has no fear of the drug supplying restaurant owner, arrest as a legal consequence, or possible attack by competing mobsters.  Vo Danh lives an amoral life informed by the love of his deceased mother.  His life experience and studied philosophical beliefs lead him to believe in nothing as a way of living in an unprincipled world.  His actions in the world are formed by the mother who loved him and a father (who is a priest) that abandoned him.

What is troubling about Nguyen’s story is that love and care is often missing or mutually misunderstood between a mother and her children.  One might accept Nguyen’s story for those children who are truly loved and cared for by their mothers.  However, if mothers are to be on a pedestal, what about the affect of mothers who do not truly love or care for their children.  Are uncaring mothers responsible for children who become mass murderers, dictators, mobsters, and other societal miscreants?

Nguyen’s story has a strong point of view, but it diminishes the complexity of a child’s growth to adulthood.  Interaction between mothers, fathers, and their offspring are interpreted though the minds of their children. 

One is reminded of fictional and news worthy stories of children who are raised in perfect families who become serial killers.

A recurring truism in Nguyen’s story is that all humans are created equal.  When one is asked where they are from, the only correct answer is “I am from my mother”.  Nothing else matters. Color, national origin, religious belief, or sexual orientation do not determine the value of a human being. Nguyen is a great writer with a point of view worthy of many philosophers of this and past ages.

CENSORSHIP

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Dangerous Ideas (A Brief History of Censorship in the West, from the Ancients to Fake News

By: Eric Berkowitz

Narrated by: Tim Campbell

Eric Berkowitz (Author, human rights lawyer and journalist

Eric Berkowitz recounts the history of free speech and censorship.  His history infers censorship is a misdirected waste of time.  Berkowitz argues freedom of speech is unstoppable.  Even in the most repressive governments in history, citizens have exercised freedom of speech. 

Berkowitz recounts many who chose to exercise free speech that were exiled, tortured, dismembered, maimed, or murdered.  However, these free speech martyrs insist on having their say. That seems Trump’s justification for suing Facebook and Twitter.

Pundits suggest Trump has no chance of winning his suit against Facebook and Twitter–Berkowitz’s presumed response would be “who cares?”

The fundamental point made many times in Berkowitz’s history is that censorship does not work because there is always someone who is willing pay any price to say what they think must be said.  Berkowitz offers many historical examples of why free speech is a confusing and difficult problem. 

Free speech can spread both truth and lie.

One of Berkowitz’s answers to the conundrum of free speech is that more freedom allows each listener to choose what they wish to believe.  Problems arise when freedom of speech offers lies as truth and misleads the public. 

White supremacism lies and Covid19 falsehoods have historically destroyed lives. 

In every country of the world, free speech is unstoppable because it is controlled by the few, not the many.

Listening to Berkowitz’s history vivifies a trip to China in 2019.  A guide, presumably at some risk to himself, took our small group into a private room to remind us of China’s response to the idea of free speech in Tiananmen Square . 

Our guide reminded us of one protester who moved in front of a Chinese tank whenever it tried to change directions.  The guide explained the “tank man” (who was never identified by name) was arrested, and never heard from again. 

At the direction of President Deng Xiaoping, 300,000 troops were mobilized to stop a demonstration by Chinese students.  China’s soldiers fired on college students and friends who were demonstrating their belief in free speech.  An unknown number of Chinese citizens (some say hundreds, others say thousands) were murdered at the direction of government leaders.  Our 2o19 Chinese guide was exercising his right of free speech by reminding us of what happened on June 4th, 1989.

Government is the first seat of control for free speech.  However, that first seat is diminished by singular economic interests. 

The rise of newspapers, radio, and television focused and expanded the principle of free speech.  Economic interests influenced these early platforms of free speech but with a more limited threat and benefit to the public.

Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and the blogosphere have widened the principle of free speech and significantly increased potential public threat and benefit. 

In the age of newspapers, radio, and television, government controls were explicitly legislated but in the internet age control is hidden in platform algorithms.  Government may still have the first seat of control, but media moguls have usurped legislated government censorship.

Berkowitz offers no answers.  He only reveals the complexity of freedom of speech.  He suggests freedom of speech is an essential ingredient of a just society.  However, at the heart of free speech is economic interest. Free speech is secretly used to distort truth and sometimes incite violence. 

Whether it is a newspaper reporter told to revise an article that criticizes corporate advertisers or a discloser of government secrets there is societal threat.  Even more pernicious is the Amazon, Facebook, or Twitter executive who orders a coder to increase customer clicks for corporations that pay more for advertising.  And then there are the media trolls who distort the truth, lie, or incite violence to increase click count with no regard to consequence.

Freedom of speech is “…a riddle wrapped in an enigma” (a Winston Churchill quote about Stalinist Russia). Freedom of speech is a two edged sword, a tool for defense and destruction.

WORLDS OF IMAGINATION

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Dawn of the New Everything (A Memoir)

By: Jaron Lanier  

Narrated by: Oliver Wyman

American computer philosopher, computer scientist, visual artist, and musician.

Both Da Vinci (as characterized by Walter Isaacson) and Jaron Lanier are self-effacing geniuses without formal education. Both manage to create worlds of imagination.

Lanier’s memoir illustrates how refinement of virtual reality is as groundbreaking as Da Vinci’s understanding of light.  History will not likely view Lanier as the Da Vinci of our era but there are interesting similarities. 

Not to carry the comparison too far, Lanier magnifies the value of imagination without limiting its potential for both human good and evil. 

Da Vinci designs weapons of war that purposely fed the ambitions of his era’s tyrants.

Lanier is one of the pioneers of facial recognition.  Facial recognition is a tool that can be used by humanities’ tyrants as well as benefactors.  In conjunction with digitizing the lives of everyone, facial recognition implies a “Brave New World” as eminently realizable. 

A visit to China reinforces potential loss of privacy and human volition with the advance of a digitized and monitored population.

One comes away from Lanier’s memoir with an appreciation for his candor about life and his unshaken belief in the value of technology.  He recognizes his personal imperfection while maintaining an optimistic view for the world’s rescue by AI as a tool rather than controller of human life.  There is some comfort in his opinion, but a listener reserves judgement based on the life Lanier has led.  He is undoubtedly a polymath but his memoir focuses more on pleasures than the reality of most people’s lives.

The principle of virtual reality lends itself to Lanier’s obsession with music and entertainment. 

Lanier is a musician, among many other talents.  He spends some of his time collecting and mastering abstruse musical instruments. 

One comes away from “Dawn of the New Everything” with the feeling that VR has greater potential for distraction than humanity’s betterment. There is respite from this perception with Lanier’s explanation of how VR is used for education and training. It is a virtual tool for medical and science education. 

On the other hand, VR is a tool for remote murder by a person guiding a drone.

B.F. Skinner, American psychologist, behaviorist, author, inventor, and social philosopher.

Lanier also notes that VR has the potential of making life conform to other’s interest.

The “Dawn of Everything” gives a clearer picture of what it was and is like to become a part of the Silicon Valley.  He candidly recounts his rise as a tech mogul, failure, and gadfly. 

Facebook and Twitter addiction are influencers with WMD potential.

Lanier’s memoir is at once enlightening and disheartening.  He offers a virtual picture of modern life that is influencing, but not yet controlling. Lanier is optimistic.  Many listeners will leave his memoir skeptical.

SMARTEST IN THE ROOM

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

How Not to Be Wrong

By: Jordan Ellenberg  

Narrated by Jordan Ellenberg

Jordan Ellenberg (Author, American mathematician, Professor of mathematics at University of Wisconsin-Madison).

Like listening to Brian Greene (a theoretical physicist), Jordan Ellenberg reminds one of what it must be like to be the smartest person in the room.  One feels better from the experience of listening to “How Not to Be Wrong”, but understanding will be a struggle for most non-mathematicians. A non-mathematician leaves Ellenberg’s book better informed, if not entirely enlightened.

A non-mathematician may be hesitant to take Ellenberg’s book in hand.  Ellenberg does not convince one that mathematics will always help one “…Not…Be Wrong”. However, Ellenberg convincingly argues mathematics will offer a better chance of being right.

Ellenberg is a professor of mathematics.  He capsulizes mathematics as the language of science.  He reveals how mathematics offers a qualified understanding of reality. 

It is impossible to deny the validity of Ellenberg’s claim that mathematics is the language of science.

It is difficult to conceive of truth without mathematics because it provides a basis for repeatable experimental results. However, we live in a world of probabilities according to quantum mechanics. That implies mathematics cannot be the sole determinate of truth.

Ellenberg shows how “right” is qualified by mathematical proof.  Like Brian Greene, Ellenberg shows how mathematics brings one closer to truth but only to the point of a “null hypothesis”.  A null hypothesis is a repeatable experiment where there is zero (null) difference in results.  Being right is dependent upon the same results from population samplings and relevant repeatable experiments.

What strikes at the heart of Ellenberg’s explanation of “How Not to Be Wrong” is human natures tendency to make events conform to plan.  Human beings can lie to themselves. 

Lying to oneself is the source of conspiracy theories based on the human strength and weakness of seeing patterns in nature.  Perceived patterns from observation may or may not meet the criteria of a “null hypothesis”.  Ellenberg suggests one should be skeptical of observed patterns that defy common sense.

What is disturbing about Ellenberg’s explanation of “How Not to Be Wrong” is that probability enters into the equation of truth. 

This is the same fundamental law noted by theoretical physicists like Brian Greene.  With the use of mathematics as the language of science, one can only expect a probability of truth: not certainty.

Ellenberg notes one must keep in mind–not being wrong is entirely different from being right.  Determination of whether one is right or wrong is two-edged where one edge offers a probability of being right while the other implies possibility of being wrong.  The uncertainty of probability is a lighted match that can burn down a forest of science.

That match is fanned into a flame by those who disparage all of science because of revised theories based on newly discovered facts. As an example–our recent experience with the former President of the United States who discredited the science of masking and distancing during the Covid 19 pandemic.

Ellenberg gives numerous examples of people who are misled by population sampling and the concept of correlation.  Human nature often misleads people to see patterns where cause is unrelated to effect.  Ellenberg argues that better understanding of mathematics can teach humans “How Not to Be Wrong”. 

Being right is always qualified by some level of probability.  Ellenberg explains repeatable experiment, with a level of consistency in mathematical proofs, is our way of not being wrong.  Good to know, but daunting to achieve when mathematics is the only avenue for understanding. 

Don’t we all want to know “How Not to Be Wrong”?  Is the language of mathematics the only avenue for understanding?  Therein lies the fear of realizing you are not the smartest person in the room.

LIBERTARIANISM

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The Inevitable (Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future)

By: Kevin Kelly

Narrated by George Newbern

Kevin Kelly (Author, co-founding executive of Wired magazine).

Kevin Kelly’s book is a Libertarian’s guide to minimalist government. Kelly paints a clear picture of today’s internet of things and the direction in which it seems to be heading. If sharing replaces ownership, American Democracy must change or die. 

Kelly implies the evolution of technology will make all but defense of country the sole purpose of government.  This is a Libertarian dream.  What Kelly glosses over is the disinformation system of a sharing economy that misleads the public and foments anarchy.

Kelly argues block chain technology decentralizes the last bastion of government oversight by producing value (bit coin) based on an algorithm. Kelly infers there is no need for a Federal Reserve, or a bureaucracy to assure value of exchange, if currency is based on a mathematical formula.

Without the oversight of government, which includes bureaucratic regulations, a sharing economy diminishes the role of checks and balances.  Kelly correctly outlines what is happening in this technological world, but his extrapolation is frightening. 

In Kelly’s vision of a sharing economy, democracy is at risk of anarchy like that seen on January 6, 2021.

The public puts its head in the sand if they ignore Kelly’s view of the 12 technological forces in play today.

He describes flowing, screening, accessing, sharing, filtering, remixing, tracking, and questioning as the twelve technological forces that make the public codependent.  His observations reflect the “now” that presages a future.

The terror in Kelly’s observation is that human nature is not going to change in a sharing economy where nothing is owned but only shared.  Humans will game the system either by raiding the block chain vault or manipulating code to enrich their lives at the expense of others. 

Without a degree of centralized oversight (government), anarchy replaces equal rights and rule of law.

Any realization of codependence is anathema to the tradition of America. Human beings do not interpret the truth of facts in the same way.  Each has their own view of the world and their place in it. 

There will always be climate deniers, tree huggers, gun lovers and gun haters.

Kelly acknowledges there is need for some oversight of a sharing economy but implies the inclusion of everyone’s expression or belief will result in balanced self-governance and companionable A.I. for societal improvement. One may have a difference of opinion based on the events of January 6, 2021. That event’s aftermath will offer further clues to American Democracy’s future.

Decentralization by the internet of things and A.I. dependence may be as “…Inevitable” as Kevin Kelly suggests.  The question today has to do with what can be done to allay its negative consequences. Libertarianism is not the answer.

INDIAN INVISIBILITY

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The Night Watchman

By: Louise Erdrich

Narrated by Louise Erdrich

Louise Erdrich (Author, National Book Award winner plus other honorifics.)

(Louise Erdrich grew up in Wahpeton, North Dakota. Erdrich’s parents, a Chippewa mother and German father, taught at the “Bureau of Indian Affairs” in Wahpeton.  She is a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians and her husband was the director of “Native American Studies” at Dartmouth.)

Like Ellison’s “…Invisible Man”, Louise Erdrich offers “The Night Watchman” to show how invisible native Indians are in America. 

The headline in the 1/4/21 “New York Times” National page is “Indian Country Loses a Hospital at a Crucial Moment–Tribe Members Feel Abandoned as the U.S. Turns a New Mexico Facility Into a Clinic”–today’s example of Indian invisibility.

“The Night Watchman” is not Erdrich’s first attempt at explaining Indian’ invisibility.  She also wrote the best seller “The Round House”.  Both reveal the ignorance and unfairness of Indian reservation life and American government attempts to subsume Indian culture.

Erdrich notes “The Night Watchman” is a true story with names changed to hide American political shamefulness and abhorrent treatment of a young Indian woman.  On the one hand, her story may be distorted because of truth written as fiction.  On the other, Erdrich offers a distinctive picture of Indian reservation life and reminds reader/listeners of American power’s treatment of Indian people.

Erdrich offers a distinctive picture of Indian reservation life and reminds one of American power’s ill treatment of Indian people.

America’s history of violating contractual agreements with Indian tribes is well documented.  A part of Erdrich’s story shows how those contractual agreements are broken.

(This is a photo copy of a Senate Agreement with Crow Indians for Sale of Their Reservation in Montana-1891)

An elected official submits a bill to a state legislature suggesting native Indians have achieved equality before the law and that they have become Americans who should not be restricted to reservations (a euphemism for break-up of Indian culture and land confiscation).  The submitted bill gives no value to the tradition and history of Indian culture.  The bill might offer compensation to a tribe for the taking of the land, but at an unspecified price.

The people of the reservation are legally notified of the prospective legislative bill.  People on the reservation are offered a public hearing to discuss the bill. 

There is no offer of financial help for traveling to the hearing or for legal defense of Indian contractual rights to the reservation land. 

In Erdrich’s story, effort to organize and pay for travel and legal expense is left to reservation people who have no money to spare. What money they have is to survive, to have a roof over their head, and food on the table.

“The Night Watchman” is a story of big government against “invisible” Indians. 

The bill is created by a Mormon legislator in the state whose family settled in the area in the 19th century.  He argues reservation land was a temporary holding until Indians were integrated into American culture.  The legislator reasons the day for full integration into American culture had come.  He reasoned job availability, education, and welfare of tribal populations had reached the same level available to all Americans.  It is the same lie offered to women and minorities in the history of the world.

Erdrich’s story begins with vignettes of Indian life on the reservation.  This is somewhat confusing but gains momentum as her characters are fully developed.  The night watchman is an Indian named Thomas Wahhashk.  He works off the reservation at an industrial plant.

Patrice Paranteau is an Indian who works at the same plant as Thomas.  She has a sister named Vera who has left the reservation to live in the city.  Vera disappears.  Patrice goes to the city to find Vera but only finds Vera’s baby who appears abandoned. 

The disappearance of Vera is one of the drivers of Erdrich’s story.  What happens to Vera is unconscionable.  She is kidnapped and held in a ship’s hold to be abused by its sailors.

There is a burgeoning love story threaded into Erdrich’s story that reflects the striving of an Patrice to become an equal partner in life.  Patrice chooses her own path to become an independent woman in a world defined by government and men.

Erdrich’s story reminds one of Ellison’s invisible Black who identifies with a personal culture while wanting to be treated as an equal in American culture. 

Minorities do not wish to lose their identity but to be equal participants in a wider culture. It should not be difficult to be a Black, Hispanic, Asian, Indian, or other American and enjoy the benefits of democracy’s freedom.

Erdrich combines the theme of cultural identity with a story of human relationship, hardship, success, and failure.  Erdrich offers a glimpse of our hard it is to be an Indian in a culture dominated by a largely white American culture. 

Erdrich, like Ellison, shows how multiculturalism is denied by a country that purports to believe in equality of opportunity for all. 

Like Ellison pictures what it is like to be Black in America, Erdrich shows what it is like to be Indian in America.

POVERTY IN AMERICA

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The Street

By: Ann Petry

Narrated by Shayna Small

Ann Petry (1908-1997, American author and journalist.)

This was Ann Petry’s first novel.  It was published in 1946.  It was renewed in 1947, republished in 1958, 1988, 1985–now rendered by Audiobooks in 2013.  Petry became the first African-American woman to sell more than 1,000,000 copies.  Petry offers a vivid picture of a Black woman’s experience in America.

Petry pictures Harlem as a poor family’s neighborhood where a rich white man dominates lives of a largely Black American ghetto.  This is not today’s Harlem, but it is a precursor to what plagues 21st century America.

East Harlem in the 1940 s.

Petry’s story is of a young, extraordinarily beautiful, Black woman driven to live in a Harlem tenement. 

Lutie Johnson is separated from her husband and compelled by poverty to rent a squalid room on the top floor of an apartment building.  She has a high school education and a minimum wage job that barely supports herself and her young son, Bub.  The tenement is owned by a white man who owns the building and a nearby casino.

A Black Madam works for the owner and pimps young women to make a living that enriches the owner of the building while creating income for herself.  The tenement has a Black superintendent who lives in the basement and manages the building for the white owner.

Petry tells a story that explains how a decent woman can be driven to commit murder, abandon her child, and perpetuate a family’s poverty.  

Petry explains how the roots of a family decay and how that decay fertilizes future generations of poverty-stricken families.

Before Harlem, Lutie works as a maid for a rich white family outside the city. The work pays relatively well but it separates Lutie from her husband because of the growing demands of the white family. Lutie stays at their house for longer periods of time. 

Lutie and her husband’s love wither when he cannot find a job. Her husband feels diminished by his inability to support the family.  The husband’s idle time leads to an affair that breaks his bond with Lutie and their young son.  Lutie leaves, with her son, to start a new life in Harlem.

Lutie does not divorce her husband because of its legal cost.  She wonders if she is not the reason for their break-up. It relegates her to legal single-hood if she wishes to marry in the future. She realizes the circumstance of poverty had more to do with there break-up then any other single cause. Her husband’s lack of job prospects, and their separation irreparably damaged their affection for each other.

Petry notes how Lutie grows to despise white people because of presumptions white people make of non-white people. Lutie naturally resents men’s presumption that she is willing to have sex with any white man that asks. Petry notes Lutie’s domestic employer’s condescension when other white people are nearby.

Petry offers a side story of a white teacher in Harlem who treats her students poorly. She has a fear of non-white students.

The students, in turn, ridicule the white teacher for her attitude toward them. It is a mutual distrust based on the color of one’s skin, not the content of their character.

As Lutie reviews her new circumstance, the only job she can find offers barely enough income to afford rent, utilities, and food for the two of them.  To compound Lutie’s trouble she is subjected to the leering interests of the building superintendent and the white owner of the building.  She refuses their advances but is drawn into a crisis, a crises manufactured by the sexually aroused superintendent. 

After unsuccessfully trying to rape Lutie, the superintendent concocts a plan to get back at her by getting her son arrested.  Her son is recruited by the superintendent to steal mail from adjacent tenements.  He convinces the young boy that the police want his help to find a criminal in the neighborhood.  The boy is caught by post office authorities and taken into custody. 

Lutie knows nothing about the super’s lie and is faced with the belief that she needs a lawyer to get her son out of juvenile detention. There appears to be no effort by the police to investigate beyond the arrest of Lutie’s son.

Lutie does not have the $200 needed to hire a lawyer.  She turns to a Black employee of the white owner. The employee explains that if she is “nice” to the white man (implying she would have sex with the owner) she can get the $200 she needs.  She refuses. 

The employee, having failed to convince Lutie to be “nice” to his employer, decides and tries to rape her.  She murders him out of defense and rage.  Lutie has reached her breaking point.  She buys a ticket to Chicago, leaving her young son with the State. 

“The Street” is a Black woman’s story of the 1940 s, but it is every woman’s story in a culture that discounts equality of opportunity and often treats women as property.

The dimensions of Ann Petry’s 1940’s Harlem story are widened by the modern adventures of the Marvel hero Luke Cage.

“The Street” shows being a woman diminishes opportunity in America. Ann Petry shows being black in America magnifies that inequality.