FREEDOM OF THE PRESS

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Reporter (A Memoir)

By: Seymour M. Hersh  

Narrated by: Arthur Morey

Semour M. Hersh (Author, investigative journalist, Pulitzer Prize winner)

“Reporter” reveals why freedom of the press is both feared and revered.  Seymour Hersh is an investigative reporter.  After listening to “Reporter”, one realizes Hersh is among the best journalists of the 20th and 21st century. To many newspaper readers (embarrassingly including this reader) Hersh is not well known.  Hersh’s reporting uncovered the My Lai massacre early in his career and followed that with revelations about the clandestine bombing of Cambodia, CIA exposure of domestic spying, and a still controversial contention that Obama lied to the American people about the Abbottabad raid that leads to the death of Osama bin Laden.

Hersh’s reporting uncovered the My Lai massacre early in his career.

The tenor of “Reporter” is personal to Hersh as one suspects all his reporting has been throughout his career.  His tenacity in confirming facts before writing a story lets one know Hersh is relentless.  When one is interviewed by Hersh, one suspects there is fear of being misunderstood or misquoted.  “Reporter” alludes to that fear in anecdotes of his search for facts.

Hersh shows no fear or favor but his pursuit of facts gives no value to reasons for misleading public perception of events.  This is not criticism of the duties of an investigative reporter, but facts do not always speak for themselves. 

One knows America’s government has mislead the public many times in its history.  Whether that misleading is justified or not is not the concern of reporters like Seymour Hersh.  To Hersh, all that matters is–facts speak for themselves.  Therein lies the fear of freedom of the press.

The problem with thinking that facts speak for themselves is that all the facts revealed are never all the facts. 

The many books that have been written about historic figures is ample evidence of the problem.  With the principle of facts speak for themselves there would be no revisionist history.  History is re-written in every generation.

This is not to denigrate the great work reporters like Hersh provide to Americans.  Without freedom of the press America would not be America. 

Even though all the facts are never known, those that are known should be revealed in real time.  How else can American freedom be preserved?  Hersh, like all good investigative reporters, is not always on the right side of history.  Not because his facts are wrong, but that they fail to tell the whole story. 

Every human being is trapped in their own world of experience and genetic predisposition. Facts are by nature pieced into our personal experience and predisposition. Facts do not change but they are influenced by one’s perception of reality.

Many consider Henry Kissinger to have been one of the most highly regarded Secretary of States in the 20th century.  Hersh uncovers facts which suggest that is wrong.  Hersh’s facts are compelling.  They show Kissinger lies and distorts the truth. 

Kissinger flatly denies spying on government employees while Hersh reveals facts that clearly show Kissinger lied. To Hersh, much of the secret opening of China to America happens as a result of an Arab go-between, not Kissinger’s diplomatic skill. 

The covert bombing of Cambodia during the Vietnam war is a policy soundly supported, if not initiated, by Kissinger.  Hersh’s facts speak for themselves, but one doubts they tell the whole story.  The whole story is left to historians. Though it may seem a contradiction, investigative reporter’s revelations in real time are good for American government. Only with transparency, can government become better.

Secret American bombing of Cambodia.

A most interesting chapter of Hersh’s book is an episode to expose the bad deeds of Gulf and Western Oil in the 70s. 

His investigation is toned down and effectively stopped by his employer’s lawyers because of fear of its repercussion.  Hersh concludes it is imprudent to expose seamy activities of corporate America because of potential negative economic consequence to publishers.  Hersh does not back off from private industry investigations but he only refers to one other effort to expose corporate shenanigans. “Reporter” primarily focuses on government employee and policy miss-directions and lies.

Though Hersh is a Democrat, he shows no favor. Hersh notes that facts show President Obama distorted the truth in the hunt and killing of Osama bin Landen.

Hersh dutifully reveals evidence that strongly suggests Pakistan cooperated in the plot to capture or kill bin Laden. Facts suggest bin Laden was not buried at sea but his bullet-ridden remains were dropped from a helicopter into the sea. Those may be the facts but do they explain the whole truth?

“Reporter” is a memoir of a great newsman who is justifiably proud of his contribution to freedom of the press.  America needs driven reporters like Seymour Hersh even though print and media news can never reveal all the facts in real time. 

There is good reason to both fear and revere freedom of the press. Fear comes from truthful as well as false reporting of facts.  Freedom is dependent on good reporting by reputable reporters.

AMBITION

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

From the Corner of the Oval – A Memoir

By: Beck Dorey-Stein  

Narrated by Beck Dorey-Stein

Beck Dorey-Stein (Author)

The value of Dorey-Stein’s memoir is how a twenty something adult makes his/her way in America.  What Dorey-Stein reflects is not just for women.  It reveals much about every human’s ambition to make their way in the world.

“From the Corner of the Oval” is a subjective view of the power and prestige of an American President.  The President’s power is limited, and his prestige is largely manufactured by the media.  However, Dorey-Stein’s story of aides who serve an American President is a journey of extraordinary privilege.

What will draw some to Dorey-Stein’s book is curiosity about what it is like to be an aide in an American Presidential Administration.  Some of that curiosity is satisfied.  “From the Corner of the Oval” offers a view of Barack Obama from the perspective of a true believer.

The universality of Dorey-Stein’s memoir is a magnification of what it is to be in your twenties, on your way to a future.  Opportunity is presented to all people of the world, but few grasp its temporal significance.  Only in reflection is lived experience understood.  

In the beginning of adulthood, when one is on their own, they choose to do one thing or another to satisfy their need for fulfillment.  Fulfillment is a measure of three things—acquisition of money, power, and some measure of prestige.  Each of these measures are quantitatively and qualitatively different for every person. 

Some desire money more than power, power more than prestige, or prestige more than money.  It is a circle of insatiable desire.

Dorey-Stein writes of her experience as a woman in her twenties.  She has experienced employment, loss of employment, search for new employment, reemployment, the luck (both good and bad) of sex as a single person, and partner infidelity as a perpetrator and victim.  Many people in their twenties encounter these experiences.  Dorey-Stein works through these experiences in her well-written and interesting memoir.

The seemingly worst part of her experience is infidelity.  One concludes good and bad experiences are overcome by her position as aide in a Presidential administration, some close confidential friends, physical health, and her supportive parents. 

Fidelity is a nearly insuperable difficulty for Dorey-Stein, just as it is for many human beings. 

Sex is a biological necessity for continuation of any species.  From puberty to your twenties through death, sex is present in practice or thought.  Dorey-Stein shows the consequence of power and prestige mixed with a natural desire for sexual relationship. 

Many may be appalled by the role money, power, and position play in genuine affection and love, but that is life.  Along the way, Dorey-Stein gives her reader/listeners a seat in the oval office, Air Force One, and a tour of the world at government expense.

TERRORISM

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Agent Storm

By: Morten Storm, Paul Cruickshank, Tim Lister

Narrated by Neil Shah

On the one hand, “Agent Storm” outlines terrorism; its origin, its practitioners, and where it comes from.  On the other, “Agent Storm” sounds like a comic book.  With co-authorship of two CNN newsmen, Morten Storm’s story offers insight, but its credibility is challenging.

Morten Storm is “Agent Storm”. He is a Danish citizen who becomes a religious convert as a young man but abandons his Muslim faith in his late twenties. Storm is born into a family broken by a father’s abuse.  He turns to religion for refuge.

Morten Storm looks for a substitute home. He finds it in a thobe (long dress worn by Muslim men).

Morten Storm’s story is like many told about lost children–looking for belonging and acceptance in the world.  Abused children look for solace by finding substitutes for uncaring parents.  

For lost children, finding religion is one end of a spectrum: the other is gang life.  “Agent Storm” is a story combining both ends in religious zeal and gangsterism.

The authors of “Agent Storm” show how a young person can become a Jihadist.  One wonders–is Storm’s journey different than what one may find in the Catholic crusades of the eleventh and thirteenth centuries? 

Religion has been a rallying flag many times for children who are lost and wish to be found. Religion attracts the highly educated, as well as the unschooled, based on wanting to be part of something greater than oneself.

Storm attaches himself to the sport of boxing but either because of lack of discipline or skill, Storm becomes attracted to religion. 

The Muslim faith is under attack in the 20th century and today. The Muslim religion offers a refuge and acceptance to Storm. His acceptance connects him to radical practitioners of the faith that terrorize the world.  Storm’s early world view is the view held by Osama bin Laden and other distorters of the Muslim faith.

 The killing of innocents appears to be a turning point for Storm who becomes a spy for the English and then American governments.  Storm becomes an agent for identification of terrorists that hide behind interpretations of Koranic teaching.

To some, Storm’s sudden conversion may seem disingenuous.  However, he does help Denmark, England, and America in its fight against terrorism.  What is somewhat galling about Storm’s story is its formulaic meme of changing sides. Storm’s story might be told of any converted religious zealot who finally rejects false interpretation of religious text.  Whether Christian, Muslim, Jew, or Protestant, killing or harming innocents is wrong.

Though Morten Storm may have become a better person, he sounds more like a lost boy-man.  How many Jihadists, Catholic crusaders, or Protestant reformers will come to the realization that their way is not the only way?

FREEDOM

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

All the Single Ladies (Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation)

By: Rebecca Traister

Narrated by Candace Thaxton, Rebecca Traister-introduction

Rebecca Traister (American author.)

In a broad context, “All the Single Ladies” is about freedom’s two edges. One edge lets people be themselves.  The other edge makes people conform to societies’ rules. 

Rebecca Traister begins by summarizing the history of unequal treatment of women.  The truth rings loudest because of today’s “Me To” movement. 

“Me Too” is a movement long delayed, and figuratively disfigured by a sharp edge of male’ power, domination, and social conformity.

Freedom is a function of power.  No one is free.  All nations have rules that limit freedom. 

America’s founding fathers recognized freedom is defined by power.  That is why government “checks and balances” were created. 

The weakness of “checks and balances” is that they continue to be influenced by the power of human (principally male) rationalization.

Human beings do not see themselves as others see them. In that light, Traister notes one of Patrick Moynihan’s blind spots.

Daniel Patrick Moynihan (1927-2003, NY State Senator, author of The Negro Family: The Case for National Action.)

Moynihan affixed “The Negro Family” break-down as a cause of ghetto poverty.  The cause of poverty is not single-parent homes.  Poverty is a consequence of discrimination.

Singlemom homes are a choice for some mothers. Sometimes for reasons of independence, as explained by the women interviewed by Traister. But also because of a history of misogyny, and dysfunctional marriages or partnerships.

Too often it seems the choice of single-parent homes is because of abuse, loneliness, loss of emotional commitment, adultery, financial crises, or some other extrinsic cause.

Single-parent homes are not a cause of poverty. If women are employed and compensated at the same rate as men, they could afford child care for their children while they work. Like some low wage workers, women may have to take two jobs. (Of course, what’s new?–Working women have always had two jobs. Working at home and working at a job.)

The cause of poverty is systematic discrimination. Discrimination denies educational opportunity. Discrimination denies equal pay for equal work.

The rules of freedom are based on power, not science, not truth, but on human rationalization.  Traister indicts male domination of the rules of freedom.  She also notes societies’ discrimination based on race.

Discrimination against women may have begun with male domination when physical strength meant survival (not suggested or inferred by the author).

The growth of society, and the ascendance of religion, reinforced gender roles.  Gender roles may have had some validity in the stone age, but they became rationalizations as humanity and society developed.  Here is where Traister strikes at the heart of gender inequality.

Traister interviews many single women, some high achievers, others just making a living.  What she finds is that some women choose to be single because of a lifestyle that offers freedom.  It is the freedom of choice. 

Freedom requires no cooperation from another to do whatever one wants, with the caveat of doing no harm to others.

With freedom, Traister is not saying single women choose to be anti-social.  On the contrary, she argues single women are likely to be more socially connected than married women.  In her interviews, Traister notes that single women are likely to have more social contact because they are not constrained by a life-partner’s interest or attention. 

An irony of Traister’s observation about the consequence of marriage in “reducing social contacts” is that Traister chooses to marry. Her book is not meant to be anti-marriage, but to recognize the difference between single-hood and life partnership. Her unspoken belief is that both have equal potential for happiness and fulfillment. Her intent is to explain how happiness and fulfillment can be equally satisfied by single-hood.

Traister identifies a social construct that might be labeled “slammed relationships” that are not necessarily sexual but deeply, emotionally connected. 

A great number of “…the Single Ladies” interviewed by Traister recount slammed relationships.

Though not suggested by Traister, a slammed relationship between men seems less likely because of the gravitational pull of “power”. 

To many humans, the sexual act is pursuit of power over another, not emotional connection. 

As tasteless as this caricature may be to some, it reflects an attitude of many men, and undoubtedly some women.

Real intimacy is not about a player’s control, or an actor’s act. A truly slammed relationship is not about power. A slammed relationship is about common interests and emotional connection.

Traister gives the example of a single lady in Boston that has a slammed relationship with another woman that chooses to move to California because of a job.  Their emotional connection is so close that the woman who stays in Boston feels abandoned. 

The Bostonian is told, by acquaintances of both people, that her friend will return and their slammed relationship will resume. But, as Thomas Wolfe wrote, “you can’t go home again”.  Her friend does return from California. They renew their friendship, but they never reconnect at the same slammed friendship level.

Interestingly, the slammed relationships Traister writes about are between women, not men. 

That raises the question of whether men can have slammed relationships, but that is not the subject of Traister’s book.

(From this reviewer’s perspective, most men are unlikely to develop slammed relationships.  They have little reason to–because society has been dominated by men since the stone age.  Men have power; most women do not. Men have little need for slammed relationships.)

Traister notes many of today’s women gravitate to singlehood because of its freedom.  The freedom to stay or leave, to be alone, or to be with someone. 

The freedom to choose has consequence.  It has the potential of destroying the value of slammed relationships.  Losing emotional connection is a criticism of society.  One might conclude from Traister’s book, the world needs more “…Single Ladies”.  “…Single Ladies” have the tools for slammed relationships.

Men can hugely benefit from women that take control of their lives. It is liberating for a driven man to be married to a driven woman because each takes responsibility for themselves.

Traister acknowledges; from her personal experience and interviews of single women, that there are consequences for choosing single-hood. All singles have vulnerabilities. They are vulnerable to loneliness.

Being single makes one vulnerable to accidents without help from someone living with them. People who are alone have less financial support when they become ill. However, all of these vulnerabilities are common to both sexes. The difference is women receive 73% of what a man gets for the same work. The difference is power of employment, advancement, and financial opportunity remain disproportionately in the hands of men.

Traister notes that loneliness can be equally present in marriage as in single-hood. Vulnerabilities are a consequence of living life whether with someone or no one. The difference is that today’s society has more men than women with power–power that aids or obstructs equality of opportunity for all.

Equality of opportunity is what every man and woman deserve. Life takes care of itself.

There is an increasing lack of empathy from world leaders because they are mostly men. Losing emotional connection is one of the reasons America is unable to eliminate homelessness. This book offers praise to “All the Single Ladies” of the world.  Women seem better at emotional connection. It may be why America needs a woman for President.

MERCHANTS OF POPULARITY

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Merchants of Truth (The Business of News and the Fight for Facts)

By: Jill Abramson

Narrated by January LaVoy

Jill Abramson (American author and journalist, first female executive editor of the NYT serving from 2011-2014.)

Jill Abramson describes a “near death” experience for print media in “Merchants of Truth”.  She begins with the rise of BuzzFeed and Vice, with a newspaper reporter’s view of YouTube, and a vignette about Jackass.  Then, she zeroes in on the “New York Times” and “Washington Post” and how their news coverage has changed.  Abramson explores the principles of the new “Merchants of Truth”.

It is disappointing to see “click bate” competing with a news’s fight for verifiable facts. 

To some, Abramson’s brief history of BuzzFeed and Vice is a cringe worthy exploration of how vapid we are and how easily we are distracted by titillating, often idiotic, and sometimes false facts. However, Abramson shows that BuzzFeed and Vice make a contribution to news gathering that appeals to a wide audience, particularly a younger audience.

The criticism Abramson launches against BuzzFeed, and particularly Vice, is that both slip into Gonzo (exaggerated and fictionalized) reporting.  The public is titillated but not accurately informed. 

BuzzFeed and Vice are becoming bigger players in the media news business. The key to their success is public attention but advertising revenue is its vehicle for growth. Pleasing advertisers encroaches on the objectivity of news.

BuzzFeed and Vice have reduced the barrier between advertising and news. That barrier breach is exhibited by Abramson’s story of The New York Times apology to China, and the Washington Post’s turn to the metrics of popular news coverage.

Abramson pulls no punches in her judgement of The New York Times’ bow to economic necessity in kowtowing to China when a reporter’s story is critical of Chinese suppression. She recounts Arthur Ochs Sulzberger’s letter apologizing to President Xi for a reporter’s story about Chinese government repression. Abramson implies the apology is for potential loss of revenue.

Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr. (Publisher of The New York Times.)

The implication is advertising revenue influences NYT’s and Washington Post’s reporting in the same way as BuzzFeed and Vice. The concern is in the bending and blending of news to please advertisers.

On the other hand, Sulzberger may have been concerned about losing a foreign outpost for the paper’s news reporters. One suspects, it is a little of both. There has always been a tacit concern about advertising revenue and news reporting in the media. One might recall “60 Minutes” initial rejection of an expose on smoking. They eventually aired the episode, but fear of loss from a major advertiser was in play.

Vice reporting of a trip to North Korea with Rodman (the former Bull’s basketball player) is one of several examples of click bate reporting.  It offers titillation but hides the brutality of a murderous government regime.

As a fossil (oldster), one might read the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, a local paper, the Economist, and Foreign Affairs.  The reason for variety is perspective.  Each covers every aspect of news (culture, business, local and international). 

Abramson explains reputable media outlets have checks and balances. They try to insure objectivity and accuracy in their reporting.  The checks and balances sometimes fail as they did with the NYT’s Jason Blair.  However, BuzzFeed, Vice, YouTube, Facebook, and other newcomers are just beginning to establish checks and balances.

Jayson Blair (Former journalist with The New York Times, fired for fabrication and plagiarism.).

New media argues that all societal beliefs should have equal expression. It is the same distortion some Americans claim for freedom. Americans have regulated freedom, just as they have regulated free speech. Freedom is to “do no harm to others”.

Another failure Abramson notes is the paucity of critical reporting by the New York Times and Washington Post of WMD in Iraq. Checks and balances did not work in either paper because of investigative failure.

All news media fight for facts.  However, for many reasons, the facts chosen create spin.  

With the addition of BuzzFeed, Vice, and YouTube the inherent bias of chosen facts is accelerated and amplified by emotion.  Abramson implies spin is not the intent of reputable media like the New York Times and the Washington Post. One might disagree because all facts are not included in every report that is posted. All news reporting has some level of distortion.

Every merchant might report facts, but a listener/reader comes away with subtly, and sometimes, widely different understandings of the same story.  It is not that facts are necessarily untrue, but choice of facts and the addition of emotion infects the story. 

Additionally, there is inbred bias in the mind of listeners and readers of the news. Those listed as liberals, conservatives, or libertarians bring their personal beliefs into everything they read, hear, and say.

The difference between traditional news sources, and BuzzFeed or Vice, is elicited emotion. There is less fight for facts with BuzzFeed and Vice.  Their fight is for attention whether the facts are correct or not.

Abramson shows how BuzzFeed and Vice, and similar “news” gatherers are willing to manufacture facts to get attention.  BuzzFeed measures public expression and interest.  BuzzFeed tailors’ articles to magnify whatever is popular. BuzzFeed’s and Vice’s objective is to get the reader to click their feed.  It has less to do with a fight for facts than what Big Data tells these new “Merchants of Truth” is the public’s interest. 

Videos, like Jackass that play on YouTube, fit into the titillation genre.  However, as a merchant of truth, YouTube’s platform generates often useful information.  Its platform offers do-it-yourself help, from people who demonstrate how they did it themselves. 

YouTube also offers educational programming on current events, history, and science.  As a “Merchant of Truth”, it is not fighting for facts.  It, like BuzzFeed and Vice, is looking for clicks to increase advertising revenue.

BuzzFeed and Vice fight for attention, not facts.  They make money for clicks whether facts are right or wrong.  Advertisers are interested because attention drives sales. 

Like BuzzFeed, it resists control of content to increase popularity under the cloak of freedom of speech.  Both BuzzFeed and Facebook are struggling to keep hate out of their content without acting as Big Brother monitors of vitriol.  Neither are focused on a fight for facts or truthful news.  Both seek user clicks to give interest to vendors that will pay to advertise.

Facebook is a ubiquitous forum meant to connect society.  In actuality, it appears Facebook is a forum that often reinforces and magnifies difference in society.

The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, The Economist, and Foreign Affairs have video and online feeds.  Most offer those feeds to subscribers.  Some, like Foreign Affairs want an additional fee for the online service.  The degree of adoption of emotion by traditional media varies, but it creeps into all “Merchants of Truth”. All media serves what big data shows the public wants.

Abramson shows that national TV and newspaper coverage of the news have adopted some of the characteristics of BuzzFeed, Vice, and YouTube to improve their income, and economic viability. 

Somewhat more ominously, Abramson explains how traditional media is adopting measurement metrics that tell publishers how many clicks or engagements reporters get from their writing. If news reports do not achieve a certain level of interest, the reporter’s continued employment and/or compensation becomes a topic for discussion. News is in danger of being measured by popularity, not substance.

Getting back to Abramson’s personal experience at The New York Times, she acknowledges not having much management experience when she became the Executive Editor of the paper.  She notes former employers never offered management graduate courses for her to broaden her education.  Undoubtedly, she was an excellent employee that got things done.

Abramson devotes a part of her book to air grievances about an “old boys club” in the news business.  Other writers, as well as Abramson, have reported a double standard for women in the media industry. Women are viewed differently when they exhibit the same aggressiveness that men show as managers. 

Abramson acknowledges she does not listen as carefully as she should when confronted with opposition. That is a characteristic of both men and women who have come up through the ranks of an organization. They are superstars. They get things done and are promoted to become managers. 

In well managed companies, mentor-ships or management development programs are offered rising stars. They offer employees an opportunity to see the difference between doing things yourself to having things done through others, a skill set that can be taught.

Women and men rise in organizations to become managers by getting things done. Abramson notes that aggressiveness is judged differently in women.  Women are called pushy while men are called forceful and effective.

Becoming a manager is a difficult transition because it involves ceding control that is the hallmark of an employee’s success as a doer of things.  A manager needs to trust others to do the things that need to be done.  One suspects it is more difficult for women to develop trust in others because of generations of unequal treatment. Whether a man or woman, when an employee becomes valuable as a person who gets things done, it is difficult to give up one’s control to others.

Being a manager requires trust in employees that may not do their jobs exactly the way a new manager (a former “doer of things”) believes they should be done. This is where skill-set adjustment is needed.

If an employee fails at a task, a new manager needs to help the employee overcome the failure. If the employee continues to fail, he/she will eventually be fired. If the employee succeeds, he/she goes on to the next task. Abramson’s dismissal may have been as much a function of unequal treatment as inadequate training. Her analytic and reporting skill is proven by her history and her analysis of media news in “Merchants of Truth”.

In a fight for facts, what a consumer can take from Abramson’s analysis is how important it is to read and listen to more than one “Merchant of Truth”.  Finding truth is what Americans of conscience seek.

Freedom of speech cannot be an excuse for unvetted news. 

Much of what Abramson’s personal experience is at The New York Times is reinforced by her analysis of the evolution of the Washington Post. This century has not been kind to traditional news media. It is in a state of transition. Some of us hope it evolves, and is not relegated to the trash bin of history.

The media for this generation is changing.  What one hopes is that the best of each is eventually adopted. Every news source must be measured against truth.  Determining truth is made up of true facts that no singular news outlet is capable of compiling.

“All the news that is fit to print” is an apt logo for the New York Times but it is misleading. History is continually revised because new facts are discovered, and the perspective of society changes. Americans need to be diligent in seeking the truth. The truth does not lie in one source.

AMERICAN FATHERS

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls

By: T Kira Madden

Narrated by T Kira Madden

T. Kira Madden, Author

T Kira Madden’s memoir is a non-fiction account of her life.   This memoir may reach beyond America. It rings true for many children wherever they are raised.  Madden is the child of a philandering father; mostly raised by her mother, but deeply connected to her father. 

Madden’s father is never far from her thoughts but frequently gone from her presence.

Her journey to adulthood is difficult.  Children can love their parents with “Leave it to Beaver” ideals, but in the midst of a chaotic family life, Madden shows children’s lives are scarred.  Many American children are affected by parental absence, and conflict.  In childhood’s journey, physical and mental abuse between parents affects a child’s view of the world.  Their place in it is confused, indeterminate, and seriously affected by the way parents behave.  Madden tells the story of those conflicts in her memoir. 

Sometimes parental absence is because of working parents.  Other times, it is because of the personal lives’ parents live. In Madden’s case it is more of the former than the latter.  Madden’s father works in an undisclosed profession and makes a good deal of money but is absent for long periods of time.  As Madden finds later, part of her father’s absence is because of another family. He is the husband and father of a different wife and children.

Both of Madden’s parents are recovering addicts.  Madden’s parents fall into what she calls “sleepy time” when they over-indulge. At times, her father physically abuses her mother.  Her father’s other family may suffer some of the same effects but that is not the focus of Madden’s memoir.  This is Madden’s life story; not her father’s, and not the family she had yet to meet.  Madden recounts meeting with her father’s other family as an epilogue at the end of her story.

Madden’s story begins with the purchase of a male mannequin as a substitute father.  The mannequin is a symbol of male presence.  It offers a kind of security when mother and child are at home alone.  It is something more to Madden.  That “more” is a reflection on the title of her book.

To a father, Madden’s memoir is heart breaking.  Men are frequently indiscriminate in their relationships. Often, they have little concern for the consequences of their action. 

Men spread their seed and sometimes walk away.  Women are stuck with the most difficult decision of their lives-raising or giving up their child.

One might argue that women have a choice but that ignores history’s male domination and world paternalism. 

Women are always left with the major decisions of life when they become pregnant.  Fathers can leave or stay.  Women can never leave. Women stay with a decision to abort, adopt, or single-parent a yet to be born child.  The reality of staying is a physical and mental trial for women; pending a life sentence.  For men, if there is a sentence, it is limited to guilt and an uncertain, and frequently ignored, financial penalty.

“Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls” implies an abusive or profligate father is a bump in the road; rather than a tragedy. 

Madden shows a child can survive the worst a broken family can do and become something better.  Madden’s story begs the question of how many children of single parents are unable to meet the challenges of a neglectful father, and how many of those children are life’s casualties?

HUMANITY’S SURVIVAL

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Horizon

By: Barry Lopez

Narrated by James Naughton

Barry Holstun Lopez (American author, essayist, fiction writer. News this Friday, 12/25/20 Barry Lopez died at age 75.)

As a first exposure to Barry Lopez’s writing, “Horizon” is a disturbing review of the state of nature.     

There is a “Let It Be” determinism about the environment in Lopez’s memoir of travels around the world. 

Barry Lopez fractures both Biden’s and Trump’s approach to global warming. Biden cares; Trump doesn’t. To Lopez, Biden and Trump end in the same place.

Of course, Lopez is in his 70 s.  To many, Biden’s age offers hope. Trump’s advanced age offers nothing

Thunberg is 16. Her generation is more likely to feel the consequence of world’ ecological change. One doubts pessimism is the intent of Lopez’s recollections. But pessimism is a sense some may get from a 23-hour narration of “Horizon”.

There seems little rage in “Horizon” about the decline of earth’s environment. Particularly in comparison to Greta Thunberg’s accusations against spoilers of the world.

From Lopez’s varied experience as a writer, historian, amateur archaeologist, and world traveler, he concludes humankind may be destined for a sixth extinction

Lopez lives a peripatetic life that exposes him to the remains of animal species lost; the evolutionary fragments of human remains, and the disparate changes of weather around the world. 

Lopez visits parts of the world discovered by explorers.  Particularly men like John Cabot, Christopher Columbus, James Cook, and others.  Lopez writes many vignettes about James Cook and his obsession–to map the world.

Man’s inhumanity to man has been recorded many times by many writers. Lopez regrets the passing of native populations, and suggests their passing is because early explorers paved the way for new civilizations.  In recalling various expeditions, Lopez makes one aware of the nature of human beings. 

The American Indian’s “Trail of Tears” are repeated in many civilizations. 

Lopez notes the lows of human beings with a story of two older men who want him to ghost write an essay about their experience with underage girls in Thailand. In a bigger historical picture, Lopez explains the nature of explorers who destroy as well as initiate new civilizations. 

Lopez infers human civilization is trapped in a cycle of self-destruction.  Every society desires stability and longevity. Lopez infers human nature gets in the way of those desires.

Lopez writes about Darwin’s theory of evolution, and the arbitrariness of genetic selection that sustains human life. Lopez holds the view that Darwin’s theory may be key to human’s future survival.

Lopez infers a chance genetic modification will seed human survival as the world ecological system changes. Lopez notes many civilizations are gone; others are headed for extinction. Today, human advancement is a product of greed and self-interest. Tomorrow, human advancement may be dependent on love and care for others.

Just as greed and self-interest are genetic markers for today’s world cultures, a new genetic marker might offer love and care for others for tomorrow’s world cultures.

Lopez illustrates slavery still plagues the conscience of 21st century civilization.  Discrimination because of race, color, or creed are evident in every nation of the world. 

Jews, Palestinians, Houthi, Saudi Arabians, Taliban, Afghani, Iranians, Pakistanis, Indians, Blacks, Whites, Latinos, Inuit, Canadians, Americans, Chinese, Asians, Russians and others feed into humanities self-destruction. There is blame to go around with a mentality of “my way is the only way”.

Though Lopez’s book is published prior to the Covid19 pandemic, there seems application for his pessimism about what is happening today.

Is the world economy opening too soon? Greed and self-interest unduly influence American public policy.

From Oregon to Antarctica; from Africa to California, to New York to Australia, to the Galapagos Islands, and back to Oregon, Lopez reflects on the state of the world. 

Cortes Conquest of the Aztec Empire.

 

What can break humanity’s cycle of self-destruction?

Lopez suggests the world will go on, but humans may be the sixth extinction.  The question is—is it up to us, fate, nature, or a Supreme Being?

Lopez leaves a slender hope that the evolution of human beings will rescue humanity.  He is neither optimistic nor pessimistic. 

UNNATURAL CAUSES

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Unnatural Causes

By Dr. Richard Shepard

Narrated by Dr. Richard Shepard

Dr. Richard Shepard (Author, UK Pathologist who investigated many celebrity deaths including Princess Diana.)

Dr. Richard Shepard is an English forensic pathologist.  In a cathartic examination of his profession, Shepard reveals how obsessiveness is a boon and bane in life.  From youth to late middle age, Shepard reflects on his life.

In “Unnatural Causes”, Shepard examines the causes of others’ death. With ever-present foreshadowing, a listener recognizes a man who is going to experience a mid-life crisis. 

In Shepard’s dissection of life, many male listeners will see their own narcissistic lives.  The expense of self-absorption is delusion, and often divorce.  For a male obsessed with a career, the cost of delusion is a crisis of personal identity. 

The cost of divorce is different for men than for women.  The biggest cost of divorce is paid by a wife.  She not only loses a part of her identity; she loses the security of family, friends, and income.

Shepard does not overtly acknowledge the inequity of divorce, but one senses his feeling of guilt.

The personal part of Shepard’s story is a sad commentary on relationship between men and women in the modern world.  It is a picture of many men who grow old with their first wife and abandon them when youth has been spent. 

The primary purpose of Shepard’s book is not to explain men’s narcissism but to explore the profession of forensic science.

There is no question that Shepard’s experience qualifies him as an expert in the field.  From terrorist events in England and 9/11 in the U.S. to the death of Princess Diana, Shepard practices his profession as a revered and respected pathologist.  He explains his obsession for “cause for death” from childhood. 

Having lost his mother at an early age, her absence motivates Shepard to understand what causes death. Though unsure of himself when he first encounters dissection of a human being, Shepard notes how curiosity shuts out any discomforting feelings in cutting and examining internal organs of a human corpse.  His focus is on finding the true cause of death.

In the course of Shepard’s career, his search for “cause of death” is found to be difficult, but not because of death’s pathology. 


Shepard explains how political pressure from the public, the police, and the judicial system influences diagnosis of death. The public may want to know the “cause of death” because of preconceived notions.  The police may want to know the “cause of death: because of their perception of someone’s guilt or innocence.  The judicial system may want “cause of death” based on witnesses for the defense or prosecution.  To Shepard, what someone wants is not relevant.  Only the truth is relevant.

Shepard’s conviction that truth is all that matters leads to a professional crisis. 

A less than reputable couple lose their child to what Shepard concludes is SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome).  Based on Shepard’s diagnosis, the couple is set free.  Years later, the couple has another child.  Both parents are alcoholics according to reports given in Shepard’s account of the case.  Years after Shepard’s SIDS determination, a second pathologists reviews the record and finds what he believes to have been child abuse.  The court agrees with the new pathologist and the child is taken from the parents.  Shepard is brought before a board of inquiry to determine whether he should keep his license.

Shepard’s book is worthy of a listener’s time to find out what the board of inquiry decides.  Both the personal and public crises Shepard faces will resonate with anyone who has obsessively pursued a career and had his/her personal integrity challenged.

There is a poignant relationship between Shepard’s story and the grilling of Amy Coney Barrett’s pursuit of a seat on the Supreme Court.

Her truth is not everyone’s truth. To challenge her belief in the role of a justice of the Supreme Court places her squarely in Shepard’s story of judgement by a board of inquiry.

There is the added benefit of hearing how “inequality of the sexes” is a deeply rooted social phenomena.

Immigration

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Little Failure: A Memoir

By Gary Shteyngart

Narrated by: Jonathan Todd Ross

Gary Shteyngart (American writer)

“Little Failure” may seem humorous to some but it is really about the angst and hardship of immigration. Immigration is a particularly difficult subject in today’s America. After all, President Trump claims “our country is full”.

At the age of 38, a memoir of one’s life seems hubris-tic.  “Little Failure” might be a case in point, but the author, Gary Shteyngart, shows more self-loathing than excessive self-pride in his story of coming from Russia to New York at the age of six.

Shteyngart has the good fortune of going to a Jewish grade school (Solomon Schechter) to help him transition from being a Russian speaking immigrant to an English speaking writer.

Solomon Schechter, more than many American schools, appreciates and works on transitioning children from one culture to another.   Shteyngart seems to devalue Solomon Schechter’s help in his immigrant transition. Helping a child transition from a smaller culture to a different and larger culture is a big challenge for both school and immigrant. 

Shteyngart writes a great deal about his relationship with his father and mother that resonate in some ways with all boys growing into manhood. Both parents love their son.

In Shteyngart’s memoir, his father tells imaginative stories, but also physically punishes him for perceived insubordination and bad behavior.  Shteyngart remembers passive/aggressive actions by his mother; e.g. a habit of not talking to him as a way of punishing perceived transgressions.

As with some maturing male children, Shteyngart is obsessed with sex.  He covets attention of older men as father figures.  He desires women that never give him a serious look until he is 20 years old.  He compensates for inattention by being a class clown; which is one of many coping mechanisms used by adolescents with low self-esteem.

Sthteyngart writes that he is the apple of his grandmother’s eye and his parents have high expectations for him.  Sthteyngart is expected to excel in school to become a doctor or lawyer.  However, he finds he does not have enough interest or ability to achieve those goals and turns to writing. 

He goes to Oberlin College, partly because of a girl, but primarily because it offers escape from home and the potential for meeting his parent’s expectation.  He takes two majors, the first is political science and, presumably, the second is English or literature.  The political science is for his parent’s push for law school.  His other  major is to feed his natural interest.

Sthteyngart becomes something of a hippie; i.e. smoking dope, drinking, and generally goofing off, but he manages to keep his grades high enough to satisfy his parents and feed his ambition to be a writer. (This is not a picture of Sthteyngart but and example of hippies of his day.)

He actively supports the first Bush’s election campaign as a confirmed Republican.  He covets a financial patron, a father figure, to support his vices and the pursuit of writing. He turns to psychoanalysis for better understanding of his inner-life.  He believes psychoanalysis helps him cope with his insecurities. 

The valuable part of the story is about being an immigrant in a strange land. From the time of George Washington, many American Presidents have discouraged immigration. The grounds for their opinions range from fear of cultural contamination to national security threat–to today–when our President says America is full.

Immigration fear is not a partisan issue; it is a human issue. In 1939, President Roosevelt turned away an estimated 900 Jews on the M.S. St. Louis. Roosevelt turned them away because they were a national security risk. (Over 200 of those 900 immigrants were executed in Nazi extermination camps during WWII.)

Of course, today’s national security risk is religious affiliation or gang membership. Trump does not care if you are escaping poverty, violence, or death because America is full.

Mr. Trump implies every Muslim is a terrorist and every Latino south of the border is a gang member.

Shteyngart’s first book is published with good reviews.  The best that can be said about “Little Failure” is that it tells a story of growing to manhood in 20th century America; before Donald Trump.

“Little Failure” is as its title says, a memoir, but it seems more like displaced hubris in the light of today’s American government.  Aside from the immigrant parts of Shteyngart’s life, little new coming-of-age’ ground is broken. Few teaching-moments are harvested to lead listeners out of the lacuna of President Trump’s mind.

NORTH KOREA

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Nothing to Envy

By Barbara Demick Narrated by Karen White

Everything to hide, everything to lose, and “Nothing to Envy” summarizes Barbara Demick’s book about North Korea.  That is the frightening prospect of North Korea’s policy regarding nuclear armament. 

North Korea is dark because of a lack of infrastructure for power

Kim Jong-un’s rule of North Korea is founded on fear.  Based on Demick’s characterization of the North Korean economy, Kim uses fear to control North Korean citizens.  Kim presumes the same will work for control of North Korea’s position in the world.  Trump deceives himself in believing he gets along better with meaner leaders.

President Trump understands the tool of fear but mistakenly believes Kim will change his behavior because of America’s superior wealth and power. 

Because fear is the only tool Kim possesses to stabilize North Korea’s government, North Korea will not abandon its quest for more nuclear weapons.

Demick pictures life in North Korea based on interviews and stories told by refugees and defectors.  There is an inherent bias in recollections of those who flee as opposed to those who stay.  These stories, though different in details, are too alike to be lies.  

Demick peels back the edge of a curtain that hides North Korea from the rest of the world. North Korean defector’s recollections are a re-telling of George Orwell’s fictional world of “1984”. North Korea is a reinvention of Joseph Stalin’s U.S.S.R.

Demick recounts the stories of Mrs. Song, Oak-hee, Mi-ran, and Jun-sang.  Demick paints a picture of a gray country, wracked by hunger and controlled by a dictator and his army.  Demick reveals a country that faces a grim future. 

Nuclear warheads in the hands of North Korea are a threat to Asia and the far east.

Demick gives fear and anxiety a face with Mrs. Song’s story of her life as a rabid believer, self-deceiver, and follower of the “Dear Leader”, Kim Jong-il (Kim Jong-un’s father). 

Mrs. Song and her children survive North Korea’s worst famine in history, but her husband dies.  Mrs. Song’s daughter Oak-hee tricks her mother into visiting China and then lures her to South Korea.  Oak-hee shows Mrs. Song that life in North Korea is a shadow of what life can be.

Demick’s second story is told by Jun-sang and Mi-ran, two other North Korean defectors.  Jun-sang and Mi-ran introduce romance into this gray world.  Their courtship in North Korea is sweetly pictured in clandestine walks on dark nights with sparkling bright stars in a lightless city.  Jun-sang is an engineering student at a prestigious North Korean school.  Mi-ran is the daughter of a naturalized North Korean farmer who lived in what became South Korea after the Korean War.

Jun-sang and Mi-ran talked of everything but what became the most important thing in their lives, the dishonesty of their government, the unfair treatment of its people, and their growing alienation.

 Both defected at different times because they were afraid to reveal to each other their true feelings about life in their home country.  Later, they meet in South Korea but as strangers that have grown into separate lives.

“Nothing to Envy” makes a listener believe North Korea’s government is destined to fail.  Time and incident will cause its collapse. 

President Trump only temporarily stopped displays of nuclear weaponization by North Korea. Obviously, Kim Jong-un is only acting in a play designed by Trump.  It appears Trump’s play, as much of his administration, is out of his control. 

Our President cannot say “you’re fired”.  Kim Jong-un needs fear to govern his country.  He believes fear is the only tool that will gain cooperation of the outside world.