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.

AKIN TO PROUST

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.com

My Struggle, Book 1

Written by: Karl Ove Knausgaard

Narration by:  Edoardo Ballerini

KARL OVE KNAUSGARD (NORWEGIAN AUTHOR)

KARL OVE KNAUSGARD (NORWEGIAN AUTHOR)

Karl Knausgaard’s “My Struggle, Book 1” is akin to Proust’s oeuvre about life and coming of age.  This comparison is somewhat apt but Knausgaard’s journey is visceral and personal while Proust’s is intellectual and universal.  A listener feels like they are peeking into Knausgaard’s personal diary; while Proust’s “Remembrance of Things Past” is an intellectual exercise.

Swan's Way

With Knausgaard, a listener feels stuck in a web, without exit; with Proust, one feels stuck but sees a way out. 

Even the name of Knausgaard’s book, “My Struggle”, has an emotional feel and personal meaning.  In contrast, Proust’s first book is called “Swann’s Way” which infers a more abstract and recollected universal insight.

Marcel Proust (French novelist, criitc and essayist, 1872-1922)

This is not a criticism of Knausgaard’s or Proust’s writing.  Knausgaard and Proust are like spiders that weave words into webs that capture listener’s consciousness. 

Knausgaard struggles with his freedom.  On the one hand, he likes the independence; on the other, he misses the stability associated with family.  He becomes accustomed to being alone.  He covets being alone, even among friends.  

Knausgaard craves the oblivion of alcohol. 

Acquiring alcohol becomes a challenge that is met by having others buy it for him and eventually using his 6’ 2” height to fool corner store owners into selling him beer.

Knausgaard seeks companionship to compensate for unstructured independence but shies away from intimacy. 

He struggles with growing interest in sex.  He has his first ejaculation in an unconsummated bedroom experience with a girl schoolmate.  He is sixteen years old.

At fifteen, Knausgaard is struggling with his need for independence. 

Knausgaard reveres both his mother and father.  He deeply loves both but is ambivalent and somewhat fearful of his father. Knausgaard’s need is served by a mother and father that become separated, first as a result of work, but in the end by divorce.  Knausgaard begins to effectively live alone when his mother and father separate.

The way Knausgaard views life waivers between the radical left and outright anarchism. 

He is financially supported by his father but his father allows Knausgaard to live largely by himself.  When parental divorce becomes a fait accompli, Knausgaard emotionally cleaves to his mother while revising views of his father.

“My Struggle, Book 1” is an excellent memoir of boyhood.  It is filled with experiences that remind adult men of what it is like to grow-up in modern times.  Some embrace the “Sturm und Drang” of life while others close themselves off and become observers rather than participants.  Knausgaard is an observer.

Knausgaard begins to see his father as an individual; as a vulnerable human being, capable of crying and subject to the same weaknesses of all men.    He is married twice.  He is driven by desire for success with relationships in life as a means to an end rather than ends to a mean.

Knausgaard is less observant of his mother’s humanness because he measures his life against his father’s actions and reactions.  In consequence, his understanding and relationship with women is degraded.

Knausgaard’s depiction of his father’s death in the squalor of Knausgaard’s grandmother’s home shocks the senses.  It reflects a truth about neglect of the poor, physically or mentally challenged, and the elderly in cultures based on self-interest.

Children who grow into relatively healthy adults believe they are immortal; i.e. “boys grown to men” believe achieving economic security, psychological health, and physical well-being is part of every life’s struggle. Knausgaard infers that when life’s struggle slaps people down, the recovered forget the un-recovered.

Knausgaard suggests those who succeed in a self-interest’ culture believe failure to overcome life’s struggle is the their own fault. One cannot escape the feeling that this is a leading cause of homelessness in one of the richest nations in the world.

Knausgaard tells of his father’s descent into alcoholism, and his grandmother’s mental collapse.  Both are ignored by Knausgaard and his brother until confronted by his father’s death in their demented grandmother’s pee and shit-stained house.

There is a homeopathic comfort in hearing Knausgaard’s vignettes of life because they remind one of life as a boy growing into a man.  There are no revelations in Knausgaard’s journey to adulthood.  However, there are interesting and informative recollections. 

Knausgaard’s precise descriptions of a lived life reminds listeners of how much men have in common, whether Norwegian, American, or other.  It reminds us that we are human, imperfect, and ephemeral.

MASOCHIST’S GUIDE TO AFRICA

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough
(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

A Primate’s Memoir: A Neuroscientist’s Unconventional Life Among the Baboons

A PRIMATE'S MEMOIR

3 star symbol
Written by: Robert M. Sapolsky

Narration by: Mike Chamberlain

ROBERT SAPOLSKY (AMERICAN NEUROENDOCRINOLGIST, PROFESSOR OF BIOLOGY, NEUROSCIENCE, AND NEUROSURGERY AT STANFORD UNIVERSITY)
ROBERT SAPOLSKY (AMERICAN NEURO-ENDOCRINOLGIST, PROFESSOR OF BIOLOGY, NEUROSCIENCE, AND NEUROSURGERY AT STANFORD UNIVERSITY)

Robert Sapolsky’s “A Primates Memoir” is a masochist’s guide to Africa. (Our 2017 trip to Africa was luxurious in comparison.)  Sapolsky’s trip is what you would expect from a biological anthropologist who sojourns to Africa in the early 80s.  Sapolsky lives in a tent while studying baboons.

AFRICA JULY 2017_7695.JPG
Our stay in Africa is luxurious in comparison to Sapolsky’s in the 1980s.

At the age of 12, Sapolsky appears to know what he wants from life. In his middle-school years, he begins studying Swahili, the primary language of Southeast Africa.

Sapolsky’s career is aimed at understanding Southeast Africa.  Sapolsky’s 1984 PhD. thesis is titled “The Neuro-endocrinology of Stress and Aging”. Presumably, his trip to Africa became the basis for his academic thesis. Sapolsky’s experience in Africa is recounted in “A Primate’s Memoir”.

AFRICA JULY 2017_8101.JPG
Animal preserve in Southeast Africa

While studying Baboons, Sapolsky is exposed to the worst of African society. His memoir of those years touches on the aftermath of Africa’s colonization, Africa’s ubiquitous diseases, its governments’ instability, and its abundant and frequently poached wildlife.

SOUTHEAST AFRICA
SOUTHEAST AFRICA

Robert Mugabe (President of Zimbabwe)
Robert Mugabe (Former President of Zimbabwe)

JACOB ZUMA (FORMER PRESIDENT OF SOUTH AFRICA)
JACOB ZUMA (FORMER PRESIDENT OF SOUTH AFRICA)

Though some of what Sapolsky writes has  changed, today’s news shows characters like Robert Mugabe, and Jacob Zuma, who are accused of victimizing the poor to enrich themselves.

Some African, and other nation-state leaders around the world, are corrupt.  Many Southeastern African bureaucrats, foreign business moguls, indigenous apartheid promoters, and wildlife exploiters still walk, drive, and bump down streets and dirt trails of this spectacular continent.

Self-interest often conflicts with general economic growth and stability.  Today’s Southeast Africa is great for tourism (one of the three biggest industries) but the poor remain poor, the rich richer, and the middle class nearly non-existent.

AFRICA JULY 2017_7219.JPG
Today’s Southeast Africa is great for tourism (one of the three biggest industries) but the poor remain poor, the rich richer, and the middle class nearly non-existent.

Sapolsky returns to Africa after marrying. He squires his science and marriage partner to revisit a baboon troop he was studying in the 1980s. At the same time, he touches on the cultural norms of a society that seems little changed from his early years in Africa.

Sapolsky recounts the melding of a tragi-comic story of an African who is mauled by a Hyena. In telling the story, he reveals the stoic acceptance of life as it is. However, each time the story of the mauling is told by different people, it changes. The change comes from a blend of truth and fiction that conforms to the tellers’ view of themselves. The essence of the story is that an African man sleeping in a tent is mauled by a Hyena looking for food.

CHANGING STORY
Re-telling of an African story changes with each narration–The change comes from a blend of truth and fiction that conforms to the tellers’ view of themselves..

When the story is told by Masai warriors hired by a company to protect its employees, the victim is saved when the Hyena is speared by the Masai warrior’s courage. When the story is told by the victim, it is a company cook who bashes the Hyena that runs away. When the story is told by a newspaper reporter, the Masai warriors were drunk and not doing their job; the cook bashed the Hyena, and the victim survived. When the story is told by the cook, the victim’s yell brings the cook to the tent; the cook grabs a rock, bashes the Hyena, and the Hyena flees. Finally, when the story is told by the company employer, the victim is not an employee, the Mesai warriors did spear the Hyena, and the employer had no responsibility for the victim.

A cultural interpretation is inferred by these many versions of the same story. Some humans indulge in alcohol to escape reality. Most humans wish to protect an idealized version of their existence. News coverage is sometimes a mix of truth and fiction to make stories more interesting than accurate.

Life is happenstance with each human dealing with its consequence as an end or beginning that either defines, or extends their understanding of life. Truth is in the eye of the beholder. Some people are willing to risk their lives for others. Private companies focus on maximizing profit and minimizing responsibility.  Life is not an either/or proposition despite Kierkegaard’s philosophy.  Humans are good and bad; no one is totally one or the other–not even America’s morally corrupt and ethically challenged leader.

BABOONS
Sapolsky shows that baboon families, like all families, are born, mature, and die within a framework of psychological and physical challenges imbued by culture. All lives face challenge but culture can ameliorate or magnify the intensity and consequence of the challenge.

The overlay of Sapolsky’s memoir is the research and reported evolution of a baboon family in Southeast Africa. He shows that baboon families, like all families, are born, mature, and die within a framework of psychological and physical challenges imbued by culture. All lives face challenge but culture can ameliorate or magnify the intensity and consequence of the challenge.

Sapolsky gives the example of Kenyan “crazy” people who are hospitalized, treated, and fed to deal with their life circumstance. In America, it seems “crazy” people are left to the street. The inference is that Kenyan “crazy” people live a less stressful life than American “crazy” people. This is a positive view of Kenyan culture but there are ample negative views in Sapolsky’s memoir. Rampant poverty, malnutrition, and abysmal medical treatment are Sapolsky’s recollected examples.

Sapolsky’s memoir shows he clearly lives an unconventional life, but it seems a life of purpose. What more is there?

 

A HACKING OBSESSION

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Ghost in the Wiresghost in the machine

By Kevin Mitnick, William Simon

Narrated by Ray Porter

KEVIN MITNICK (AUTHOR, IT CONSULTANT, FORMER HACKER)
KEVIN MITNICK (Author, Computer Information Consultant, Former Hacker)—John Waters is supposed to have said, “Without obsession, life is nothing”.  Kevin Mitnick, in the span of 20 years, was convicted four times for computer hacking (exploiting computer system weaknesses).

John Waters is supposed to have said, “Without obsession, life is nothing”.  Kevin Mitnick, in the span of 20 years, was convicted four times for computer hacking (exploiting computer system weaknesses).

Mitnick’s assisted autobiography infers that hacking became Mitnick’s obsession.

“Ghost in the Wires” is a semi-believable story of an extraordinary white-collar criminal that alleges he never financially benefited from spying on people and stealing proprietary software programs from dozens of major corporations and government agencies.  His modus operandi was the lie (euphemistically called social engineering) a telephone, and a computer; all of which he used to hack.

TELEPHONE
Mitnick would “socially engineer” (lie to) company employees.  The employee would release proprietary information without understanding what they were doing.  Mitnick then used that information to steal software or spy on corporate activities.

Mitnick is a quintessential conman.  When he chose an objective like stealing credit information from TRW or making uncharged calls on PacBell’s communication system, he would telephone the “targeted” company.  Mitnick would tell the soon-to-be-victimized; he was a company employee and needed access to their software systems to correct a problem at a branch office.

He would “socially engineer” (lie to) company contacts, who would trustingly release proprietary information.  The contact would release proprietary information without understanding what they were doing.  Mitnick then used that information to steal software or spy on corporate activities. , and allegedly, not use that information to benefit himself.  Mitnick generally criticizes Americans for being too trusting.

Mitnick obsessively researched his target.  He would learn the lingo of the corporation, identify a real employee, assume his identity, and then begin his telephone con with a person that would have access to proprietary information.  Mitnick argues that he was thrilled by the chase and the acquisition of unauthorized information.  He would store the stolen information on remote computer systems that he either hacked into or purchased as rented space.  Mitnick said he never used the information to benefit himself but only pursued it for the joy of hacking.  Really?

human research
Mitnick obsessively researched his target.  He would learn the lingo of the corporation, identify a real employee that he would become, and then begin his telephone con with a person that would have access to proprietary information.

information thief
Mitnick is obviously smart and articulate but wants a listener to believe he lived on $28,000 per year for 2 out of 10 years of life, moved cross-country at least 4 times in 8 years, lost $11,000 cash, borrowed $5,000, went to college, and never lived on the street.

Mitnick is a good storyteller but there are glaring weaknesses in his story.  Mitnick is obviously smart and articulate but wants a listener to believe he lived on $28,000 per year for 2 out of 10 years of life, moved cross-country at least 4 times in 8 years, lost $11,000 cash, borrowed $5,000, went to college, and never lived on the street.  One wonders how he lived and traveled on such a meager income, duping the world and not taking a cent of illegal gotten gains.

Mitnick seems incredibly gullible to believe one of his fellow hackers was not working for the FBI; long before he found corroborating evidence.  Mitnick seems always surprised by the betrayal of his “friends” but keeps going back to the well of friendship.  Is this personal naiveté or social engineering of those who read or listen to his story?

Finally, the competence of the FBI seems exaggerated when Mitnick is caught by a simple search done by Shimomura, a security consultant, when he found that Mitnick was somewhere in Raleigh, North Carolina.  Shimomura simply screened all telephone communication in Mitnick’s area.  Shimomura pinpointed addresses of anyone on the phone for more than 30 minutes at one time.  Mitnick was the only person that fit that criterion.

HACKING
The advent of the internet suggests hackers of the world are capable of doing considerably more damage today than when Mitnick practiced his obsession, e.g., Russian interference with the American election process.

Mitnick’s story makes one uncomfortable on two levels. One, Mitnick reveals tools used by criminals and others who can invade our privacy. And two, one wonders if he/she is being socially engineered by a consummate liar. After all, Mitnick escaped prosecution for 15 years.

The advent of the internet suggests hackers of the world are capable of doing considerably more damage today than when Mitnick practiced his obsession, i.e., Russian interference with the American election process being a prime example.

STEVE WOZNIAK
STEVE WOZNIAK

In the forward to Mitnick’s book, he is praised for his affability by Steve Wozniak (former founder of Apple). One would believe the praise is in part because of Wozniak’s belief in open system software but also because of Mitnick’s software coding expertise and suspect affability.

In Mitnick’s afterword, it appears Mitnick’s life as a criminal made him both famous and financially secure.  One wonders, how much more Mitnick could have accomplished without breaking the law.  After all, Waters implies life is something if you are obsessive.  Without doubt, Mitnick is that.

FREDERICK DOUGLASS

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

NARRATIVE OF THE LIFE OF FREDERICK DOUGLASS

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass

By Frederick Douglass

Narrated by Walter Covell

“Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass” is an original source of history; i.e. words written by a man ahead of his time who acted on new-found knowledge and lived to write about it.

SLAVE TREATMENT

One may question the veracity of Douglass’s words but the truth of his experience is corroborated by reports of others of his time and by America’s history of Black revolution.

Douglass was a slave in the early 19th century, 30 years before the civil war.  He became a self-taught reader/writer and scholar, reporting on himself as “a slave become free”. 

Slavery and racial prejudice are truths of American history.  Resistance is made real in Douglass’s auto biography.  Racial prejudice remains evident in today’s memory of the Watt’s riots and Black Panther movement of the 1960s.

Frederick Douglass was a canary in a coal mine that presaged the future of slavery and resistance to unequal treatment in the United States.  His experience in 1820’s Maryland is the experience of Black militancy in the 1960s.

Advances in racial equality could only be started through education.  However, Douglass infers that some level of violence is inherent in the drive for equality. 

He recounts his physical resistance to the abuse of an overseer when he is near 16 years of age.  The quality of resistance seems like that of a younger brother that becomes too big to be abused by an older brother that has been able to control his sibling’s behavior. 

It is more complex in Douglass’s explanation because the overseer may also have been trying to maintain his reputation as a reformer of recalcitrant slaves.  Any hint of physical resistance would be a strike against the overseer’s reputation.

Slave Family In Cotton Field near Savannah

ca. 1860s, Near Savannah, Georgia, USA — Slave Family In Cotton Field near Savannah — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

Douglass goes on to explain that physical abuse is only one of many ways that unequal treatment was reinforced by a white majority; e.g. slave owners refusal to educate slaves, slave owners withholding of food and clothing, slave owners sexual exploitation of slave women; more ways than can be counted, seen, or understood.

COLIN KAEPERNICK PROTEST

Douglass, like Colin Kaepernick, is not condoning violence but his story is a reality check on the consequence of resistance to unfair or unequal treatment. 

Without physical resistance, social change has no impetus, no accelerator.  Douglass did not write about murdering an oppressor.  He wrote about human equality and the need to become confident in oneself; not to be property of another but to be equally human.  The logical extension of that belief is an assertion of one’s self; i.e. a bully can only be a bully if the put-upon fail to fight back.  Douglass fought back and gained self-respect.  Short of murder, that contextualizes the Black Panther movement and reinforces the credibility of Martin Luther King’s, and today’s football player’s efforts to raise Black self-respect through education and non-violent resistance to unequal treatment.

PREACHER PREACHING

An irony that is sometimes missed in the fight for equal rights is the negative role that religion played in the unequal treatment of Blacks.

Douglass notes in his auto biography that his greatest ill-treatment stemmed from people who professed strong belief in a particular religion.  Douglass writes that be believes in God and feels blessed by God’s existence but white men and women, in Douglass’s experience, distort God’s truth through their religion to justify abhorrent behavior toward slaves.

“A Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass” is worth listening to because it gives all Americans some sense of how bad we are, how good we can be, how far we have come, and how far we have to go to eliminate racial inequality.

CREATIVE ADULT

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Words without Music: A Memoir

Written by: Philip Glass

Narration by:  Lloyd James

“Words without Music” is a memoir of Philip Glass’s transformation to creative adult.  This is a journey taken by every child–with greater and lesser degrees of actualized creativity. 

Glass explains how love by others transforms his life and why self-actualization is the fountain of creativity.  This is certainly not a new revelation.  Socrates, through the words of Plato, characterizes self-actualization in the dictum of “know thy self”.   Self-actualization is explained as the penultimate goal of life by Abraham Maslow.

Glass recounts his childhood with a description of his ex-Marine father, and school teacher mother.  Glass’s father is a small business entrepreneur who raises his children in a rough New York neighborhood.  Strength, determination, and adventurousness come from Glass’s father.

Glass explains how his father feared little in a neighborhood of gangs; while managing his record business with an iron hand. Glass learns how to overcome fear in working in his father’s record shop and taking the proceeds of the day to the bank at the end of the day.  Glass sees himself, as though in a mirror, when he chooses not to tell his father of a customer’s theft of a record.  Glass knows his father will act reflexively by over-zealously punishing the thief.

WOMEN AND THE LADDER TO SUCCESS

Glass describes the soul of his family as his mother.  She is the conservator, the method-of-living key to Glass’s growth as an artist. 

Glass strives to be a good student and is accepted by the University of Chicago based on academic tests rather than high school graduation.  He chooses to become a musician based on early experience as a flutist, and later as a pianist.  He finds from counseling with a Julliard alumnus that composing rather than playing music is more conducive to his innate ability.  In these pursuits, Glass’s mother is his rock, his supporter and adviser.

After graduating, Glass chooses to travel to Paris in pursuit of a composer’s education.  He is mentored by an older woman who provides the technical skill and stern loving support he needs to continue his journey toward actualization.  Glass chooses to leave his mentor with a woman of his own age and travel to India.  Glass sees himself in a way that requires reinforcement from others.  “Others” are teachers of the ancient practice of yoga.

Glass returns to America with a wife, with whom he has two children.  He lives in New York and works as a furniture mover and taxi driver while pursuing his education as a composer.  Glass is approaching thirty.  He begins to have serendipitous success.  The first big break is an opera called “Einstein on the Beac

Jean Cocteau (1889-1963, Novelist, Poet, Artist, Film Maker

Glass’s journey is symbolized by his dissection of the works of Jean Cocteau; i.e. particularly La_Belle_et_la_Bête (Beauty and the Beast).  Glass argues that Cocteau’s works are about human creativity and transformation.  The symbolism in La_Belle_et_la_Bête is the story of Glass’s life.  The rose in Cocteau’s movie symbolizes beauty (Glass’s body of work). The key is the method (Glass’s mother). The horse is strength, determination, and speed (Glass’s father). The glove is nobility (Glass’s renown as a composer). The castle is a prison that can only be escaped with love from another (Glass’s three wives, his children, his mentors, and friends). The Mirror symbolizes who you truly are (this memoir of Glass’s life).

This is a nicely written and narrated memoir of Philip Glass; considered by many as the most influential composer of the late twentieth century.

A LIFE OF DECENCY

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

When Breath Becomes Air

Written by: Paul Kalnithi with foreword from Abraham Verghese

Narration by:  Sunil Malhotra, Cassandra Campbell

PAUL KALANITHI (AUTHOR, NEUROSURGEON)

PAUL KALANITHI (AUTHOR, NEUROSURGEON)

“When Breath Becomes Air” memorializes a disease that ravages lungs. Paul Kalanithi did not die from the Corona Virus but from a type of a cancer that attacks lung function. The Corona Virus is not a cancer. But, the Corona Virus creates an infection that simultaneously reduces our immune response. The primary organ of attack by Covid19 are lungs that cannot process air.

Paul Kalanitihi’s book seems an apt tribute to brave health care workers and others in the face of today’s Covid19 pandemic.

Kalanithi writes about his life.  It is a short life, infused with stress, success, and failure.  Paul Kalnithi is the son of India immigrants who grows up in Kingman, Arizona.  (Kingman is a town of less than 29,000 people lying between Las Vegas luck and Phoenix senior living.)

Paul’s parents, particularly his mother, demand much from their children.  Paul is exposed to the classics of literature at an early age to supplement his private school education.  His educational interest is split between literature and science.

PAUL KALANITHI'S PARENTS (SUE, A MEDICAL PHYSIOLOGIST AND PAUL, A CARDIOLOGIST LIVE IN KINGMAN, AZ)

PAUL KALANITHI’S PARENTS (A MEDICAL PHYSIOLOGIST AND A CARDIOLOGIST LIVE IN KINGMAN, AZ)

Paul is accepted at Stanford to pursue certification as a neurosurgeon.  His motivation to become a doctor is partly based on a desire to understand the meaning of life.  If there is meaning, Paul believes it lies in the lacunae of the mind.

PAUL AND LUCY KLANITHI WITH DAUGHTER CADY

PAUL AND LUCY KLANITHI WITH DAUGHTER CADY

Within one year of Paul’s ten year journey to graduation, he is struck with lung cancer.  After a first round of treatment, Paul’s cancer is in remission and he returns to Stanford to finish his residency.

As he nears completion of residency, the cancer reasserts itself and Paul decides to write “When Breath Becomes Air” to explain what he believes about life.

There are many messages to humanity in “When Breath Becomes Air”.  It is founded on insight drawn from what Paul Klanithi has read and what he has experienced.  No life is without stress and failure.  The best one hopes for is to live and leave life as decently as Paul Kalnithi. He died at 37. He was at the peak of his career.

Every death is a tragedy to a family that has lost a loved one. America has lost over 200,000 human beings as of October 2, 2020, some famous, some not. Just last April, deaths were less than 34,000.

Alex Trebek died today, 11.8.20. He fought pancreatic cancer and filmed “Jeopardy” up until two days before his death.

Those who choose to listen to “When Breath Becomes Air” will look at life differently.  Not because of belief in God or the fallibility of human beings, but because we all live between Las Vegas luck and Phoenix senior living. 

The Pfizer vaccine has been approved for children 5 years and older. It is time for parents to protect their families and others from the ravages of Covid19. Measure the odds–make a decision based on science, not politics.

This news reminds us of the health care workers, safety officers, farmers, public employees, news reporters, grocery employees, and volunteers who risk their lives every day.