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?

 

TODAY’S LUDDITES

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The Glass Cage-Automation and Us

By: Nicholas Carr

Narrated by: Jeff Cummings

NICHOLAS G. CARR (AMERICAN WRITER-FORMER EDITOR OF HARVARD BUISNESS REVIEW)

NICHOLAS G. CARR (AMERICAN WRITER-FORMER EDITOR OF HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW)

The Glass Cage, written by Harvard alumnus Nicholas Carr, ironically places him in the shoes of an uneducated English textile artisan of the 19th century, known as a Luddite.

Luddites protested against the industrial revolution because machines were replacing jobs formerly done by laborers.  Just as the Luddites fomented arguments against mechanization, Carr argues automation creates unemployment and diminishes craftsmanship.

Workmen take out their anger on the machines

WORKMEN TAKE OUT THEIR ANGER ON MACHINES DURING THE INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION. (Just as the Luddites fomented arguments against mechanization, Carr argues automation creates unemployment and diminishes craftsmanship.)

Carr carries the Luddite argument a step further by inferring a mind’s full potential may only be achieved through a conjunction of mental and physical labor.  Carr posits the loss of physical ability to make and do things diminishes civilization by making humans too dependent on automation.

There is no question that employment was lost in the industrial revolution; just as it is in the automation age, but jobs have been and will continue to be created as the world adjusts to this new stage of productivity.

INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION

Unquestionably, the advent of automation is traumatic but elimination of repetitive industrial labor by automation is as much a benefit to civilization as the industrial revolution was to low wage workers spinning textile.

The Covid19 pandemic of 2020 will accelerate world’ transition to automation. Though this book is written earlier than the pandemic’s economic consequence, corporations are reevaluating the necessity for office buildings to conduct their business. More and more employees will work from home.

Employment adjustment is traumatic.  The trauma of this age is that work with one’s hands is being replaced by work with one’s brain.  The education of the world needs to catch up with socio-economic change; just as labor did in the 20th century.  To suggest humans do not learn when they cannot fly a plane, build a house, or construct an automobile with their own hands is a specious argument. 

ASSEMBLY LINE WORK

Houses and cars have not been built by one person since humans lived in caves and iron horses replaced carriage horses.  Houses and cars were built by teams of people who worked with their hands but only on specific tasks.  Those teams of people were managed by knowledge workers.

Service and education for society are the keys to the transition from industrialization to automation.

QUANTS

Automation of tasks reduces the mind numbing, low pay work of laborers.  Automation turns manual labor into the development and education of people who design hardware and software to execute tasks that result in more safely flown planes, new houses, new cars, new refrigerators, so on and so on.

Carr suggests that airplane pilots should be given more control over automated planes they fly despite the facts he quotes that clearly show plane crashes kill fewer people today than ever in history.  They are bigger, faster, and more complicated to fly.  The argument that pilots need to learn how to fly a jumbo jet when automation fails is like telling a farmer to pull out his scythe to harvest the wheat because the thresher quit working.

WRIGHT UNPOWERED AIRCRAFT

Carr’s argument is that pilots have forgotten how to fly because automation replaced their skill set.  To state the obvious, planes are not what they were 100 or even 10 years ago.

One might argue that Boeing’s 737 Max mistakes are evidence that Carr is correct in suggesting planes have become too complicated, but it ignores the reality of mistakes have always being made by humans. Humans are preternaturally motivated by self-interest.

Boeing’s leaders made mistakes in not fully analyzing and disclosing risks of 737 changes, and in not adequately training airline pilots on the safety features of the plane.

Carr raises a morality argument for not saving life when an automated machine makes a decision rather than a human being.  One can suggest an example of how an automated machine is more likely to make the right decision than a human.

For example, presume a driver-less car is programmed to save its occupant when an injured bicyclist is laying in the street around a blind curve. A fast moving automated car with a family inside, with mountain cliffs on both sides of the road, will drive over the bicyclist without conscience.  The bicyclist is dead but the car passengers are alive.   If the car is driven by a person, both the cyclist and the family are likely dead. 

THINKING SLOW

Carr’s argument is that humans need to make their own intuitive decisions.  As pointed out by Daniel Kahneman in “Thinking Fast and Slow”, the primary “think fast” mode in humans is intuition, which is often wrong.

Without doubt, many automation errors (e.g. the 737 Max) have been and will be made in the future, but to suggest automation is not good for society is as false as the Luddites arguments about industrialization.

This period of the world’s adjustment is horrendously disruptive.  It is personal to every parent or person that cannot feed, clothe, and house their family or themselves because they have no job.

Decrying the advance of automation is not the answer.  Making the right political decisions about how to help people make job transitions is what will advance civilization.

OTHER gods

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The Attention Merchantsthe attention merchants

By Tim Wu

Narrated by Marc Cashman

TIM WU (AUTHOR, PROFESSOR OF LAW AT COLUMBIA )
TIM WU (AUTHOR, PROFESSOR OF LAW AT COLUMBIA )

Not since “The Powers That Be” (published in 1979) has there been a better history of the media industry.  Tim Wu is heir to David Halberstam.  First there were newspapers, then radio, then television, and now the world-wide web.  Wu offers a modern vision of media’s impact on society in “The Attention Merchants”.

Gone are many of the famed “…Attention Merchants” like Bill Bernbach, Neil French, and David Ogilvy.   They were the early influencers; i.e. the copy writers, and agents that created consumer advertising for Sulzberger, Chandler, Hutchins, Paley, and Luce.  They worked for founders of some of the most influential newspaper, radio, television and magazine outlets of the 19th and 20th centuries. They were the “gods” of a newly formed consumer society. Consumers read, watched, and listened to pitches for everything from votes to vitamins to the latest model Cadillac.  Wu shows pitches remain the same, but methods have changed.

DAVID HALBERSTAM'S SEMINAL WORK ON THE MEDIA INDUSTRY (PUBLISHED 1979)
DAVID HALBERSTAM’S SEMINAL WORK ON THE MEDIA INDUSTRY (PUBLISHED 1979)  Gone are many of the famed “…Attention Merchants” like Bill Bernbach, Neil French, and David Ogilvy.  They were the “gods” of a newly formed consumer society. Consumers read, watched, and listened to pitches for everything from votes to vitamins to the latest model Cadillac.

Today’s social, political, and economic consumers are recorded, manipulated, spindled, and controlled by “other gods”.  Modern “…Attention Merchants” are internet entrepreneurs like Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Google’s Larry Page & Sergey Brin, Microsoft’s Bill Gates & today’s CEO Satya Nadella, Apple’s (now deceased) CEO, Steve Jobs & today’s CEO Tim Cook, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, and Netflix’s Reed Hastings. Television, newspapers, radio, and magazines still capture our attention but not like past “…Attention Merchants”.  Old media are still with us, but computer screens and mobile phones have joined the mix.  Wu shows how the public’s decisions have become less volitional, more manipulated, and addictive as www. sites came into being and technology matured.

INTERNET LOGO
Old media is still with us, but computer screens and mobile phones have joined the mix.  Wu shows how the public’s decisions have become less volitional, more manipulated, and addictive when www. came into being and technology matured.

MARLBORO MAN
Neither smoking or “free” access to information is without harm or cost.  The Marlborough man is dead, and “free” internet information is not free.

Wu recounts how advertising became a critical part of early media’s power, influence, and profit.  Just as advertisers promoted false benefits of smoking in the 20th, internet advertisers promote false benefits of free access to information and entertainment in the 21st century.  Neither smoking or “free” access to information is without harm or cost.  The Marlborough man is dead, and “free” internet information is not free.  “Fake news” has always been in the “…Attention Merchant’s” tool box but Wu shows that a new dimension is created with the rise of “free” information technology.

The internet not only informs the public, i.e., it distracts society, distorts facts, and reveals intimate details of personal lives. Internet users become products, rather than just consumers. Information gathered on consumers is provided to government and sold to private enterprise.

More ominous than media distortion by capitalist manipulators is government-controlled media that distorts truth to justify the Ukraine war.
ukraine bombing

Personal information is used by governments, and private sector businesses to achieve their own purposes.  Power and control become centered on organizations rather than individuals.  Data mining is a new industry. Decisions are less determined by personal being and private belief.  Today, decisions are shaped by a society “under the influence” of government, and private sector’s “…Attention Merchants”.

data mining
Personal information is used by governments, and private sector businesses to achieve their own purposes.  Power and control become centered on organizations rather than individuals.  Data mining is a new industry.

facebook
In this Facebook age, there are few secrets about what one likes and what one is willing to pay for product.

Wu notes how today’s “…Attention Merchants” are different.  Advertisers have always tried to influence individuals.  Advertisers have always told lies or distorted truth to get buyers to buy and believe.  Wu explains the difference.  Now personal information is acquired with confused consent by users of the internet. In this Facebook age, there are few secrets about what one likes and what one is willing to pay for product.

Customers are no longer just consumers.  Wu notes customers have become products.  Customers are sold to the highest bidder without customer awareness or compensation.  Today’s “…Attention Merchants” argue that sales pitches are customized to what the customer wants.  Businesses rationalize access as the customer’s compensation.  Government rationalizes access as a way of staying in touch and understanding the public.  Wu implies both arguments are willful misrepresentations.

consumer's mind
Consumers have less control over their decisions because “…Attention Merchants” use intimate personal information to seduce conscious and unconscious motivation.

There is a cost to voters and consumers because personal information is being sold without pay for product that enriches “…Attention Merchants”, private enterprise, and government.  The product delivered is the personal information that reveals who we are, what we think, what we desire, and what we are willing to pay.  Consumers have less control over their decisions because “…Attention Merchants” use intimate personal information to seduce conscious and unconscious motivation.

The sinister aspect of Wu’s explanation is that “…Attention Merchants” now have tools that exaggerate the impact of “fake news”.  By knowing intimate beliefs of consumers, “…Attention Merchants” are able to create algorithms that funnel “fake news” that feeds what consumer’s may either accurately or inaccurately believe.  Prejudices and discrimination are reinforced.  The worst characteristics of political populism are reinforced.  “The Attention Merchants” expand control of individual thought so that the course of democratic elections, government policies, or business successes can be unduly influenced by false or misleading information.

wikipedia
The positive aspect of the internet is shown by sites created without advertising input; e.g. Wikipedia and some blogosphere creations abjure advertising as a source of compensation.

Wu notes there are glimmers of hope with a growing recognition of the impact of the internet. The internet broadens human understanding of the world. The positive aspect of the internet is shown by sites created without advertising input; e.g. Wikipedia and some blogosphere creations abjure advertising as a source of compensation.

Exposure of blind spots in acquisition of personal data are currently being exposed in congressional hearings with Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg.  At the same time, Russian interference in American elections is being more seriously investigated.

As Marie Currie is to have said— “Nothing in life is to be feared.  It is only to be understood.  Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.”  Of course, one might remember, she died from the radiation she received from her discoveries.  (Ironically, Marie Currie’s death was found not to be from radiation exposure.  In autopsy, her body radiation levels were within normal range.)

A CLASSIC’S TRUTH

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The Road to Serfdom

By Friedrich A. Hayek

 Narrated by William Hughes

FRIEDRICH AUGUST von HAYEK (1899-1992)

Hayek wrote “The Road to Serfdom” during WWII.  His observation was that Nazi Germany and its rise to power had a direct relationship with the growth of socialism, a belief that central planning and control are keys to national prosperity.  Hayek suggests that America and Great Britain suffer a similar strain of belief.  He argues that central planning and control leads to totalitarianism.  “The Road to Serfdom” is a prescient vision of the dangers of socialism.

The dilemma of government is in drawing the line between central planning and public service. It is particularly complicated by what the intent of Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution meant when it said a part of the purpose of government is to “promote the general welfare”

It seems common that authors of popular, sometimes classic, books are often interpreted by people who have not read them.  Authors like Harriet Beecher Stowe, Richard Wright, Ayn Rand, Vladimir Nabokov, and Friedrich Hayek are frequently commented on but content often becomes a surprise to actual readers.

Friedrich Hayek’s book is frequently lauded by American conservatives and vilified by American liberals. 

classic liberalism

In truth, Hayek is a seer for both ignorant American’ conservatives and liberals; i.e. Hayek is neither a spokesman for modern American conservatism or liberalism but a strong proponent of classic liberalism.

To be clear, today’s conservatism and liberalism are not defined in the same way Hayek defines them in his 1944 publication.  Liberalism in 1944 meant belief in freedom of choice and endorsement of laissez-faire economic principles.  1944 conservatism meant a rejection of the principles of equality with an aristocratic, “rank has privileges”, ideology.

subsidization

Contrary to Hayek’s conservatism, modern conservatives and liberals endorse subsidization of private enterprise.  Subsidization comes from tariffs, tax incentives, and other preferential treatment for private business and industry.

Principles of equality and laissez-fair economic principles are less doctrinaire in the 21st century because American political parties blur the difference.  Modern liberals are closely associated with government regulation and intervention but not necessarily laissez-faire principles. 

Modern conservatives are opposed to government in most forms of regulation and intervention, but only in principle; not in practice.  Modern conservatives, as well as liberals, endorse subsidization of private enterprise.  Subsidization comes from tariffs, tax incentives, and other preferential treatment for private business and industry.

JOHN MAYNARD KEYNES (1883-1946)

Contrary to a wide perception that John Maynard Keynes (a liberal economist in today’s parlance) denigrated “The Road to Serfdom”; Keynes, in fact, praised it.  John Maynard Keynes believed in government intervention when a state’s economy is in crisis.

According to Thomas Hazlett in the July 1992 issue of “Reason Magazine”, Keynes wrote “In my opinion it  (Road to Serfdom) is a grand book…Morally and philosophically I find myself in agreement with virtually the whole of it; and not only in agreement with it, but in deeply moved agreement”. 

Though Keynes praised “The Road to Serfdom”, he did not think Hayek’s economic’ liberalism practical; i.e. Keynes infers that Hayek could not practically draw a line between a safety net for the poor, uninsured-sick, and unemployed (which Hayek endorsed) while denying government intervention in a competitive, laissez-faire economy.

GOVERNMENT REGULATION

When businesses have an unfair advantage that denies competition, Hayek suggests government regulation is required.

Where modern conservatives get “The Road to Serfdom” wrong is where Hayek writes that government has an important role in a nation’s economy that goes beyond a simplistic notion of laissez-faire. 

Where modern liberals misunderstand “The Road to Serfdom” is where Hayek explains that freedom of choice is essential within the bounds of safe pursuit of economic success.  When human safety issues from uncontrolled industrial pollution threatens the safety of society (which most modern scientific opinion calls global warming) Hayek writes government intervention is necessary.

After listening to “The Road to Serfdom”, one cannot help but believe that Hayek would be as appalled by “private” industry’s greed in the 21st century. 

REGULATING BIG BUSINESS

Hayek wrote that big business is not bad in itself but big business that fails to compete on a level playing field because of government subsidy, through tax concession and special treatment, should be regulated by government to insure fair play.

TRUMP AND CLIMATE CHANGE

In the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, Trump denies the reality of global warming.

One is compelled to agree with Hayek when he observes that government programs interfere with free choice when government officials create social programs they think are good for someone else.  Hayek is not saying that government should not care for the poor, work-disabled, or technologically unemployed.  He writes: “Where, as in the case of sickness and accident, neither the desire to avoid such calamities nor the efforts to overcome their consequences are as a rule weakened by the provision of assistance – where, in short, we deal with genuinely insurable risks – the case for the state’s helping to organize a comprehensive system of social insurance is very strong.” 

Hayek goes on to suggest that technological change that causes unemployment warrants government assistance.  The danger Hayek tries to make clear is that government interferes with free choice when social programs try to create false equalities.

BREAD LINES IN NEW YORK 1933

BREAD LINES IN NEW YORK 1933–Hayek is not saying that government should not care for the poor, work-disabled, or technologically unemployed.  He writes: “Where, as in the case of sickness and accident, neither the desire to avoid such calamities nor the efforts to overcome their consequences are as a rule weakened by the provision of assistance – where, in short, we deal with genuinely insurable risks – the case for the state’s helping to organize a comprehensive system of social insurance is very strong.”

Hayek is acknowledging a role for government.  The role is to regulate private enterprise in those areas where freedom of choice or equal opportunity is infringed upon. 

HEALTH INSURANCE

If insurance is not available to all in a land of prosperity, then government has a role in creating a program that will offer insurance to all.  Hayek’s only caveat is that the insurance be offered as an affordable, free enterprise, and individual choice; not as an entitlement.

FREE TRADE IDEAL

Hayek opposes government programs that interfere with free competition among similar businesses. 

The weakness of Hayek’s argument is in idealization of humanity; i.e. human nature is that leaders in government and the private sector will drive for advantage.  In the case of one country, that advantage may theoretically be mitigated by impartial government regulation but, in a world of sovereign nations, power is inherently limited.

If China wants to subsidize steel exports, American options are limited to creating import tariffs that further distort market competition. This is the mistaken route that President Trump has taken. Further, Hayek’s idealization presumes that politicians cannot be bribed, human beings are not prejudiced, populations have an equal opportunity to succeed, and humanity is inhumanly perfect when left in a state of grace.

Hayek correctly points out the importance of money as a measure of success in a free society.  However, in today’s America, “Moneyocracy” has become an American form of government.  “Moneyocracy” is the aristocracy of the 21st century that elects public officials, denies equality of opportunity—for education, economic mobility, and employment.

GAP BETWEEN RICH & POOR

The gap between the rich and poor is widening by degrees that may bankrupt America because of an enlarging safety net for the old, the sick, the unemployed, and the unemployable.

 The field of competition for free enterprise is becoming more unequal.  Hayek observes that government intervention slips into socialism when free enterprise is artificially manipulated.  The fear is that America will begin looking for their Hitler to manage a sick economy.

Conservatives that rant against government regulation based on Hayek’s “Road to Serfdom” are as incorrect as liberals that argue Hayek wrote against social government programs for the poor, disabled, and unemployed.

DECRIMINALIZATION

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Flowers in the Blood: The Story of Opiumflowers in the blood

By: Jeff Goldberg, Dean Latimer, William Burroughs (Introduction

Narrated by Stephen McLaughlin

JEFF GOLDBERG (AMERICAN JOURNALIST, STAFF WRITER FOR THE ATLANTIC)
JEFF GOLDBERG (AMERICAN JOURNALIST, STAFF WRITER FOR THE ATLANTIC, & POLITICAL PUNDIT)

Published in 1981, “Flowers in the Blood” argues for decriminalization of opiates.  The idea remains controversial in 2018, and 2020.  Written by Jeff Goldberg and Dean Latimer, a listener feels misdirected by historical information.

DEAN LATIMER (WRITER FOR THE EVO, AKA EAST VILLAGE OTHER-WENT ON TO EDIT HIGH TIMES)
DEAN LATIMER (WRITER FOR THE EVO, AKA EAST VILLAGE OTHER-WENT ON TO EDIT HIGH TIMES)

The feeling of misdirection is reinforced by a languid, seemingly opiated, performance of the narrator, Stephen McLaughlin. It is not that one is seduced by Goldberg and Latimer’s writing, but a listener feels cornered in a room of opium eaters.  Goldberg and Latimer reveal how opium is extracted from a flower to offer a tranquil escape from life’s stresses, with a tantalizing peek at world clarity.  Opiate extraction seems simple; the consequence of use, not.

OPIUM POPPY
Goldberg and Latimer reveal how opium is extracted from a flower to offer a tranquil escape from life’s stresses, with a tantalizing peek at world clarity.  Opiate extraction seems simple; the consequence of use, not.

brave new world
Goldberg and Latimer argue that opiates enhance natural neurotransmitters, like endorphins, to reduce stress and depression caused by living life.  This argument reminds one of a “Brave New World” where every stress in life is characterized as negative.

Goldberg and Latimer argue that opiates enhance natural neurotransmitters, like endorphins, to reduce stress and depression caused by living life.  This argument reminds one of a “Brave New World” where every stress in life is characterized as negative.

Goldberg and Latimer note that refinement of opium into morphine and heroin increases its addictive power.  They extol the pleasure of opiates while cataloging its history of addiction.  Goldberg and Latimer reflect on opium’s effect in altering cerebral states of being.  Their argument seems counter intuitive.

They note its use by artists ranging from Charles Dickens to Elizabeth Barrett Browning.  They infer opiates enhance artist’s abilities.  They realistically identify opiates’ medical benefit, while exposing its potential for addiction.  Goldberg and Latimer suggest opiates enhance artistic sensibility, and temper sociopathic homicidal acts. They begin an argument for legalizing opiates.

OPIATE LEGALIZATION
Goldberg and Latimer extol the pleasure of opiates while cataloging its history of addiction.  Their argument is counter intuitive. They begin a defense for legalizing opiates.

Goldberg and Latimer argue that there are three options.  One, continue jailing narcotic purveyors and users.  Two, legalize opiates and let the free market determine use.  Three, decriminalize opiates and offer treatment to those who become addicted.

Their argument is for number three; they suggest number one (the American standard) is ineffective, and number two would be a disaster in the making.  Goldberg and Latimer argue that America should legalize and regulate opiates and treat those who become addicted.

DRUG TREATMENT AND COUNCILING
America regulates alcohol and tobacco, both proven addictions.  Alcohol and tobacco are regulated by the market, with education on their harmful effects and government taxation to increase prices that affects consumption.  Goldberg and Latimer argue that America should legalize and regulate opiates and treat those who become addicted.

America regulates alcohol and tobacco, both proven addictions.  Alcohol and tobacco are regulated by the market, with education on their harmful effects and government taxation to increase prices that affects consumption.  These regulations have had some success, but people still have the right to drink and smoke to excess.

The option of opiate legalization is troubling because it infers substituting inner-direction of human beings for other-direction by government.  It increases the potential of a “Brave New World” where human choice is no longer individual but collective.

DRUG USERS
Goldberg and Latimer point out that punishing the addicted with prison is a mistake.  Those who succumb to addiction need help; not punishment.

Goldberg and Latimer point out that punishing the addicted with prison is a mistake.  Those who succumb to addiction need help; not punishment.  One can readily accept that argument but opiate regulation by the government is a step too far.  This may be a distinction without a difference but Alcohol and cigarettes are still a private sector choice with government intervention (principally tax increases and education) based on political input.

PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN (1967-2014)
The loss of Seymour Hoffman in February 2014 was a tragic loss.  Hoffman dies at the age of 46, John Belushi at 33, Kurt Cobain at 27, Billie Holiday at 44, River Phoenix at 23; all from opiate overdoses.  If opiates were legalized, would these artists have been saved—who knows?

The loss of Seymour Hoffman in February 2014 comes to mind.  Hoffman dies at the age of 46, John Belushi at 33, Kurt Cobain at 27, Billie Holiday at 44, River Phoenix at 23; all from opiate overdoses.  If opiates were legalized, would these artists have been saved—who knows?  They chose addiction to escape the insecurity and stress of life.  Their choice is their choice.  Insecurity and stress are facts in every human’s life.  America’s failure is related to treatment; not government control of human choice.

WAR ON DRUGS
With treatment programs, the government will make the objective of addicting users a waste of manufacturer’s and seller’s time.  It may not eliminate illegal drug activity but it will make it less financially viable.

America needs to continue their fight against illegal opiate manufacturers and sellers.  Threat of punishment is not the key but reduction in profitability will drive illegal manufactures out of the market.  With treatment programs, the government will make the objective of addicting users a waste of manufacturer’s and seller’s time.  It may not eliminate illegal drug activity but it will make it less financially viable.  Addiction treatment programs and substance abuse’ education are legitimate roles for state governments.  Opiates should be subject to the same laws that presently govern drug research and development.

Unfortunately, “Flowers in the Blood” fails to nuance legalization of opiates.  It leans more toward influencing uneducated poor, educated middle class, and idle rich to experiment with addictive drugs.  Goldman and Latimer are on the right track with regulation and treatment of addiction, but their book encourages drug experimentation in a culture that needs no encouragement.  Stress is a part of life and being drugged into obliviousness diminishes humanity.

NUCLEAR POWER

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Atomic Accidents: A History of Nuclear Meltdowns and DisastersAtomic Accidents

By James Mahaffey

Narrated by: Tom Weiner

Listening to Atomic Accidents, the first thing that comes to mind is point-of-view, second is author’s qualification, and third is writing ability.  Mahaffey’s book is historically fascinating, and enlightening.  And happily, Mahaffey writes well.

DR. JAMES MAHAFFEY (AUTHOR)
DR. JAMES MAHAFFEY (AUTHOR)

Doctor James Mahaffey’s professional career is founded on the nuclear industry.  Educated at the Georgia Institute of Technology, Mahaffey holds a bachelor’s degree in physics, a master’s in science, and a doctoral in nuclear engineering.

Mahaffey is well versed in the science, engineering, and mechanics of nuclear energy.  Because of education, one presumes Mahaffey is a proponent of the nuclear power industry.  After dissection of several atomic accidents, a listener becomes unsure of Mahaffey’s point of view.  By the end, his point of view is clear.  

nagasaki bombing aftermath
The best known nukes, Big Boy and Little Boy, were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of WWII.

America has dropped and lost nuclear bombs around the world.  The best known nukes, Big Boy and Little Boy, were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of WWII.

Less known bomb drops were in peace time.  Nukes were accidentally released on remote military bases, in sparsely populated residential areas, and in the sea.  Some of those dropped in the sea remain unrecoverable.  None of the peace time bombs exploded.

America chose to keep nuclear secrets from Great Britain after WWII because of concern over nuclear bomb proliferation.  Because of America’s secrecy and  lack of cooperation, Mahaffey  suggests design mistakes were made.

In reviewing the history of nuclear energy, Mahaffey notes English scientists and engineers designed graphite nuclear power plants that were inherently dangerous.  Graphite catches fire at high temperatures and is notoriously hard to extinguish.  However, graphite nuclear plants became widely copied throughout the world.

Mahaffey’s stories of nuclear mishaps range from dumb to dumber; i.e. from wind fans that feed graphite nuclear plant fires to technicians that ignore rules of reactor management.  Nuclear accidents seem inevitable and insurmountable.

CHERNOBYL NUCLEAR REACTOR (e.g. A FAMOUS GRAPHITE REACTOR ACCIDENT.)
CHERNOBYL NUCLEAR REACTOR ( Chernobyl is an example of a major graphite nuclear reactor failure.)

Mahaffey explains that the former U.S.S.R. ignored environment in their nuclear bombs race with America.  They dumped plutonium in Russian waters and blew up a graphite nuclear plant that killed Russian workers in a steam explosion.  The explosion contaminated miles of Russian homeland with radioactive fallout.

CHERNOBYL REACTOR DAMAGE
CHERNOBYL REACTOR DAMAGE  

Later, the U.S.S.R. mismanaged Chernobyl’s nuclear facilities and created a nuclear meltdown that reportedly killed over 60 people from radiation and left an area of Russia uninhabitable for generations to come.

FRANCIS GARY POWERS (1929-1977, CAPTAIN IN THE US AIR FORCE, SHOT DOWN OVER RUSSIA IN 1960 AND HELD PRISONER FOR 2 YEARS)
FRANCIS GARY POWERS (1929-1977)  

Mahaffey tells the story of the American, Gary Powers, the pilot shot down by the Russians in the 1950s.  Powers is taking aerial pictures of plutonium manufacturing facilities in the U.S.S.R.  Eisenhower is compelled to lie and then apologize to Russia for the clandestine operation.  Mahaffey makes the story interesting by revealing the monumental effort made by the U.S.S.R. to shoot down Powers’ airplane and reassemble plane parts to prove Powers was spying.

FRANCIS GARY POWERS (DIES IN HELECOPTER CRASH WORKING AS KNBC WEATHER PILOT)
FRANCIS GARY POWERS (DIES IN A 1977 HELECOPTER CRASH WORKING AS KNBC WEATHER PILOT)

In the end, Mahaffey discounts the many nuclear accidents and incidents he examines.  His conclusion is that nuclear power can be made probabilistically safe.  Mahaffey argues for the design of nuclear energy facilities that are small and simple to operate.  He suggests that small nuclear power plants be designed and manufactured for specific industrial facilities. 

Rolls Royce is entering the nuclear facilities market in Great Britain.  Small nuclear plants could meet industrial energy demands while limiting environmental carbon emission from other sources of energy Rolls Royce Small Nuclear Plant Production

With small nuclear energy plants, the potential for catastrophic Chernobyl-like’ events would not happen.  The massive underwater earthquake and tsunami would not have decimated Japan’s nuclear energy capability if the power plants had not been so massive and concentrated on the coast.

Mahaffey implies proper design and training for small, simple nuclear energy facilities will mitigate the world energy crises.  Mahaffey infers nuclear accidents are unavoidable, but human and environmental damage is minimized with smaller nuclear energy plants.

Rolls-Royce recently (in November 2021) announced they are getting into the small nuclear reactor business.

Mahaffey explains that radiation is a naturally occurring phenomenon.  He argues that shutting down nuclear waste disposal facilities like Yucca Mountain in Nevada are a mistake.  Many in Las Vegas oppose President Trump’s resurrection of the Yucca Mountain waste site.

Mahaffey’s point of view is that nuclear power accidents will happen but their consequences can be minimized with smaller plants and better planning for treatment of victims when accidents occur.  He believes nuclear energy benefits far out weigh their risks.

The 2020 Presidential election is over.  President Biden’s campaign speaks to America’s gradual transition from fossil fuels to wind, water, and solar power.  That transition is a potential source for thousands of new American jobs.  Mahaffey persuasively argues there should be a place for nuclear energy in that transition.

UNWINDING EXTREMES

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America

By George Packer

Narrated by Robert Fass

GEORGE PACKER (AUTHOR)

GEORGE PACKER (AUTHOR) George Parker drives a stake into America’s heart in “The Unwinding”.

George Parker drives a stake into America’s heart in “The Unwinding”.  One listening to “The Unwinding” comes away in anger, fear, and frustration—whether a Republican, Democrat, Tea Partyer, or Libertarian.

Whether a believer in unfettered free enterprise or limited government, Packer offers stories that show America is a troubled land of opportunity. It has become a land of greed; not of the free but of the shackled—a risk noted by Thomas Hobbes in the “Leviathan”.

America is changing Presidents in 2021. Will anything change? Joe Biden represents a history of government organization and regulation. Donald Trump represents destruction of government organization and regulation. It seems a choice between compromise and anarchy.

The shackles come from society’s failure to protect individuals from the tyranny of special interests.  One side argues–free enterprise is shackled by too much government; the other side argues–not enough government protects the general public.

America’s initial response to the coronaviris illustrates how far America has fallen. “Dollars and cents” government supplanted “common sense” government in President Trump’s initial preparation for the covid 19 pandemic.

Parker’s stories of people with great wealth, like Sam Walton, or poverty, like Tammy Thomas, or escape from poverty, like Jay-Z and Oprah Winfrey, or invention, like Peter Thiel, Max Levchin, and Elon Musk, or political success, like Colin Powell and Barack Obama, or entrepreneurial ambition, like Dean Price, or political ambition like Jeff Connaguhton–all seem failures, either in morals or self-fulfillment.

Sam Walton becomes one of the wealthiest people in the world by creating a marketing behemoth that offers low consumer prices but drives small business entrepreneurs out of business. Walton offers great prices by buying in bulk and selling in volume with lower margins, partly produced by low wage workers.  On the one hand it is a bargain for the consumer; on the other hand it destroys competition and reduces family incomes.

AMERICAN MANUFACTURING JOBS

AMERICAN MANUFACTURING JOBS (Many lose their jobs when companies are purchased by conglomerates that dismantle the business, out-source product development, and reduce employment by offering buyouts to higher paid long-term employees–all to provide profits to investors.)

Tammy Thomas, born and raised in Youngstown, Ohio, worked in one industry for the majority of her life.  She lost her job when the company she worked for was purchased by a conglomerate that dismantled the business, out-sourced product development, and reduced employment by offering buyouts to higher paid long-term employees–all to provide profits to conglomerate’ investors.

JAY-Z

JAY-Z (BUSINESS MOGUL, ENTERTAINER)

Jay-Z and Oprah Winfrey overcame poverty and the degradation of living in squalid slums by capitalizing on their unique abilities and life stories, stories that reflect on the huge disparity between rich and poor. Born into poverty; they unquestionably achieved success for themselves, but left behind a population with poorer and poorer prospects of escape.

OPRAH WINFREY (AMERICAN MEDIA MOGUL)

OPRAH WINFREY (AMERICAN MEDIA MOGUL) 

Peter Thiel and Max Levchin capitalize on the tech boom.  Peter Thiel becomes a billionaire through entrepreneurial skill.  However, the consequence of market collapse from financial derivatives affects even Thiel’s wealth. Thiel remains in the privileged 1% but Parker infers Thiel turns his attention to dismantling American government with greater reliance on free enterprise.

Senator Jeff Connaughton experiences both sides of America’s schizophrenia. Connaughton began as a political operative, left government to become a millionaire lobbyist, and returned to government when the derivative crises reduced his net worth.

JEFF CONNAUGHGTON (US SENATOR, FORMER LOBBYIST, FORMER WHITE HOUSE LAWYER, AND SENATE AIDE FOR JOE BIDEN BEFORE 2009)

(US SENATOR, FORMER LOBBYIST, FORMER WHITE HOUSE LAWYER, AND SENATE AIDE FOR JOE BIDEN BEFORE 2009)

Connaughton’s reaction to the financial crisis differs from Theil’s, in part because of the monumental wealth difference, but also because of their different journeys to wealth. They equally revile the influence of money in government but Connaughton believes government regulation can be effective while Theil, a Libertarian, believes government regulation is the bane of democratic society.

Parker tells the story of Dean Price. Price, a young Republican turned Libertarian (though he voted for Obama) believes America is the land of opportunity.  He struggles, works hard, achieves success, fails, starts over, seems on the road to recovery, and fails again. Price buys into the American Dream by reading Napoleon Hill’s book “Think and Grow Rich”.  He believes–if he can dream it, it can happen.

DEAN PRICE (HALF OWNER OF RED BIRCH ENERGY)

DEAN PRICE (HALF OWNER OF RED BIRCH ENERGY)

Life choices get into Price’s way. His financial problems mount to the point of losing his ownership interest in Red Birch Energy.  Price files for bankruptcy and is faced with starting over.

Price experiences rising gasoline prices and buys into the bio fuel movement of the 21st century.  He starts a company called Red Birch Energy after selling a small fast food chain that he began from nothing. As a part of his original start-up, Price built a fuel discount truck stop on his family farm with one of his restaurants as an anchor.   He takes on partners for engineering and additional financing for bio fuel equipment and farmed canola grain for the production of bio fuel. With rising oil prices, turmoil in the Middle East, and Obama’s election, it appears Price is on the road to great success.

Price takes advantage of his partners by not fully explaining his conflicts of interest in using bio fuels in his own truck stop to stave off collapse of his personal business.  His financial problems mount to the point of losing his ownership interest in Red Birch Energy.  Price files for bankruptcy and is faced with starting over.

COLIN POWELL (AMERICAN STATESMAN-RETIRED FOUR-STAR GENERAL)

COLIN POWELL (AMERICAN STATESMAN-RETIRED FOUR-STAR GENERAL) Powell became the poster child of black Republicans, only to have his reputation destroyed by endorsement of false reports about WMD that compelled the United States to invade Iraq.

Obama’s reputation for change appears a lie as much as a truth.  Government decisions to let bank’ decision-makers escape prosecution galls every American damaged by the financial crises of 2007-2008.  Obama’s unwinding of the financial crises ultimately succeeded but greed remains an alloyed characteristic of American democracy.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA

President Barack Obama (2009-2017)

Price brings his stories together in the “tea party” and “occupy wall street” movements.  The growing distrust of government and burgeoning anti-government beliefs raises hackles and stokes fires of two political extremes. The “tea party” movement wants less government regulation. The “occupy wall street” demonstrators infer they want more government regulation.  The extremes are exhibited as Libertarian on one side and Marxist on the other.

OCCUPY WALL STREET PROTES

Libertarians like Theil want to minimize government intervention in the private sector, including government control of education.  “Occupy wall street” followers want government intervention, subsidization of education, and universal health coverage to equalize opportunity for lower and middle class Americans.

“Tea party” followers want less government while “occupy wall street” factions what more effective and protective government. 

TRUMP'S WALL 2

American democracy is the politics of extremes with each extreme using whatever means necessary to deny success of prudent legislation.  The consequence is a “do-nothing” congress and an ineffectual President.

The unwinding of the financial crises in the dot-com bubble of 2000-2001 and the 2007-08 subprime mortgage crises unfolds in the many stories told by Packer in this disturbing narrative.  (America’s early response to the coronavirus is similarly disturbing.)

Rand Paul (Kentucky Senator)

A professed Libertarian delays emergency funds to fight the Covid-19 pandemic by demanding an amendment. The amendment is widely understood to be be voted down, but will delay approval.

America is a nation of extremes with each extreme using whatever means necessary to thwart or delay prudent action.  The initial consequence of these extremes is a “do-nothing” congress and an ineffectual President. 

One is left with fear, anger, and frustration after completing “The Unwinding”.  The only consolation is in America’s history of (somehow) overcoming crises. America has been in crises before–in 1776, 1789, 1865, 1929, 1941, 1951, 1967-68, 2001, and 2008.  We will survive the 2020 pandemic.

POLITICS AND ECONOMICS

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The Wealth of Nations

By Adam Smith

Narrated by Gildart Jackson

ADAM SMITH (1723-1790, AUTHOR OF -THE WEALTH OF NATIONS)

ADAM SMITH (1723-1790, AUTHOR OF -THE WEALTH OF NATIONS)

“The Wealth of Nations” is often referred to but rarely read or listened to in the 21st century. Thirty Six hours of an audio book is punishing. However, one is surprised by Adam Smith’s prescient understanding of the value of freedom and his appreciation of the American and British conflict over American’ colonization. 

“The Wealth of Nations” is not only about economics.  It is about politics as an essential ingredient of economics.

INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION

Britain was among the mercantile leaders of the world when his book was published in 1776, the year of American Independence. 

Dutch dominance had receded; Spain and France were vying for monarchical rule of Western Europe while Napoleon was soon to dominate the east and west European continent.  British imperialism was on the rise. Britain became the dominant moral and economic power of the 19th century.

Adam Smith’s publication defined and codified economics while recognizing the economic limitation of imperialist expansion. Long before Britain’s ascension to the moral and economic leader of the world, Smith noted the error of denying self-determination to distant colonies.

TRUMP AND FREE TRADE

Contrary to President Trump’s “America First”, Smith believed that whatever is produced at the cheapest price and best quality for the consumer is the guiding principle of “The Wealth of Nations”. 

Smith argued that business regulation should begin with the best interest of the consumer at the forefront of legislation.

In general, Smith argues that trade monopolies are bad and competition is good.  Governments that restrict trade hurt the consumer; therefore, tariffs on foreign goods should be abolished.  To Smith, anything that restricts free trade is bad.

Former Secretary of the Treasury, Jacob Lew agrees with the father of economics–eliminating tariffs imposed on goods…would help ease inflation (Nov 3o, 2021 CNBC article). Concern over job loss in America if trade tariffs are eliminated is absurd when looked at through the eyes of an economy transitioning from industrialization to technology.

Freedom was a big deal to Adam Smith.  The essence of Smith’s view of economics is that the consumer should be the beginning and end point of all economic decisions and actions. In some respect, this narrow interpretation of “The Wealth of Nations” suffers from the same nearsightedness of a more contemporary author, Ayn Rand.

Rand argues that competition, without government interference, is essential to progress.  Both authors ignore weaknesses inherent in human nature that demand some level of government regulation.

On the other hand, government regulation is subject to the same human frailties as business. Laws of “unintended consequence” play out in both political and business decisions.  The consumer is an employee as well as an employer.

The economic consequences of wages that do not meet the basic needs of family survival because of foreign competition, technology, industrial obsolescence, etc. have real consequence to employers as well as employees.  Bankruptcies occur, unemployment rises, the rich become less rich and the poor starve.  Just as Smith’s reviled monopolies, free markets have consequences.

Smith is right.  Rand is right.  But, both are idealistic rather than realistic because of the nature of humankind. They both infer everything works out in the long run when humankind is left alone. 

JOHN MAYNARD KEYNES (1883-1946)

JOHN MAYNARD KEYNES (1883-1946)

John Maynard Keynes noted, we are all dead in the long run.  (In fairness, Smith does acknowledge limited circumstances in which government regulation is justified.)

What is fascinating about Smith’s work is its historical context.  He infers that American colonies have reason for discontent because of British taxation without representation.  He also suggests Britain’s imperialist decisions and actions should be tempered by a cost benefit analysis of what British subjects receive in respect to costs of managing economies thousands of miles away. 

Smith effectively introduced rationality to economics.  Capitalism became a marriage between politics and economics.

One can argue that Britain followed Smith’s advice about imperialism through the 18th and 19th centuries to become the most powerful nation in the world.  But Britain’s grasp of the cost of imperialism began to slip in the 20th century and a decline in economic strength began.  The cost of imperialist policy exceeded the benefit; not to mention, the inherent immorality and unfairness of cultural subjugation.

Visiting “The Wealth of Nations” is a worthwhile journey into history. Is there a 21st century Adam Smith in America’s future or is he/she pottering around Asia, Europe, the Middle East or Africa and not yet recognized?

POLITICAL LOSERS/WINNERS

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

On the Brink
By Henry M. Paulson, Jr.

Narrated by Dan Woren

HENRY PAULSON (U.S. SEC. OF THE TREASURY 2006-2009)

HENRY PAULSON (U.S. SEC. OF THE TREASURY 2006-2009) 

Crisis reveals human strength and weakness.  Perception is not reality, but Henry Paulson, the former Treasurer of the United States, names names and paints pictures of (mostly) men in the 2007/2008 financial crisis.  In his analysis, there are political losers and winners.

How will America’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic be recalled?

This close political race will have a winner and loser. With such a close political race, the loser will be America. Divisiveness and ideological difference will remain a major obstacle in formulating foreign and domestic policy. Covid 19 will run its course. The concern is in not having a pragmatic or politically articulate President who can lead America over the next four years.

GEORGE WALKER BUSH (43RD PRES. OF THE UNITED STATES)

GEORGE WALKER BUSH (43RD PRES. OF THE UNITED STATES) Paulson characterizes Bush as a pragmatist who acts on recommendations from people he trusts.

Paulson reveals himself as a Christian Scientist, a pragmatist, and enigmatically, a somewhat left-of-center, presumably Republican, liberal.  Paulson suggests a Republican left-of-center lean when writing about his mother and wife’s reluctance for him to take the Department of the Treasury position in the Bush administration.  (Paulson’s mother strongly supported Hillary Clinton for President.)

Interestingly, Paulson characterizes George Bush as an equally pragmatic, non-ideological decision maker.  Differences between the two are in the details; i.e. Paulson analyzes his own and other experts’ details and presents informed alternatives and recommendations while Bush acts on recommendations from people he trusts.

BEN BERNANKE (CHAIRMAN OF THE FEDERAL RESERVE 2006-2014)

BEN BERNANKE (CHAIRMAN OF THE FEDERAL RESERVE 2006-2014) Paulson characterizes Ben Bernanke as a brilliant financial advisor, participant, and ally in supporting and executing complex rescue plans for a financial system nearing default.

TIMOTHY GEITHNER (U.S. SECRETARY OF THE TREASURY (2009-2013)

TIMOTHY GEITHNER (U.S. SECRETARY OF THE TREASURY 2009-2013) Tim Geitner is shown as a team player that bridges the divide between political and administrative decision-making when plans are formed to rescue Fannie Mae, Freddy Mac, and AIG.

Rahm Emanuel is described as an effective political organization man who is able to get things done in a highly political environment.

Jaimie Dimon (CEO of JPMorgan Chase.)

Dimon is characterized as a rationale business man who is willing to take a risk for the benefit of more than his own aggrandizement.

John Thain seems a competent manager in crisis that makes the best of a terrible situation by moving rapidly to sell Merrill Lynch to B of A before total collapse.

SARAH PALIN (FORMER V.P. NOMINEE, FORMER GOVERNOR OF ALASKA)

Some crisis profiles shown by Paulson are less complementary.  Sarah Palin comes across as a decision maker driven by politics rather than pragmatic results.

John McCain (1936-2018, Former U.S. Senator for Arizona.)

John McCain seems to gravitate to Palin’s perception of reality by political posturing for election results rather than pragmatic solutions for the financial crisis.  Jim Bunning, the former baseball player and House of Representative’s Republican, is shown to be an ideologically driven populist extremist.

RICHARD FULD (FORMER CEO LEHMAN BROTHERS)

Richard Fuld seems arrogantly delusional about Lehman Brothers’ assets and an ineffective manager in crises.

Ken Lewis (Former CEO of Bank of America)

Lewis appears Machiavellian in grabbing what he thinks are the best and rejecting what he thinks are the worst financial risks in America’s near economic collapse.

Paulson reinforces perceptions of Barack Obama as a smart guy that grasps the big picture; ditto for Barney Frank, and Lindsey Graham but less so for Christopher Dodd.

BARACK OBAMA QUOTE

Paulson reinforces perceptions of Barack Obama as a smart guy that grasps the big picture; ditto for Barney Frank, and Lindsey Graham but less so for Christopher Dodd.

Paulson suggests that Republican Senator Shelby can drive his point and take control when pushed to act but ideological belief seems to constrain proactive action in the financial crises.  Senator Reid is shown to be a consummate, seasoned political manager in the Senate and Nancy Pelosi an equally dynamic oldster in the House of Representatives.

JOHN BOEHNER (FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE)

JOHN BOEHNER (FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE) Paulson suggests Boehner is unable to lead his Republican constituency and seems awkwardly suited for either a minority or majority Speaker of the House position.

In contrast, Representative Boehner is unable to lead his Republican constituency and seems awkwardly suited for either a minority or majority Speaker of the House position.

It seems today the decisions made by Bush, Paulson, Bernanke, Geitner, and Congress were correct.  After listening to Paulson’s book, one appreciates these civil servants hard work in doing the right thing.   Today is too soon to tell but Paulson gives outsiders a fascinating glimpse of people making a difference when a nation is in crisis.

CHECKS AND BALANCES

One wonders who the political losers and winners will be in today’s immigration, world trade, Covid-19 pandemic, and budget deficit crises.

AGE OF UNREASON

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The Age of American Unreason
By Susan Jacoby

Narrated by Cassandra Campbell

SUSAN JACOBY (NOMINATED FOR PULITZER PRIZE FOR GENERAL NON-FICTION)

SUSAN JACOBY (NOMINATED FOR PULITZER PRIZE FOR GENERAL NON-FICTION)

Susan Jacoby had her book “The Age of American Unreason” published in 2012, long before the election of Donald Trump.  The title is apropos today but the substance of Jacoby’s reasoning is suspect.

“The Age of American Unreason” interests baby boomers because it capsulizes events of the “pig in a python” era (babies born between 1946 and 1964).

Susan Jacoby’s characterization of this era of “…unreason” is over-generalized.  Jacoby free falls into a blind canyon of liberal bias; beginning with an inference that the word “folks” in speeches rather than “people” suggests demise in American intellectualism.  Considering the intellectual and ethical differences between Obama/Biden and Trump, Jacoby’s “examples and causes” for “unreason” are cringe worthy.

Jacoby writes about conflict between conservative’ belief in creationism and evolution as a cause for “…unreason”.  Many, if not most Americans, meld religious belief with evolution.  Some are agnostic and skeptical, but they have not lost their faith.  Others are genuinely atheistic.  Many current books are written to question the existence of God, but what is new?

Jacoby sites statistical studies that reinforce her opinion without conceptualizing the evolution of religious and philosophical thought.  One is more likely to prove that scientific understanding of creation is accelerating rather than regressing to mythical or spiritual explanation.  But, what is new?  Copernicus and Gallileo are simply replaced by Watson and Crick.

SCIENCE AND RELIGION

Change in religious belief is not revolutionary; it is gradual and evolutionary based on the advance of science. 

Jacoby insists that television, the internet, and the information age are rotting American minds through distraction and substitution.  She believes intellectualism is vilified and popular opinion is more influential and intellectually barren today than in times past.  She dwells on American education system’s failure to reject creationism with exclusive scientific explanation of natural events.

A counter argument is that television, the internet, and the information age have been a boon to humankind.  Ignorance is mitigated by a more interconnected world.  African, Asian, Middle Eastern, and North American populations become better informed about each others lives.  Humans of all cultures become more human.

RISING FROM THE DEAD

RISING FROM THE DEAD, Jacoby dwells on American education system’s failure to reject creationism with exclusive scientific explanation of natural events.

History suggests proving millennial religious beliefs as a mythology is not going to occur in a few generations, if ever.  Jacoby cherry picks information, snippets of questionable studies, speech factoids, and apocryphal stories to support her idea of a growing “…Age of Unreason”.  Her argument is unconvincing.

Jacoby suggests a diminishment of literary education.  Literary education is unquestionably different today than when Ms. Jacoby graduated from college but different is neither good nor bad; i.e. literary education from Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Faulkner, Charlotte Bronte, Pearl Buck and other literary giants are still being consumed by the public.  Many late 20th and 21st century writers  are now, or will become, equally revered.

21ST CENTURY WRITERS

The medium may be different but the message is the same (after all, Jacoby’s book is available through audio books and e books).  To suggest they are not being consumed, understood, or appreciated today is a distortion of reality.

The same is true for science.  The intellectual advance of quantum mechanics, cosmology, and the science of man is astounding.  Philosophy is grounded on advances in science; with continued scientific advance there will be future philosophical intellectuals like Plato, Spinoza, and William James; in fact, they are probably here now but not with history’s perspective.

Susan Jacoby is a highly sought after writer and speaker.  One admires her reputation as a liberal but liberality is not a license to write junk thought.  Jacoby is right in the title to her book while wrong in substance.  We are in an era of “unreason” in the 21st century but this century is less than 20 years old.  Some might say it is only in the last three and a half that American “unreason” has become extreme.

LEADERSHIP

LEADERSHIP–“Unreason” is exacerbated by political leaders’ ultra-nationalism and parochial tribalism.  Leadership change will return reason to political debate just as it did in the 1940s, 50s, 60s, 70s; and now, in the 21st century.

Yesterday’s “debate” exemplifies a type of bad leader that periodically comes from America’s electoral process. Trump embarrasses democracy by dragging it down into an abyss of lies and unreason.

Today’s literature and science are not diminished by a lack of intellectual pursuit, or by speeches that use words like “folks” instead of “people”.  Today’s “unreason” is perpetuated by incompetent leadership; not by a rift between science and religion, or speech.  “Unreason” is exacerbated by political leaders’ ultra-nationalism and parochial tribalism.  Leadership change will return reason to political debate just as it did in the 1940s, 50s, 60s, 70s; and now in the 21st century.