The Inevitable (Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future)
By: Kevin Kelly
Narrated by George Newbern
Kevin Kelly (Author, co-founding executive of Wired magazine).
Kevin Kelly’s book is a Libertarian’s guide to minimalist government. Kelly paints a clear picture of today’s internet of things and the direction in which it seems to be heading. If sharing replaces ownership, American Democracy must change or die.
Kelly implies the evolution of technology will make all but defense of country the sole purpose of government. This is a Libertarian dream. What Kelly glosses over is the disinformation system of a sharing economy that misleads the public and foments anarchy.
Kelly argues block chain technology decentralizes the last bastion of government oversight by producing value (bit coin) based on an algorithm. Kelly infers there is no need for a Federal Reserve, or a bureaucracy to assure value of exchange, if currency is based on a mathematical formula.
Without the oversight of government, which includes bureaucratic regulations, a sharing economy diminishes the role of checks and balances. Kelly correctly outlines what is happening in this technological world, but his extrapolation is frightening.
In Kelly’s vision of a sharing economy, democracy is at risk of anarchy like that seen on January 6, 2021.
The public puts its head in the sand if they ignore Kelly’s view of the 12 technological forces in play today.
He describes flowing, screening, accessing, sharing, filtering, remixing, tracking, and questioning as the twelve technological forces that make the public codependent. His observations reflect the “now” that presages a future.
The terror in Kelly’s observation is that human nature is not going to change in a sharing economy where nothing is owned but only shared. Humans will game the system either by raiding the block chain vault or manipulating code to enrich their lives at the expense of others.
Without a degree of centralized oversight (government), anarchy replaces equal rights and rule of law.
Any realization of codependence is anathema to the tradition of America. Human beings do not interpret the truth of facts in the same way. Each has their own view of the world and their place in it.
There will always be climate deniers, tree huggers, gun lovers and gun haters.
Kelly acknowledges there is need for some oversight of a sharing economy but implies the inclusion of everyone’s expression or belief will result in balanced self-governance and companionable A.I. for societal improvement. One may have a difference of opinion based on the events of January 6, 2021. That event’s aftermath will offer further clues to American Democracy’s future.
Decentralization of culture by the internet of things and A.I. dependence may be as “…Inevitable” as Kelly suggests. The question today has to do with what can be done to allay its negative consequences.
Thomas Sowell (Author, Economist, Political Pundit)
Thomas Sowell offers a scholarly and cogent history of discrimination, and slavery, but like all who report facts of the past, Sowell’s book narrows the complete story.
Thomas Sowell seems to have agreed to a book title to create sales; not promote an insightful analysis of discrimination. He fails to convince one of an inheritable “Redneck/Liberal” meme that permeates the American South to perpetuate human discrimination.
Sowell’s argument is a Redneck culture and White Liberals explain the plight of Black Americans. It is a false theory because of his selective collection and use of facts. Unequal treatment and opportunity are based on difference, a much broader human label than redneck, liberal, or conservative.
The color of one’s skin is such an obvious difference; it magnifies discrimination.
This is not to say, as Sowell notes, that history shows Blacks did not victimize their own people. It is that color of one’s skin entails a host of false assumptions about people of color, particularly by those in positions of power.
Sowell is certainly correct about culture as an identifiable difference that causes discrimination, but skin color magnifies difference, particularly when those in power are white. Putting aside that disagreement, Sowell’s book is a first-rate history of what has happened to minorities who are different from those in power.
“Rednecks” and “White Liberals” are only a minority in political twitter. Any human being might be classified as “Redneck” or “White Liberal”. There is no categorization that fully describes “Redneck” or “White Liberal” in Thomas Sowell’s book.
One might agree with Sowell that both Blacks and whites can be “Rednecks” but there is no “Redneck” culture. There are rich who live in fine houses. There are poor who are homeless. There are unemployed looking for work. There are unemployed not looking for work. There are able-bodied and disabled; some of which work, some not. Any of them can be “Rednecks”, “Liberals”, or “Conservatives”. Many came from Europe, England, South American, Africa, and Asia to settle in America. There cultures, and indigenous Indians evolved in America from what they were in the countries in which they were born. The circumstances of America changed them. What did not change is human nature’s habit of discrimination based on difference.
Sowell suggests that “Redneck” culture originated in parts of England. He characterizes the culture as uneducated, mean-spirited, and violent. In the dictionary the definition of “Redneck” is defined as “a working-class white person, especially a politically reactionary one from a rural area”.
Sowell suggests poor education, meanness, and violence are inherited by the American south’s settlement by English immigrants. This is a distortion of the South’s history, England’s lower economic class, and the south’s environment.
Many abolitionist thinkers and doers in the world came from the American South. Some were white. Robert Carter III, the grandson of a Virginia land baron manumitted 500 slaves in the 1700s, Robert Purvis born in Charleston, South Carolina helped found the American Anti-Slavery Society in 1833, the Grimke sisters deplored slavery in the south and limitations on the rights of women, Francis White founded the Nashoba Commune in Tennessee that was formed to prepare slaves for emancipation, John Brown led the insurrection at Harpers Ferry Virginia because he believed “moral suasion is hopeless” in abolishing slavery.
Some were black. Martin Delany, born in Virginia, insisted on Negroes controlling their destiny, James Bradley from Kentucky, who was a transported slave from Africa. He purchased his freedom and became an anti-slavery advocate in the Arkansas Territory.
Sowell is on firmer ground when writing about the middlemen merchant class. The middleman and woman are between producer and consumer that rise from an industrialized and now technocratic society. This middleman is the manufacturing and distributing class. These middlemen and women are workers, and intermediaries who package, deliver, and sell product. They are a cohort that includes “Rednecks”, “Liberals”, and “Conservatives”.
Middlemen and women are not the superrich, but they grow into cultural groups that wield power. They create different cultures that clash with each other because they can be identified as different.
They are different because of their religion, their wealth, their profession, their use of language, their ethnicity, or their skin color. It is those differences that create an opportunity to act against, or in support of those in power. It is difference, not exclusively one thing but anything that sets a minority apart from the majority.
Sowell enlightens listeners with information about the history of slavery, the details of difference among populations in countries where Jews, Armenians, Africans, Pakistanis, Indians, and many more ethnic groups were tortured, enslaved, raped, and murdered.
Today, it is Blacks in America, Uighurs in China, castes in India, Armenians in Eastern Europe, Christians in Turkey, Palestinians in Israel, Chechens in Russia, and so on, and so on. Not because they were “Redneck”, “Liberal”, or “Conservative” but because they were different, clannish, and semi-independent.
“Suppression of equal opportunity” is another name for slavery. What is galling about Sowell’s selection of facts is the idea that slavery has always existed in the world. That is true but how does that justify today’s slavery by another name.
Sowell goes on to suggest “Brown vs. Board of Education” ruined high achieving schools for Black Americans by destroying neighborhood schools.
Some would argue America’s public school system is simply getting what it pays for.
Without contesting Sowell’s research on Black schools that deteriorated because of the “Brown” decision, he chooses to ignore what improvement there may have been for Black students that went to public schools that were largely white.
Good teachers are underpaid and often leave teaching because they can find better paying jobs in other professions. America’s public school system is becoming more of a child care system than a teaching institution.
Integration is meant to ameliorate inequality. Sowell’s research is more a criticism of the quality of public schools than the goal of ameliorating inequality
A conclusion one draws from Sowell’s history is the human need of tolerance for difference. Not everyone wants the same thing out of life. Not everyone lives life in the same way. The Wall Street Journal editorializes on October 10, 2020 that tolerance is the bane of the 21st century. It argues that tolerance allows equal rights for gays, lesbians, and transsexuals’ as though they are something less than human beings. This is conservatism at its worst. Lack of tolerance is the sine non quo of slavery and discrimination.
Shoshana Zuboff (American author, former Harvard Professor of Business Administration).
Shoshana Zuboff analyzes the evolution of power wielded and enabled by Google, Amazon, Microsoft and other media giant’s that invade personal privacy.
In the October 17-18, 2020 WSJ, the headline is Mark Zuckerberg is “Washington’s New Power Broker”. Reporters Deepa Seetharaman and Emily Glazer note that “…Mark Zuckerberg now takes an active role in the platform’s policy decisions–and checks in regularly with officials like Jared Kushner”.
Zuboff’s scholarly examination of American internet mavens concludes “…Surveillance Capitalism” will lead to Orwell’s “1984” or B.F. Skinner’s “Beyond Freedom and Dignity”.
Orwell notes in “1984” that invasion of privacy is a way of conditioning human beings to believe in “truths” manufactured by whoever leads. In contrast, B.F. Skinner’s “Beyond Freedom and Dignity” argues behavioral observation and reward is a tool for making people live morally “good” and peaceful lives.
The words “truths” and “good” are in quotes because they are determined by what Zuboff calls “the big other”. “The big other” is a knowledge leviathan that knows everything about everyone.
In Orwell’s world, humans will be managed by a totalitarian government. The government monitors all private and public actions of its citizens. These governments have a set of propagandized “truths” that demand and compel obedience. Orwell’s world relies on knowledge of every detail of its citizen’s life. When a citizen’s actions do not conform to government rules, they are psychologically bombarded, and re-programmed to believe.
In Skinner’s world, individual citizens will act as they think they want, as though they have free will. However, operant conditioners (“the big other”) will reward citizens for fulfilling desires of respective employers, vendors, and governments which are holders of private information. These operant conditioners will use personal and private data to offer rewards for “good” behavior. (Zuboff calls these holders of private information “the big other”.)
Orwell and Skinner offer views of a future where privacy no longer exists. Orwell’s view is obviously dystopian. Skinner’s view is utopian, hiding in the skin of dystopia. Zuboff explains how either future is conceivable in “The Age of Surveillance Capitalism”. Her conclusion finds both futures reprehensible and possibly inevitable.
“The Age of Surveillance Capitalism” exposes America and the world to the greatest economic and social change since the industrial revolution. In “The Age of Surveillance Capitalism” every human action is catalogued, distributed, and utilized by entities interested in influencing human’ thought and action.
“The big other” is enabled by media giants to seduce the public into buying technical products that are connected to the world wide web. Products, like Nest, Google Search, Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel, Quick Books, etc. record everything humans do and see, with extraordinary insight into what they think. That data base becomes a tool for modifying behavior without conscious knowledge of its users.
Is the government’s suit against Google important? Shoshanna Zuboff implies it is monumentally important.
In Skinner’s view, freedom and dignity are a fiction. To Skinner, only behavior is currency for future peace and prosperity. That behavior can be conditioned by “the big other” in Skinner’s world.
In one sense, Skinner’s recognition of positive reinforcement’s value to society is exemplified by moguls like Henry Ford. Ford’s recognition of the value of raising wages for his workers (an operant conditioning reward) increases production and lowers product price.
Zuboff systematically builds her argument with the history of industrialization and the dramatic change it brought to society. Ford grew his fortune by positive reinforcement of worker’s higher wages and the public’s consumption of a lower cost product that revolutionized travel.
The credibility and threat of Zuboff’s argument is reinforced by George Bush’s accelerated invasion of privacy after 9/11, and Barack Obama’s use of technology from Google’s Eric Schmidt (Google’s CEO, at the time) in his run for election.
One might also argue the rise of Donald Trump is a harbinger of the threat of “…Surveillance Capitalism”. Evidence suggests Trump’s election campaign drew on Russian surveillance of Hillary Clinton and political research from Cambridge Analytica to win election.
Cambridge Analytica provided detailed information on voters who agreed with the anti-science convictions of Donald Trump. They voted, and Trump won the election.
(As noted in Wikipedia.org–Analytica is a visual software package developed by Lumina Decision Systems for creating, analyzing and communicating quantitative decision models.)
Zuboff argues the principle of positive reinforcement takes a giant leap forward with the technology of “Capitalist Surveillance. Henry Ford’s personal insight is replaced by “the big other”. Potentially, every capitalist or government entity now has access to the details of everyone’s lives.
In a capitalist country, there is no singular controller but a multitude of public and private entities that manipulate human life like Skinner’s pigeons in a cage.
In a communist or fascist country personal surveillance easily slips into Orwell’s “1984”. Zuboff offers the example of the social categorization of Chinese residents by President Xi’s government. Assigning a number to a Chinese citizen capsulizes their support or opposition to communism. That number influences every aspect of that citizen’s success or failure in China.
Zuboff warns that tools for predicting future behavior are in the hands of “the big other”. Zuboff speaks from her personal experience with Skinner. Skinner was one of Zuboff’s professors during her college days. She infers today’s surveillance economies bend toward totalitarianism borne by behavioral reinforcement.
A fundamental question is: Do we have free will? Or as Skinner and Alex Pentland suggest are we just vessels for behavioral modification?
The other side of “Surveillance Capitalism” is the benefit offered to the general public by data compilation. There is a leveling of cost for consumer items because of pricing and consumer criticism gathered and distributed to the general public when buying a product or service. There is a value in being able to arrive at a destination on time without worrying about getting lost in the country or city. There is the ability to control utility use, and guard one’s house by using tech products like Google’s Nest. There is the potential of producing more product at cheaper price because of “Surveillance Capitalism”. The idea is similar to the way Ford grew his automobile company by rewarding employee behavior and producing lower priced product.
The question remains—what price are humans willing to pay for convenience?
The industrial revolution just as the technological revolution changed society. It seems fair to say the American standard of living has increased as a result of industrialization. Is there reason to believe the same may be true with a technological revolution that makes life easier but less private?
Zuboff questions the trade off but so did the Luddites when they destroyed machines that replaced craftsman. One cannot take Zuboff’s scholarly study lightly, but the genies of the tech revolution are out of the bottle.
If there is a such thing as free will, there seems no harm or foul. However, manipulating human behavior belies Google’s founder’s unofficial slogan of “Don’t be evil”. (Interestingly, in April or May of 2018, Google abandoned the slogan.)
Ta-Nehisi Paul Coates (American author & journalist, winner of the 2015 National Book Award for Nonfiction with–BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME).
This is Ta-Nehisi Coates’ first book of fiction. What makes “The Water Dancer” a fiction is its hero’s mystic ability. He is a water dancer.
Coates’ story is a history that stains American conscience. It is about the tragic sequel of slavery. Slavery is introduced to America in the British colony of Virginia in the 17th century.
Though Virginia tobacco plantations were first created in the 17th century, Coates story is undoubtedly set in the early 19th when plantations were in decline. In 19th century Virginia, soil is depleted by poor farming practices and mismanagement. White property owners turned to sale of their slaves to pay their debts. The ugliness of slavery is compounded by the breakup of black families and friends that shared a common history. Though that history is blooded with servitude and violence, Coates illustrates how slaves created close-knit communities. They were close; in-spite of their sorrowful condition.
Just as soil depletion reduced plantation owner’s income, they increased sale of slaves to sustain their standard of living. Though black slaves had always been treated as property, the crash of the tobacco industry accelerated their sale.
(Thomas Jefferson is a prime example of an American slavery apologist who sold slaves to reduce debt.)
Sons, daughters, husbands, and wives were sold to other white slave holders. Many families were broken apart; some sent to other States after being sold; others escaped to the North.
Some were caught by slavers. Coates writes–runaway slaves were sometimes caught and thrown into makeshift prisons and sold back into slavery. In Coates’ story, prison is a hole in the ground for its hero. Hiram (Hi) is not sold back into slavery but tested for a critical role in the underground.
To compound the humiliation of being caught, Coates writes of slaves who betrayed their own race. Their purpose was to maintain some level of freedom from harsh conditions on the plantation.
Black women were subject to the whims of their owners. Women could be raped by their owners without repercussion, or sold to the Fancy industry, i.e. brothels.
Coates reveals the depth and breadth of what Philip Roth called a human stain, i.e., broadly known as discrimination. Slavery may have been abolished in 1865 but its institutionalization lives on in the 21st century. It is a stain that resists removal.
Murder of a black jogger , Ahmaud Arbery, on February 23, 2020 in Brunswick, Georgia. A white father and son are charged with murder on May 7th, 2020.
Coates’ story reveals much about America, the abolitionist movement, the growth of the underground, and the human toll of slavery. Coates suggests some wealthy white southerners participated in the underground to salve their conscience. They were heroes but they hid behind the degradation being felt every day by black Americans subject to an economic system based on slavery.
Coates shows how southern white abolitionists were important to the growth of the underground. Their role grew out of a first-hand view of human beings being treated as property.
Elizabeth Van Lew (1818-1900, Richmond, VA Abolitionist.)
Coates fills many gaps in the history of slavery by seeing it through the eyes of extraordinary slaves.
Harriet Tubman (American abolitionist who rescued an estimated 70 enslaved people. Unknown date of birth; Died in 1913.)
Families were torn apart, men and women were degraded by their enslavement, husbands had to cope with plantation owner abuse of their wives, blacks victimized their own people, and mothers suffered from guilt for the life their children had to live. These are irremovable stains on the American conscience; for both Black and White Americans–each are stained in their own way.
Antisocial Online Extremists, Techno-Utopians, and the Hijacking of the American Conversation
By: Andrew Marantz
Narrated by Andrew Marantz
Andrew Marantz (American author, staff writer for The New Yorker magazine)
Marantz researches social media trolls in his book “Antisocial”.
For those who are not familiar with the meaning of #media Trolls, they are people who use the internet to create, no matter what, discord by writing or saying something false and misleading.
Of course, what is said in the media does not have to be true. The difference is, the measure of success on the internet is an increase in the number of clicks one receives and the number of follower’s gob smacked by the messenger. It has zero to do with truth.
The internet lists 8 of the greatest internet trolls of all time. Their media names, like QAnon, are irrelevant but their duped followers are legion. All hide behind the rubric of a free press.
What makes internet trolls a societal cancer is their distortion of truth. Internet trolls are a societal cancer. Some trolls believe “buyer beware”. To a troll, the truth of speech is the responsibility of the individual. Separating the truth from a lie becomes an uninformed public’s responsibility.
A troll feels no compunction for lying, misleading, or stretching the truth. A committed troll argues that everyone should have the choice to believe or not believe.
With the Communications Decency Act passed by Congress in 1996, Section 230 protects free expression on the internet. The consequence of that Act is under advisement by Congress because it protects malicious purveyors of lies from prosecution. As noted by columnist Christopher Mims, it is a problem with no clear solution.
Trolls argue truth is fungible because of inherent bias in the messenger. At best, trolls view their role is to mitigate corporate and government brain washing; at worst, they create a forum for massing hate and discrimination.
Say anything is the terrifying thing about social media. The irony of America’s free speech is its only defense is free speech.
Marantz interviews numerous trolls that believe all media communication is good, or at least useful communication. Marantz explains trolls argue media has historically distorted the truth.
Marantz notes the fallacy of the Troll’s argument is in the release of white supremacist and hate-filled speech that aims at changing the norms of society.
Trolls say the unsayable for wealth and notoriety; not for the betterment of humanity, or the search for truth.
White supremacy becomes a flag around which a small minority of society can join to become a political force.
The risk to the American electorate from media trolls is that they create a disillusioned and apathetic public that doesn’t know who or what to believe.
In the book “1984” Orwell showed how media control is dangerous. Marantz shows how no control is equally dangerous; particularly in the internet era.
Marantz makes listeners realize how dangerous internet trolls are to America, and any nation trying to improve the quality of life for their citizens.
Twenty first century American democracy seems particularly at risk. Americans believe in the critical importance of freedom, but American freedom has always been qualified by rule of law in “doing no harm” to others.
The infancy of the internet needs regulation. The government must fight the hijacking of the American electorate by internet trolls. The internet is driven more by popularity and money than morality and truth.
Marantz convinces a listener that American freedom of speech is not a license for anarchy.
Peter Zeihan (Author, American geopolitical strategist)
“The Accidental Superpower” is a wild ride. Peter Zeihan is a geopolitical strategist and futurist who argues that geography is destiny. His prognosis for America is perversely positive.
Zeihan suggests America is in the “cat bird” seat for this and the next (yet to be born) generation. The “cat bird” seat implies a superior position of survival in a world headed toward crises.
“The Accidental Superpower” is a cautionary tale that suggests the tail will wag the dog.
If America’s current actions and future intent is to abandon Bretton Woods’ history, then Zeihan implies wars will continue, famine and pestilence proliferate, millions will die, and self-interest will be humanities’ only interest. In the era of Trump, Zeihan shows the reach and potential of bullies in the world.
Zeihan builds a credible and terrifying argument. The Bretton Woods Agreement was created in 1944. Its purpose was to set up a system of rules to ensure economic stability around the world. Zeihan notes that America has steadily abandoned the principle of Bretton Woods since 1973 when the U.S. suspended the gold standard for the American dollar.
It is not to suggest that the gold standard should be re-instituted but that the American dollar became the new standard for world economies. In part, because the basis for economic wealth became the American dollar.
The American dollar gives the United States an outsize influence in the world. That influence is reinforced by an unparalleled military/industrial complex.
The resources of America became a primary standard for economic stability in the world. Zeihan argues the legitimacy of Bretton Woods is replaced by the geographic existence of the United States. America is bordered by two oceans, blessed with an internal river transport system, natural energy resources (including Shale oil which makes the U.S. oil independent), a replenishing labor force (supplemented by immigration), and economic growth. Therein, Zeihan explains America is capable of ignoring the rest of the world.
This is a disturbing view of realpolitik. It opens the door to an America dreamed of by ignorant nationalist like the current President of the United States. Zeihan infers the United States can be the bully of the world because of its military superiority, wealth, and geographic isolation.
Empathy is an essential characteristic missing from a nationalist credo that believes it is “my way or the highway”. With a belief system based on “self-interest”, and the mantra of philosophers like Ayn Rand, the world seems destined to destroy itself.
Zeihan supports his future predictions with a logic borne from geographic facts, history, and philosophical belief. Zeihan’s perception of the world’s future creates fear and trembling in any who choose to believe it.
A few of Zeihan’s predictions are:
China will not grow to be a superpower and will follow the path of Japan with an aging population that cannot maintain its economic growth. The diverse nature of its population is hidden by the false belief that the Han people are of one mind. Internal dissension will rise. China is subject to river flooding and hemmed in by mountains and narrow waterways.
Russia will covet the land of other nations because of an economy that rests on dwindling natural resources, a harsh environment, and lack of international trading ports. The Tatar and Chechen populations will continue to plague consolidation of power in Russia.
South African nations will suffer from starvation because of its lack of arable land. Angola is one of the few African nations that may escape that fate because of its fertile land and young population.
The European Union will fail because of nationalism, a lack of a viable common currency, and its failure to consolidate political power.
Great Britain will become more dependent on the U.S. for trade and survival.
Turkey will strengthen its influence and control over the Middle East through military strength and a young and growing population.
Uzbekistan will become a more powerful independent nation because of its relatively young population and abundant clean energy (largely from hydroelectricity).
Australia and New Zealand will prosper because of its vibrant agricultural economies, and ocean-bound isolation.
Saudi Arabia will fail as an economic powerhouse because of its dependence on foreign labor for all industrial development. Saudi citizens are minor participants in the labor market, and unprepared to compete in an industrialized world.
Iran is demographically young but burdened by an arid climate. Its religious intolerance will be an impediment to economic growth.
Spain, Portugal, and Italy are vulnerable to outside influence, inflation, high unemployment, and growing economic weakness.
Germany may once again rise as a belligerent state because of its need to expand to continue its economic growth. Its driven and well educated population reinforces industrial and technological growth.
Canada will become a failed nation because of its aging demographics and diverse population. Failure will only be abated by its relationship with the U.S. Zeihan suggests Alberta should consider becoming part of the U.S. because of its one industry dependence (oil).
The relationship between Mexico and the U.S. will improve because of proximity and mutual trade benefits. The drug war will continue and perversely improve the Mexican economy. Drug war areas will be isolated to narrow parts of the country.
Climate change is real, but its impact will be mitigated in the U.S. with hardening infrastructure in coastal cities that will mitigate or abate flooding. Most of Florida will disappear under water. Many island archipelagos will also disappear.
Pakistan’s diverse population will continue to disrupt political control of the country. Its conflict with India will continue despite diminishing financial support from the U.S.
India’s economy will suffer from environmental degradation.
In conclusion, Zeihan suggests America will remain a superpower with outsize influence on the success or failure of other nations.
A caveat might be America may become the bully of the world; at least until a nuclear war or accident decimates the environment.
There is good reason to have fear and trembling for this world’s future if “self-interest” is the only criteria for well-being.
P. G. Wodehouse (1881-1975, British Author, humorist)
Amazon shows there are 46 books written with Jeeves as a main character in the Wodehouse series.
Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011, Author, Essayist, Social Critic) was a great fan of the “Jeeves” series written by P. G. Wodehouse, published between 1911 and 1974.
With Hitchens’ Oxford English education, he had a keen understanding of Wodehouse’s skewering of the English upper class; particularly the ridiculously wealthy.
One wonders what delicious comments Hitchens would have for today’s American President.
Hitchens arrives in the U. S. in 1981. He becomes an American citizen in 2007. He dies at the age of 62 in 1975 from the same cancer as his father.
After listening to Wodehouse’s first book, one is inclined to believe Hitchens high praise is partly due to his personal life experience. The books are about an upper class English character who chooses to move to New York to live life as a wealthy New Yorker.
Bertie Wooster and Jeeves.
Hitchens is more like the brilliant butler than the dull-witted upper class Englishman in Wodehouse’s books, but his upper class English education (at Oxford) gives him a prescient understanding of the very wealthy.
Jeeves is a wunderkind working for a slightly dull witted bumpkin that has great family wealth. Wodehouse’s wealthy English aristocrat, Wooster, exhibits “bumpkiness” by wearing garish ties, hats or facial hair that Jeeves steers him (sometimes humorlessly) away from.
Wodehouse’s humor is subtle and somewhat endearing but it is difficult to suspend disbelief. With a man servant like Jeeves who diplomatically surpasses his wealthy patron in every category of being, it stretches credulity to a breaking point.
How could a servant of great intelligence, social grace, and aesthetic taste remain in the service of a moron. In 2019, it appears more possible than one might have believed. ( James Mattis, former Secretary of the Dept. of Defense serving President Trump.)
This first book is a series of short stories with a few that exclude Jeeves. It is funny but not “lol” to those who are not English; a member of the enlightened, or those particularly fond of satire. This is not to suggest Wodehouse is not at times hilarious but Wodehouse, like Mark Twain, is an acquired taste.
Wodehouse’s rich bumpkin is a kind of “helpful Hannah” wishing to do the right thing for his friends. In Wodehouse’s stories, a wealthy “helpful Hannah” inevitably creates more trouble than help. Jeeves comes to the rescue.
Volodymyr Zelensky (President of Ukraine)
As is often the case, doing for others what one thinks another needs leads to unintended consequence.
Hitchens fascinating mind and skill as an essayist of life, books, and politics suggests he knows more about the value of Wodehouse than this reviewer. Listening to another Wodehouse book remains in one’s mind; maybe not soon, but in the future. If Mark Twain is an acquired taste, so may be Wodehouse.
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.
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.
Of course, Lopez is in his 70 s. 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”.
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.
Hyperactivity in children is a blessing and curse.
Louis Zamperini (1917-2014, American WWII Veteran, participant in the 1936 Berlin Olympics.)
Every parent that faces life with a hyperactive child listens to Hillenbrand’s story of Louis Zamperini and thinks of what might be if their child’s high energy can be focused rather than blurred by the hurly-burly of life.
Hillenbrand vivifies Louis’s life with stories of his early years of running away, hopping trains, practical joking, stealing, and raising hell. Louis idolizes an older brother that lives a more conventional life but Louis refuses to follow the placid image of the good son; the obedient child.
Fortunately, Louis is blessed with a tolerant mother and a stern, but understanding, father who accepts Louis for himself rather than what he, or his mother, want him to be. Louis does not outgrow his hyperactivity but channels his energy into the discipline of a sport.
With that beginning description of Louis Zamperini, Hillenbrand tells the story of Zamperini’s advance as a world class runner; i.e. the youngest member of the near 4 minute mile club of the 1936 Olympics.
Louis meets Adolph Hitler, not as a winner of the race, but as an Olympic competitor that gives all he has-to be the best he can be.
Zamperini is alleged to have said “I was pretty naïve about world politics, and I thought he looked funny, like something out of a Laurel and Hardy film.”
Louis Zamperini returning from imprisonment as a POW with his mother (Louise) and father in the backrground.)
World War II strikes the United States at Pearl Harbor. Zamperini’s stellar running career is grounded. He returns home to be drafted by the Army/Air Force. He becomes a bombardier.
Zamperini is assigned to a B-24 Liberator as a bombardier.
The story of “Unbroken” begins with a rescue mission for a B-27 crew downed in the Pacific Ocean. The rescue crew includes Louis Zamperini.
The rescue crew is unsuccessful; i.e. the lost crew is not found.
On the return flight, engine trouble forces the rescue plane into the Ocean. Three men (possibly four out of 20 plus men) survive the crash. With a poorly provisioned life raft, two live to be placed in a Japanese prison camp, Louis and the rescue plane’s pilot.
This story of survival is inspirational. It can be listened to as a true adventure. One may also hear a cautionary tale about parenting.
It is difficult to raise children in an affluent society where both parents must work to pay the bills. One wonders about the diagnosis and treatment of ADHD (Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder).
Where does a parent draw the line on drug treatment for children with this diagnosis? Is the diagnosis real or is it a symptom of a society that does not have enough time to parent?
Americana, A 400-Year History of American Capitalism
By Bhu Srinvasan
Narrated by Scott Brick, Bhu Srinvasan
Bhu Srinivasan (Author, American citizen born in India, Emigrated at age 8 to the United States with his mother.)
“Americana” is homage to the muscular success of capitalism in the United States. It appears it takes someone born outside America to unapologetic-ally endorse the gift of capitalism to the world. It seems Bhu Srinvasan lives the American dream in the 21st century.
Srinvasan “leans in” by arguing libertarian-ism’s strengths outweigh its weaknesses. “Americana” speeds through the history of great men (because women’s contribution is largely ignored) who settle America in the 17th century. With the help of English entrepreneurs willing to risk investment in the voyage of the Mayflower, the egg of American capitalism is hatched.
(The Original Mayflower Sailed September 6,1620 and landed on Cape Cod 66 days later, which was 500 miles north of its intended destination in Virginia.)
The investors expect a return on their investment. They finance the expedition based on an expectation of success from a settlement in Virginia. The first years of the Pilgrims’ progress is nearly a bust. The author explains the initial investment is nearly lost but recovered by an agreement among the settlers to buy out their Mayflower investors. The buyout is a success because the settlers find a ready market for American goods in England; particularly beaver furs which were provided to settlers by native inhabitants.
With growth of the fur trade, new settlers come to America.
The beaver fur business is expanded with new settlers who learn how the Indians ply their trade. Competition grows and undoubtedly many tribes are shut out of the trade.
This, as in many more stories told by Srinvasan, reminds one of the boon and bane of capitalism. That is not Srinvasan’s intent, but the effect of competition from acquired knowledge, new technology, and entrepreneurship is repeated many times. There are winners and losers in the growth of capitalism. What is one life worth?
There is an “end justifies means” theme in Srinvasan’s view of America. This is an attitude reflected by President Trump’s suggestion on March 24, 2020 to re-open America in April. The reality of quality-of-life improvements in America makes Srinvasan’s, and some would say Trump’s view, a worthy subject of contemplation. America is the most economically successful nation in the modern world.
Srinvasan glosses over issues of slavery, racism, and corporatism. Trump’s suggestion that America should be reopened for business in April of 2020 is a judgement that suggests ends justify means. The spread and human impact of the coronavirus is unknown.
Many of the harsh realities of a transactional economic system bare down on America with exposure to the coronavirus. Do ends justify the means?
Carnegie, Vanderbilt, Ford, Rockefeller, Morgan, Edison, Westinghouse, Watson, Gates, and Jobs are a few examples given for the success of American Capitalism.
What is missed is the “blood in the water” from changes wrought by these men of steel, automobiles, energy, finance, communications, transportation, and technology. With each advance in American ingenuity, there is a general rise in America’s standard of living. Indeed, Bhu Srinvasan himself is a tribute to the success one can have in 21st century America. But, Srinvasan tells only one side of the story.
Homelessness in America is a disgrace. Rat infested ghettos in large American cities perpetuate poverty and crime. A deteriorating education system is gamed by the wealthy who neglect what can be done to help the poorly educated.
Corporations have a duty to educate people displaced by technology. Government needs to move beyond the transactional value of health care to provide basic health services to all Americans. Environmental degradation needs to be abated before the world’s 6th extinction.
To ignore the price paid by a growing underclass in America, is side-stepped by Srivasan’s “…History of American Capitalism”.
America capitalism can do better. We are no longer a struggling economy like that which existed in the days of the Pilgrims and later so-called robber barons.
Srinvasan is an excellent primer on capitalism but that is history; not a prediction of a future where homelessness, a deteriorating environment, a failing education system, inadequate health care, and racial injustice are ignored.