TIGERS, WOLVES, VICTIMS

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog: awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

History of Wolves

By: Emily Fridlund

 Narrated by: Susan Bennett

Emily Fridlund (Author, Man Booker Prize shortlist for-History of Wolves)

Emily Fridlund’s “History of Wolves” cleverly reveals the fears of life for children, young adults, and parents. It is told from the perspective of an adult woman’s recollection of life in a Minnesota wilderness near Lake Superior. The nature of human beings is aligned with the nature of “…Wolves”.

Fridlund infers humans are sexual animals, congregate for purpose, live in extended families, and die alone—just like wolves.

Fridlund’s main character is raised in a two-parent family with a mother who pushes her daughter to be better than her parents through education and experience.

Fridlund’s fictional family appears to be living the life of the 1960s/70s flower children who wish to return to a simpler life in the wilderness.

The daughter works while in high school and becomes acquainted with neighbors across a lake she lives on in Minnesota. The daughter, a teenager, becomes a babysitter for the new family. The husband of this new family is frequently away from home.

A friendship develops between the daughter and the mother of a 3- or 4-year-old boy. The daughter agrees to babysit for $10 a day. A friendship between the new neighbor evolves into something more in the mind of the daughter. The “more” is characterized as erotic, at least from the daughter’s perspective.

Part of Fridlund’s story is about older men who groom younger women in high schools and universities.

The author’s beginning infers a level of “grooming” complicity from younger women, not for sex, but for personal identity. Fridlund’s inference is discomfiting. It suggests humanity is just another species of animal, something like a predatory wolf. Fridlund’s story is frightening because it infers predation in both sexes. There might be some truth in Fridlund’s view for a college student, but high school seems a step too far when her main character partially absolves a pedophile fired from the school she attends.

Some listeners may feel the distinction between high school and university students is prudish, but character seems much less formed in high school than the age of most college students. The experience difference between high school and college age students makes the author’s “wolf” categorization of human sexes unjustifiable.

There is more to the story than Fridlund’s perception of the predatory nature of humanity. Fridlund tells a story that addresses a fundamental conflict between religion and science.

An older university professor (the husband of the new family across the lake) marries one of his students. They have a child. The child is stricken with an illness. The professor is a Christian Scientist who eschews medical treatment. The professor is characterized as a highly intelligent astronomer who is writing a book on the origin of life. The child dies from his illness. Both the professor and his wife are taken to court for child neglect.

Fridlund goes on to explain her main character is raised by a family that believes in Mary Baker Eddy’s religion. This added information posits a broader view of the potential harm religion inflicts on society.

The daughter grows into adulthood. Her father dies and her mother’s well-being is diminished either by age, the deterioration of her house from a storm, or her belief in a religion that insists on the healing power of prayer.

There is also a whiff of guilt shown by the main character in the death of the baby-sitter boy. She realizes a warning could have been given by her to the authorities about the fragile medical condition of dying boy and their parent’s Christian Scientist’ beliefs.

The last chapters of Fridlund’s story are a flash back clarifying her “wolf” categorization of both sexes.

Fridlund’s writing is excellent and Susan Bennett’s narration is first rate. The quality of Fridlund’s story is enlightening to one who wishes to have a broader understanding of life. There are three categories of human beings in Fridlund’s book, tigers, wolves, and victims. The women in Fridlund’s book are tigers. The men are wolves. Society is the victim.

SYRIA’S FAMILY BUSINESS

Audio-book Review
           By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog: awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

No Turning Back (Life, Loss, and Hope in Wartime Syria)

By: Rania Abouzeid

Narrated by: Susan Nezami

Rania Abouzeid (Author, Lebanese Australian journalist based in Beirut.)

“No Turning Back” is a “just the facts” reveal of the Syrian civil war that began in 2011 and still simmers in 2022.

General Hafez al-Assad, (seated to the right), the father of Bashar, created a military dictatorship which became a totalitarian police state run by the Asad family business.

Rania Abouzeid interviews many sides of the war which seems to imply the Syrian civil war is not over. The president of Syria, Bashar al-Assad, remains. The Assad family business has ruled Syria since 1971.

Abouzeid’s picture of the Syrian civil war infers authoritarianism is the only way for Syria to survive as an independent nation. This sticks in the throat of democracies’ idealists. Checks and balances in America imperfectly regulate the excesses of capitalist enterprise. There seems nothing in Syria’s autocracy that even tries to moderate government leader’s self-interest.

Abouzeid shows disparate religious beliefs and ethnic diversity make Syrian democracy highly improbable. Factional leaders during the Syrian civil war demonstrate it is only “their way or the highway”. Without government checks and balances, today’s Syria is only manageable as an autocracy. Sadly, one family and a religious minority choose to victimize Syrian citizens who are not part of the “in” group. Abouzeid infers that is the proximate cause of the 2011 revolution.

The western world seems incapable of understanding that democracy is not a universal need or desire of all nations.

There are differences that cannot be resolved by votes of constituents in an environment that has few of the hard-won tools of democracy. That is particularly true in non-secular countries with strong religious beliefs. The slaughter of innocents and torture of prisoners noted by Abouzeid during Syria’s civil war is appalling.

Bashar al-Assad or some demented faction in war-torn Syria choose to use poison gas to murder Syrian men, women, and children.

Abouzeid’s stories rend one’s heart. The worst parts of human nature are unleashed to torture and mutilate many who only desire peace and fair treatment. This is an unforgivable tragedy compounded by President Obama’s empty “red line” speech that further alienated Syrian people from the ideal of democracy.

What is often missed in reports of Syrian atrocity is the leaders who led factions in Syria.

Some factions plan to erase Syria from the map and create a religious state to replace the Assad family business with their view of the Islamic religion. This is not to say suppression is not an Assad tool to benefit the Alawite sect of Shia Islam, but that outside Islamic zealots want to install their own form of authoritarianism.

The Syrian government manages to draw on foreign powers (particularly Putin’s Russia) to help strengthen the Assad family’s autocratic control. Though Abouzeid does not address Russia’s assistance, one doubts Assad would have survived.

What Abouzeid reveals with her facts is that one autocracy could have been replaced by another. The question becomes would Syrian citizens be better or worse off under a different autocracy?

Obama’s “red line” is an empty promise that may have been made in good faith but is viewed by Syrians as a betrayal. In one sense, Obama is right in not having America become directly involved in Syria’s civil war. America has made too many mistakes in recent history to warrant invasion in another country’s sovereign independence.

Abouzeid suggests Russia acts as a more reliable friend to the Syrian people than America. In view of the factional nature of Syria’s population, Abouzeid has a point. Syria, and all nation states are on their own in working out what their citizens feel is right. The inference one draws from Abouzeid’s facts is that in Syria’s stage of social development, democracy will not work. Democracy is a choice, not an inevitability. The success of a democracy depends upon the will of the general population to accept diversity as a strength, not a weakness.

The Assad family and the Alawite sect remain autocratic rulers of Syria. The best one can hope is that Assad’s autocracy will more equitably treat all Syrian citizens, whether they are a part of the family business or not. If Assad has not learned that lesson, civil war will return with greater force, and possibly a more repressive autocracy.

COLLEGE OR NOT

Audio-book Review
           By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog: awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Excellent Sheep (The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life)

By: William Deresiewicz

Narrated by: Mel Foster

William Deresiewicz (American author, essayist and literary critic.)

William Deresiewicz offers a view of life and education in “Excellent Sheep”. The author begins by arguing students of the Ivy League are disadvantaged in their acceptance by the best universities in the world. One presumes Deresiewicz comes from a wealthy family because he is a student, and later, professor at Yale.

One thinks about eight of the nine Supreme Court Justices being graduates of Harvard. It is difficult to feel sorry for an American who has guaranteed life employment in one of the most prestigious jobs in the world.

When listening to any audiobook, one thinks of titles of a review for what one hears. In the first few chapters of “Excellent Sheep”, Deresiewicz’s book might be titled “Mostly Baloney”. However, “Mostly Baloney” is disrespectful, and somewhat unfair, as becomes clear in later chapters.

Lack motivation or ability to sustain effective action. Rigid. Unyielding, unable to accept new ideas, etc… Intemperate. Lack self-control and enabled by followers. Callous. In uncaring or unkind, ignores needs of followers. Corrupt. Lie, cheat, and steal; put self-interest ahead of public interest. Insular. Draws clear boundaries between welfare of organization and outsiders. Evil. Use power to inflict severe physical or psychological harm. Incompetent. Lack motivation or ability to sustain effective action. Rigid. Unyielding, unable to accept new ideas, etc.. Intemperate. Lack self-control and enabled by followers. Callous. In uncaring or unkind, ignores needs of followers. Corrupt. Lie, cheat, and steal; put self-interest ahead of public interest. Insular. Draws clear boundaries between welfare of organization and outsiders. Evil. Use power to inflict severe physical or psychological harm.

Toward the end of his book, one finds Deresiewicz is raised in an upper middle-class family but with no college graduates. A listener begins to realize Deresiewicz’s acceptance at Yale comes from hard work, and good grades, even if his family could afford the Ivy League. The author’s presumed hard work and good grades demands respect and fairer evaluation of what he has to say.

Many (if not most) Americans go to college because it is a ticket to better paying jobs, not to become better educated citizens.

To a large extent, this critic went to college to get a ticket for better pay—of course, not to the ivy league but to a State University and graduate education at a midwestern university. The point being most American’s purpose in higher education is to get a ticket for higher paying jobs, and only secondarily, to become better educated. The “ticket mentality” is part of what Deresiewicz is trying to explain.

Deresiewicz explains Ivy League students are pushed throughout their lives to strive for admittance, not to become better educated but to have the best job opportunities in America.

The author suggests that push makes them unsure of themselves because they are constantly measured at every point of their life by the artificiality of SATs, class grades, student activity, and the wealth and influence of their families. What Deresiewicz misses is that despite these student pressures, those who go to any school beyond high school have more tools to help them cope with life. College, contrary to Deresiewicz’s opinion, is not a transition from childhood to adulthood. College is only a continuation of childhood.

Deresiewicz is prescient when he explains how important it is for students to follow their passion.

However, not all people are motivated by passion. Most follow paths of least resistance. The path of least resistance is influenced by education, but not formed by it. To infer that is a bad thing is unreasonable because most of society follows rather than leads. The followers are not motivated by passion. It is leaders who have passion. That, of course, is a two-edged value because leaders can lead to the worst, as well as the best outcomes in life.

An added criticism by Deresiewicz is that upper income families push their children to achieve good grades for admittance to the Ivy League and are damaged by the experience. That seems false.

Basic liberal arts and sciences for adolescents (before college) are exposure that may or may not become passions for the geniuses of life. Parents should encourage, if not push, their children to get good grades in school. That is where passion is born.

No one would deny Sir Isaac Newtons, Einsteins, and Diracs are needed as much as the George Eliots, Dostoyevskys, and Tolstoys of life. Without knowing if they were pushed by their parents is not the point. It is the passion each had for a discipline they were exposed to early in life. Undoubtedly that exposure is either encouraged tacitly or directly by parents or guardians.

What Deresiewicz attacks in his last chapters is the nobles oblige of Ivy League graduates who dominate America’s leadership class. That domination reinforces class distinction and exacerbates the gap between rich and poor.

The author notes many Presidents of the U.S., before the mid-twentieth century did not go to Ivy League universities. With few exceptions, a majority of American Presidents after the 1970s are Ivy League graduates. Deresiewicz suggest the Ivy League aggravates class distinctions in the U.S.

More importantly, Deresiewicz argues Ivy League education narrows the thinking of American leadership because graduates fall into a camaraderie trap and fail to understand the needs of most Americans.

Deresiewicz suggests higher education fails to teach the value of liberal arts. Whether true or not, emphasis on liberal arts seems superfluous. Most who listen to the author’s book cannot feel sorry for Ivy League students that are fearful of what life has in store for them. Every student transitioning to adulthood has that fear. Teaching liberal arts is not going to change that fearfulness. Of course, that is not Deresiewicz’s point, but America’s attention needs to be focused on improving liberal arts and science education for all, not just Ivy League students.  

DEMOCRACY’S STORM

Audio-book Review
           By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog: awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The Lies That Bind (Rethinking Identity)

By: Kwame Anthony Appiah

Narrated by: Kwame Anthony Appiah

Kwame Anthony Appiah (Author, philosopher of history, politics and social sciences.)

Kwame Appiah implies western democracy is the best form of government.

The democracy of which Appiah writes is one in which rule-of-law, freedom within the limits of rule-of-law, and equal opportunity are evident.

However, contrary to Langston Hughes’ poem, the sea is not calm. Democracies’ sea is stormy because its principles are inconsistently practiced.

Kwame Anthony Appiah casts a lifebuoy to those swimming in the stormy sea of democracy.

Appiah’s chapters on religion may be a slog for some but they offer understanding of the inconsistency of religious belief. Religious contradictions are legion. Sermonizers pick and choose paths they like rather than any truth biblical writings may impart.

“The Lies That Bind” examines the role of religion, culture, and government in society.

Agnosticism, and atheism grows with revelations of science, stultified freedom of thought, and (though not mentioned by Appiah) ecumenical abuse.

Appiah’s life story reinforces the importance of culture. Both his parents were highly accomplished people. His mother was a British artist, historian, and writer. His father, from Ghana, was a lawyer, diplomat, and politician. Both parents come from accomplished families. Their son chooses to marry a man when same sex marriage only slowly becomes culturally accepted.

Appiah’s history addresses the ascendence of the Mongol empire to illustrate the breadth of Mongol conquest while noting its style of government control. His point is that control is exercised with a level of tolerance for independence, cultural understanding, and religious belief among Khan’s descendants.

Genghis Khan (1162-1227 Leader of the Mongol Empire)

In summary, Appiah argues democratic societies need to rethink identity in terms of human equality. Whether a man or woman is a successful entrepreneur, CEO, server in a restaurant, or laborer in construction, all are equally human. Appiah notes Trump’s political success in America relates to his intuitive understanding of what many political aspirants ignored—the importance of American labor, whether highly educated, unschooled, rich, or poor.

A leader of an enterprise can be right, even damn right, but fail without the help of labor. Disrespecting labor ensures failure. This is a lesson Henry Ford understood when he raised the wages of his work force. This is a lesson Elon Musk will undoubtedly find in his acquisition of Twitter.

Appiah’s lifebuoy is meritocracy, a government holding of power by people selected on the basis of their ability. The idea of meritocracy came about in the 1960s. However, there are academicians, like Daniel Markovits who believe the concept of meritocracy increases inequality and causes decline in the middle class. Markovits argues middle-class families lose equal educational opportunity because of high cost. Without equal opportunity for education, too many Americans are left without Appiah’s lifebuoy.

Appiah does not directly address issues of equality of opportunity in a democratic-meritocratic society. Though Appiah may be a minority in white western culture, one doubts his educational opportunity was ever a question of cost.

On balance, Appiah offers insight to how democracy can be improved. The key is equality of opportunity which implies democracy needs to focus on safety-net’ issues which entail more help for lower- and middle-class income earners. The safety-net is one which provides equal access to education, health care, and employment, i.e., without regard to sex, race, religion, or ethnic qualification. In democracy, that means election of leaders who are willing to ensure equality of opportunity for all.

SEXUAL EQUALITY

 Audio-book Review
           By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Florida

By: Lauren Groff

Narrated by: Lauren Groff

Lauren Groff (Author, novelist)

“Florida” is a series of well written short stories. The binding theme of the author’s stories is her view of life. As Lauren Groff makes clear in her former book, “Fates and Furies”, there is little difference between the sexes. Women may give birth, but children are children who need care. The truth is men, more often than women, physically leave their children. Most women stay. Groff suggests it is not necessarily because women want to stay but they have fewer alternatives.

Once born, most children are loved and held close while some are abandoned physically and/or emotionally by their parents.

Groff infers women most often stay, but not because of a maternal instinct. A woman can choose to abandon their children just like men, but they may have grown to love their children. On the other hand, they may fear the social recrimination if they leave like fathers. Groff seems to infer women are as capable of leaving their children as men, but society treats the sexes unequally. In many ways, Groff wants equal treatment of men and women, but her observations are a harsh judgement of human beings.

Groff implies societal expectation is different for women than men.

The only area where Groff accepts difference between men and women is in physical strength.

Beyond strength differences, Groff’s stories show there are no differences between men and women. A woman is as likely to pursue sex as a man for the same purpose. Groff suggests there is no difference between men and women when it comes to desire for sex.

Groff tells a story of a violent storm that interrupts a single woman’s night out. Groff’s character is trolling a bar for a conjugal companion for the night. The violent storm leads to a dangerous interlude with a man that might as easily rape her as help her survive the storm. The man chooses to drink himself into a stupor and the woman survives the encounter without being raped.

Groff shows poverty is as crushing for women as men.

Both men and women can quit working or lose a job and devolve into homeless vagrants. Either can choose to become thieves, sexual consorts, or menial laborers to survive at the bottom of society.

Groff’s stories may appall some listeners, but she offers a point of view that strikes at the heart of sexual inequality.

Emotional human attachment is important in every story Groff writes. She is not suggesting either men or women are incapable of real love of each other and their children. She is arguing there are no intellectual, or emotional differences between the sexes.

SLAVERY

Audio-book Review
           By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The Other Slavery (The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America)

By: Andrés Reséndez

                                                           Narrated by: Eric Jason Martin

Andrés Reséndez (Author, Historian, Ph.D. in history from the University of Chicago.)

One suspects “The Other Slavery” is unknown or misremembered by most Americans. “The Other Slavery” is not about America’s civil war, the Emancipation Proclamation, or Abraham Lincoln. It is about indigenous peoples and their adaptation to a world turned upside down by newcomers from foreign lands.

Andrés Reséndez mostly focuses on the North American continent, particularly west and southwestern American territories and Mexico, but he also touches on slavery in Chile.

As is well known, slavery has been a societal constant since the beginning of recorded history. Today, it appears in pornography, low wage peonage, so-called re-education camps, and political/social incarcerations. What Reséndez explains is that Indian tribes of the west are increasingly incentivized by slavery with the arrival of foreigners. Though slavery may have been used by Indians earlier in history, it became a significant source of revenue for warring tribes.

Hernán Cortés de Monroy y Pizarro Altamirano (aka Cortez), 1st Marquess of the Valley of Oaxaca.

Reséndez reminds listeners of internecine wars of early America when conquistadores and Indians ruled the American southwest.

One Indian tribe captures a different tribes’ sons, and daughters to trade for money, horses, guns, and butter from the Spanish or later settlers who need cheap labor or who seek domestic help and/or carnal pleasure. Reséndez notes young women’s slavery prices are higher than young men’s because of their dual service as domestic laborers and sex objects. Over time, as Spanish land holders are replaced by American land holders, Indians remain a source and victim of the slave industry.

Men, women, and children are used by land holders and competing Indian tribes as barter for trade.

Though slavery is the primary story, Reséndez notes wars between Spanish land barons and Pueblo Indians occur over rights to the land.

Santa Fe, New Mexico becomes a focal point of conflict between Pueblo Indians and the Spanish. The victimization of Pueblo Indian slaves leads to a rebellion that removes Spain from the New Mexico territory, at least for several years. However, the lure of silver brings Spain back with a slave trade resurgence in southwestern territories of America. Reséndez  explains the slave trade becomes endemic as silver is discovered in Mexico and the southwest territories.

The need for cheap labor in silver mines multiplies the value of Indian slaves in the southwest.

The slave trade never dies. Greed drives Indian tribes to steal people from different Indian’ tribes to profit from human sales to landowners looking for cheap labor. Reséndez notes it is not just Indians victimizing Indians but American and Spanish landowners buying young men and women Indians and other human victims to serve as low-cost labor for silver mining, farming, and domestic service.

Reséndez notes male slaves were more difficult to manage than women slaves but for strength males were coveted for their labor in silver mining. Some of the mines were deep in the earth, all were dangerous. Underground mines were flooded with carcinogenic mercury tailings that shortened the lives of those who worked there.

Slavery goes by many names. As is known by historians, the Dawes act further victimizes native Americans.

Reséndez reveals how slavery has always been a part of society. Self-interest is a motive force of human nature. Slavery is found in penal colonies of authoritarian governments to provide cheap labor. Slavery is also found in democratic governments that legislatively reduce the cost of labor based on corporate influence on public policy. A free market, not lobbyist influence, should determine public policy.

The hope for elimination of slavery lies in government policy that reinforces belief in human equality and a balance between corporate profit and cost of labor as determined by a free market.

SCANDINAVIA

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The Almost Nearly Perfect People

By: Michael Booth

 Narrated by: Ralph Lister

Michael Booth (British Author, food and travel writer.)

Later this month, we will travel to Scandinavia and Finland. As a suggestion by our guide, “The Almost Nearly Perfect People” is a fascinating introduction to Denmark, Norway, Finland, Sweden, and Iceland. To be fair to indigenous people of the Nordic countries, one might keep in mind the author is British while living for ten or more years in Denmark with his Danish wife and family. The author notes they moved from Denmark for a short time, but his wife convinces him to return.

Booth is a travel and food writer. He explains that an extra motive for writing this book is because a wide part of the world knows little about Scandinavia and much of what they think they know is wrong. I am more in the first than second category but have an interest in the subject because of my Finnish grandparents.

On a per capita basis, Norway is among the ten richest nations in the world. America is around 11th. Sweden and Denmark are not far behind.

In contrast Finland is a laggard at 21st position but Booth claims Finland is his favorite among the five countries.

For public education systems, Finland is historically ranked among the best in the world while Norway, Sweden, and Denmark are among the top ten. To give perspective, America is around 27th place.

The Danish-Swedish company Arla Foods is the 7th largest dairy company in the world. The industrial transportation and shipping company Maersk is a Danish company. IKEA, Volvo, Assa Abloy (key card locking systems for hotels), Electrolux, Ericsson, and H&M are Swedish conglomerates. Denmark and Sweden are industry power houses in the world.

Booth notes Norway became rich with the discovery of oil. Denmark’s and Sweden’s wealth lies in different strengths and weaknesses revolving around their respective international businesses.  

What makes Booth’s book interesting, and entertaining is his view and contrast of Nordic societies. Booth suggests both Danes and Swedes are somewhat cliquish and standoffish but act differently among themselves. Both prefer working with their own countrymen and women. Danes revel in individualism whereas Swedes are more clannish. Neither particularly welcome outsiders but Swedes like working together with fellow Swedes as teams with common purpose. In contrast, Danes work within a hierarchical structure that relies on positional direction. Finns are characterized as less ambitious with a live and “let be” view of life. A Finn works to live rather than lives to work. Booth suggests Norwegians appear standoffish to many but its more from a wish to be self-reliant and reserved. The idea is to preserve personal space among themselves and to have respect for others who may or may not be Norwegian.

Iceland is not a part of the trip we are taking, and Booth only skims Icelandic culture but suggests Danish influence is the predominant characteristic of their population. (Iceland was founded by Danes.) Booth’s primary story of Iceland is in their errant decision to rely on banking system managers that nearly collapse the economy in the 2008 economic crises. Belief in hierarchal structure and positional direction nearly bankrupted Iceland because of unwise risks taken by bank managers.

A listener’s general impression from Booth’s book is that the Nordic countries are uniquely different but generally socialist with the highest tax rates in the world.

Those tax rates provide the best education and health systems in the world. However, their socialism does not impede their innovative entrepreneurial and capitalist interests. In Booth’s opinion, the Nordic countries represent the future of the world by melding capitalism with socialism.

Booth infers the success of Nordic countries begins with their education system. Teaching is an honored profession that is difficult for potential employees to join.

Teaching positions and teachers are highly educated and respected by the general population. Contrary to what one would presume, classes for students are medium size (20 to 23 students), teacher salaries are middle class, class days are limited to 4 hours, and every family has access to any school in their area. Tutoring is widely practiced for students needing help. There are no private schools.

As is true in all countries of the world, immigration is being horribly mishandled. Fair immigration policy in Norway and the world remains a work in progress.

Booth notes Nordic countries have not achieved perfection. With the threat of authoritarianism that diminishes the value of human life, histories of these countries show mistakes were made in WWII and are still being made in the 21st century. On the other hand, Booth shows native Nordic residents endorse and practice equal rights for men and women, a laudable example for the rest of the world.

LEARNING AND MEMORY

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The Extended Mind

By: Annie Murphy Paul

   Narrated by: Annie Murphy Paul

Annie Murphy Paul (Author, graduate of Yale and Columbia University with a Journalism major).

Annie Murphy Paul is a science writer who has lectured at TED TALK about learning, memory, and cognition. She has written articles for “Scientific American”, and several national newspapers. The interesting insight of “The Extended Mind” is that learning, teaching, and memory are significantly enhanced by physical activity.

From birth to maturity, Paul notes physical activity is a critical component of human thought, and action but memory is a critical dimension for both.

This seems tautological at first glance. After all, learning by doing is a self-evident truth. However, Paul explains learning by doing is only the tip of a much larger truth. She argues physical activity informs and extends the mind to ignore, remember, repeat, or forget everything we know or do. Without physical activity, minds atrophy, memories fade, and bodies die.

Paul explains learning is enhanced by physical activity.

Scientific experiments show that learning and memory are improved by association with physical movement. Reading about an experiment may enlighten the uninformed; however, being the experimenter enhances memory of the experiment’s proof. Sitting and thinking about doing is more forgettable than doing what one is thinking about.

Paul notes that association with physical movement is like a mnemonic that aids memory.

She suggests a defined hand gesture has more value than mnemonic association for memory. One might think of a “P” to remember Paul as the author of this book. On the other hand, one might physically form the letter “P” with three fingers and the memory of the author becomes more memorable.

Paul cites several examples of how teachers have improved their teaching skills by encouraging physical activity with interactive class assignments and subjects.

Paul suggests strict order in a classroom (e.g., sitting at one’s desk and reading an assignment or teacher dictation of lessons) limits memory of subjects covered in the school room. She suggests learning is enhanced by social interaction.

After brief experience as a high school teacher, some of what Paul explains makes sense. The difficulty is implementing her ideas when trying to balance the variety of student strengths and weaknesses with their social and economic difference.

Learning may be improved by social interaction, but human nature often gets in the way. For example, social interaction may be viewed as a threat to an introverted student. The introvert is unlikely to participate in a social grouping. The same can be said of those with a different religion, heritage, ethnicity, or gender.

On the other hand, there is wisdom in requiring social interaction even when involving students who are introverted or challenged by their familial upbringing. People grow and educate others from uncomfortable emotional and physical circumstances.

Paul extends her argument to business office environments and how collaborative office orientations improve company creativity and performance.

She tempers that argument based on group preferences where some may be more comfortable in an environment that is more structured than unstructured. This is not contradicting the argument of physical activity as essential for enhanced productivity in the office. She goes so far as to suggest treadmills at workstations for some offices.

Several years ago, this critics preference for audiobooks came from boredom associated with activity that required little directed attention.

Personal experience confirms Paul’s argument. Though detailed memory is far from ideal, exercise while listening to an audiobook has been rewarding.

EMPIRES

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The Vanquished

By: Robert Gerwarth

Narrated by: Michael Page

Robert Gerwarth (German Author, historian, specializing in European history, graduate of University of Oxford.)

At times, a reader/listener becomes jaded by books written about war. However, Robert Gerwarth’s “…Vanquished” is a timely review of the origin of war, particularly with Vladmir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

Vladmir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

Gerwarth implies all wars come from unravelling empires. He argues post 20th century wars are a result of the Austro-Hungarian, Ottoman, Japanese, French, Romanov (Russian), and British empires demise. Gerwath explains future generations of fighters from these former empires live on. Many continue to bare grudges for their lost existence as part of an empire. This reminds one of Vladimir Putin’s life as a KGB agent in the former U.S.S.R.

Gerwarth implies all wars come from unravelling of empires.

Gerwarth explains in detail the wandering fighters of dismantled empires who do not accept their defeat. They raid, rape, and pillage countries (often as mercenaries) that were part of their former empire. Of course, there are other circumstances that motivate these fighters, but loss of empire demeans and unmoors identity which energizes anger, motivates reprisal, and initiates atrocity.

Few historians disagree about the unfair reparations demanded from Germany after WWI. That unreasonableness weakens the post war German government which is soon overrun by Nazis; ironically, not led by a German citizen, but by an Austro-Hungarian citizen named Adolph Hitler. Hitler is a former fighter for the Austro-Hungarian empire.

Hitler’s extraordinary ability to martial rage with his rabid antisemitism rallies German extremists to believe Germany can establish a new European empire.

Hitler’s success is largely made possible by a weak German government and Germany’s war-ravaged poverty, exacerbated by worldwide depression.

Vladimier Putin is not Hitler. However, Putin’s view of the world is that of a former KGB agent of the U.S.S.R.

Putin is a fighter for an empire that lives in his heart and mind but not in reality. One might conclude from Gerwarth’s view of history that Putin will fail in his effort to make Ukraine a part of Russia.

British Empire–Empires are passe in the 21st century. Colonization is the history of the past.

None of the 20th century empires have been resurrected, and like Thomas Wolfe’s novel, “You Can’t Go Home Again”, only force of arms can hold empires together. Empires are too big and culturally diverse to remain one entity.

Though Gerwarth does not address China, it seems China’s effort to gain control of outlying China interests is limited to government will and martial suppression.

Uighur Re-education camp in China.

The suppression of Uighurs is a first step to concentration camps.

It seems cultural difference and interests between Xi’s followers, and Uighurs, Tibetans, Hong Kong residents, and Taiwanese will require suppression to make them part of the supersized Chinese nation-state. It is likely that future generations of fighters will resist China’s enforcement if it pursues its present course.

Map of the United States of America with state names.

Gerwarth offers an interesting historical perspective; supported by a lot of detail. It would seem the only hope for peaceful empires is through federalism. There needs to be an acknowledgement of cultural difference, with access to equality of treatment and opportunity for all citizens, regardless of race, religion, or ethnicity. Of course, that is what America has tried, and only partly achieved, among States. It would seem a greater task for empire, or within large multi-ethnic nation-states like China.

RIGHT TO DIE

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The Door

By: Magda Szabo

Narrated by: Sian Thomas

Magda Szabo (Hungarian novelist, 1917-2007, died at age 90)

“The Door” is a story of the human psyche, and religious belief. Every human has a locked door in their consciousness, behind which life’s meaning is hidden.

Often, neither individuals nor acquaintances have a key to that door. Magda Szabo creates characters searching for that key. To some listener/readers, her primary character has the key. Emerence Szeredas is Szabo’s primary character who, some may argue, has keys to other’s doors, as well as her own.

Emerence is a mysterious community caretaker. As Szabo tells her story, listeners find Emerence has lived an eventful life.

She realizes much of life is out of her control but believes that which is under one’s control should be controlled absolutely. Emerence lives in an apartment. Her front door is locked to outsiders–excerpt in a rare circumstance when a fugitive needs to be hidden from the world because of societal transgression. Emerence becomes a place of temporary refuge for societal transgressors in a hidden room in her house.

Emerence cracks the door of her life for a writer who is married and needs help with her household. The writer asks Emerence to become her housekeeper.

The slight opening to the writer of Emerence’s psyche ends in tragedy. Through many years of work and acquaintance with the writer, Emerence reveals personal information about her life. Emerence resists opening her locked door but counsels the writer on how she should live her life. Emerence becomes close to the writer and plans to leave the contents of the house to her when she dies.

Emerence has a stroke. She refuses help from anyone and refuses any food or medical assistance while recovering behind her closed door.

She refuses to allow anyone, including the writer, to come into her apartment. She quits eating and is near death. The apartment begins to stink of pet excrement and rotting food. The writer chooses to organize the community to break down Emerence’s door and force her into a hospital for care. Emerence threatens to kill anyone who tries to knock down her door. In great distress, Emerence wields an axe, inadvertently smashes the door to her apartment, and is unable to stop the community from taking her to the hospital.  

Now that Emerence’s door is broken, both metaphorically and physically, she blames the writer for invading her privacy and denying her the right to die as she chooses.

The writer interferes with Emerence’s fundamental right to control that which she can control. Emerence heatedly explains to the writer that her wish to die behind her door is her choice.

Emerence is saying she has always been in control of her life and if she wishes to die, it is her business, no one else’s.

Emerence is recovering in the hospital. She refuses to talk to the writer. The writer cannot grasp Emerence’s reasoning. The writer feels she saved Emerence’s life. What the writer did not understand is Emerence’s need to be in control of what she can control to give meaning to her life.

Despite Emerence’s physical deterioration, neglect of pets in her house, and the unhealthful condition of her surroundings, in her apartment she had control of her life. Survival in the hospital, the stinking condition of the house, and her physical disability became an embarrassment to Emerence. To Emerence, if she had died in the house, the embarrassment would mean nothing because she would be dead. With survival, Emerence’s locked door would be opened for all to see, a circumstance beyond her control.

Emerence is told by the hospital that she will not be released to return to her apartment. She is to be sent to a convalescent facility. She refuses with anger and physical reaction that ends her life on terms she chooses.

“The Door” appears in Hungary in 1987 and has been translated into French and English. It raises many questions about life, faith, and individual rights. In this age of “right to die”, Szabo’s story has particular relevance.