Pay Any Price

James Risen (Author, American Journalist,).

An act of government that presumes it knows what is good for everyone mocks omniscience.

The GAO (Government Accountability Office) finds President Trump broke the law by delaying Ukrainian military aid.

Today, it is terrorism; yesterday, it was communism, day before yesterday, it was Japanese internment camps.

James Risen’s “Pay Any Price” exposes government hubris that tortures suspected terrorists and invades personal privacy to feed human greed and desire for power; all under the guise of protecting America.

Japanese internment during WWII.

Guantanamo tramples human rights; the red-scare of the 1950s breeds mistrust of elected officials, and Japanese internment camps during WWII stain the American’ conscience.

Greed and power are two of the three motivations for endless war.

The third is presumed status which leads to a false sense of omniscience and hubris.

Sadly, 9/11 is not the first or last terrorist event in America’s future but without a measure of human freedom, America loses more than it gains by suspecting everyone is a terrorist.

Government should protect Americans from the greed and power of the few over the many, rather than concoct wasteful government programs that only feed the worst parts of human nature.

President Trump believes he knows best and fails to seek the advice or counsel of those who are in a position to offer a more balanced perspective.

Few, if any, would suggest Qassem Soleimani was not a murderer of Americans. But what price has been paid by the world for Trump’s unilateral decision to have Soleimani assassinated?

There is no question–institutional discrimination exists in the United States, and it victimizes American minorities.

Demonstrations that destroy public property and federal government intervention are equally reprehensible events. Neither serves the goal of achieving equal opportunity for all Americans.

Violence is a consequence of a willingness to “Pay Any Price”.


Audio-book Review

By Chet Yarbrough

A Concise History of the Middle East, Ninth Edition

By Arthur Goldschmidt and Lawrence Davidson

Narrated by Tom Weiner

Messieurs Goldschmidt and Davidson have created an insightful overview of the origins and impacts of an area of the world not well known or understood by much of the American public. 

Arthur Goldschmidt Jr. (Author, historian)

Lawrence Davidson (Author, History professor)

History is made up of facts but never the whole truth. Events are reported out of the context of their historical era, a time which can never be fully explained; even by the most knowledgeable historian. 

So, why is understanding the Middle East important? 

In the Middle East, more than a million human lives have been lost from war since 2001.

Since 2001, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syrian conflicts have killed over 6,700 Americans, nearly 3,000 NATO coalition soldiers, an unpublished number of Russian and Turkish soldiers, 182,000 Iraqis, 111,000 Afghans, and 400,000 to 570,000 Syrians. 



From an economic perspective, there is the importance of oil imports from the Middle East.


There is the cost of military intervention in foreign countries. The cost is in both lives and international relations.

America’s reputation in the Middle East has fallen dramatically because of our invasion of Iraq. In 2o22 the center of Middle East attention has moved from the slim possibility of democracy to reification of authoritarianism.

The perception of militant interest groups has exacerbated Middle East conflict, largely because of religious difference and economic disparity. Two powers, Saudi Arabia and Iran have replaced America’s pre-Iraq influence in the Middle East. Syria is run by a brutal dictator supported by Russia. The plight of the Middle East is for many to live in poverty under authoritarian leaders interested in power and eternal control, more than their citizen’s general welfare.


From a religious and cultural perspective, the Muslim religion is the second most common in the world. Iran is principally Shite, while Saudi Arabia and Syria are Sunni.

SYRIAN REFUGEES IN TURKEY (Turkey spends $30 billion on Syrian refugees.)

Countries like Turkey are overwhelmed by the cost of housing and feeding refugees from the Syrian war.

From a humanitarian perspective, hundreds of thousands of refugees have been created. Where do they go? How will they live. There are many consequential reasons for a better understanding of the Middle East. 

This audio book provides some history and, more importantly, perspective on religious belief, ethnicities, and secularism in the Middle East; i.e., it explains some of the differences within and among Middle Eastern countries. 

Goldschmidt and Davidson help one understand the difference between a Muslim Sunni and a Muslim Shiite.  Their history gives the listener a better appreciation of the importance of an Imam to a Shiite and what happens in Shiite dominated Iran versus what might occur in a majority Sunni country like Saudi Arabia or Kuwait. Syria is somewhat of an outlier because the Alawite, a minority in the Sunni religion, is in control of the government.

Goldschmidt and Davidson point out that Shiite’ beliefs are evolving because they are Imam’ interpretations of the Koran while Sunni’s beliefs are more static and grounded in literal readings of the Koran. 

The authors reflect on religious conflicts among believers in Islam, the creation and growth of the state of Israel, the secular leanings of Turkey, the Kurdish conflicts between Turkey and Iraq, the history of Iraq and its makeup of Kurds, Shiite, Sunni, and Christian factions.  They report on the Hezbollah and Palestinian movements surrounding Israel which are supported by Iran.  They touch on our 2001 New York tragedy and the hostility of al-Qaeda and its influence on American perception of the Middle East. 

“A Concise History of the Middle East” is an eye opening journey through centuries of border conflicts, colonialism, nation building, and evolving nationalism.

There is little doubt, considering what has happened in Iran (and is presently happening in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey, and Syria), that there is a growing discontent in the Middle East, a burgeoning desire for freedom; a freedom that is forged by a variety of belief systems, tempered by the will of its indigenous people. 

Goldschmidt and Davidson help one understand that, like America, there are many conflicting beliefs in the Middle East that have led to misconceptions, tragic mistakes, civil wars, and violent actions perpetrated and perpetuated by committed believers and brutal authoritarian leaders. Both believers and authoritarians are either vilified or commended by the passing of time and the distance of recorded history.


The Middle East is shown as the world power it once was; its devolution into a variety of colonial and/or monarchical nation states; and  its re-growth as an oil producing behemoth.

The Middle East is working its way into the 21st century as a new world power.   One is drawn to the conclusion that this new world power is in a state of creation from a variety of competing Middle Eastern nation states that may or may not survive the 21st century. 

What Goldschmidt and Davidson remind one of is the folly of outside military intervention in countries of which one has little understanding.

Goldschmidt and Davidson’s writing is a gift that makes reports of the Middle East more accessible to the general public.


Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough


The Unwomanly Face of War–An Oral History of Women in World War II

By: Svetlana Alexievich, Translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky

Narrated by Julia Emelin, Yelena Shmulenson

Svetlana Alexievich (Author, Belorussian Investigative Journalist, 2015 Nobel Prize in Literature–for her polyphonic writings.)

The author of “The Unwomanly Face of War”, Svetlana Alexievich, suggests women’s deployment in war dates to the Greco-Roman wars.  However, some say Russia is the first nation to deploy women as combat troops.  History shows Russia enlisted women as a fighting force in WWI. 

“The Unwomanly Face of War” notes nearly 1,000,000 women joined the Russian military to defeat the German armies in WWII. 

Alexievich interviews former WWII Russian women as pilots, snipers, mine clearing commanders, and military tank leaders. Some were as young as 13; others in their late teens or early 20’s when they joined. At the time of the interviews, all were in their 50’s or older.   By any definition, these Russian women were combat troops.

This is a particularly timely release of a translation of “The Unwomanly Face of War”.  In western nations, as early as the 1940 s, the role of women in the military has been in transition. 

Most countries recognize the immense contribution “women in war” have made since WWI. However, the WWII veterans in Russia’s battles were not fully recognized until the 1950s.

What Alexievich offers is a peek into what Russian women in combat experienced during WWII.  She identifies similarities and differences military men and women experience in war.  To listeners of Alexievich’s interviews, similarities appear much greater than the differences.

The preeminent common characteristic among combat troops is nationalism.  Whether man or woman, the belief in the sovereignty of one’s country supersedes gender.  The disgust for an invading country and its military is equally reviled. 

Alexievich suggests women feel the atrocity of war more than men because women bare and raise children. She argues women are more nurturing and emotion driven than men. 

However, her interviews recount two events that would equally engage and enrage men as women.    

Two interviews reveal a mother’s decision to sacrifice her children.  One circumstance is for a mother to quiet a crying child by infanticide because of an approaching German troop.  The second is a mother who has her child carry a bomb into a military mess hall to kill the enemy as well as the sacrificed child. How does maternal instinct differ from the worst actions taken by men?

The human response to war seems as brutally evident in women as men.  The trauma of war seems to be absorbed in similar ways.  War experience is something never forgotten, and often repressed.  There seems little difference among the sexes based on Alexievich’s interviews of WWII women veterans.

Another example that seems more of a provisioning than sex difference is the reality of menstruation and how it is to be dealt with in combat circumstances.  With proper provisioning the difference between the sexes seems miniscule.

Another circumstance alluded to is the physical strength differences between the sexes.  The circumstance recalled is a woman tank commander who cannot physically rescue an injured tank soldier because she is unable to lift him out of the tank. 

Pulling dead weight is a limit for men as well as women. Though the average strength differences might be true between all men and all women, brute strength is an extraordinary need in war; not a common requirement. If one person is not enough to move a wounded soldier, he/she gets help.

“The Unwomanly Face of War” addresses the reality of conjugal sex in war.  War is little different than life in the civilized world when it comes to the battle of the sexes.  Alexievich recounts affections that rise between men and women in the field of war.  One can appreciate exaggerated interdependence when one’s life is at stake.  Maybe there is a difference, but the difference seems more of imagination than reality.  Peace has its own way of corrupting the relationship between men and women.  One must question how different the battle between the sexes is in war than in peace. 

Common purpose brings the sexes together in both war and peace. When common purpose is absent, the sexes battle for their personal interests.  What distorts the battle is power.

History suggests power more often lies with men than women whether in civilian or military life.  Until there is equalization in power, the potential for fairness among the sexes is unlikely. 

Whether in war or peace, sexual orientation is subject to inequality.  The only remedy is a set of rules and regulations judiciously enforced.

One will draw their own conclusion about the role of women in war after listening to “The Unwomanly Face of War”.  Whether in a time of war or peace, what is incontestable is unequal treatment of women


Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough


Embracing Defeat
By John W. Dower

Narrated by Edward Lewis


Victory is sweet; defeat is bitter.  Victory engenders responsibility for the defeated; defeat demands fealty to a victor. Fealty is not the goal of a victorious leader who seeks lasting peace.

Peace among nations has a price. John Dower’s reflection on WWII and Japan holds lessons for today’s American leadership and Putin’s folly.

John Dower, in “Embracing Defeat”, endeavors to picture Japan’s condition; i.e. the state of its economy and its people, after surrender in WWII. 

History’s complexity is difficult to capture in words.  Dower makes an effort to explain the context of post war Japan by showing Japanese attitude in media reports and literature of the time.  The irony of Dower’s effort is that media reports and literature are censored by Allied forces, particularly the United States. This is not unlike Vladimir Putin’s control of Russian media during the Ukraine invasion. Putin will undoubtedly use that control to soft petal a hopeful settlement, though unlikely palliative acceptance by Ukraine.

Dower covers the history of an American white wash of Hirohito’s war complicity and responsibility.  The American government uses Hirohito to make occupation and influence in Japan more acceptable to its population.  It became politically expedient to hide Hirohito’s true involvement in Japan’s war plans. 

Dower reports on post-war trials of Japanese military and government leaders; i.e. Dower writes about trial testimony of Japan’s WWII’ atrocities but his history shows that victor’ justice is not necessarily victim’ justice.

Hideki Tojo as hero and/or goat–tried and convicted; sentenced to a prison in which he dies. Tojo refuses to implicate the Emperor in his actions during the war.

In spite of (partly because of) American military occupation of Japan, financial aid is misdirected and food goods and material are stolen, a black market develops, gangs are formed, and corruption thrives. (Sounds like Iraq after America’s invasion.).  Prostitution became a way of making a living, and immoral behavior became semi-acceptable because of rising poverty.

A case in point today is the President of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro. Are his actions a “crime against humanity” or is he fighting for his country’s independence?

Economic sanctions are as likely to punish the innocent as the guilty in countries that fight for their own identity. One’s interest is peaked by Japan’s experience after WWII because of the current Middle East muddle. 

Syria, Iraq, and Iran are challenged by domestic unrest and punitive actions by non-indigenous forces.  These three countries are particularly impacted by military and/or economic pressures from outsiders.  What is going to happen in those countries?  Are there any clues in the great change that occurred in Japan after WWII?

General MacArthur assumed the role of “Dear Leader”, treating the Japanese like 12-year-olds that were to be taught the ways of Democracy with a capital “D”.  This role by MacArthur in post war Japan is accepted by many Japanese because of centuries of Imperial control, exemplified by Emperor Hirohito.

Dower also suggests that a large part of General MacArthur’s success is due to Major Bonner Fellers, a Japanese scholar that predicted Japan’s war several years before the attack on Pearl Harbor.  Major Fellers’ respect and understanding of Japanese culture and his influence contributes much to the success of American policy in post war Japan. 

One may hope for a similar go-between if a settlement can be reached between Russia and Ukraine.

Fellers recognizes Japan’s people, with new found freedom, are inwardly driven toward a capitalist philosophy inherent in democracy.  The Japanese did not abandon their ideas of production, the ideas of small business cooperation to achieve common goals.  Those ideas made them a military behemoth in the 1920s.  They redirected that belief system toward domestically driven capitalism. Japan became a dominant 20th century economic power. Japan’s experience suggests that freedom will not be denied but how it exhibits is a mystery wrapped in nation’s histories, beliefs, and practices.

Are there equivalents of “Major Bonner Fellers” to guide America’s policy toward other countries like Venezuela the Middle East, and today’s Russia/Ukraine conflict?

America can help or hinder a peoples’ drive for freedom but where it leads in Venezuela, Iraq, Iran, or Ukraine must be their peoples’ decision.

Nature abhors a vacuum (Spinoza).  The centralized governments and economies of Venezuela, Syria, Iraq, Iran, and Ukraine will be occupied democratically, autocratically, or some combination thereof, when domestic tumult subsides. 

A peaceful settlement of the Russia/Ukraine war will be difficult. Outside countries cannot mandate lasting peace within other countries; let alone their own country. Sovereignty should be recognized as an inalienable right. It is not America’s or other countries’ job to pick winners and losers.


Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough


A People’s History of the United States

Written by: Howard Zinn

Narrated by:  Jeff Zinn

Howard Zinn (American Historian, Author) November 19, 2009. Photo By: Rob Kim/Everett Collection

The pitfall of history is subjectivity.  Howard Zinn offers a coda for history’s myopia.  Harry Truman is alleged to have said “There is nothing new in the world except the history you do not know”.  Zinn shows how little Americans know about America’s failure to create a “…more perfect union” (a name given to a speech delivered by Senator Barack Obama on March 18, 2008).

No American institution is untarnished by Zinn’s rumination.  Zinn challenges every aspect of American culture.  The malpractice of American businesses, politicians, and society are exposed by Zinn.  Neither Republicans, Democrats, or other party affiliates, escape responsibility for America’s abhorrent actions. 

Unadorned historical facts show Indians indiscriminately isolated and murdered, Blacks treated as property and hung, immigrants vilified for being different, wars being waged on the innocent, women being treated unequally, and greed being praised as virtue–all in the face of professed American freedom and equality.

Zinn implies all Presidents; including Lincoln, Roosevelt, Truman, Carter, Reagan, Clinton, the Bushes, and Obama buy into an economic principle that the business of America is business.  (He certainly could have included President Trump.) 

With few exceptions, Zinn argues every President tacitly or overtly supports corporate America.  The only Presidential exception Zinn notes is Eisenhower’s expressed concern about the military/industrial complex and its penchant for distorting American values.

Zinn recounts Andrew Jackson’s isolation and murder of Indians, Lincoln’s willingness to preserve the union at the cost of slavery, Andrew Johnson’s southern sympathies, Roosevelt’s incarceration of American Japanese, Harry Truman’s decision to nuke Nagasaki and Hiroshima, Carter’s support for Iran’s military dictatorship, Reagan’s expansion of the military/industrial complex, Clinton’s cuts in taxes and welfare, the Bushes’ wars, and Obama’s rescue of the banking industry. 

Zinn argues—both Republican and Democratic presidents endorse corporate control of America at the expense of citizen values written into the Constitution. 

From discrimination against minorities to unequal pay for women, America has failed to follow the ideals of the Constitution of the United States.

Zinn implies there is never a justification for war; presumably even in the case of WWII. 

Some Americans would agree that Vietnam, Korea, Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan wars were and are a waste of human lives. 

This is a hard argument to dispute when seen in the context of a burgeoning gap between rich and poor, and man’s inhumanity to man.  One might argue as some historians do, sovereignty of a country is an inalienable right, even when it is ignored or used as an excuse for war.

Zinn argues there is no moral or ethical justification for political repression, murder, slavery, sexual or racial discrimination.  (That begs the question of a war’s justification in light of Nazi Germany’s intent to exterminate all Jews.)

But, Zinn argues the right of sovereign nations to choose their own government.  Genocide is a potential consequence of such a hard rule when a minority only has a right to resist and/or revolt. That is in the news today in regard to Myanmar and the Rohingya.

Suu Kyi Defends Myanmar from the accusation of genocide.

What nation (based on its own cultural belief) has the right to invade another country that chooses to victimize its own citizens.

Zinn is not suggesting countries should become isolationists. He argues that to the extent that humanitarian relief may be offered by an outside country, it should be offered.  Relief would not include transfer of weapons of war, but aid in goods and services meant to sustain life.  Outside military intervention in a sovereign country seems destined only to lead to more loss of innocent life.

Taking Zinn’s observations to heart suggests there is no justification for war or violence against our fellow man.  However, human nature is what it is.  Humans choose what they choose; often out of the instinctual desire for money, power, and prestige, rather than any common good.  Individual cultures are based on memes of the country in which they were born. 

Invasion of a sovereign country is a slippery slope that only leads to more death and destruction.  However, Zinn’s review of history seems to deny all reasons for war. There seem two modern exceptions to Zinn’s argument.

Nazi Concentration Camp WWII

WWII and the way H. W. Bush handled the invasion of Kuwait.  These two exceptions are clearly related to one country’s violation of another’s sovereignty. In both cases, America’s Presidents enlisted cooperation from other countries, before taking any military action.

It is a dangerous world, but the danger is in human beings and their quest for personal gain; i.e. their greed for money, power, and prestige.  America needs to look at itself and its reliance on corporate excess.  The gap between rich and poor must be addressed in all nations; not the least of which, the United States.  Zinn reminds America of how flawed we are in “A People’s History of the United States”.


Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough


Currency Wars

By James Rickards

Narrated by Walter Dixon



This is a disturbing book because it brings a wolf to the door.  The wolf may blow your house down whether it is made of brick or straw.

Herman Cain (Previous Presidential candidate, Tea Party Activist who believes in returning to a gold standard for the American dollar. Most recently, President Trump tried, unsuccessfully, to have Cain appointed to the Federal Reserve Board.)

President Trump’s harangue about the independence of the Federal Reserve is old news. Packing the Federal Reserve has been done before. The selection of Herman Cain reflects on an Executive branch that lives in the past.

James Rickards infers the sky is falling because we are in a war that cannot be won without returning the American dollar to a gold standard.  The argument is that returning to a gold standard will create a level playing field for currency that will stabilize the economy and break down barriers to free trade; i.e. not free trade exactly but regulated trade.  Somehow, currency backed up by gold will be more stable than the full faith and credit of a government—really?


What is roiling the market today is a trade war; not currency manipulation.

Gold was over $1600 per ounce when Rickards was published.  It ranged between $1529 and $1800 per ounce since this was published.  Without a fixed standard, Rickards argues national economic security is at risk.  Rickards argues that America has fought two currency wars in its history and is now in the middle of its third war, using weapons that cannot defend America in a currency war. 


America is part of a world market; not a singular self-sufficient economic island. 

Trade wars between nations is twentieth century thinking.  World interconnection through travel, media, and education demand constructive cooperation between nation-state economies.  It is economic improvement of all nations that makes each nation stronger.  As national economies improve, free trade flourishes.  It is a waste of human life to engage in restrictive trade policies or artificial standards of value like gold.



Rickards believes Bernanke, in 2012-13, misreads a primary cause of the depression.  Rickards believes Bernanke is steering the U.S.’ economy into a ditch.  He argues that “quantitative easing” is a road to hyper-inflation and economic calamity because it artificially stimulates the economy with newly printed money that has no intrinsic value.

Rickards goes on to suggest the Euro crises are examples of currency instability and the unpredictability of many battles being fought in the currency wars.  His assessment is that political interests of China and Germany are the only glue that keeps countries like Greece from economic collapse.

Rickards is an attorney and an economist.  That makes him capable of structuring an argument about the economy with more credibility than a bumbling blogger.  However, to this bumbler, Rickards’ arguments are specious.

First, other economists disagree with Rickard’s considered argument about the gold standard, Ben Bernanke for one.  Second, what evidence is there that one country’s decision to return to a gold standard will reduce economic conflict among nations?   Finally, history shows Rickards to be wrong in terms of America being steered into a ditch.  One can reasonably argue that Bernanke’s, Geithner’s, and Paulson’s actions kept America out of a ditch.

In contrast, it appears President Trump may be steering the American economy into an economic ditch.


Countries are run by different government philosophies, different national interests, and rely on different economic resources—how will creating a gold standard for currency in one country or all countries reduce conflicting self-interests?  The currency war will not be changed with a return to the gold standard, i.e., currency wars will continue and evolve based on whatever standard is used for currency to determine value.


The gold standard is not a magic bean that can be exchanged for a milk cow.  There is no bean stock to golden egg land.

Geo-political thinking and self-interest do not change because of a gold pegged American dollar.  Currency conflicts will not disappear, i.e., they will re-set to commodity wars, or maybe bitcoin wars.  America is as capable as any post-industrial nation to compete on that basis.

Rickards observes the trillion-dollar American Treasury bill hoard held by China and sees the sword of Damocles raised to slice America’s neck.  Why would Jack want to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs?  America is “Mr. and Mrs. Consumer” on steroids.


Currency wars are real, but America has fought them before with results that have made it the bully of the world.  Maybe America needs to learn how to be a little humbler rather than gamble on a currency play or trade war that has as much chance of causing as curing world economic collapse.

Consumption is threatening humanity.  Human resource should be deployed to improve living standards of all people, but economies that strictly focus on consumption are killing the golden goose.

Work on the environment is truly an improvement that “lifts all boats”.  Better waste management, clean water, clean air, and education are investments with infinite returns.  Wars of any kind between nations is twentieth century thinking.


Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough


What Is the What

By: Dave Eggers

Narrated by Dion Graham

As Ronald Reagan famously said in his successful campaign against Jimmy Carter, “There you go again”.

Dave Eggers writes another book about a tragic human event. However, Eggers avoids character controversy like that which followed “Zeitoun”, a story about the Katrina disaster.

Eggers classifies “What Is the What” as a novel, without any claim to source-vetted facts or the integrity of its primary character.



“What Is the What” is about Sudan and its 20th century genocidal history. This is a story of the complex religious, ethnic, and moral conflict that exists in Sudan and in all nations peopled by extremes of wealth and poverty.

“What Is the What” is a tautology exemplified by a story of one who has something, knows it, and another that has nothing, and knows not why. 

Valentino Achak Deng, the hero of Eggar’s story, tells of his father. Achak’s father explains the story of “What is the What”.

God offers man a choice of cows or something called the What.  God asks, “Do you want the cows or the What? 

But, man asks, “What is the What”?  God says, “The What is for you to decide.” 

Achak’s father explains that with cows a man has something; he learns how to care for something; becomes a good caretaker of a life-sustaining something, but a man who has no cows has nothing, learns nothing about caring; and only becomes a taker of other’s something.

By mixing truth with fiction, Eggers cleverly reveals the story of Sudan’s “lost boys”, refugees from the murderous regime of President Al-Bashir in Sudan.  At every turn, Achak is faced with hard choices. 

Omar Al-Bashir is deposed in April 2019 after almost 30 years in power.

Omar Al-Bashir, a Muslim Sudanese military leader who becomes President, releases dogs of war by condoning the rape and pillage of indigenous Sudanese by Muslim extremists.  It is partly a religious war of Muslims against Christians but, more fundamentally, it is about greed.

Greed is engendered by oil reserves found in southern Sudan in 1978.  Bashir strikes a match that ignites a guerrilla war.  Eggers reveals the consequence of that war in the story of Achak, one of thousands of lost boys that fled Sudan when their parents were robbed, raped, and murdered.  Bashir’s intent was to rid Sudan of an ethnic minority that held lands in southern Sudan.

Eggers cleverly begins his story with Achak being robbed in Atlanta, Georgia.  But, this is America; not Sudan.

Robbers knock on Achak’s door with a request to use his telephone.  Achak is pistol whipped, tied, and trapped in his apartment while his and his roommate’s goods are stolen.

There is much to be taken from the apartment.  The robbers leave a young boy to guard Achak while they leave to get a larger vehicle to remove the stolen goods.


Achak identifies with the young boy.  Achak recalls his life in Sudan and his escape to America; i.e.the  land of the free; the land of opportunity.  Achak sees the young boy as himself, victimized by life’s circumstances, hardened by poverty, and mired in the “What” (the takers of other’s something).

Eggers continues to juxtapose the consequence of poverty and powerlessness in Atlanta with Achak’s experience in Sudan. Achak’s roommate returns to the apartment to find Achak tied and gagged in an emptied apartment.  He releases Achak.

They call the police to report the robbery and assault.  An officer arrives to investigate.  The police officer listens, takes brief notes, offers no hope for the victims, and leaves; i.e., just another case of poor people being victimized by poor people.

The episode reminds one of the Sudanese government’s abandonment of the “lost boys”.  They are citizens governed by leaders who look to rule-of-law for the rich, and powerful; not the  poor and powerless.  They are leaders of the “what” (takers of other’s something); rather than leaders of all citizens.

Crowded emergency room waiting area.

Achak has been injured in the robbery.  He goes to a hospital emergency room for help.  Achak waits for nine hours to be seen by a radiologist.  He presumes it is because he has no insurance but it is really because he has no power. 

He has enough money to pay for treatment but without insurance, this emergency room puts Achak on a “when we can get around to it” list.  The doctor who can read the radiology film is not due for another three hours; presumably when his regular work day begins.  Achak waits for eleven hours and finally decides to leave.  It is 3:00 am and he has to be at work at 5:30 am.

As Achak waits for the doctor he remembers his experience in Sudan.  When the Muslim extremists first attack his village, many boys of his village, and surrounding villages are orphaned.  These orphans have nowhere to go.  By plan or circumstance the lost boys are assembled by a leader who has the outward-appearing objective of protecting the children.  The reality of the “what” (takers of other’s something) raises its head when the children are recruited by this leader for the “red army” of South Sudan (aka SPLA or Sudan People’s Liberation Army).


The reality of the “what” (takers of other’s something) raises its head when Sudanese children are recruited by this leader for the “red army” of South Sudan (aka SPLA or Sudan People’s Liberation Army).


These are boys of 8, 9, 10, 11 years of age.  This army-of-recruits begins a march from South Sudan to Ethiopia, a journey of over 700 miles, gathering more orphans as they travel across Sudan.  Along the way, they become food for lions, and crocodiles; they are reviled as outsiders by frightened villagers and, unbeknownst to Achak and many of the boys—they are meant to become seeds of a revolution to overthrow Al-Bashir’s repressive government.  These children are to be educated and trained in Ethiopia to fight for the independence of South Sudan.  They are led by leaders of the “what” (takers of other’s something).

The lost boys are victims of believers in the “what”.  Achak and other Sudanese’ refugees walk, run, and swim a river to arrive in Kenya, hundreds of miles south of Ethiopia.  Some Sudanese were shot by Ethiopians; some were eaten by crocodiles; some died from disease and starvation.


Then, in 1991, Ethiopia’s government changes.  The lost boys, a part of an estimated 20,000 Sudanese’ refugees, are forcibly ejected by the new government.

The Sudanese’ refugees arrive in Kakuma, Kenya.  Achak says Kakuma is a Swahili word for “nowhere”.  In 1992, it becomes home to an estimated 138,000 refugees who fled from several different warring African nations.  The SPLA remains a part of the refugee camp but their recruiting activity is mitigated in this new environment.  The camp is somewhat better organized but meals are limited to one per day with disease and wild animals as ever-present dangers.  Education classes are supported by Kenya, Japan, and the United Nations to help refugees manage themselves and escape their past.

Achak survives these ordeals and reflects on his unhappiness in Atlanta, Georgia.  Achak clearly acknowledges how much better living in America is than living in Africa. However, Achak makes the wry suggestion that Sudanese settlement in America changed his countrymen from abusers to killers of their women.

He suggests Sudanese killing of their women is because of freedom.  He explains freedom exercised by women in America is missing in Sudan.  In Sudan, Sudanese women would not think of doing something contrary to wishes of their husbands.  Achak infers Sudanese women adapt to freedom while Sudanese men feel emasculated.  The emasculation leads to deadly force in Sudanese families; a deadly force that includes murder of wives or girlfriends and suicide by male companions.


Eggers successfully and artistically reveals the tragedy of Sudan.  Cultural and religious conflict in the world and American freedom are called into question.  The cultural belief of parts of the Middle East, Africa, and America drive Achak from nation to nation.  Achak, despite misgivings, appears to love America.  But, American democracy is no utopia. Achak realizes no system of government is perfect.  His ambition is to educate himself and his home country.  Achak realizes education is the key to a life well lived.

What is the What?  Ironically, it is more than cows; it is education that combats cultural ignorance and celebrates freedom and equal opportunity for all.

Eggers story implies America needs to re-think its policy on immigration.  We are a nation of immigrants.  Achak’s story highlights what is wrong with America and other parts of the world.  But it also shows the “what” (“the ‘what’ that is for you to decide”) can be made better because it is more than cows.


Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough


The Pope and Mussolini: The Secret History of Pius XI and the Rise of Fascism in Europe

Written by: David I. Kertzer

Narration by:  Stefan Rudnicki



David Kertzer reminds society that organized religion is only human.  Religions are subject to the goodness and sins of human nature.  Whether one believes in a Supreme Being or not, actions of organized religion are freighted with human error.

Kertzer is only one of many who have exposed the perfidy of organized religion.  His target, in “The Pope and Mussolini, is the Roman Catholic Church.

Cardinal Ratti becomes Pope Pius XI during the ascension of European Fascism and Nazism in the 1920s and 30s.  Ratti is characterized as a pedantic, conservative, and sometimes bellicose Christian believer in the Roman Catholic Church.  As a religious pedant rather than trailblazer, Pope Pius XI focuses on returning Roman Catholicism to a former time of independence and influence.  No price appears too high; Pope Pius XI’s purchase price paves the way for state Fascism (total control of government and society) in Italy.

POPE PIUS XI (1857-1939)

POPE PIUS XI (1857-1939) Cardinal Ratti becomes Pope Pius XI.  Ratti is characterized as a pedantic, conservative, and sometimes bellicose Christian believer in the Roman Catholic Church.

Kertzer recounts early 19th century history of the Roman Catholic Church.  The secular government of Italy confiscates Church lands. That taking decimated Catholic wealth, restricted Popes to the Vatican grounds, and reduced Papal control of the Holy See.  More significantly, it reduced the church’s power to influence believers.  After 1860 and until the Lateran Treaty negotiated between Mussolini and Pope Pius XI, the Church is treated as a part of the state of Italy, subject to secular rule.

Pope Pius XI agrees to support the government of Benito Mussolini in 1929 in return for the creation of an independent Papal State in Rome.  Mussolini agrees to pay the church approximately $100 million for formally confiscated church land.  Pope Pius XI acquires for himself and future Popes the right of independent rule, religious interpretation, and Catholic dictation.  In return Mussolini gains the support of the Roman Catholic Church, the dissolution of Catholic political parties, and a title as II Duce, “The Leader” of Italy.   At the stroke of a pen, Mussolini becomes a hero of Italian Catholics (over 90% of the population) and the totalitarian leader of Italy.



Kertzer notes there are common goals for Mussolini and Pius XI in the Lateran treaty which separates church from state.  Both covet power.  Both dislike the idea of a Catholic party interfering with religious or state matters.  Both desire elimination of factional interference in government and religion; i.e. Mussolini’s Fascist control of government and the Pope’s control of Church doctrine.

Seeking sovereign independence of the Holy Sea. Pius XI becomes head of state of the smallest state in the world.  $100 million is paid to the church for confiscated land since 1860.

Pius XI is the first Pope to broadcast on radio in the early 1920s.  With the Lateran Treaty of 1929, the Papal State is created; after 58 years of refusal to become part of Italy.  Prisoners in the Vatican before 1929, the Lateran Treaty required elimination of the Catholic Italian Popular Party, a political organization.


An unintended consequence was to reinforce Fascism in Italy.  With the ascension of Pope Pius the XII, the Nazi government is solidified.  The trade-off for the Roman Catholic church  is an increase in international influence.   At the same time, pagan worship of fascism by Church youth groups diminishes the church’s moral stature. 


Pope Pius XI refuses to excommunicate Hitler, Mussolini gravitates to Nazism, and Pius XII ignores Nazi atrocity.

The Lateran treaty is a slippery slope for both Nazi Germany and the Roman Catholic Church.  Mussolini and Pius XI are blinded by hubris and false piety.


Mussolini is shot by his countrymen, hung by his heals for destroying people’s freedom, and losing a war that compromised and betrayed his county.  Pius XI compromises his morals and paves the way for Pius XII, a closet Christian anti-Semite, who becomes a Hitler’ stooge by tacitly endorsing the immorality of belief in ethnic purity.

The closing years of Pius XI’s reign is marked by a closer association with democracies as the Western nations and the Vatican found both were threatened by totalitarian regimes and ideologies of Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin.  However, with Pius XI’s death and ascension of Pope Pius XII, distinction between totalitarianism and democracy diminishes.

Pope Pius XII—Hitler’s Pope.  FORMER CARDINAL PACELLI Hitler and the roman catholic church: <iframe width=”854″ height=”510″ src=”; frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen>


Kertzer offers insight to what really happened in Italy in the 1920s, 30s, and early 40s but the story resonates with all organized religions.  Jewish isolation of Palestinians, ISIL’s attempt to resurrect the Caliphate, Muslim repression of Kurds, Taliban Muslim cruelty in Afghanistan, Chinese suppression of Uighurs, and Protestant proselytizing around the world are cut from the same flawed fabric; i.e. the flawed fabric of human interpretation of humanly manufactured texts and religions. 


In the name of God, organized religion’s killings continue.  If there is a God, he/she is not evil; i.e. only humans are evil.


Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough


Fives and Twenty-Fives Fives and Twenty-Fives

Written by: Michael Pitre

Narration by:  Kevin T. Collins, Nick Sullivan, Jay Snyder, Fajer Al-Kaisi


The simple part of any war is having friends and enemies; the hard part is in knowing the difference.  “Fives and Twenty Fives” shows the simplicity and complexity of all wars.  Any veteran of the American military knows that part of basic training is building a team of soldiers to form a comradeship as strong as civilian friendship.  However, the difference between civilian and military friendship is the underlying command and control requirements of military organizations.

The author of “Fives and Twenty Fives” is an ex-Marine.  His novel is about friendship; i.e. more fundamentally about friendship on both sides of a war.

The author of “Fives and Twenty Fives” is an ex-Marine.  His novel is about friendship; i.e. more fundamentally about friendship on both sides of a war.

Unlike the American Civil War, the war in Iraq requires language interpreters.  Most interpreters are in-country natives and have not gone through conventional military basic training.

The theater of war in Michael Pitre’s novel is Iraq.  Unlike the American Civil War, the war in Iraq requires language interpreters.  Most interpreters are in-country natives and have not gone through conventional military basic training.  Command and control is learned by most of these interpreters “on the fly”.  Friendship is earned by experience rather than training.  Pitre introduces Dodge, the Iraqi interpreter, for a Marine team led by Lieutenant Donovan.

Dodge introduces an underlying theme of “Fives and Twenty Fives” in a conversation with Lieutenant Donovan.  Dodge explains that he has no friends because when one chooses friends, the choice entails responsibility and accountability.  Dodge is a Sunni, the religious faction associated with Saddam Hussein.  He speaks fluent English and studies Huckleberry Finn, a book he carries with him everywhere, to better understand American culture.  There are several allusions to the story of Huckleberry Finn that reinforce the theme of friendship; i.e. its implied responsibility and accountability.

During his nearly four years as a translator for U.S. forces in Iraq, Saman Kareem Ahmad was known for bravery and hard work.  However, like one of Pitre’s  main characters, “Dodge”, Ahmad is denied an American green card at the end of the war.

COMPASSION ON THE BATTLEFIELD IN IRAQ – It is not exactly clear but Dodge seems to have chosen, by circumstance of war, to support freedom by making friends with a platoon medic that is singularly focused on saving lives.

Dodge’s father led the Agricultural Ministry of Saddam Hussein.  His father became a leader of the resistance to America’s invasion of Iraq.  Dodge loves his father but chooses to stay at an Iraqi university rather than follow him into the resistance.  It is not exactly clear but Dodge seems to have chosen, by circumstance of war, to support freedom by making friends with a platoon medic that is singularly focused on saving lives.

drug use in war
When a platoon soldier is ambushed, Dodge’s medic-friend is restrained by Lieutenant Donovan because he believes the soldier is dead.  After the incident, the medic turns to drug addiction to escape the reality of his friend’s death.

When a platoon soldier is ambushed, Dodge’s medic-friend is restrained by Lieutenant Donovan because he believes the soldier is dead.  After the incident, the medic turns to drug addiction to escape the reality of his friend’s death.  The medic is brought up on charges when the Lieutenant reports him for suspected drug use.  He receives a general discharge which affects his future civilian life.  The Lieutenant chooses not to be the medic’s friend in that arrest incident but meets the medic after the war with a different perspective; maybe not as friends, but as fellow human beings intimately affected by war.

ZINE EL ABIDINE BEN ALI (2ND PRESIDENT OF TUNISIA SENTENCED FOR MONEY LAUNDERING AND DRUG TRAFFICKING) Later in Pitre’s story, a reader listener finds Dodge chooses to become a part of a resistance to the repressive regime of Ben Ali in Tunisia.

Later in the story, a reader listener finds Dodge chooses to become a part of a resistance to the repressive regime of Ben Ali in Tunisia.  Dodge becomes friends with the resistance movement that needs his English-speaking voice to tell the world of Ben Ali’s repression.  Dodge is not a Tunisian but recognizes the human drive to resist oppression, and the need to be part of something greater than oneself.  Dodge chooses to be a friend of the oppressed.

Michael Pitre compels a listener to look at mistakes made by America in Iraq.  It may have been morally right to remove Saddam Hussein.  However, the decision to deny participation by Hussein’s army officers and Hussein’ administrative personnel in government transition was an error of epic consequence.

Vetted Hussein army officers and administrative personnel, with monitored performance measures, might have avoided Iraq’s spiral into chaos.  One considers the value of interpreters like Dodge who are from families that worked in the corrupt Hussein administration.  Dodge appears to have an inner moral compass that could have helped America in its intent to provide a pacific transition from totalitarianism to peace in Iraq.

There are good and bad people in every government.  Undoubtedly, there were some Iraqi Army leaders and Hussein administrators that could have become friends rather than enemies of fellow Iraqis and American’ invaders.   If America’s leaders had been more discriminating and understanding, ISIL may have never risen.  The simple part of any war is having friends and enemies; the hard part is in knowing the difference.

Post script: Now America is leaving Afghanistan.  One hopes those Afghani’s that served NATO and America’s involvement in Afghanistan will not be treated as forgotten friends.  Since Vietnam,  one doubts history will either justify or vindicate American military intervention in other countries.


Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough


The Illustrated Manthe illustrated man
By Ray Bradbury

Narrated by Paul Michael Garcia

RAY BRADBURY (1920-2012)
RAY BRADBURY (1920-2012)

Flights of imagination sparkle and spin in this updated 1950s  Ray Bradbury classic.  This compendium of Bradbury’ tales is titled “The Illustrated Man”.


Bradbury spins stories; reminding one of late night re-runs of Rod Serling’s “Twilight Zone”.  Every episode sparkles with stars and planets, habitable by man but riddled with fear, death, and destruction.  Bradbury grasps human nature and turns it against itself by writing stories that illustrate man’s selfishness, insecurity, wantonness, and aggression.

Tattoos come alive on rippling skin to act out a series of plays about mankind’s future.  Everyone fears the illustrated man because his tattoos expose the worst in man.  Belief that nuclear cataclysm will end life on earth blooms like a mushroom cloud.  Traveling to other planets changes mankind’s environment but man’s nature remains the same.

THE ILLUSTRATED MAN (PLAYED BY ROD STEIGER IN A 1969 MOVIE) Tattoos come alive on rippling skin to act out a series of plays about mankind’s future.

AYN RAND (1905-1982)
AYN RAND (1905-1982, AUTHOR WHO FIRMLY BELIEVED IN THE VIRTUE OF SELF-INTEREST) Unregulated self-interest is a dangled reward stolen by one to keep it from the many; in the end the reward is destroyed by the selfishness of each against the other.)

These are not happy stories but they are great flights of imagination.  Bradbury tells a story of human exile and deprivation that exacerbates selfishness when personal reward is dangled in front of exiled and deprived human beings.  The dangled reward is stolen by one to keep it from the many; in the end the reward is destroyed by the selfishness of each against the other.

Insecurity is a devouring beast in the story of a planet blessed by an appearance of a Visitor (presumably Jesus) just before a rocket ship lands on the planet that has been visited.  The captain disbelieves it has happened and is driven to track down this Visitor rather than settle in the insecure surroundings of a unblessed world.  The captain is left to wander the universe, never to arrive in time to actually see the Visitor.

Insecurity is a devouring beast in the story of a planet blessed by an appearance of a Visitor (presumably Jesus) just before a rocket ship lands on the planet that has been visited.  The captain disbelieves it has happened and is driven to track down this Visitor rather than settle in the insecure surroundings of a unblessed world.

Wantonness is illustrated by Bradbury’s story of an unhappily married man. 

Wantonness is illustrated by the husband that is unhappily married.  He duplicates himself.  His duplicate takes his place beside his wife so he can buy a ticket to Rio to exercise his fantasy.  The duplicate is so perfect it becomes as human as the husband.  The duplicate places the wanton husband in a box to die, and buys a ticket to Rio for his wife to accompany it in its fantasy.

Human kind is aggressive.  Humans conquer and destroy civilizations.  One world of the future prepares for a second visit from mankind by becoming the image of a City.  This image devours the men of the second visit and assumes their bodies; i.e. the City image is transformed into the bodies of the humans from this second visit.  The City image plans to return to earth to destroy those who had destroyed them.

Human kind is aggressive.  When human’s conquer or destroy others, others rise to  destroy those who had destroyed them. An endless circle of life where agression eats itself.

Bradbury is a master story-teller.  Paul Michael Garcia’s narration is a tribute to Bradbury’s skill.