Mind Fixers (Psychiatry’s Troubled Search for the Biology of Mental Illness)
By: Anne Harrington
Narrated by: Joyce Bean
Anne Harrington (Author, historian, Ph.D. in the History of Science from Oxford.)
Anne Harrington’s history is a reminder of the particular importance of psychiatry. Harrington explains how psychiatry evolved from quackery to a respectable treatment, if not cure, for mental dysfunction. Like treatment for cancer, the history of psychiatry ranges from brutality to rehabilitative treatment for damaged lives.
The initial interpretation of aberrant human behavior is noted as a neurological disorder, a diagnosis of disordered nerves.
Harrington notes a neurological explanation of psychiatry changes in the early 19th century. In the 1800s, it seems treatment for people who were tetched were generally isolated in asylums or cared for by immediate family members who dealt with patient aberrant behavior by isolation and/or restraint. The idea of treatment and cure is limited, if not non-existent in that century.
In the 20th century, neurological interpretation of psychiatric disorder is expanded. Sigmund Freud becomes famous by treating patients who exhibit abnormal social behavior by delving into their family histories.
Freud develops theories of psycho-sexual development from detailed interpretation of patient interviews about their lives. Psychoanalysis becomes an integral part of psychiatry as defined by neurologists, though each suspects the other as less effective in treating psychological imbalance.
The third stage of development in psychiatry is drug treatment. New drugs are expensive to develop, but once an effective drug is found, its value is immense.
The big drug treatment breakthrough is in the 1950s with Chlorpromazine (aka Thorazine) that treats psychotic disorders like schizophrenia. Its limitations were found in its application when the patient becomes anesthetized, uncaring about life and living.
A part of Harrington’s story is about other disciplines that deny scientific discovery and believe Christian Scientists, Scientologists, or faith in God as the best therapy for psychiatric maladies.
WWI, WWII, and surprisingly post Covid19 are wake-up calls for psychiatry. Though recovery from war is not the same as recovery from a pandemic, social reintegration is similar for both returning war veterans and pandemic survivors. Americans who survived war and those surviving Covid19 show similar social reintegration problems.
United States cases
Updated Mar 4 at 2:32 PM local
Isolation during Covid 19 created “foxhole” relationships in families that changed the social dynamic of relationships and individual roles in society.
There seems a need today for as much psychiatric help for Americans after the pandemic as Harrington writes about after two world wars. One might argue the rise in 21st century crime, unemployed young, and homelessness is partly a consequence of recovery from the pandemic.
Irvin D. Yalom (Author, Doctor of Medicine, professor of psychiatry at Stanford University.)
Harrington’s history of the evolution of psychiatry offers a possible cure, or at least improvement for what ails 21st Century America. That improvement is expensive. The question every American might ask themselves–are more jobs all that is needed? Listening or reading “Mind Fixers” implies jobs are only a part of the answer.
The China Challenge: Shaping the Choices of a Rising Power
By: Thomas Christensen
Narrated by: Alan Sklar
Thomas J. Christensen (Author, American political scientist, professor of international relations at Columbia University, advisor to U.S. Presidents.)
Thomas Christensen addresses “The China Challenge” with a capsulized history of communist party’ leadership from Mao to Xi. Christensen offers perspective to China’s support of North Korea, Syria, Iran, and Russia in the 21st century.
North Korea is losing the war when Mao commits the Chinese Army that pushes American troops back to the 38th parallel. That demarcation became part of a peace agreement that created two nation-states, North and South Korea. Despite the obvious domestic mistakes of the Great Famine and Cultural Revolution, Mao’s entry to the Korean war made him a revered hero to China and the communist party. Mao’s nearly divine adoration is evident to anyone who visits Beijing’s Memorial Hall Mausoleum in Tiananmen Square.
Nationalism and history are at the heart of China’s support of non-western countries. Though “The China Challenge” is published in 2015, before Ukraine’s invasion, it offers insight to China’s response to international events that seem irrational to many western citizens. Christensen’s history disabuses reader/listeners of Xi’s irrationality. Mao’s resolve in the Korean war reinforces President Xi’s belief in the utility and strength of the Chinese Communist Party.
North Korea—The brutality of the Korean war killed an estimated 1,500,000 North Koreans, and 716,000 Chinese
Development difference between South and North Korea exemplified by light projection at night.
Christensen notes the importance of China’s tempering influence on North Korean provocation while refusing to treat North Korean leadership as either rogue or irrational.
Contrary to George Bush’s monumental mistakes in Iraq, Christensen shows the American administration’s concerted effort to stop North Korea’s nuclear bomb ambitions. Along with Bush’s successful diplomatic effort to reduce tension with China over Taiwan by speaking of a “one China policy”, the Bush administration puts an economic initiative together for American economic support of North Korea in return for denuclearization. China supports the effort, but North Korea turns it down.
Christensen is unable to disclose the details of an economic package for North Korea in return for denuclearization but George Bush’s success in getting China’s support is remarkable and largely unrealized by the public.
Syria—Despite the brutality of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, China maintains close ties with Syria because of Xi’s belief in defending Syria’s independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity. This is a consistent posture of China regarding other nations hostile to democracy.
Bashar al-Assad, President of Syria
Xi consistently supports authoritarian rulers’ right to rule without interference from outside interests.
Xi believes every nation has a right to rule without interference from outside interests. An added economic reason is Iran’s supply of oil and petrochemicals to China.
Russia— Russia’s invasion of Ukraine Xi is not considered. The invasion is not addressed by Christensen because it had not happened at the time of this book. Russia’s invasion seems a violation of the sovereignty principal Xi endorses. Ukraine’s history as once being a part of the U.S.S.R. gives political spin to Xi. Of course, this relates to China’s interest in repatriating Taiwan. An interesting point noted by Christensen about Taiwan is America’s choice to provide F-16s for their defense during George Bush ‘s administration, contrasting with President Biden’s statement that any supply of arms by China to Russia will have consequences. Biden reminds Xi of the many corporations that left Russia when they invaded Ukraine. One wonders about America’s threat to Xi if China chooses to provide arms to Russia. In light of America’s supply of F-16s to Taiwan, Xi might not care about the economic consequence of American companies leaving China.
Christensen implies there is a love/hate relationship between Russia and China. The love is Xi’s policy of non-intervention in a countries sovereignty. The hate is the history of Chinese leaders who chose the path of communism and found Russia abandoned Stalinist beliefs that Mao supported. Xi is an authoritarian. He believes in the importance of the communist party and uses it to achieve nationalist objectives.
Christensen goes on to write about global warming and the world’s inadequate response.
Over 60% of the world’s pollution is caused by four government jurisdictions, i.e., America, China, the E.U., and India. China and America alone cause 40% of the pollution. On a per-capita basis, America is the worst, but China shows the most visible impact, measured by air quality and water. In a trip to China, one can see the main rivers in China are loaded with refuse.
At times, air pollution is so thick in Beijing that one cannot safely drive a car because drivers are unable to see the road or other vehicles.
The fundamental theme of Christensen’s book is American leadership needs to understand China better. Only with understanding will respect be engendered and comity restored. Both China’s and America’s leaders realize humanity lives on spaceship earth. Without nation-state respect and comity, all nations (not to mention humans) are destined for the grave.
James Shapiro (Author, Shakespeare Scholar, Professor at Columbia University.)
As a Shakesperean scholar, James Shapiro addresses Shakespeare’s plays during King James I’s reign. His history reveals the times in which Shakespeare is producing his most memorable plays. The three most relevant in this review are King Lear, Hamlet, and Macbeth.
King James I (Scottish King of England 1603-1625, Succeeded by Charles I.)
Part of Shapiro’s theme is the use of the word equivocation. The word first appears in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. It is a common technique used in Shakespeare’s plays to avoid giving definitive answers to questions. Shakespeare is purposefully obscuring some unclearly expressed truth. It is a way of misleading without flatly lying. Shakespeare conceals the evil nature of the witches. Their predictions of Macbeth’s existence are true, but they obscure the precise truth of events that unfold.
King James I is possibly best remembered by Americans as the English King who commissioned the first English translation of the bible.
King James also lent his name to the first permanent English colony in America. Shapiro reminds reader/listeners King James I was the first joint ruler of Scotland and England and was nearly assassinated by treasonous Catholic terrorists in the gunpowder plot of 1605.
A presumed rendering of the House of Lords (where the gunpowder plot was to be executed).
Though Shapiro’s book is about Shakespeare’s plays, it is also about the history of that era in which the gunpowder plot of 1605, the plague, and the reign of James I occur. The events of that time offer precedent for today’s makers of history.
Most interestingly, today’s master of equivocation is former President Trump.
In a January 26, 2017, article in GQ by Jay Willis, the following examples were noted as Trump’s classic use of equivocation:
If people are registered wrongly, if illegals are registered to vote, which they are—if dead people are registered to vote and voting, which they do. There are some. I don’t know how many.
Our country has enough problems without allowing people to come in who, in many cases or in some cases, are looking to do tremendous destruction.
You’re looking at people that come in, in many cases, in some cases with evil intentions. I don’t want that. They’re ISIS.
I had a tremendous victory, one of the great victories ever. In terms of counties I think the most ever or just about the most ever.
There are millions of [illegal] votes, in my opinion. … I didn’t say there are millions. But I think there could very well be millions of people.
And of course, there is the 2021 “stolen election” equivocation that misled thousands of Americans who storm the US Capitol. None of these Americans committed treason but all appear to have fallen prey to Trump’s equivocations that led to the January 6, 2o21 rebellion.
Another parallel to the King James I era to modern times is Covid19’s impact on today’s society and economy. London’s social interactions became hostile as the spread of plague diminished care and respect for others. Violence became commonplace as plague attacks neighbors and diminishes social gatherings. Shakespeare’s plays and other entertainments were no longer conducted. The London economy spiraled downward. These events are repeated today as Covid19 subsides, with a rise in violent crime and a halting return to economic growth. Today is not yesterday but, as Mark Twain suggested, history may not repeat itself, but it certainly rhymes.
Guy Fawkes is caught in the basement of the House of Lords with barrels of gunpowder and fire ignitors that would have killed or injured anyone meeting at this chamber of government. Shapiro explains many, if not all, who had a hand in the conspiracy were caught, tried, hung, and quartered when the plot was revealed.
The gruesome detail of quartering is explained by Shapiro. While still conscious after being hung, bodies are castrated and then dismembered. (Shapiro notes Fawkes avoids the conscious brutality of castration and dismembering because his neck is broken when he is hung.)
Protestant discrimination of Roman Catholics and religious intolerance motivate the gunpowder rebellion. Religion plays a part of Americans’ discontent in modern times but not to the degree of treasonous acts; undoubtedly, because of America’s Constitutional guarantee of religious freedom.
The 1605 gunpowder rebellion is principally motivated by different religious belief. In England, Catholics suffer from discrimination because of the dominance of the royally mandated Church of England and the control of a Protestant King.
The gunpowder rebellion’ conspirators are relentlessly pursued by officers of James I’s rule. Though the conviction consequence is not the same for America’s January 6 ,2021 rebellion, the perpetrators are relentlessly pursued.
Though Spiro is not addressing any of what has happened in America today, it seems relevant to consider Donald Trump as the “equivocator and chief” that fomented America’s January 6,2021 rebellion.
Another interesting parallel revealed in Shakespeare’s plays is America’s aged Presidents in the last two elections.
Like the story of King Lear, one wonders if dementia is not a threat to American governance.
James Spiro offers an insightful history of the greatest playwright of all time. For today’s events, Shakespearean plays are as relevant today as in the 1600s.
Patricia Lockwood (Author, poet, novelist, and essayist. Winner of the Thurber Prize for American Humor, and the Dylan Thomas Prize.)
This is the second Lockwood’ book listened to with interest and limited praise. Praise is limited because Lockwood writes with a customized perception of the world that diminishes its broad appeal. Like this critic’s review of “No One is Talking About This”, “Priestdaddy” reinforces Lockwood’s singular perception of the world. However, “Priestdaddy” adds depth to her personalized view of life. “Priestdaddy” has broader meaning than “No One is Talking…” but its appeal remains singular more than universal.
Lockwood’s literary success is remarkable considering the life she reveals. Lockwood’s sense of humor seems inherited from her mother, but her view of the world seems locked in a struggle with perception of her “Priestdaddy” father. Her father became a Catholic Priest, which is possible after marriage with the support of the church. In Lockwood’s struggle with her “Priestdaddy” and unrelated 20th century revelations about Catholic Bishop’ pedophilia, she loses faith in organized religion.
Relationship with one’s parents and the church are only part of Lockwood’s world view. Personal life experiences revealed in “Priestdaddy” also affect Lockwood’s perception of the world.
Reference to the author’s rape and miscreant priests that abuse children is a reminder of the horrors of human perversion. The broader contribution Lockwood offers is the extreme intimacy required to achieve success as an acclaimed writer. Not everyone has the courage, willingness, or skill to tell stories of their personal lives to the public. A listener will agree or disagree with Lockwood’s personal view of the world based on their own parental inheritance and life experience.
Praise is something all writers seek but few achieve. Lockwood is an interesting writer, recognized with national awards for her writing, and praise by many of her readers.
To some extent, one’s interest in Lockwood’s writing is because of the intimacy of her stories. Others fail to have wider appreciation of Lockwood’s writing because her story is not their story. When reading or listening to a book, many are looking for a broader understanding of life, not necessarily revealed by perceptions of a writer’s intimate experience.
You Bet Your Life (From Blood Transfusions to Mass Vaccination, the Long and Risky History of Medical Innovation)
By: Paul A. Offit, MD
Narrated by: James Hoban
Paul Offit (Author, American pediatrician specializing in infectious diseases, vaccines, immunology, and virology.)
Like Siddhartha Mukherjee’s “The Emperor of All Maladies”, Paul Offit reflects on patients who risk their lives based on medical treatment and prescribed drugs by educated scientists, physicians, and drug manufacturers. Both Mukherjee and Offit write of the medical causes of death and attempts made by the medical profession to save lives. What both books have in common is that the medical industry, just as in all life’s work, is influenced by money, power, and prestige. Those influences carry risks and rewards.
Both Mukherjee and Offit are doctors with wide expertise in their respective fields. Offit’s book is shorter but equally important and impactful. Medical practice is just what the words mean.
Both physician/authors imply the word “practice” entails experiment on human beings. A physician can only be sure of successful medical procedures and treatment based on repeated healthful results for human beings.
Doctors, scientists, drug manufacturers, and medical employees make good and bad decisions based on educational achievement, hands-on medical experience, and personal motivation. That is true in all forms of work employment. The difference is we who are not part of the medical industry are intimately and mortally affected by its practice and advertisement.
Bad medical decisions can end a life; good medical decisions can save a life.
As a surgeon, Mukherjee reviews the history of cancer treatments and medical decisions that both killed and saved lives. Offit, a pediatrician, and member of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), reviews the history of medical innovations and treatment of infectious diseases that killed and saved lives. In the age of Covid19, Offit’s history is enlightening and somewhat frightening.
The hard push (called “warp speed) for a vaccine that treated Covid required risks to be taken. Putting aside the politics enshrined in American freedom of choice, in 2020 nearly 700,000 Americans may not have died if the vaccine had been accepted more quickly by the public. On the other hand, Offit’s history shows errors have been made by both physicians and drug manufacturers that have killed Americans in search for cure. Even with the great success of polio elimination in America, some died from improperly manufactured vaccines.
Offit reminds listeners of the history of heart transplants, blood transfusions, and anesthesia that reminds one of the gruesome details reported by Mukherjee about cancer in the early days of a search for cure.
Louis Washkansky lived for 18 days after having his heart replaced by a human donor’s heart. Only after years of research on rejection, did heart transplants give years of life to recipients.
Ryan White, a teenage Indiana boy, is saved from hemophilia after being given a blood transfusion that infects him with HIV. He was diagnosed in 1984 and given six months to live. He lived until 1990 but was ostracized by schools and society because of American fear of the disease. Too little was known about how the Auto Immune Deficiency was transmitted.
The search for a way to conduct surgery without pain led to the use of chloroform in the 1800s. Hannah Greener, a 15-year-old, dies from application of chloroform for surgical removal of an infected toenail in 1848. Offit does go on to explain chloroform became notorious for criminal use in robberies. In any case, the principle of anesthesia made a great contribution to surgical practice.
Hannah Greener (1833-1848, dies from an overdose of chloroform when anesthetized.)
Contrary to Offit’s claim of an overdose, the cause of death may have been aspiration of fluids in trying to bring her back to consciousness.
There are many more interesting stories from Offit’s historical account of medical innovation. The fundamental point of both Offit and Mukherjee is that errors will be made by the medical industry. Risks are taken by patients who rely on the industry to cure or ameliorate the ravishes of ill health. Government oversight, like the FDA, CDC, USDA, and the World Health Organization, work on minimizing risk to society but risk reduction is a work in progress. Offit notes there are many ways for medical cures to go wrong. From misleading advertising to poor medical practice, to human greed for money-power-prestige, human risk abounds. Of course, the ultimate risk is the patients.
The lesson one draws from these two physicians is that the public has a right to be skeptical but there is no right to be stupid. Dying will always be a part of our lives, whether mistakes are made or not.
Weijian Shan (Author, CEO of a private equity firm PAG, former partner in TPG Asia, holds a Ph.D. from Univ. of CA.)
Weijian Shan is a capitalist, a Chinese economist, CEO of an Asian investment company, and former professor at the University of Pennsylvania, Wharton School. Weijian Shan was born and raised in China during the Mao era.
Shan has written a memoir of his experience in the Chinese Cultural Revolution which began in 1966 and ended with the death of Mao Zedong in 1976. Shan writes about China’s and America’s economic and political differences.
In 1966, Shan is barely a teenager, having only completed his grade school years. Shan, and many other teenagers, are sent to the Gobi Desert during the Cultural Revolution in China. Shan’s compelling story tells of his experience during the Revolution with an explanation of how he is chosen, at the age of 21, to go to college in Beijing. “Out of the Gobi” is published in 2019. Shan offers insight to Mao’s communist political ideas and gives listeners some thoughts about what Mao’s politics mean in the age of Xi Jinping’s rule of China.
Shan’s experience in the Gobi Desert is among many Chinese citizens who are ordered to leave their city homes to experience rural China’s farm life. The irony is that neither China’s Gobi Desert farmers, the bourgeoise, nor displaced youth were culturally, intellectually, or financially benefited. Rural farmers were victimized because citizen relocations impacted food availability for what were subsistence farms. Many farmers were barely able to feed themselves, let alone thousands of relocated city dwellers. Relocated youth were denied higher education and forced into labor camps that had a negative effect on rural prosperity.
From a political perspective, Mao’s Cultural Revolution is a brilliant idea.
This is not to praise Mao as an intellectual but as a pragmatic politician who understood the value of the Cultural Revolution’s youth-relocations to advance his vision of Chinese communism. Mao cleverly instills a sense of discipline and teamwork by indoctrinating China’s next generation with Maoist communism. Today’s Xi benefits from Mao’s Cultural relocation with a generation raised in the time of the 1966 Revolution.
Shan’s story is the triumph of Weijian Shan’s intellectual development without a structured pre-college education.
(Uighur re-education camp in the 21st century.)
Shan’s memoir is a tribute to his personal strength and determination. Reaching the age of 21 in the Gobi Desert did not impede his intellectual development. Through work experience, social engineering among peers, and a commitment to read everything he could find, Shan overcame his Gobi Desert relocation and lack of a high school education.
With little English language skill, Shan begins his education at a Beijing college to become a student of foreign trade relations.
This educational opportunity is presented to Shan at the time of Nixon’s opening of Mao’s China to the world. Shan had firsthand experience of Mao’s communist mistakes. Shan tells the story of lost prosperity and peace for Gobi Desert dwellers and intruders.
In the Gobi Desert, Shan experiences the deficiency of a government system based on bureaucratic control that distorts productivity reports to make superiors look good. The disconnect between real progress and reports of progress hides the truth of economic waste and deterioration. Shan shows how orders from above depress productivity in two ways. One, by government superiors being ignorant of true productivity, and two, by discouraging the value of competition.
Shan reveals the strength and weakness of Deng Xiaoping’s opening of China after the death of Mao.
Without question, Deng contributed to China becoming the world’s second largest economy by GDP in 2010. On the other hand, Shan suggests Deng’s decision to crush the Tiananmen Square demonstration is the Communist Party’s misreading of demonstrators’ intent and support of economic revisionism. Deng (though reported to have given the order to jail or kill demonstrators) is revealed as a foil to Mao’s dictatorial beliefs in communism. Shan points to the odd fact that Mao removes Deng from leadership but refuses to remove Deng from the Party. The inference is that Mao may have understood the value of capitalism as a communist precursor (as noted by Marx).
President Xi is reestablishing communist party authoritarianism and may make the same mistakes Mao made, without a foil like Deng. Singular authoritarian leaders in the 21st century often deny the merits of democratic free enterprise that reduces the threat of kleptocratic bureaucracy.
“Loving Day” is a rambling novel about discrimination. Mat Johnson’s main character, a son of a white father and black mother, inherits a dilapidated mansion from his father who dies during its renovation. The house has many doors. Johnson creatively assembles a variety of characters who figuratively knock on those doors to define and find a way to erase discrimination.
Every human has an ethnic and sexual identity whether recognized or not. Johnson’s story illustrates the inequality of the sexes while sidestepping any solution or answer for societal accommodation to ethnic difference. His host of characters range from transexual to sexual, from black to white, to mixed race, from married to divorced, from Jew to gentile. Each character might be classified as ethnic, but still a part of larger society that is burdened by inequality and discrimination.
Though Johnson’s primary focus is on discrimination, his many examples are a hot mess. There are too many to list in one review. There are many causes of discrimination. Children of unwed mothers are unerasable consequences of unsafe or forced conjugal relations. Children of un-wed mothers often become latch-key kids because their single parent has to work to pay rent and put food on the table. Some are sent to grandparents who may or may not be able to handle the responsibility of another person to feed, clothe, and educate. Homelessness is a consequence of many human causes, ranging from economies in crises to discrimination to medical or mental disability.
Schools created out of heart felt belief in eradication of inequality create an atmosphere of privilege that exacerbates discrimination.
A marker for discrimination is illustrated by the author’s character named “One Drop”. One Drop is a human label associated with birth of a child from parents with different ethnicities. One drop of blood or semen between a black person and a white person, in the eyes of some, makes that person Black. In Nazi Germany, a gentile who marries a Jew identifies their children as Jewish. A man or woman may have conjugal relationships with others while married and are judged untrustworthy as future monogamous partners.
Society organizes itself without understanding or constructively dealing with inequality engendered and perpetuated by poor judgement.
Genetic/Socio/ethnic differences are the thematic subject of Johnson’s story. Society judges human difference as good or bad. The author’s conclusion is that people are people. Society should accept people for what they are; until then, discrimination and unequal treatment will be like an unrenovated house that will either be moved from one place to another or destroyed.
Dirt to Soil (One Family’s Journey into Regenerative Agricultural
By: Gabe Brown
Narrated by: Gabe Brown
Gabe Brown (Author, farmer.)
“Dirt to Soil” offers a glimpse of a farmer’s life. Gabe Brown’s family manages a 5000-acre farm in North Dakota. Brown and his son’s farming experience offer insight to a branch of biology that addresses the relationship of a farm environment’s organisms. Brown is not a scientist or academic. He is a farmer.
Gabe Brown became an expert in soil conservation based on experience and insatiable curiosity. Though he went to college, it is four years of hardship that gave Brown an understanding of farming. From that experience, Brown reordered his practice of farming based on five principles.
No soil disturbance (no-till, no-synthetics).
Reinforce Soil’s Natural Defenses (the outer layer of soil protects all life)
Promote biodiversity (marry species nature’s way to keep soil healthy)
Keep living roots in the ground as long as possible and use cover crops with seasonal diversity.
Animal & Insect integration (both predator and protector) to promote natural diversity.
Brown’s journey to understand and practice these farming principles increased the profitability and durability of farmland. “Dirt to Soil” is a record of Gabe Brown’s personal farming and educational journey. Though Brown admits to being a city boy, his experience in 4H, some academic classes, and visits to his future wife’s farm sparked a lifelong interest in farming. When his wife’s parents retired from their 1700-acre farm, Gabe Brown and his wife took over management.
Gabe Brown’s farming education came from 4 years of weather-related catastrophes that nearly ended his career as a farmer. He notes his wife appeared ready to give up farming life, but he refused to give up. His experience in those years re-focused his attention on the intimate relationship between nature and farming.
Brown explains, in “non-wilding” words, how it is necessary to rewild his farm. By watching how nature preserves itself, he changes his farming practices. Without plowing, furrowing, and fertilizing with chemicals designed by farming industry, Brown rejects practices that artificially enhance dry soil that exposes it to natural diseases and the exigencies of weather. He turns to observing nature to find how it replenishes soil’s natural nutritional condition. His objective is to turn “Dirt to Soil”.
Brown reasons that raising cattle on the farm would fertilize its soil. (A caveat to Brown’s observation is that fertilization by cow manure requires frequent grazing rotation, not industrial manure concentration.)
(There is a concern about carbon dioxide increase and ground water contamination from livestock. In a 2019 overnight stay with a farm family in New Zealand, there was objection to the former Prime Minister’s attempt to burden farmers with the cost of better livestock control.)
With natural fertilizer and cultivation of different plant species, Brown finds soil nutrient value improves. That soil improvement is absorbed by newly planted crops that benefit both livestock and consumers. The planting is done without tilling the ground but planting seedlings in unplowed ground. After experimentation, Brown begins rotating crops based on soil enrichment objectives.
Brown experiments with different species of plants to find which types replenish the soil in his area of North Dakota. With these discoveries and changes in practice, Brown’s farm prospers.
Brown notes change in farming practices is a slow process because of a false belief that high productivity is more important than nutritive value. When a film crew interviews Brown, one of the film’s producers is asked to buy a dozen eggs at the market and bring them to the farm to show the difference between eggs from “free range” chickens vs. caged chickens.
“Dirt to Soil” goes on to become a teaching facility for future farmers. Brown’s son works on the farm and will inherit it when his mother and father pass. In the meantime, an internship program is started to pass on the educational experience of Gabe Brown’s farming life. Rewilding farms means paying attention to the diversity and value of nature. Brown explains the nutritive value of food has fallen in America because artificial fertilizers have replaced the natural processes of nature.
Brown’s story about eggs reminds one of a trip to a Norwegian fish farm last year. One of our fellow travelers asked the employee of the farm if there is any difference between fish-farm’ salmon and a wild salmon. His answer is there are very few wild salmon left in the sea. However, he notes wild salmon have more Omega-3 per serving than farmed salmon which have less protein.
Gabe Brown explains his goal has always been to make a good living at farming and pass that skill on to his family and every American interested in that life. He concludes the success of farmers should not be based on crop yield but on profitability. His experience shows there are many ways to make a profit in farming.
Brown explains that high crop yield is not a measure of success. With the creation of alternative income practices, he believes a small farm is as capable of making a profit as a large farm. Observing nature and farm diversity (both human and ecological) is Brown’s guide for farming success and profitability.
The Future of Money (How the Digital Revolution is Transforming Currencies and Finance.)
By: Eswar S. Prasad
Narrated by: Stephen R. Thorne
Eswar Prasad (Author, Economist.)
“The Future of Money” offers a short history and long explanation of the strengths and weaknesses of filthy lucre.
Prasad begins with the often-told story of how money began as a precious metal transforming to paper for easier exchange between seller and purchaser. The value of money has always been malleable. Its value changed in early times based on authoritarian rule and later in ways Prasad’s book explains as an evolutionary trust of money.
Genghis Khan is at one end of the spectrum where currency value is based on the value set by the ruler. If one disagrees with money’s mandated value, you are executed. Later the value of money is supported by full faith and credit of respective governments, inferring execution is less likely.
Eswar Prasad explains money’s transformation from coin to paper to digital exchange. Prasad shows digital money is less tactilely filthy, but its form and value is as impactful as ever. In the remainder of Prasad’s long book, reader/listeners find how difficult it is to provide foundational legitimacy for digital currencies.
A cashless society began with credit cards and has proliferated to where “coin of the realm” is not accepted by some vendors. Prasad explains transaction fees on credit cards have led to alternative payment rails to reduce costs to both vendors and buyers.
As of 2021, the most commonly used alternative methods of payment are PayPal, Apple Pay, Google Pay, Bizum, WeChat, and Alipay. The number of users of these payment rails is increasing because of credit card’ fees.
Two with the most customers, WeChat and Alipay have over a billion users each.
An attempt is made to mitigate greed and power with bitcoin. One suspects ignorance of digital currency remains for most of the public. Anyone can access the bitcoin platform. Theoretically no one can identify a singular person’s account without that person’s personal access code that can only be entered from the owner’s computer device. However, there remain fundamental reasons for one to be skeptical of a bitcoin owner’s security. Trust continues to be a concern for cryptocracy’s utility and value.
Aside from business ineptitude, having one’s own key to a bitcoin entity is no guarantee of security, even if any entry from another computer cannot use the key? What keeps a hacker from capturing a user’s code in blockchain and cloning a bitcoin computer to use the key to steal bitcoin value?
Theft of passwords and private keys is hackable if information is kept anywhere in a computer file. This is not to mention the capability of social engineering by smooth-talking hackers.
FTX is in court today. Value of bitcoin assets has fallen to the point of FTX’s possible bankruptcy. It is unclear if the FTX collapse is from weakness of bitcoin transparency or its founder’s ineptitude. In any case, there is a precipitous loss of trust in bitcoin value.
How is bitcoin blockchain security significantly different in today’s tech-savvy world? One argument is that its control is decentralized rather than centralized. So what? Decentralized control carries its own set of risks.
The reality is bitcoin’ blockchain use and creation is part of what has led to the FTX mess. The so-called strength of not having centralized regulation of digital currency is shown to be a weakness. The pitch is that bitcoin is designed and intended not to require government regulation because of the mystical belief that regulation magically appears because of user transparency. Blockchain security does not appear to be any more trustworthy than a paper dollar in a tech-savvy world.
Another issue raised by Prasad is value instability of bitcoin.
Crypto currency is being tested by different governments around the world. These governments are trying to widen crypto currencies trust and value through greater diversification of support from nation-state’ assets. The idea may reduce instability, but there remains a question of oversight. Yes, oversight–that dreaded function labeled government regulation. User transparency is not enough as is proven by the failure of FTX.
Prasad tackles the complexity of inflation and the difficulty of controlling its negative impact on public welfare and economic health. Inflation often leads to a cycle of impoverishment that hits those who are poorest the most.
When inflation occurs, the cost of living (particularly food and shelter) is disproportionally lost by the poor. What is called helicoptering of money to families below a certain income level mitigated the worst consequence of unemployment during Covid in the United States. Covid’s impact and the decision to helicopter money caused a cycle of inflation in America, but it also reduced hardship and stabilized the economy.
Prasad notes inflation is being mitigated by Federal Reserve’s tightening of monetary policy by raising interest rates. The risk of that action is that those at the lowest end of the income market may lose their jobs because of industry layoffs. Prasad explains rising interest rates reduce business investment which can trigger a downward spiral in the economy.
It seems no coincidence that homelessness has become a national problem in America at the time of monetary policy disruption. Some argue change in monetary policy and Covid recovery have nothing to do with homelessness. Some argue citizens have just lost their motivation to work. Believing it is a loss of motivation seems ridiculous when one looks at conditions in which the homeless live. Whatever the cause, America is the wealthiest nation in the world and can reduce homelessness by acting responsibly.
Though not addressed by Prasad, homelessness is a national problem that should be funded by the national government at a local level so cities can adequately attack its multiple causes.
Prasad notes helicopter funding is only one arrow in monetary policies government quiver. Digital currency has made some people rich, but its control needs to be regulated to serve the needs of society more broadly.
Bitcoin, under the supervision of government, is a contradiction of the original inventor’s intent. However, the idea of blockchain, technology, and bitcoin opens a door to improving economic conditions of the poor around the world. The potential for CBDC, in concert with today’s access to internet payment rails, is a growing 21st century economic opportunity. It is not because of the idea of CBDC alone, but CBDC in concert with the internet and mobile phones could change the course of economic history. The evidence Prasad points to is Africa and the creation of a mobile phone service that offers the poor a way to pay bills without a checking account and collect income for product created for sale.
Prasad explains how people in the lowest economic classes have gained access to money for pay and income by using features of mobile phones.
Prasad explains the many experiments with digital currency are changing the world’s economy. Prasad notes the general concern is the amount of influence and regulation a government digital currency might have on its country of origin. On the one hand it offers opportunity for economic improvement. On the other, it creates a vehicle for an intrusive invasion of privacy. Anything entered into a computer potentially becomes public knowledge.
Further, Prasad notes the American dollar is already the most influential currency in the world. The idea of an American controlled digital currency is threatening to many countries, both in western and eastern blocs.
One who reads Prasad’s book is likely to conclude America will eventually create a digital currency. FTX shows digital currency cannot regulate itself without oversight. Whether America will remain the big dog in currency influence depends on an unknown future. No government’s digital currency has been successful as of this date.
A Life on Our Planet (My Witness Statement and Vision for the Future)
By: SirDavid Attenborough, Jonnie Hughes
Narrated by: Sir David Attenborough
In a memoir of one man’s life, David Attenborough (with the help of Jonnie Hughes) reviews earth’s degraded environment and humanity’s future. Sir Attenborough tells a personal story of his life as an English broadcaster, biologist, natural historian, and author.
Attenborough recalls his education as an educated naturalist, BBC commentator, and program producer of travels, the environment, and species decline around the world. His career spans over 50 years of experience–from meeting famous conservationists like Jane Goodall to exploring remote islands in search of native culture.
In nearly a century of life, Attenborough reflects on what he has personally experienced on earth with a life-long interest in environment. The first half of the book is about the beginning of civilization and environmental despoliation. The last half of Attenborough and Hughes’ story is about their “…Vision for the Future”.
Attenborough and Hughes describe earth as a closed system. His analogy is that earth is a petri dish that grows bacteria that will consume the world if humans fail to change their ways. Interspecies dependance is challenged and changed by environmental degradation caused by human activity. From the destruction of whales in the era of whale hunting to deforestation of land by farming and industry, the authors argue the earth is being murdered by humanity.
Global warming from industrialization and deforestation accelerates earth’s death by warming oceans. Just as the cycle of life in the sea is disrupted by global warming–removing forests, overhunting, and species extinction disrupt life on land.
Listening to “A Life on Our Planet”, one holds their breath to hear the last half of Attenborough and Hughes’ book for their “…Vision for the Future.” So many authors decry the fate of humanity, one becomes jaded by dire predictions of ecologists and environmental experts.
Is there a solution that does not end with the extinction of human life? Life on earth is unlikely to end from human environmental mistakes, but human beings are one of many species on earth that will disappear if humanity fails to respond to the environmental crises of its own making.
The author’s “…Vision for the Future” gives one hope.
Except for their mistaken belief that measuring GDP (gross domestic product) as a measure of success is an underlying singular cause of the world’s environmental disaster, they offer the idea of re-wilding the world. GDP will always be a part of societies’ measurement of success. However, the idea of re-wilding earth is a realistic solution to human life’s environmental Armageddon.
The principle of re-wilding the world is a practical solution that does not deny the natural instincts of humankind. The authors are suggesting countries of the world need to focus on bio-diversity policies that re-introduce lost species and promote current species of life.
A big step would be international agreement on fishing restrictions in different areas of the world (for enforced periods of time) that will allow ocean and waterway fish and mammal species to naturally propagate.
Similar to that is happening with Western Australia Fishing Restrictions.
According to science and experimental proof of established fishing area restrictions, food availability for a rising human population will improve.
Repression of women has kept half the world from realizing its full potential. With free choice, women will be able to make their own decisions about work, family, and productivity. It is no coincidence that population growth in America slowed with the liberation of women who chose to have or not have children.
A third visionary idea is a nation’s choice on sources of energy.
Geothermal energy in New Zealand as an example.
Choosing to abandon fossil fuels will improve the air we breathe and reduce overheating of land and sea. In choosing renewable energy sources, the authors note two small countries have abandoned fossil fuels. Surprisingly, one is Albania. Having traveled there a few years ago, one could see how enterprising and vibrant the economy of Albania appears to be. The other fossil fuel independent country is Iceland which uses earth’s thermal energy to warm their homes from a sustainable, pollution free energy source.
A concern is raised about an aging population like that in Japan where women have chosen not to have children. What is unwritten by the authors is that many countries fail to open their borders to young people from other countries that have no work and limited opportunity in their home countries. There needs to be a growing understanding that all people of the world are on the same spaceship. In a perfect world, all people would be treated equally. It is not a perfect world, but GDP can drive countries to be more open to immigration.
Attenborough has lived a long and interesting life. He offers listeners wisdom from being a witness to the truth about the world in which we live. This is not a story of the end of “…Life on Our Planet” but a formula for humanity’s continuation.
Humans can continue to despoil the environment. The consequence only makes human habitation impossible. Trees and wildlife are rewilding Chernobyl. Only humankind is unable to return.