TRICKSTERS

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

Website: chetyarbrough.comThe Nix

The Nix

Written by: Nathan Hill

Narrated by: Ari Fliakos

NATHAN HILL (AUTHOR, AUSTRALIAN ACTOR, PRODUCER, AND DIRECTOR)
NATHAN HILL (AUTHOR, AUSTRALIAN ACTOR, PRODUCER, AND DIRECTOR)

Nathan Hill models the mythology of tricksters in his latest novel, “The Nix”.  In Hill’s story, “The Nix” is everyone’s companion; sometimes acknowledged—sometimes not, but always there. It plagues life with uncertainty.  As an amoral spirit and seer, it carries the experience of generations.  It carries the past; interferes with the present, and manipulates the future.

The purpose of “The Nix” in one’s life is to manipulate the future.  “The Nix” plays with human lives that hurt those who are closest to them.  Hill pictures “The Nix” as a ghost that follows a Norwegian immigrant to America.  The Norwegian marries, finds work at a napalm producing corporation, and parents a daughter who becomes the Nix’s new human plaything.  The Norwegian father loves his daughter but fails to express his love constructively.  He is hyper-critical of his daughter’s accomplishments.

The father frightens his daughter with a story of “The Nix” who lived with him in Norway, traveled with him to America, and now lives in the basement of their mid-west home.  He explains how one may inadvertently anger “The Nix” by  spilling water that trickles down into the basement.

BASEMENT MONSTERS
The father frightens his daughter with a story of “The Nix” who lived with him in Norway, traveled with him to America, and now lives in the basement of their mid-west home.

The daughter constantly struggles to impress her father.  She fails to live up to her own expectations.  She becomes psychologically paralyzed by concern for what her father thinks. To add to her woes, she presumes she has offended “The Nix”.  She acquires a melancholy and romantic view of life that ruins her future marriage and scars her only son.

GENERATIONSHill captures the trials of three generations; i.e. millennials, the “Greatest Generation”, and the “baby-boom generation”.  Hill describes interests, obsessions, and consequences of living in the age of technology, WWII, and Vietnam.  He ties each generation to the luck and circumstance of life with the presence of everyone’s “…Nix”.  He shows how history does not repeat but shows how it rhymes (as Mark Twain noted).  We become like our parents because we carry their genetic markers and habits; sometimes we inherit a trickster, a ghostly companion called “The Nix”.

DEMOCRATIC CONVENTION 1968
DEMOCRATIC CONVENTION 1968

Hill’s story begins with an abandoned eleven-year-old boy and his father.  A young mother and wife leaves her young son and husband to re-invent herself.  She is a part of the “baby boom” generation.  Though she loves her son, she feels driven to return to the most tumultuous time of her life.  It is the time of the Democratic Convention in Chicago; i.e. when Hubert Humphrey is nominated by the Democrats for President of the United States.  She becomes embroiled in the youth movement that disrupts the nominating convention in Chicago with marches against America’s role in Vietnam.

PRISON SOLITARY CONFINEMENT (CALIFORNIA PRISON)
The daughter is arrested by a troubled and angry police officer.  She is thrown into jail.  She prays to her God to release her from her predicament.

Her experience in Chicago illustrates the presence of “The Nix” in her life.  She is arrested by a troubled and angry police officer.  She is thrown into jail.  She prays to her God to release her from her predicament.  In her dreams, she is visited by “The Nix”.  She makes a bargain with “The Nix” to return to her father’s home in the Midwest, and marry her hometown boyfriend if she is released from jail.  “The Nix” bargains with her in a way that determines her future; i.e. the abandonment of her son and husband, and a search for her father’s past in Norway.

lust versus love
Her deliverance from jail comes from a fellow protester.  She falls in lust, if not love, with the protester

Her deliverance from jail comes from a fellow protestor.  She falls in lust, if not love, with the protester.  The trauma of police brutality, and her bargain with “The Nix” compel this mother-to-be to return to her mid-western roots; but, with a romantic remembrance that stays with her; even when she marries a man she thinks she does not love.  Though her future husband is not aware of her pregnancy, the proximate time of her marriage makes the boy’s birth seem like her hometown boyfriend’s offspring.

MORALSHill cleverly reaches back and forth in history to show the son growing into an adult; becoming a college professor, and by luck and circumstance, becoming re-acquainted with his mother after her thirty-year absence.  In this re-acquaintance, the theme of Hill’s story is crystallized.  Along the way, listener/readers are introduced to the millennial generation.  One is struck by the millennial generation’s grasp of technology and what becomes a perception of the moral and ethical behavior of this new generation.  Obsession with gaming, self-imposed isolation, and entitlement are characterized as endemic characteristics of this new population cohort.

THE GREATEST GENERATION
THE GREATEST GENERATION

A mystery surrounds the abandoning mother’s father and what he did when he lived in Norway.  His life experience is a reflection on the “Greatest Generation”; i.e. those who lived through WWII.  The secrets of his life in Norway are revealed toward the end of Hill’s story.  It speaks to what some of the “Greatest Generation” did not do to give them such an exalted title and reputation.

GOOD AND EVILThis is a story that exposes weaknesses in every generation.  There is plenty of immoral and unethical behavior to go around.  Hill implies it is because of the presence of “The Nix” in everyone’s life.  Good and evil are two faces of “The Nix”.  It inhabits everyone’s life.  Humans have free will which can turn to either good and/or evil (as noted in Kierkegaard’s “Either, Or”).

With some criticism of the author’s use of too many clichés, “The Nix” is a clever and thoughtful reflection on mythology, history, and human behavior.  One of Hill’s clever analogies about “History” is the example of the Chicago Democratic Convention in 1968.  He describes the historical event as a drip of water, in a bucket of water, dropped into Lake Michigan.  The 1968 convention is like every event in history.  One historical event is a part of a vast picture so big it cannot be seen whole; let alone, understood.  The context of history is too big for any human being to understand.  The idea of the “…Nix” encompasses a much larger picture than one historical event.  “The Nix” implies every historical event is subjective.  In other words, history never repeats, but it does rhyme.

NO JOKE

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.com

Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood

Written by: Trevor Noah

Narrated by: Trevor Noah

 BORN A CRIME

TREAVOR NOAH (AUTHOR, HOST OF THE DAILY SHOW)
TREAVOR NOAH (AUTHOR AND HOST OF “THE DAILY SHOW”

Trevor Noah’s “Born a Crime” is no joke.

JOHN STEWART (COMEDIAN, FORMER HOST OF THE DAILY SHOW)
JOHN STEWART (COMEDIAN AND FORMER HOST OF “THE DAILY SHOW.)

Remembering when Trevor Noah took over the “Daily Show”, thoughts of a South African replacing an American, places one in two minds.  One mind thinks how could a person not born in America understand the politics and culture of a country satirized by a TV show?  Another mind thinks the “Daily Show” will become more culturally relevant with a commentator that satirizes more than just American culture.  The answer to the first mind’s question is answered by the second mind’s conclusion.  Personally, it is sad to have witnessed the loss of John Stewart’s insightful American commentary.  However, Noah offers a perspective that is equally insightful; admittedly cringe worthy at times, but more universal.  “Born a Crime” is testament to Noah’s cultural diversity and universal insight.

TREAVOR AND FATHER
TREAVOR NOAH AND HIS FATHER

When Noah is born, he is “Born a Crime” because South African Apartheid made mixed conjugal relations a criminal offence.  Noah’s father is a white Swiss entrepreneur and his mother is a black South African.  They choose to have a son, though they never marry. Noah’s mother names her son Trevor because the name gives him the distinction of being neither African black, nor white but a citizen of the world.

PATRICIA NOAH (TREVOR NOAH'S MOTHER)
PATRICIA NOAH (TREVOR NOAH’S MOTHER)

Noah’s story is a tribute to his mother.  She inspires a listener to understand the importance of family, respect, love, and faith.  Noah is a challenging son.  He shows himself to be a hyperactive, non-violent, trouble-maker in his youth.  He is born into poverty but raised by a mother who believes in a moral code of unshakable faith.  In his youth, Noah defies most of his mother’s inner direction and strict, sometimes physically punishing, discipline.  Retrospectively, Noah acknowledges how much his mother loved him, and how her fortitude presumably made him mentally tough, independent, and irreverently objective.

TREVOR AS A YOUNG BOY
TREVOR AS A YOUNG BOY WITH HIS MOTHER, PATRICIA

 

TREVOR NOAH (Back in the day's of delinquency)
TREVOR NOAH (Back in the day’s of delinquency)

As a youth, Noah steals, becomes a black-market maven, and juvenile delinquent.  His intelligence is used to organize a group of delinquents to make a living in a South African ghetto.  He rationalizes his thievery as a game to outwit the local police and fellow miscreants in a dysfunctional culture born of the remnants of apartheid.  He broadens rationalization of criminality by believing there is no harm; no foul for theft because of insurance company reimbursement of societies’ wealthy, the unfairness of Apartheid, and the reality of poverty and hunger.

Noah explains how black-markets develop and how it is difficult for poor people to escape its allure.  It is the same circumstance that feeds drug cartels.  Theft, like drugs, is a way of making a living in the ghetto.  Both industries recruit the unemployed by offering jobs, potential wealth, and identity. Noah notes that ghetto gangs are more in touch, supportive, and caring of the poor than the government.  Gangs take care of their neighborhoods by being more involved, more considerate, and helpful when it comes to the needs of the poor.  However, Noah fails to fully assess how the poor are victimized by gangs that prey on the same people they purportedly help.  It is a blindness repeated in a vignette about a boy named Hitler.

THE CARTEL
Government’s reluctance to treat addicts, and society’s rich and middle class who use illegal recreational drugs, are financing the murder of innocent men, women, and children around the world. Every grade school, high school, college, working, or unemployed citizen buying illegal drugs is paying for the murder of people just like them.

An example of a “cringe worthy” observation by Noah is his explanation of his lead dancer in one of his schemes to make money in the ghetto.  His little group of non-violent delinquents are hired to provide entertainment at a Jewish school in South Africa.  Noah is the disc jockey.  His star dance performer is a young black African named Hitler.

NAZI BROWN SHIRTS (WWII)
HITLER’S NAZI BROWN SHIRTS IN WWII (Noah implies that he is ignorant of Hitler’s atrocities in WWII.  This is somewhat incredulous considering Noah’s intelligence.)

Noah implies that he is ignorant of Hitler’s atrocities in WWII.  This is somewhat incredulous considering Noah’s intelligence.  In any case, Noah’s music heightens the excitement of his audience and he calls on Hitler to dance to the music; with a dance that includes a Hitlerian salute.  Naturally, the room goes silent.

Noah gets into an argument with the person who hired his group.  Noah suggests his ignorance led to a misunderstanding.  He writes that when one considers the millions of black people murdered through Apartheid and slavery, Hitler is just a name given to the dancer by his mother.  Black genocide and slavery is an ugly “cringe-worthy” excuse to justify Hitler’s murderous antisemitism. Putting the Hitler vignette aside, Noah’s story is a condemnation of discrimination in all forms.

Noah returns to the subject of his mother’s life with an explanation of her marriage to a black South African (Abel Shingange) who Noah describes as unconventionally handsome with a penchant for violence.  He marries Noah’s mother and they have two children together.  Noah is in grade school.  Their life as a family lasts for over 17 tumultuous years.

WOMEN'S RIGHTS MOVEMENT
Women, in Abel Shingange’s life, are expected to bear children, be silent, cook and clean house, be dependent on their husbands, and respect males in all circumstances of life.  Noah’s stepfather insists on that relationship in his newly formed family.

The story of Noah’s mother reflects on global discrimination against women.  His stepfather is shown to have been raised in a patriarchal family that emphasizes the superiority of men over women.  Women, in his stepfather’s house, are expected to bear children, be silent, cook and clean house, be dependent on their husbands, and respect males in all circumstances of life.  Noah’s stepfather insists on that relationship in his newly formed family.

Noah’s mother comes from a completely different perspective.  She is an independent soul who chose to have a child “Born a Crime” and who believed the only God is God and not man. Noah’s stepfather interprets her opinion and attitude as disrespect for his role as husband.

Noah’s mother is shot three times by his stepfather.  Noah’s stepfather fired a bullet in her buttocks, her leg, and the back of her head.  The government, presumably run by men, decides that the needs of two boys who remain in the home need the support of their father.  Ironically, Noah notes that his stepfather rarely supported the children or family, and drank the profits of his labor.  His mother had been the primary financial support of the family.

WALKING THE STREETS OF CAPETOWN SOUTH AFRICA
Noah’s stepfather is walking the streets of South Africa as a free man today.  Surprisingly, Noah’s mother is alive.  Through a miracle of circumstance or God, the bullet to the back of her head missed her brain.

Noah’s stepfather is walking the streets of South Africa as a free man today.  Surprisingly, Noah’s mother is alive.  Through a miracle of circumstance or God, the bullet to the back of her head missed her brain.

Noah knows what it is to be poor.  Undoubtedly, Noah now knows what is like to be rich.  More importantly, it seems Noah has adopted his mother’s independence and, from his life experience, a superior perception of reality.  “Born a Crime” is no joke.

Sadly, we no longer get the “Comedy Central” channel but Noah is certainly a worthy replacement for John Stewart.

GOD IS NOT DEAD

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The Great Ideas of Philosophy

Written by: The Great Courses

Narrated by: Professor Daniel N. RobinsonTHE GREAT IDEAS OF PHILOSOPHY

DANIEL N. ROBINSON (DISTINGUISHED PROFESSOR EMERITUS OF PHILOSOPHY AT GEORGETWON UNIVERSITY)
DANIEL N. ROBINSON (DISTINGUISHED PROFESSOR EMERITUS OF PHILOSOPHY AT GEORGETWON UNIVERSITY)

God is not dead in Professor Daniel N. Robinson’s erudite and entertaining survey of “The Great Ideas of Philosophy”.  Robinson’s choice and interpretation of philosophical ideas infers there is no contradiction of science in religion except in ignorant interpretation of one or the other.

In Robinson’s “Great Courses”, science and religion represent a marriage of necessity.  Atheists, religious scholars, skeptics, and scientists may be appalled but Robinson implies nothing in religion or science contradicts creation, evolution, free will, or an omniscient and omnipresent God.  Robinson concludes that it is beyond the ken of the human mind to approach an experimentally provable explanation of a prime mover; i.e. a source from which something came from nothing.

Robinson reviews the course of philosophy from the ancient Greeks to selected present-day philosophical ideas.  He argues that science and religion explicate and complement knowledge of existence. Early heroes of philosophy range from Homer to Hippocrates to Aristotle.  With storytelling and explanations of Stoic and Epicurean ideological movements, Robinson lays the foundation for philosophy’s growth.

PLATO'S REPUBLIC

Robinson recounts Homer’s tragic and triumphant stories of ancient wars, the medical philosophy of Hippocrates, and the testaments of Plato’s politics and Aristotle’s science.  He credibly and creatively builds the foundation of philosophy.  These great intellects pursue explanations for the unknown origin and nature of things and beings.  Each pillar rising from the foundation reveals more questions than answers but inevitably point toward life’s purpose and understanding.  Robinson argues that Aristotle is the first to develop a concept of scientific investigation through experimentation. ARISTOTLE'S SCIENCE

PLATO'S POLISAristotle owes some of the idea of science to Plato’s conceptualization of human nature in an idealization of a perfect city-state, or polis.  One of “The Great Ideas of Philosophy” begins with Plato’s “Republic”.  The scientific principle of Plato’s “Republic” is in investigating something bigger (the polis in this instance) to understand the nature of individual beings. It is a method of science for understanding the details of nature’s order by investigating a singular life within a social framework of something bigger.  A city-state, the polis, is defined and idealized in Plato’s book.

Plato explains some citizens are born as warriors, as builders, as merchants, as slaves, and a few as philosopher Kings; each contributes to the well-being of a city-state.  The whole is greater than its parts but each part is benefited by the whole.  Every individual in a city-state, like every organ in the body, has a purpose based on what he/she does best.  Plato’s “Republic” categorizes members of the Polis into functional groups based on virtue.  Virtue is defined as being the best at what one does in their category of birth.

RULE OF LAWRobinson notes that the Socratic method of investigation comes from stories written by Plato.  These stories are a precursor to Stoic philosophical development.  Plato’s story of Socrates’ choice of death and his idealization of government in “The Republic” remove passion from decision-making.  Virtue comes from dispassionately assessing the human condition and responding with a wisdom based on belief in justice, rule-of-law, and temperance.  Aristotle expands on these ideas in the “Nicomachean Ethics”.

PRINCIPLES OF THE NICOMACHEAN ETHICS
PRINCIPLES OF THE NICOMACHEAN ETHICS

PLATO'S CAVEPlato’s parable of the cave in which humankind is chained; facing a wall and seeing only shadows of reality, exemplifies the difficulty of clearly knowing the truth of nature.  Only in removing those chains can one begin to see and understand reality.  As Plato’s story goes, those who see the truth are unable to convince those who remain in the cave.  It is a story that is repeated in history as science progresses with fits and starts because of resistance from those who remain chained.  Science progresses as experimental proof removes the doubts of the cave dwellers.  However, Robinson notes that even when the truth is experimentally proven, doubt remains.  He notes Karl Popper’s observation that infinite experimentation is impossible; therefore truth, at best, is a probability; not a certainty.

THE RISE OF CHRISTIANITY IN THE ROMAN EMPIRERobinson explains that the Stoic movement provides a bridge for religion to enter the secular life of the Roman Empire.  The principles of Christianity provide a foundation for law within the Roman Empire.  In offering a philosophical basis for dispassionate adjudication, Christianity becomes an essential part of Roman hegemonic influence.

OLDEST UNIVERSITYThe discipline of religion and law leads to the creation of the university, a citadel of teaching.  The great religions of the world gravitate to this form of political and educational influence.  Inquiring minds are stimulated in this environment.  The principles of scientific investigation reappear with a stoic influence that moves humanity to a more secular view of life and its purpose.  Soon, the so-called Renaissance displaces the so-called Dark Ages.  Robinson takes issue with these categories of history because he finds growth of human understanding in both eras.  He also finds violation of human rights in both eras.

CHARLEMAGNE IMAGE (REIGN 12.15.800 TO 1.28.814, BORN 768, DIED 814)
CHARLEMAGNE IMAGE (REIGN 12.15.800 TO 1.28.814, BORN 768, DIED 814)

The Frankish Emperor Charlemagne is noted as a prominent leader during the “Dark Ages”.  He sets the stage for a modern Europe.  The Magna Carta is created to reduce the monopolistic power of European monarchs.  Robinson suggests the seeds for Enlightenment are sewn during the “Dark Ages”.  Influential monks like Benedict of Nursia became a model for most Western monasteries that dictated the lives of congregations.  Giant strides in science and math were made in the Islamic world during the “Dark Ages”.  Art and literature flourish during the rule of Charlemagne.  The Agricultural Age and the development of community settlements is born in the “Dark Ages”.

The brutality of the “Dark Ages” does not disappear in the Renaissance.  Though the Renaissance is characterized by great leaps in knowledge from men like Francis Bacon, Machiavelli, Galileo, Bruno, Montaigne, Hobbes, and others; witches were burned at the stake for being agents of the devil.

WITCH BURNED AT THE STAKE
WITCH BURNED AT THE STAKE

Witch hunting and condemnation aside, these early Renaissance men set the stage for Descartes, Newton, Locke, Hume, Voltaire, Thomas Reid and others.  Many of these Renaissance men are deeply religious; however, they explain the world and human nature in scientific terms.  The mysteries of life explained by religious fiat are systematically replaced by “I Think; Therefor I Am”, “We build too many walls and not enough bridges”, “The end of law is not to abolish or restrain, but to preserve and enlarge freedom”, or “There is no greater impediment to the advancement of knowledge than the ambiguity of words.”

AMERICAN CONSTITUTIONRobinson suggests that the American Constitution is a document created from the progress of Philosophy that began with the Greeks, and evolved through social experimentation; founded on religion and science.  He particularly refers to the Federalist Papers and the participation of Madison, Hamilton, and to a lesser extent, Jay in writing the Papers to convince the American public of the need for democratic government.  Washington’s and Jefferson’s contribution to the establishment of an American government is founded on the tenants of religion and science.  Religion inculcated morality and ethics for equality and justice for all.  Science inculcated past social experiments to create a government of checks and balances.

Robinson offers more contemporary philosophical change wrought by Kant, Hegel, William James, Wittgenstein, and Turing but all revolve around two essential philosophical ideas.  One, know thyself, and two, recognize we are chained to a cave wall; with little hope of finding truth accepted by all.

These lectures are biased toward western civilization but they offer insightful commentary on where western progress came from; what it is, who shaped it, and where it may go.

The Heart of Luck and Circumstance

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough


Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The Drug Hunters

Written by: Donald R. Kirsch, Phd, Ogi Ogas, Phd

Narrated by: James Foster

the drug hunters

 

OGI OGAS (AUTHOR, COMPUTATIONAL NEUROSCIENTIST)
OGI OGAS (AUTHOR, COMPUTATIONAL NEUROSCIENTIST)
DONALD R. KIRSCH (AUTHOR, CHIEF SCIENCE OFFICER AT WYETH, CYANAMID,SQUIBB, AND CAMBRIA PHARMACEUTICALS)
DONALD KIRSCH (AUTHOR, CHIEF SCIENCE OFFICER AT WYETH, CYANAMID, SQUIBB, & CAMBRIA PHRAMACEUTICALS.)
SCIENCE OF PHARMACOLOGY
As a science, pharmacology survives in the heart of luck and circumstance.

As a science, pharmacology survives in the heart of luck and circumstance.  Donald Kirsch and Ogi Ogas recount the origin and history of drug discovery in THE DRUG HUNTERS.  Kirsch and Ogas explain how drugs evolved from shamanistic ritual and magic to plant extraction and modern synthetic drug creation.  They argue that the complexity of myth, elemental plant extraction, and animal metabolism make the search for effective drugs a casino exercise.

LUCK AND FATE
Like gamblers, drug hunters lie to themselves about continuing research on busted bets with bigger financial and emotional investments.  Sometimes they win but usually they lose–no breakthrough is made.

Kirsch and Ogas reveal how scientists, entrepreneurs, and corporations make big bets; garnering wins and losses wrapped in luck and circumstance.  Like gamblers, drug hunters lie to themselves about continuing research on busted bets with bigger financial and emotional investments.  Sometimes they win but usually they lose–no breakthrough is made.  The drug does not work as expected.

The reasons for failure range from false expectation of drug hunters to impure abstraction (or creation) of ingredients.  They add to the list of potential failures with mistaken methods of administration (topical, pill-form, or injection), chemical bonding miscalculations, and human versus animal metabolism. The paths to error outnumber the highways to success

MONEYSo why do scientists, entrepreneurs, and corporations gamble on research?  Because a win can make billions of dollars.  Kirsrch and Ogas imply corporations are reducing their research departments and changing their mode of drug discovery by purchasing companies that have found new and effective drugs.

BIG PHARMA SYMBOLS
A troubling implication is that new drug discoveries will not come from corporations.

A troubling implication is that new drug discoveries will not come from corporations.  That leaves new drug discovery to driven independent scientists, entrepreneurs, and government agencies (funded by tax revenue).

Kirsch and Ogas offer fascinating stories of how therapeutic drugs were discovered.  From aspirin to penicillin to birth control; to psychiatric treatment and cancer remediation, they explain how difficult, expensive, and serendipitous the search for effective drugs have been.

Specters of Revisionist History

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.wordpress.blog

American Ulysses, A Life of Ulysses S. Grant

Written by: Ronald C. White

Narrated by: Arthur Morey

RONALD C. WHITE (AUTHOR)

RONALD C. WHITE (AUTHOR, HISTORIAN)

Revisionist history always raises the specter of truth or fiction. Some histories report Ulysses Grant as a drunk, a failed farmer, a mediocre student of West Point, an uncaring General of soldier’s slaughter, and an inept President of the United States.

Ronald White tells a different story. He implies Grant is one of the three greatest leaders in American history. White ranks Grant with George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.

As may not be widely known, Grant chose to resign from the army in 1854 because of a threat of court martial from a commanding officer.  The commanding officer alleges Grant is too drunk to carry out his duty as a ranking officer at his post.  White explains Grant’s choice to resign as a defense against the stigma of trial. 

Based on research, White suggests Grant fears embarrassment for his wife and family with a public trial.  After leaving the Army, Grant tries his hand at farming and finds he cannot make it profitable. 

He sells his farm interest and carries its debt until paid in full.  Grant asks his father to allow him to work for him in his tanning business as a salesman.  When civil war is declared, Grant requests return to the Army as a Union officer.  As a graduate of West Point, his request is granted; partly for military necessity, but certainly with knowledge of a mark against his character.

BATTLE OF VICKSBURG (COUNCIL OF WAR WITH ULYSSES GRANT 2ND FROM LEFT ON BENCH AT CENTER LEFT)

Grant is shown to make his mark in history at the Battle of Vicksburg.  Beginning as a frontal assault that changes into a siege, Grant confirms his reputation as a master strategist and winning union general.  To many, Vicksburg is the turning point in America’s civil war.

It is unquestioned by White that many Union soldiers die under Grant’s command, but Grant is the first Union officer to fight and win battles.  Grant is soon promoted to Brigadier General. Grant is shown to be a quick study who makes strategic mistakes but learns to assess and manage fellow officers who battle and beat Confederate armies. 

ULYSSES GRANT

Grant at Cold Harbor

White reports that Grant is deeply affected by loss of close friends and soldiers.  However, Grant retains a fierce determination to win reunification of the States.

ABRAHAM LINCOLN (1809-1865, 16TH PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES. )

Grant is strongly supported by Abraham Lincoln who reveres and respects Grant’s  hard-won battles against the Confederacy.

Grant abhors slavery and fully endorses freedom for slaves and enlistment of the freed into the Union Army.    White reflects on the character of Grant by noting that he is a self-effacing leader who supports and rewards successful subordinates while serving as a fierce fighter for unionization and the equality of all human beings.

CIVIL WAR RECRUITS (OVER 180,000 BALACK MEN FOUGHT FOR THE UNION ARMY DURING THE CIVIL WAR.)

CIVIL WAR RECRUITS (OVER 180,000 BLACK MEN FOUGHT FOR THE UNION ARMY DURING THE CIVIL WAR.)

ANDREW JOHNSON (17TH PRESIDENT OF THE U.S. 1865-1869)

ANDREW JOHNSON (17TH PRESIDENT OF THE U.S. 1865-1869)
After Lincoln’s assassination, White reveals the contentious time and inept handling of the government by Andrew Johnson.  Johnson is nearly impeached for arbitrarily discharging the Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton.

(Legislation of that time forbade the President from discharging cabinet members without approval of Congress.)  Grant privately, and later publicly, opposed Johnson’s action.  White also notes that Grant argues against Johnson’s attempts to return the South to slavery by allowing state governments to continue discrimination against Blacks. 

Grant argues for military intervention in southern state governments when they discriminate against minorities.  This remains an unresolved issue until Grant becomes President, after Johnson’s completed term.

ULYSSES GRANT POLITICAL CARTOON REGARDING CORRUPTION IN HIS ADMINISTRATION.

ULYSSES GRANT POLITICAL CARTOON REGARDING CORRUPTION IN HIS ADMINISTRATION.

White completes Grant’s biography by noting that the “Gilded Age” (a title coined by Mark Twain) smudges Grant’s reputation because of the greed of a few men who knew Grant and tried to take advantage of their association.  Some were members of Grant’s administration, but White argues that none of them included Grant in their sordid schemes. 

White infers a naivete in Grant because he views others as he views himself.  Once one gathers Grant’s confidence, White implies Grant loses his objectivity.  White illustrates Grant’s credulity in having joined a Ponzi scheme that nearly bankrupts his family.  This credulity is further explained by White in the story of Grant’s personally written biography of the war.  Mark Twain protects Grant from making a huge financial mistake in how his memoirs are to be published.

TRUTH IS TRUTH

Truth is left to historians, and society’s judgement.

Is White’s revisionist history truth or fiction?  One draws their own conclusion, but few human beings are untouched by the seduction of money, power, and prestige.  White’s story of Ulysses Grant suggests he is among the few.  White makes a compelling and interesting case for Grant’s place in American history.  Grant belongs in the lexicon of American History. 

Africa

Voyager Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

20 Days in Africa

Written by Chet Yarbrough

AFRICA JULY 2017_6965

Twenty days in Africa does not make you an expert.  But, as noted by our insightful Zimbabwe-born team leader, every visit to Africa changes both visitor and native. 

Manue Joao paints a picture of three nation-states that vivify the great beauty and wealth of Africa.  In twenty days, the nations of Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Botswana were traveled by our group of 15 Americans; organized, directed, and helped by local guides and a host of excellent camp managers.

AFRICA JULY 2017_7233

Manue offers a history lesson on Africa as we travel on planes, boats, buses, and Land Rovers, through the African Savannah.  Today, the three major industries in Africa are mining, agriculture, and tourism.  Each of these industries have troubles.

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Mining for coal is a big industry in crises with falling prices, and environmental concern.  African laborers are offered decent salaries but Manue notes that one coal mine had not paid their laborers for over four years.  He goes on to explain—the laborers keep working because there is no alternative employment.  They are ecstatic when, earlier this year, the mine owners offer 7% of their back wages to continue working.

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Agriculture is constantly faced with the terrors of nature; i.e. poor rainfall, soil depletion, and animal destruction.

Tourism is troubled by ivory poaching, Rhino killing for horn profits, and animal overpopulation.

SOUTH AFRICAN TOURISM

African Tourism–the natural attributes of an animal kingdom surprises and delights world travelers, but even that is at risk.

Putting aside these troubles in the big three African industries, there seems a leadership deficit in a country that has so much untapped potential.  Too many Africans seem trapped in poverty when the wealth of the country is laid waste by an interstate transportation system that strangles economic growth. 

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Trucks are lined up for hours, days, weeks, and sometimes months for transport across borders.  Vast tracks of land are only accessible by dirt roads. 

Water, sewer, and infrastructure investment seems utilized un-systematically.  Government leaders are often corrupted by the power they wield over the finances of their countries.

Emmerson Mnangagwa (President of Zimbabwe)

Mugabe’s previous enforcer, Mnangagwa, has only made Zimbabwe’s economy weaker.

The history of Africa sets the table for an economic feast that is consumed by everyone except most native Africans.  Because of the European scramble for wealth and power (between the 15th and early 20th century), the continent of Africa is colonized by foreign rulers.  Great Britain, Portugal, France, and Belgium carve Africa into nation-states in the Berlin Conference of 1884-85.  Without regard to native societies a multi-state continent is formed based on greed and hubris of occupying foreign governments. 

To a degree, something similar has occurred in Africa.  Each African nation-state is comprised of white Europeans, and native tribes who establish societies within each of the nation-states created by early Europeans.  Just as in America, the mixture of cultures often boils over like an over-heated melting pot. 

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The irony of Africa’s artificial nation-state creations is that these arbitrary borders become a source of conflict in the African’s drive for independence.

Either because of religion, ethnic differences, or different societal norms, one factional group treads on another’s freedom.  Conflict rises; in some cases, with violent and deadly results.  In America, it is evident in the civil rights movement, anti-war rallies, women’s rights marches, the election of incompetent Presidents; etc.  In Africa, it is evident in the taking of private property without compensation, inter-state commerce inefficiency, equal rights for women, and rule by force and corruption in the case of leaders like Idi Amin, and Joseph Kony.

SOUTH AFRICAN APARTHIED

The economic difficulties of Africa remind one of the early days of America.

Every state of the original 13 colonies was a kingdom unto itself until the First Continental Congress in 1774.  Though the 13 colonies are largely populated by white English, Germans, and French, with a growing population of Black slaves, each colony becomes a melting pot for immigrants arriving from different nations of the world.  Native Americans are slaughtered by the advance of “civilization” with the increasing influx of foreign, largely white, Americans.

THE BEAUTY AND MAJESTY OF AFRICA IS EVIDENT IN EVERY CLICK OF THE CAMERA LENSE:

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Africa is incredibly beautiful.  In sunrises and sunsets; in exposure to the largest and most beautiful animals in the world; in spectacular views of Victoria Falls, and with many Africans’ heart-felt acceptance of tourists.  A traveler sees and feels the radiance of nature and the kindness of all human beings.  But, the economic hardship of the general population in the face of such great potential wealth is disheartening.

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The heart of the failure of the nation-states is said to lie at the feet of poor leadership and corruption.  Though there is undoubted truth in that observation, it seems an excuse for failure.  Every presentation by indigenous Africans notes how important education is to their and their family’s success.  It may be that the people we met are an exception but every culture has its exceptions.  It is these exceptions that modernize the world.

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Sacrifice for education and family values are obvious characteristics of the people we met.  Stories were told of the sacrifice that a Principal makes to teach children English; a story of a prostitute who sells herself with the intent of saving enough to finish school and start her own business; a story of an un-wed mother who is first in her class in high school and goes on to college—all are native Africans emphasizing the importance of family and education.

One is drawn to the conclusion that corruption and poor leadership are a stage of early development that will be ameliorated (not eliminated) over time.  There is no quick solution but a first step would be to re-value the indigenous culture of each part of Africa.  Changing borders is not the answer.  But, like early America, sections of Africa should consider their own Continental Congresses to provide government services that one state is unable to provide; i.e. services like interstate commerce, military preparedness, and a common currency.  Every power not given to this centralized government would remain in the hands of respective nation-states.

FREE TRADE IDEAL

Today, the economic strength of Africa is being strangled by border crossing regulations that delay interstate commerce.  Undoubtedly, corruption is exacerbated by bribes to get goods across borders.  Respective state leaders are reluctant to give up control of borders because they get a piece of the interstate border crossing fees.

The greed of leaders can be co-opted by making them understand they will make more money with the opening of their borders by using some of their wealth to create paved roads into growth corridors of their states.  When a foreign company sees they can get to their mine, or have water for agricultural development, they will invest.  Government leaders can negotiate deals with foreign businesses that demand training of native populations in the management work of new businesses.  When more Africans are employed, a source for government taxation is created.

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The emphasis on education must be reinforced.  In time, that education will remove overtly corrupt leaders.

It will not eliminate corruption but it will improve the condition of the local population.  There is a cost inherent in this push for modernization.  Manue tells of the family structure that exists in the three countries visited.  That close family relationship will be diminished by modernization.

LOCAL HEAD MAN SPEAKING TO VILLAGE PROPERTY OWNER

Every village has a Chief who has a Head man that supervises the village.  These positions are inherited; not earned by performance. 

This familial arrangement will be compromised by modernization because performance will become a more important criterion for Chief or Head man designations.  Money and power, rather than family relationship, will become prevalent.

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Another cost will be borne by the natural attributes of an animal kingdom that surprises and delights world travelers.  Manue notes that Botswana has an animal refuge that can support 20,000 elephants when 100,000 elephants roam the countryside.  Action is needed to control nature’s environment.  Exercising that control will turn a wilderness into more of a free-form zoo.  The wildness of a Safari will be diminished.

Love for Africa is clearly evident in the people we met.  One suspects our visit is a sanitized view of the real life of most Africans.  However, our view is through the eyes of a rich, modern nation.  A young African boy or girl born into a family of loving parents knows what he/she knows and cares little about what a foreigner thinks.  Twenty days in Africa is a trip of a life time; especially with a guide like Manue Joao.