Monday, September 25, 2023

Review of Crashed: How a Decade of Financial Crises Changed the World by Adam Tooze

This book review was written by Eugene Kernes   

Book can be found in: 

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“The main mechanisms for intervention were fourfold: (1) loans to banks; (2) recapitalization; (3) asset purchases; and (4) state guarantees for bank deposits, bank debts or even for the entire balance sheet.  Everywhere the crisis struck, states were forced to take some combination of these measures.  The agencies involved were central banks, finance ministries and banking regulators.  What summary statistics cast as cool enumerations were, in fact, frantic, improvised solutions that emerged from barely coordinated sessions of all-day, all-night problem solving.  As the crisis intensified it put the financial and political resilience of states to the test.  Broadly speaking, this produced four types of outcomes, which reflected the degree of immersion in global finance, the resources of the states at risk, the shape of the governing elite and the balance of power within the financial sector itself.” – Adam Tooze, Chapter 7: Bailouts, Page 167

“The contrast in fortunes between Wall Street and Main Street was increasingly intolerable.  The big banks had been bailed out.  Some of the most unscrupulous bosses might face legal action, but they were not facing personal ruin.  They retired to lifestyles of wealth and comfort.  None had gone to jail.  And those at the top of the tree on Wall Street were bouncing back apparently without shame or second thought.  The bonus season in 2009 was better than ever.” – Adam Tooze, Chapter 13: Fixing Finance, Page 306

“The IMF’s headline was stark.  The “overarching risk” to the world economy was of an intensified global “paradox of thrift.”  As households, firms and governments around the world all tried to cut their deficits at once, there was an acute risk of global recession.” – Adam Tooze, Chapter 18: Whatever It Takes, Page 423


Is This An Overview?

Finance is internationally integrated.  Banking activity, regulations, and political policies from one state has an international effect.  A financial crisis in one state can trigger an international crisis.  Each state can respond differently based on their political and economic institutions, based on those who have the power to influence the decisions being made, but the responses effect other states as well.  Each state tends to want what is best for their people, even if that is not the best for the international community, which can then hurt the future of the state. 

Financial products that were meant to reduce risk, in practice created risk with the consequent of a crisis.  To prevent the crisis from escalating, the banks were bailed out.  The financial industry got rewarded with bonuses, while the rest of society had to pay the costs of the bailouts.  Debt was used to resolve debt, making states more indebted.  To pay for the debt, many states tried to reduce their deficits by reducing spending.  But reducing spending not only hurt their own societies, but also risked an international economic crisis. 



The 2007-2009 financial crisis forms the basis of the book, along with the sequence of events that happened before and after the crisis.  Reflecting on historic conditions and international politics that culminated into the crisis, and the policy outcomes of the decisions made during the crisis.  The focus is on the sequence of events, not on their explanation or interpretation.  Explanation of events is limited, and can sometimes be politically motivated.  As such, this is not an introductory book.  The reader should understand how finance operates and interacts with politics before reading, or research each sequence of events further while or after reading about them.   

Questions to Consider while Reading the Book

•What is the raison d’etre of the book?  For what purpose did the author write the book?  Why do people read this book?
•What are some limitations of the book?
•To whom would you suggest this book?
•How does politics effect finance?
•How financially integrated are states?
•What is the paradox of thrift?
•What did the GSE’s do?
•What is securitization? 
•How did states regulate banks?
•Why did states bailout banks?
•Who paid for the consequences of the financial industry?
•How does state action effect other states?
•What are the consequences of a state with large debts? 
•What happened in Ukraine?
•What happened in Greece?
•Is the Great Recession an American crisis? 
•What effect did stimulus have? 
•How did monetary policy behave? 

Book Details
Publisher:            Penguin Books [Penguin Random House LLC]
Edition ISBN:      9780143110354
Pages to read:       616
Publication:          2019
1st Edition:           2018
Format:                 Paperback 

Ratings out of 5:
Readability    3
Content          3
Overall          3

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Review of The Challenge for Africa by Wangari Maathai

This book review was written by Eugene Kernes   

Book can be found in: 
Genre = Politics
Book Club Event = Book List (02/17/2024)
Intriguing Connections = 1) Get To Know The People Of The World (African States), 

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“One of the major tragedies of postcolonial Africa is that the African peoples have trusted their leaders, but only a few of those leaders have honored that trust.  What has held Africa back, and continues to do so, has its origins in a lack of principled, ethical leadership.  Leadership is an expression of a set of values; its presence, or the lack of it, determines the direction of a society, and affects not only the actions but the motivations and visions of the individuals and communities that make up that society.  Leadership is intimately influenced by culture and history, which determine how leadership perceives itself and allows itself to serve: whether it has self-respect, and how it shapes public and foreign policy.” – Wangari Maathai, Chapter Two: A Legacy Of Woes, Page 24

“Like other developing regions, Africa has had to contend with a set of external conditions imposed by the industrial world that were meant to combat poverty and foster growth, even though they sometimes had precisely the opposite effect.  For decades, African states were offered or even urged to accept loans to finance large-scale development projects.  Many of these were inappropriate to Africa’s needs or simply fronts for official corruption.  As the debt and interest payments mounted, African states were more often than not returning more funds to the industrialized countries than they were receiving in aid.  In spite of their demonstrable corruption and lack of democratic bona fides, many leaders of African countries continued to receive funding from international agencies and donor nations, inhibiting the prospects for development and further impoverishing the African people.” – Wangari Maathai, Chapter 3: Pillars Of Good Governance: The Three-Legged Stool, Page 43

“While aid can be a very useful tool for development, it may also be achieving a completely opposite outcome, undermining its stated objectives and leaving a majority of Africans dependent rather than empowered.  For instance, donor nations ship or fly in food aid rather than helping to implement sound food and agricultural policies that would allow African countries to feed themselves when harvests fail and global food prices rise.  Instead of encouraging and fostering capacities and skills in countries themselves, foreign experts continue to manage many essential tasks.  Many aid programs still treat symptoms and manage emergencies rather than supporting investments for the long term so that crises either do not occur or can be handled and resolved with limited or no international assistance.” – Wangari Maathai, Chapter Four: Aid And The Dependency Syndrome, Page 67


Is This An Overview?

This book expresses the problems in Africa, to rectify the challenges that have kept Africa from success.  Understanding how to overcome the challenges, would mean Africa’s success.  The challenges come from various sources such as foreign and domestic policies, leadership, culture, and the environment.  Leadership determines much of what happens in a state, but few African leaders reciprocated the trust and honor that their people gave them. 

Many African states have been colonies, but a colonized past does not justify the African leaders corrupt behavior years after gaining independence.  Many leaders misallocated resources to benefit themselves rather than their people, even using repressive methods on their people.  Loans were made to African states, with conditions that were meant to benefit them, but had the opposite effect.  Funds from loans and donations have been taken by leaders, which deprived the funds from their intended purpose, but also forced the people to repay the debts.  More was repaid in servicing debt obtained from inappropriate loans, then the aid Africa received.  Aid has created a culture of dependence, as the people rely on obtaining more aid rather than develop their own sources of wealth. 

Africa’s success needs to be built on democratic representation, natural resource management, and a culture of peace that supports fairness, compassion, and justice.  Although mired by challenges, many people live their lives responsibility.  The people have the capacity and ability to overcome the challenges that they face.  To build the political, economic, environmental, and cultural institutions that would enable African success.  


How Did Africa Gain Sovereignty?

Many African states used to be colonies of European power.  European powers wanted to exploit Africa’s resources, rather than develop the region.  There were African people who cooperated with the colonizers, who benefited by getting resources and positions that they would not have had otherwise.  These cooperators supported the undermining of their own people. 

There were Africans who fought in WW2, and learned the strategies of warfare.  When Europe was weakened after WW2, and the Africans came back home, they used what they learned to start liberation campaigns.  After gaining political independence, there were few African leaders who put their people first.  Often turning against the people who gave them power and privilege.  The African leaders did not even change the colonial systems of governance that exploited people and resources. 

As African states gained independence, European powers wanted to maintain a supply of resources.  Europeans used tactics to make sure that power was held with those who would politically cooperate.  Favoring cooperative African leaders economically and militarily.  Cooperative leaders were protected from coups, and their human rights violations were not questioned.  African leaders who wanted to develop Africa or remained nonaligned, were denied support. 

Africa was used as part of the Cold War between U.S. and the Soviet Union.  Using Africa against Communism and U.S. expansionism.  Divisions within Africa were fostered.  During this era, bad governance was ignored, while those who were uncooperative were removed or made irrelevant.


What Is Africa’s Political Structure?

Leadership is meant to express the values of the people, and determines how a society functions.  Few African leaders have returned the trust that their people put in them.  Politicians misallocated resources to satisfy themselves or investors at their people’s expense.  Rather than investing into the productive capacity of their people.

Leaders can find them prisoners of those who helped them obtain power.  Alternatively, they might not want to leave office for fear of reciprocated persecution by a different government.  Leaders can lose a lot when relinquishing power.  Fighting dictatorship with democratic means is difficult, especially dictatorships which abused human rights. 

Colonialism no longer justifies bad governance after decades of independence.  Inexcusable for failing to protect their citizens, or respond defensively when citizens seek help.  Leadership needs to stop being corrupt and selfish.  Leadership can be demonstrated by everyone, not just those on top.  Those in a leadership position may not be true leaders. 

African states are composed of loose collection of ethnic communities, micro-nations.  Brought together by colonial power.  The number of people within the ethnic group determines political power.  African leaders claim to support the state, while identifying with micro-nation to divide people and control them.  They used their ethnicity to gain and maintain power.  Disloyalty to an ethnic group is politically dangerous, even physically dangerous.


How Did Loans And Trade Policies Effect Africa?

The international community did provide bad trade and loan policies, but not all problems came from the international community.  The international community wanted to help Africa.  Imposing conditions that were meant to combat poverty and enable growth, but had the opposite effect.  African states were offered or urged to take on loans that were inappropriate to Africa.  Many loans were simply a front for official corruption.  Conditions included a reduction in social programs.

Loans were made to African leaders even after demonstrated corruption, and the leaders behaving irresponsibly.  A significant portion of the funds were appropriated by leaders.  Used for the leader, rather than on the people they were intended for. 

Loans were extended to support friendly leaders, and favorable business arrangements.  Access to loans was a way to control African leaders.  Making leaders who were more accountable to international donors than their own people.

As debt needed to be repaid with interest, Africa ended up replaying more money than the amount received in aid.  A vicious cycle of indebtedness, which required reduced government expenditures, increased privatization, changing or terminating social services.

These are illegitimate debts as the loans were inappropriate, and the leaders discredited.  The debt is taking resources out of Africa rather than providing for basic functions they were meant to provide.

Foreign government made trade agreements with African states, which over extracted African resources.  While industrialized states protected their markets and were unwilling to remove their protection, Africa could not protect their markets.

Africa experienced a resource curse, as they lacked the technology to use the resources and had to rely on others to exploit and share the finished products.  African government did not diversity their economies.  Africa did not develop industries to have the capacity to add value to the resources by producing finished products, or supported African entrepreneurs or markets. 


How Does Culture Effect Africa?

Funding is important, but if that was the sole problem, then problems would have been resolved.  There are problems with the aid delivered such as African government and people are not active participants in development. 

Aid can leave people dependent rather than empowered.  Dependent on getting more aid, rather than developing their own practices to produce wealth.  Aid delivers short-term benefits without long-term results.  Dependency that has led Africa into passivity, fatalism, and failure.  Africans have come to believe that they cannot act on their own behalf.  Eroding self-determinations and values of independence.  A disempowerment that puts African lives in the hands of others.

Money that comes through aid does not get used appropriately.  Party due to misunderstanding or subverting donor intentions for the money.  Party because people do not feel responsibility for the money. 

Many resolutions to problems are temporary with aid.  As the people do not take an active part in the resolutions, they do not understand the reasons for the resolutions, and therefore fall back into their prior habits.  They also do not take responsibility for the community’s continued development.

Africa has a lot of natural resources, and human resources.  The problem is channeling Africans’ capabilities into effective action for development.  Properly targeted and spent aid can develop people. 

Africa is perceived as ruled by injustice, even though many Africans live their lives responsibility.  The image of African helplessness and suffering undermines Africans.  Africa does have problems, and some governments do need to be shamed into taking actions against the problems. 


How Do Africans Use The Environment?

Africa’s resources are being over extracted, but it is also the people who use the flora and fauna inappropriately.  Misuse of land that leads to soil erosion and desertification.  Destructive land use partly comes form the lack of information due to neglected state agricultural services. 



This is a systematic account of the African continent.  There is limited information on specific African states.  To understand the political and economic situation of each state would require more research.

As the book’s title indicates, the book is about the challenges to Africa.  The problems that Africans have been confronting, and the problems that need to be resolved.  Decisions that are to be avoided.  There is limited information on the decisions that would be appropriate.  Limited references to quality leadership, policies, and resolutions which would provide examples of African states efforts to succeed.  

Questions to Consider while Reading the Book

•What is the raison d’etre of the book?  For what purpose did the author write the book?  Why do people read this book?
•What are some limitations of the book?
•To whom would you suggest this book?
•What are the challenges to Africa?
•How did African leaders behave?
•How did prior colonial history effect forthcoming decisions? 
•Why were loans made to African leaders?
•How did African leaders use the loans?
•What conditions and effect did the loans have?
•How did aid effect African states?
•What is the culture of dependence? 
•What would lead to Africa’s success?
•What are the challenges to Africa’s ecosystem?
•How did African states gain sovereignty?
•How did African leaders treat foreign powers? 
•What are micro-nations? 
•What can make it difficult for a leader to leave political office? 
•What is the resource curse? 
•How did Christianity effect Africa? 
•How to alleviate malaria? 
•What was the Organization of African Unity? 
•What is the practice of harambees?
•What is Kiswahili? 
•Who owns the land of Africa? 
•How did an oral culture effect Africa? 

Book Details
Publisher:               Pantheon Books [Random House]
Edition ISBN:         9780307378095
Pages to read:          236
Publication:             2009
1st Edition:              2009
Format:                    eBook 

Ratings out of 5:
Readability    5
Content          5
Overall          5

Friday, September 15, 2023

Review of The Horde: How the Mongols Changed the World by Marie Favereau

This book review was written by Eugene Kernes   

Book can be found in: 
Book Club Event = Book List (03/09/2024)

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“The Mongols did not keep their elite hostages for life.  Rather, the Mongols trained their hostages both to lead and to obey, so that they could return home as vassals, ruling their homelands in the name of the khan – with his full support, including military assistant and proof of investiture.  Taking hostages was an old steppe diplomatic institution that processed outsiders into the nomads’ social systems and built long-term political relationships.” – Marie Favereau, Chapter 3: New Hordes, Page 105

“The khans did accumulate wealth – through the products of their personal domains, servants, herds, gifts, taxes, and war.  But trade served a different function.  It was not meant to enrich the khan, who did not actually engage in trade or seek profit, as he was above the human world.  Khans, could only give or receive; they did not buy but instead granted, which also is reflected in their demonstrative generosity.  No, trade was not intended to benefit the khan personally but rather to provide health for the empire and welfare for the people – health that was measured as much financially as spiritually, for circulation was intimately tied to the Mongol belief system.” – Marie Favereau, Chapter 3: New Hordes, Page 115

“The great irony is that authoritarianism did not yield authority.  In the Mongol world, fratricide could not go on producing effective politics, which was based on consensus rather than coercion.  A khan who had to coerce his ulus could never muster the unity necessary to collect his far-flung commanders and lead them in conquest, nor could he rely on the loyalty of distant and independent-minded officials.  Such a khan could neither expand his tax base nor obtain revenues from the people he nominally ruled, because he could not count on the backing of tax collectors and other administrators.  And without revenues, the khan could not uphold the imperatives of sharing and circulation – his sacred obligation and the foundation of the political order.” – Marie Favereau, Chapter 7: Withdrawal, Page 264


Is This An Overview?

Mongols were able to conquer a large section of the world, but Mongols were more than just conquerors.  Mongols were expert administrators, who were able to rule the vast empire.  Many regions were developed through their efforts.  Pillage was not the goal of the conquests, but to control production which would generate taxes for the Mongols. 

As more developed regions would produce more tax revenue, Mongols enabled regions productive capacity by connecting and protecting trade routes and other policies to enhance commerce.  Technology was invested in.  Science and art flourished.  Mongols utilized local laws and traditions.  Mongols were tolerant of different faiths.  The empire’s revenue was not for the benefit of the khans, but for the people and empire.  Mongols had a culture of sharing, circulation, and redistribution.  A culture that had egalitarian features, while also reinforcing social rank.  Khans did not accumulate wealth, but dispensed it to prove their worth to the people. 

Succession was hereditary to the heirs of Chinggis Khan, and meant to be tolerant of competitors.  But succession created tension.  Rather than settle disputes through violence, the groups would separate.  Mongols would relinquish claims on the throne to ensure peace.  Showing the resilience and flexibility of Mongol politics.  Four Mongol groups were formed after Chinggis Khan, with this book focusing on the group following Chinggis Khan’s eldest son, Jochi. 


What Was The Mongol Empire’s Political Structure?

This is a book about the Mongol Empire, focusing on the legacy of Jochi.  The empire after Chinggis Khan was led by Jochids, Chagatayids, Ögödeids, and Tuluids.  Each named after a Chinggis Khan son.  Jochi was the eldest son of Chinggis Khan. 

The title of Chinggis was indigenous, rather than given by another power.  A title that was used as a statement, that Mongol would not be subordinate.  The regime had to two goals, to make the ruling status inheritable to the descendants of Chinggis Khan, and to intergrade new members to expand their work force and army.  Descendants had the opportunity to become sovereign, but not all could rule.  Chinggis Khan’s lineage became known as the golden lineage. 

Jochi made an error in battle, and afterwards.  Jochi destroyed the city of Urgench, while it was supposed to be taken for its trade and intelligentsia.  When sharing the plunder, the shares were divided among the brothers, and none was given to Chinggis.  Chinggis was slighted, but forgave the sons.  Then, diluted Jochi’s claim to power, made sure that tax receipts were shared with other brothers.  Making Jochi an equal rather than chief heir.  Without a clear succession, and the alienation of Jochi, laid the foundations for autonomy.  Jochi still had claims to power, even without being heir.  Had exclusive rights to territories, and shares of revenues from sibling territories much like they had a claim on the revenues of Jochi territory. 

Jochi and those that followed Jochi moved to a region between Volga-Ural and Black Sea.  There they established a Mongol administration that was more independent than other Mongol regions.  The Jochid would maintain Mongol practices, develop a sophisticated social organization, and sustain their own imperial formation.  Known as ulus Jochi, or Orda, the Horde. 

Mongol groups were not identical, but shared economic strategies, social institutions, and political culture.  An ulus was the sovereign political community that included all people.  Based on a network of oboqs.  Groups whose members shared single, often legendary, ancestry.  Groups followed their own leaders, but unity was possible. 

After the 1206 quriltai, political power was concentrated in the golden lineage, involving extended negotiations with elites.  Khan made decisions in assemblies.  Major decisions were not made without the Khan.  Quriltai was also an event when the khan would distribute positions, rewards, punishments, and missions.  This was a meeting in which foreigners were not allowed, to not share internal politics with them. 

The Horde was socially diverse and multiethnic, but the leadership came from dominant steppe clans, mostly Mongol subgroups.  They were called begs.  As the Horde became oligarchical, the begs gained power.  Begs ruled with the khans in a governing council.  Khan’s primacy was acknowledged by being descendent of Chinggis Khan, but that did not make a khan all-powerful.  They needed to associate with powerful begs. 

Administration had a hierarchy that was important to the Mongols, between seniors and juniors, but the hierarchy was subject to revision.  Commoners could be associated with prestigious lineages, but birth rank remained conspicuous.  Social hierarchy that also differentiated between long status and newcomers.  Mongol loyal servants were the keshigten.  The keshig collaborated with and served Jochids, but they were separate.  Intermarriage was rare, and did not lead to familial political alliance. 

Succession after Chinggis created political tension.  To avoid civil war and bloodshed, the groups divided.  Mongols were able to relinquish claims on the throne, to enable peace.  As the steppe was large, rivals could part amicably, and seek relative autonomy.  Even cooperate with the broader ulus.  Generally, when an empire breaks apart, the empire ceases to be.  That is not the case for the Mongol empire.  Mongol’s breaking apart was a show of resilience.  Showing mobility and flexibility of Mongol politics. 

Alliances could be made, but were fluid.  What was durable was vengeance, as blood feuds spanned generations.  Temüjin, who would become Chinggis Khan, gained influence when taking vengeance for the fall of Temüjin’s family. 

The political process was meant to be tolerant of successorship competitions.  But with each succession, the process became strained.  Defeated candidates no longer publicly renounced their claim to the throne.  Begs gained power when the khans Nogay and Toqto were in conflict.  Begs wanted to maintain the Mongol system that the khans threatened in different ways.  Özbek gained power through murder and political purges.  Purges that created a cycle of vengeance.


How Did Economics Influence Social Status?

The Mongol exchange changed the lives of a large part of the world.  In which people were conquered, and accepted Mongol domination.  An era in which various fields flourished such as economic, industry, art, medicine, and various sciences.  Mongols invested in technology and innovated the technologies they found.  Manufacturing production increased.  Imported products and attracted traders. 

Social status was dependent on manufacturing, for what was worn determined status.  Luxuries that were needed for the political economy, for social order.  Trade that was not necessarily for subsistence.  They relied on circulation and redistribution of goods to reinforce social rank, and create bonds of dependence.  Which also gave people a reason to invest into the success of the regime.  Circulation was also a spiritual necessity. 

Mongol society had generous leaders, because it would through their generosity that they proved their worth to the people.  Not just the leaders, but redistribution was for all social classes.  Khans did not accumulate wealth, but dispense it.  To keep the wealth in circulation, which brought in more resources than when retained.  Wealth that was meant for the health of the empire and welfare of the people, not for khan personally.

Mongols shared everything.  Redistributed resources, with more going to higher-status individuals.  Sharing also reinforced hierarchy, as inheritance ensured concentration of wealth.  Sharing system had egalitarian features, such as commoners got enough distribution to obtain material comfort.  Lending and borrowing of animals was common.   Although food production was distributed upward, poor herders could more easily sustain themselves. 

Pillage was not the goal of the conquests.  The goal was to encourage the conquered people to continue doing what they excelled at, and for Mongols to benefit through taxation.  Mongols used conquered people’s skills and capacities, and expanded their commercial networks.  Mongols were building long-distance trade, even during tumultuous times.  Mongols wanted production and distribution to occur within their territories.  Many different communities traded with the Horde.  They were sometimes allies, sometimes enemies. 

As trade depended on merchants, merchants were valued, and given legal privileges and tax exemptions.  Mongols knew that merchants could not be coerced or controlled, therefor they were seduced.  Placing light taxes on commercial transactions, and keeping merchants safe.  Mongols controlled trade routes, grasslands, and marketplaces. 

The focus of Mongol taxation was whatever a society produce in surplus.  When societies like Russia could not produce much food in surplus, their furs and crafted objects were used as payment.  Mongols were projecting power, but did not interfere with economic organizations.  Mongols did not extract value to the detriment of their subjects, but empowered them to produce which would have enriched the Mongols.  Mongols took into account economic, political, and cultural sensitivities.  As economic growth and political stability was important for the Mongols, the Mongols took their time changing the people’s habits.  Mongols were willing to invest time and effort. 

Coin use tended to be seasonal, and followed trade fairs and tax collection.  Coins were issued when needed, and only a khan could determine legal tender.  When coins were needed, anyone could just bring in silver to the mint.  There was a fee that the khan would take.

Mongols preferred tents which were warm and intimate, over sedentary residences.  As Mongols camps could be extended, they could accommodate additional people and different occupations.  The camps security impressed visitors, along with how respectful the people were toward each other.  The camps lacked fights, along with no large scale thieves. 

Mongols did develop cities to answer increasing sedentary populations, and for a center of trade, religion, and manufacturing.  To advance political and economic goals.  Mongols did not use cities are administrative centers, as they ruled on horseback.  They were expert administrators, with an administration system that lasted longer than the empire. 

Women owned the household, as the husbands needed to visit their different wife’s and their homes.  Women held decision making power, within all social classes. 


How Did Mongols Change Other Peoples, And How Did Other Peoples Change The Mongols?

Mongols had an integration policy, to welcome new subjects into their society, no matter their background.  Alliances were based on common interest rather than other basis.  Mongols were flexible in their policies and respected local laws.  Settling disputes with respect to local laws.  Jochids did not impose their values of land on sedentary people.

Absorption of defeated people was needed for growth.  The Jochids cajoled and threatened vassals.  Accommodating and exploiting sedentary workers.  Enslaved some while let others live their lives.  Took part in their craft.  Some conquered people noticed little change, but had to pay taxes. Others were incorporated.

Rejecting Mongol control was perilous, while cooperation was profitable.  There were rebellions, such as when the Merkit and Naiman decided to go against the Mongols.  These were not outsiders to be defeated and assimilated, but had pledged to assimilate and then reneged.  No mercy would be given to the rebels.

Mongols had the concept of Tengri.  Tengri was the sky, God, and everything that stood out.  The life force of warriors.  Veneration bound the groups together, with exclusion form collective rituals meant banishment from social life. 

Horde identity was fluid, and continuously evolving.  Using nomadic traditions, but adapting and departing when needed when faced with challenges that needed different solutions.  Jochid converted to Islam for political and commercial partners in Muslim regions.   Even as they became Muslims, they also practiced law and spiritual values of the steppe.  Islam became a source of collective identity.  Islam gave Jochids legitimacy to their independence.  Generally, Tengri and Allah were the same.

Islam brought legitimacy to the khan, along with allies for an intra-Mongol conflict.  Although there was no religion strife, the Muslim support for the Jochids was to contest Toluids Christian support. 

Tammachi were garrison troops that established preliminary administration and coercive structure.  Reading the region for long-term occupation. 

Mongols appointed people to represent their interests, to obtain their tax revenue.  Taking census, verifying accounts, and controlling payment delivery.  Mongols trained hostages to lead and obey, to return as vassals.  


How Did Mongol Empire Effect The Environment?

Mongols were nomadic and herders, who therefore knew how to use the environment.  Mongols feared and respected the ecosystem.  Horde needed to be mobile, to ensure sufficient grazing while preventing damaging the steppe ecology.  But also had to converge for political meetings.  Political meetings were scheduled when subsistence was more easily met.  Herding was used more for political control, than herding efficiently. 

Jochids took hold of the fertile regions.  Rejecting Jochid was to reject was to reject food supply.  Increased population required grazing at scale, which required more labor.  Labor that came from captives. 


What Were Mongol Empire’s Military Capabilities?

Used army controlled messenger system called yam.  Yam stations were an army controlled communication networks, that enabled quick communication.  With the yam network, they could rule a vast empire.

Military units were composed of different clans, to limit opportunities of solidarity and rebellion.  Defeated warriors were absorbed and distributed with the Mongol society.

Mongol custom for warfare was to provide a ritualized exchange with adversaries before battle.  A form of psychological warfare, with diplomatic means that terrify.  Meant to offend while giving them a last chance to surrender.  After the adversaries were provoked and reciprocated the anger, therefore justifying the Mongol riotousness in the endeavor as the offended party.

When the Mongols were outnumbered, they used captives to make their numbers appear bigger, which would encourage the opposition to surrender without a fight.  Mongols would display captives outside besieged cities and abuse them, to demoralize the city’s population.  Mongols would use the captives as shields. 

Mongols excelled at sieges and open battles.  Their opponents, such as the Bulgars and other later, knew this.  They developed strategies to prevent engaging the Mongols on these terms. 

Mongols decapitated prince’s heads, to show as proof that the death was true, and to accelerated submission of the people.

When met by unfavorable conditions, such as local resistance and muddy terrain, they changed their plans. 

The Mongols had exceptional scouts, knowing location of enemies and their strengths and weaknesses.  Opponents such as the Russians, had trouble identifying the location and number of Mongols. 

Mongols attacked villages and small fortifications before focusing their siege unto a capital.  Without surrounding support, capitals lacked supplies therefore could not hold out for long.  The Mongols took the supplies for themselves, that was also used when moving to the next target.

Mongols fought during cold-weather, used cold-weather warfare.  Mongols attacked when their opponents were unprepared, and were ready to retreat when needed.  Adapted to climactic differences, moved to hospitable terrain.  Mongol warfare season was opposite of Russian.  Russians used peasants, who were able to fight in spring and early summer as they worked on the field afterward.  Russians were not expected to fight during the coldest months, as they stayed indoors.  The Mongols fought during the cold season, while retreating in the late spring and summer for milking season. 


How Did The Jochid Effect Russia?

For various people, taxation was more acceptable than violent domination.  Russians understood that Mongol regime would be more stable than their own.  Russia began to develop under Mongol rule.  It was Mongol protection, politics, and trade policies that developed Russia.  Jochid influenced Russia by connecting and integrating market.  By letting Russian landowners to keep their domains intact, Mongols meant to share rewards of their conquests.

The Jochid relied on the Russians to collect the taxes.  Mongols gave the clergy tarkhan status.  Exempting them from taxation, and military conscripts.  In return, the clergy legitimized the Mongol regime. 

When Mongol rule was dissipating, Russians leadership sought for sovereignty.  Russians used their Christian religion against the Muslim and foreign influence.  The people did not necessarily want to remove the Mongols.  Religion, citizens, and their economy were developed because of the Mongols.  It was through the Mongols that Romanovs were able to consolidate power. 


Why Did Mongol Influence Decline?

During the 1350s, there was a period of bulqaq, anarchy.  Facing plague, rebellions, and succession struggles.  With many threats, the Mongols used their strategy of retreating.  Not as a reflection of panic, but of strategic withdrawal.  Less of an ejection from the region, but to focus their efforts on facing dangerous adversaries. 

During the 1340s-1350s, Mongols were abandoning cities due to plague, the Black Death.  The plague traveled further than before, because of Mongol activities.  Mongol movements, ecological changes, and trade connections brought more interactions between humans and other animals with more people.  Mongols already knew how to respond to contagious diseases, which included quarantining people.  Regions were facing not just epidemics, but also natural disasters.  The public held the Mongols responsible.  For mismanaging resources.   

Even with ecological struggles, bulqaq was a succession struggle.  The khans were purging their competitors.  Khan’s purges prevented a strong ruling class, which opened them to rebellion and other forms of strife.  Birdibek did more damage in a short time than the plague had.  Birdibek eliminated every competitor for the throne, which horrified his own people.  Political assassinations provoked retaliation, which created cycles of revenge due to Mongol culture of seeking vengeance.  As the Mongol Empire became more authoritarian, less people were willing to support the Mongol Empire. 

As the empire was dissipating, Mongol influence was reduced, but did not disappear.  Some regions did break away.  Other Regions took part in the Mongol system rather than seek to destroy it. 



As a cultural history with diverse details, there can be difficulty in keeping track of who did what, and the names and function of social institutions.  As political alliances shifted frequently, it can be difficult to follow the political spheres of influence. 

There are parts of the book that provide many details on a few events, while other parts provide a quick succession of sequences of events.  Tracking the sequence of events can be difficult, but the implications of the events are provided.


Questions to Consider while Reading the Book

•What is the raison d’etre of the book?  For what purpose did the author write the book?  Why do people read this book?
•What are some limitations of the book?
•To whom would you suggest this book?
•What was the goal of the Mongol conquests?
•How did the Mongols mange the empire?
•What economic policies did the Mongols use?
•How did Mongols treat their conquered people?
•How were leaders chosen?
•Why did Mongol groups split? 
•What was the significance of the Chinggis title?
•What is Jochi’s relationship to Chinggis? 
•How did Jochi offend Chinggis Khan? 
•What is an ulus?
•What is a quriltai? 
•Who are the begs?
•How did Mongols define social status?
•What culture did Mongols have?
•How did Mongols treat merchants? 
•What tax did Mongols collect? 
•What legal tender was used? 
•What was the role of women? 
•What is Tengri? 
•Why did Jochid convert to Islam? 
•What warfare strategies did the Mongols use? 
•How did Mongols use captives?
•How did Mongols negotiate before military conquest?
•How did Jochid effect Russia? 
•What was the period of bulqaq?
•How did plague effect the Mongols?
•How did the Mongols treat the environment? 
•What is the yam network? 
•How did Mongols take Georgia? 
•What happened to the Qipchaqs? 
•How did power change during Qubilai’s reign?
•What happened when the Mamluks and Jochids made an alliance? 
•Did the Mongols use biological warfare? 
•What happened in the conflict between Mongols and Muhammad of Khwarezmian Empire?

Book Details

Edition:                First Harvard University Press
Publisher:             The Belknap Press [Harvard University Press]
Edition ISBN:      9780674278653
Pages to read:       310
Publication:          2022
1st Edition:           2021
Format:                 Paperback 

Ratings out of 5:
Readability    5
Content          5
Overall          5

Monday, September 11, 2023

Review of Berlin by Jason Lutes

This book review was written by Eugene Kernes   

Book can be found in: 
Book Club Event = Book List (11/18/2023)

Watch Short Review


Is This An Overview?

This is a graphic novel about a changing Berlin.  How the city changes the people, and how the people change the city.  A decade after World War One, the people are struggling, but managing to get by.   Different social groups are claiming to want to help the people, and do help those that support them.  But each group is attached to political power, that persecutes those who support other groups.  Using violent means, that escalates violence.  Sometimes purposefully instigating violence, to show how effectively a group can create order to use as propaganda.  People join the groups because of their claims, to better their lives, but often do not know the hidden political agendas that threaten them.  There are also those who want to maintain neutrality, those who seek to understand what is happening and seek to expose corruption.  They are often silenced.  As persecution escalates, people leave the city.  Families are broken up. 

The story is told from diverse perspectives, and how the diverse characters interact.  Representative of Berlin’s diverse culture and vibrant communities.  Showing the gradual changes that turned a diverse and tolerant city into a city of repression.  Showing how decent people can be turned, and join groups that are against their own interests.  A story containing philosophy, politics, and various ways to treat others.  Showing the hidden and public ways how people respond differently to social situations. 



As a graphic novel, the images can sometimes be confusing, and some writing hard to decipher.  There are also images inappropriate for younger audiences.  

Questions to Consider while Reading the Book

•What is the raison d’etre of the book?  For what purpose did the author write the book?  Why do people read this book?
•What are some limitations of the book?
•To whom would you suggest this book?
•How does Berlin change?
•How do the Berlin people change?
•How do the people change Berlin?
•What social circumstances are Berlin people living through? 
•What are the different social groups and how do they attract people?
•What were the claims and efforts of the National Socialist party (Nazi)?
•What were the claims and efforts of the Soviets?
•Why does violence escalate? 
•What cultures and communities are represented in the book?  
•What impact did Karl Marx have on Germany?
•What impact did Rosa Luxemburg have?  
•Why is Marthe Müller going to Berlin?  Why does Marthe stay in Berlin?  Why does Marthe leave Berlin?
•What does Kurt Severing do?
•What are Severing’s political views?
•What does Carl von Ossietzky do?
•Who is Anna Lencke?
•How does Berthold Schwartz treat others?
•What does Margarethe von Falkensee want?
•Why does Gudrun Braun join a movement? 
•How does Silvia Bruan survive after the death of Silvia’s mother?
•What do the Cocoa Kids do in Berlin? 
•How historically representative is the book? 

Book Details
Edition:                First Paperback Edition
Publisher:             Drawn & Quarterly [Farrar, Straus and Giroux]
Edition ISBN:      9781770464063
Pages to read:       555
Publication:          2020
1st Edition:           2018
Format:                 Paperback 

Ratings out of 5:
Readability    5
Content          4
Overall          5

Wednesday, September 6, 2023

Review of Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

This book review was written by Eugene Kernes   

Book can be found in: 
Genre = Psychology
Book Club Event = Book List (05/18/2024)

Watch Short Review


“Contrary to what we usually believe, moments like these, the best moments in our lives, are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times – although such experiences can also be enjoyable, if we have worked hard to attain them.  The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.  Optimal experience is thus something that we make happen.” – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Chapter 1: Happiness Revisited, Page 14

“This paradox of rising expectations suggests that improving the quality of life might be an insurmountable task.  In fact, there is no inherent problem in our desire to escalate our goals, as long as we enjoy the struggle along the way.  The problem arises when people are so fixated on what they want to achieve that they cease to derive pleasure from the present.  When that happens, they forfeit their chance of contentment.” – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Chapter 1: Happiness Revisited, Page 25

“There are two main strategies we can adopt to improve the quality of life.  The first is to try making external conditions match our goals.  The second is to change how we experience external conditions to make them fit our goals better.” – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Chapter 3: Enjoyment And The Quality Of Life, Page 75


Is This An Overview?

Optimal experiences come about when the individual has worked hard to attain them.  When the body or mind are at their limit through voluntarily effort, in difficult and worthwhile experiences.  The optimal experience is called flow, for during flow, nothing else matters except the activity.  During flow, the sense of self vanishes.  During flow, the individual is not reflecting about worries or inadequacies, but after the experience when there is reflection, positive feedback is obtained.  During flow, the individual has a sense of control in difficult situations.  To obtain flow, the activity needs to be challenging, with the individual having the skills to overcome the challenge.  The activity needs to provide joy within the process of the experience, rather than through an expected reward for the effort. 

Creating conditions for the optimal experience, does not necessitate that flow will occur.  A major factor in flow, in enjoyment, is the mind.  Different individuals can perceive a situation differently, such as a situation being an obstacle for one but an opportunity for another.  It takes constant effort to prevent the chaos of the mind, it takes effort to gain mastery over the consciousness.  Culture and external stimuli can organize the mind, but they can be deceptive and make the individual dependent on them rather than adapting to new situations and improving their lives.  Happiness is derived by how the individual interprets what it happening, rather than how other people interpret the individual’s behavior. 


How To Protect Oneself Against Chaos?

How everyday is experienced depends on the mind and how the mind processes information.  Happiness depends on inner harmony rather than control of external forces.  Physical survival depends on mastery of external environment, but that does not reduce the chaos of the world experienced.  To master the chaos, requires having mastery over consciousness.  Quality of life can be improved by matching external conditions to expectations, or changing how the individual experiences external conditions.   

Rising expectations improve the quality of life but provides discontent as the quality of life seems subpar compared to expectations.  There is no problem when people escalate their expectations and enjoy the struggle to achieve them.  The problem is when people focus on their expectations that they cease to derive pleasure from the present.  They forfeit their contentment. 

Culture socializes people, to make their behaviors more predictable which enables cooperative benefits.  Cultures provide a method of interpreting chaos.  But when the cultural values fail, there is danger of disillusionment.  Confidence in cultural values prevents people from considering and adapting to different values that can be better within contexts.  Cultures can prevent reflection of people’s values, that can prevent people from attaining the quality of life they want.  Reflection would cause disillusionment.  Cultural symbols of happiness, are deceptive.  They tend to distract from reality they are designed to represent.  Quality of life depends on how the individual feels about what is happening, rather than how other people think of the individual.  Therefore, needs to improve the quality of the experience.

Chaos is the modus operandi of the mind.  It takes training to focus thoughts without external stimuli.  Contemporary society seems helpless in control chaos compared to ancient societies.  Even ancient societies knew how to control their lives. The reason is that kind of knowledge, is not something that can be memorized and routinely applied.  What it takes is trial and error experiences by each individual.  Knowing how to achieve control is not enough, what it takes is to consistently apply it.  To keep practicing control.

There are societies that have mastered material achievements, but fail at spiritual acts.  There are societies that have mastered spiritual achievements, but fail at material acts.   A better society would incorporate the material and spiritual needs of a people.

Controlling consciousness needs to be adaptive to era and cultural contexts.  Historical ways to achieve control, do not necessarily apply to contemporary contexts.  Control of consciousness cannot be routinized, cannot be institutionalized. 

The state of mind is to an extent independent from the objective environment.  As people can change how they perceive what is happening.  The same situations can appear as obstacles to some while an opportunity for others.  There are limits to how much pain a person a person can endure while maintaining happiness with the control of consciousness. 

Consciousness is shaped by the self and attention.  The self directs attention, while attention determines the self.  Memory and pattern recognition are needed shape the mind.  Memory of information is useless if not connected to other information to form a pattern. 


What Is The State Of Flow?

Psychic disorder adversely effects consciousness.  Psychic disorder is information that conflicts with known information.  Psychic disorder diverts attention to unwanted objects, which inhibits performance. 

The opposite of psychic disorder, is the optimal experience.  That is when information received is congruent with objects.  When psychic energy flows effortlessly.  Task enjoyment depends on being able to complete the task, able to concentrate on the task, has clear goals, provides immediate feedback, remove worries and frustrations, enables a sense of exercise control over actions, the self disappears and emerges stronger after the experience, and perception of the duration of time is altered. 

The tasks need to provide opportunities of being challenged and having appropriate skill to realize.  Challenging tasks are meaningless for those without the skills.  Competition can be enjoyable as it provides a challenge and tends to improve the competitors.  But competition is not enjoyable when defeating the opponent takes precedence over the performance, when competition itself becomes the end itself.

Flow experiences tend to happen when a potential loss is not detrimental to living life.  A lack of worry about losing control.  That they have the possibility of control the outcomes rather than actually controlling the outcomes.  Having control can become addictive, with the individual losing the ability to cope with the ambiguities of life. 

The self does not disappear, but the concept of self does.  Information used to represent an identity.  A loss of self-consciousness that can lead to self-transcendence. 

The flow experience needs to be autotelic, a self-contained activity, an activity done for the process of doing the activity rather than a reward. 

Variety is needed for experiences for them to be enjoyable.  Experiences are become frustrating when they repeat and do not continue to test skills.  What matters is also the skills that the individual believes they have not just those that are shown. 


How Flow Applies To Life?

Music helps organize the mind that reduces psychic entropy.  Parents that focus on how their children perform music rather than how they experience music, turn music into a source of psychic disorder. 

Writing not only transmits information, but also creates information.  Journals can be used as a source of reflection.  A source of organizing thoughts. 

Forcing someone to learning creates resistance.  Learning because someone wants to absorb information will make learning relatively effortless and enjoyable. 

Work does not need to be unpleasant.  Work can be a source of enjoyment.  Workers who enjoy their jobs are benefited personally and are more efficient in their tasks.  Even optimal conditions for work enjoyment is not guarantee of flow, because that also depends on how the individual perceives their possible actions, and capacities.  Sources of discontent at work can be a lack of variety and challenge, conflict with colleagues, and burnout. 

People waste free time with passive activities, rather than risking acting on their beliefs.  To enjoy work and free time, requires taking charge of them. 

Other people are a source of the best and worst times.  People depend on the feedback of others, and are vulnerable to how they are treated. 



Most of the book focuses on internal representation of events, and the conditions needed to obtain flow.  But the way to flow and happiness is difficult.  What is provided are methods to change external influences and how to change one’s perspective to facilitate flow.  But no method is guaranteed or easy, because it takes the individual to experiment and challenge themselves to attain flow.  This is a book about inducing social disillusionment.  An attempt to make the individual take control over their own consciousness rather than rely on external stimuli.


Questions to Consider while Reading the Book

•What is the raison d’etre of the book?  For what purpose did the author write the book?  Why do people read this book?
•What are some limitations of the book?
•To whom would you suggest this book?
•What is the optimal experience (flow)?
•What happens during flow?
•How to achieve flow?
•What role does the mind have in flow?
•How to gain mastery over consciousness?
•How does culture and external stimuli effect chaos?
•How to be happy?
•Do people experience the same events the same ways?
•What is the paradox of rising expectations?
•Why does it appear that ancient societies were better able to control their lives? 
•How much can the state of mind be controlled? 
•How is memory used?
•What is consciousness? 
•What is psychic disorder?
•Why is a challenge needed?
•How does the individual think about the self?
•How to have a feeling of control?
•What is an autotelic experience?  
•What effect does music have?
•Can flow influence work?
•How to use free time?
•How do other people effect the individual? 
•What is cultural relativism?  
•How do drugs effect the mind? 
•What is the effect of socialization? 
•What does reality think about human desires?
•What is the point of pleasure? 
•How to use natures programming?  
•What is the point of writing? 

Book Details
Edition:                 EPub Edition
Publisher:             HarperCollins
Edition ISBN:      9780061876721
Pages to read:       344
Publication:          2009
1st Edition:           1990
Format:                 eBook 

Ratings out of 5:
Readability    5
Content          5
Overall          5

Saturday, September 2, 2023

Review of Transformative Experience by L. A. Paul

This book review was written by Eugene Kernes   

Book can be found in: 
Book Club Event = Book List (05/04/2024)

Watch Short Review


“When we face a choice like this, we can’t know what our lives will be like until we’ve undergone the new experience, but if we don’t undergo the experience, we won’t know what we are missing.  And, further, many of these new and unknown experiences are life-changing or dramatically personally transformative.  So not only must you make the choice without knowing what it will be like if you choose to have the new experience, but the choice is big, and you know it is big.  You know that undergoing the experience will change what it is like for you to live your life, and perhaps even change what it is like to be you, deeply and fundamentally.” – L. A. Paul, Chapter 1: Becoming a Vampire, Page 14

“When a person has a new and different kind of experience, a kind of experience that teaches her something she could not have learned without having that kind of experience, she has an epistemic transformation.  Her knowledge of what something is like, and thus her subjective point of view, changes.  With this new experience, she gains new abilities to cognitively entertain certain contents, she learns to understand things in a new way, and she may even gain new information.  For any epistemic transformation, the degree of epistemic changes depends on how much the person already knowns, and on the type of experience that is involved.” – L. A. Paul, Chapter 2: Transformative Choice, Page 19

“Stories, testimony, and theories aren’t enough to teach you what it is like to have truly new types of experiences – you learn what it is like by actually having an experience of that type.  Unless and until scientists discover how we are to leap the explanatory gap between scientific theory and experience, real people face this kind of epistemic limitation, that is, real people (including scientists) can’t know what it is like to have new experiences just from knowing what scientists know right now about how the brain works.  Given this, you must have had the right kind of experience to know a subjective value, because you must know what an experience of that type is like to know its value – for example, you must experience color before you can know the subjective value of what it’s like to see color.” – L. A. Paul, Chapter 2: Transformative Choice, Page 21


Is This An Overview?

There are many choices in life in which it would be best to consider as much information about them before making a decision.  Choices of what to experience, or not experience.  The problem is that informed decisions can be impossible.  As life presents many choices without being able to understand the different options, how they would impact the future of the individual.  These are transformative experiences, that fundamentally change the individual.  Changing what it would be like to live.  There is no way of knowing how the change would affect the individual, until the individual has the experience.  An experience in which the individual has an epistemic transformation given the new information.  An experience that changes how the individual understands and processes information. 

Information limitations prevents knowing what to expect and make an informed choice.  Lived experiences cannot inform what it would be like to undergo the change because the change would alter values attached to previous and new information.  Different individuals have different reactions to the same change, therefore testimonies of others about their experience cannot be relied upon, especially because their experiences transformed the way they think.  The only source of information about the experience, is the experience itself.  The choice needs to be based on what the individual wants to discover.  To discover how the change will affect them, or a life without the change.


The book is a systematic analysis of transformative experiences, providing various theoretic and practical examples.  The examples and explanations tend to be self-similar and repeated.  

Questions to Consider while Reading the Book

•What is the raison d’etre of the book?  For what purpose did the author write the book?  Why do people read this book?
•What are some limitations of the book?
•To whom would you suggest this book?
•What are transformative experiences?
•What information limitations prevent making an informed choice? 
•What is an epistemic transformation? 
•How to understand animal experiences? 
•What is a subjective value?
•Should a deaf individual obtain the technology needed to hear? 
•Should the individual become a vampire?
•Should the individual become a parent?
•What are transformative experiences that you are considering? 

Book Details
Edition:                 First Edition
Publisher:             Oxford University Press [University of Oxford]
Edition ISBN:      9780191027819
Pages to read:       142
Publication:          2014
1st Edition:           2014
Format:                 eBook 

Ratings out of 5:
Readability    4
Content          4
Overall          4