I really enjoyed this book. It is a good look at the sleazy underbelly of the snake-oil "One True Cure". And it is funny. The author has a first class sense of humor, which is rare in serious journalism.
The book has an extensive bibliography. But no index! That is weird. Computers make creating an index very easy. It is a bit of work to do it right, but it is worth it for the reader.
The narrative takes a different course than most books. Instead of telling a series of stories about seven One True Cure (OTC) promoters, the books chops each quack's tales into four pieces… roughly speaking: Getting started, the early years, the latter years, and the end. This allows you to compare each whacko's experiences with the others over time. The down side is that is it hard to keep up with narratives like that. You lose the thread of one nut-bar and then have to pick it up again three more times.
The main players and their One True Cures are:
Larry Lytle; A laser pistol OTC
Toby McAdam: Herbal Supplement OTC
Robert O. Young: Bleach OTC
Alicia Kolyszko: Leeches OTC
Dale and Leilani Neumann: Prayer OTC
An Alien inside a human skin: MMS (Miracle Mineral Solution) OTC
Mara-A-Lardo is mentioned many times, but only by the moniker "former game show host".
As I mentioned, I find humor injected into the serious work of journalists who are trying to get to the truth is a necessity when the truth is that these people are nuts, evil and/or self-deluded. Twenty-five years ago (or so) I a wrote a piece on the difference between pseudo-science and proto-science. The I issues I raised in that piece, not surprisingly, cropped up constantly in this book.
Many people needlessly die in this book, and there is nothing funny about that.
Well researched, and a very fun read. But no index. If you take dietary supplements, you might find it illuminating.
Thus is one serious downer of a book. There are examples of naked racism in BC, but they are very few. But go south and east into the US., and it is still on full display. About a year ago, I saw a reporter ask a question of a local. His answer was to refer to the "Martin Luther Coon Way", a local street . He paused after uttering the reference and said he probably should not have said it on TV. But other than that, it was what he considered normal speech.
Caste is baked in in the southern US, but it is rarely referred to as such. It was thought of as a way to keep the inferior black man "in his place". Most people would refer to it as an issue of race, but rather it is an issue of tacit caste. When one thinks of caste, India leaps to mind. Their caste system is complex and alive and well. The US was the first to carve out an entire group of people from the human race.
Here is a typical headline from the day: "Two men and two women and three Negroes were killed in a car accident…".To solidify the castes, teachers and the like would never refer to a black person as "Mister", "Mrs.", or "Miss". They would be referred to by their first names or by catch-alls like "boy", "girl", or "auntie". One black man got so annoyed by all this bullshit that he decided, if he were to ever have a daughter, to name her "Miss"… which he did. One day, she (Miss) was called to the school principles office. The principle asked her name. "Miss Hale" she replied. He repeated the question several times in different ways and got the same answer. He looked up her records, and found himself hoist on his own petard. He could not refer to her by name without embarrassing himself. He asked where she was from. She named a neighboring state. "That explains it… colored folks around here would not behave like this".
Race is a social construct. When immigrants came to Ellis Island, they were asked "Are you black or white.". They did not understand the nonsensical question, but the their lives and the lives of their children would be deeply affected but the answer.
Another famous state that indulged in caste and racism was Nazi Germany. They were only in power for about 15 years, and they had some pretty harsh views with regard to Jews, Gypsies, and many other groups. They were forced to create racial purity laws, which included rules on miscegenation. The Germans were rookies at this, so they turned to the US where similar laws had been in place for centuries.
Fun fact: the babble (aka bible) justifies slavery because Ham, Noah's son, saw him naked. Makes sense, right?
The US did not ditch its last endogamy laws (laws restricting interbreeding) until the year 2,000. Thanks Alabama!
One minister (Lichlitter of Pennsylvania in 1910) argued before a congressional immigration panel that "oriental scum" was diluting American blood. Governor Vardaman said negroes were designed by god for menial tasks. Thanks, god! A 16 year old girl pondered what might be an appropriate punishment for Hitler after the war. Her solution: put him in black skin and let him live the rest of his life in America.
Castes are supported by caste members. One thing every white man knew was that no matter how bad he was, he was better than the best black man. Each person had a caste below them that must be held in place. This kind of logic cemented the various castes in India and the US. In India, the Dalits (untouchables) are on the bottom of the heap. They do not like it there and created a group called the Dalit Panthers (patterned after the US's Black Panthers) to fight back.
In the southern US, it was easier for a white felon to get a job than for an honest black man. The best predictor of whether the death penalty should be applied was not the color of the skin of the perpetrator, but the color of the skin of the victim. You would be 11 times more likely to be executed if your victim was white. In the US, it is best to avoid saying you are Danish, or Irish, Polish or any other group, especially when it comes to race and caste. Best to say you are Nordic. This seems to be the carte blanche (no pun intended) of castes. So far, no one has implied that "Nordics" were anything other than the perfect people.
The US continues to lead in racism. States are purging your voter registration if you miss one year; voter ID cards are being required and, at the same time, barriers are being put up to get one. Voting stations for the people that Republicans do not like, like students and black people, are moved without notice, possibly reappearing in a farmer's field.
Robert E. Lee said "The blacks are immeasurably better off here than in Africa, morally, socially, and physically." Sound familiar? Similar ideas are still popular with politicians today.
After WWII, Germany paid restitution to survivors of the holocaust. After the Civil War in the US, The US paid restitution to the slave owners.. How messed up is that? Einstein was sickened by the treatment of the Jew (and blacks) in America, infinitely better though it was than the fate of European Jews.
This book is hard to read. It made me sad to be a member of my species. Race is a social construct without scientific meaning. Caste is best term. The worst example of caste is the US, with India a close second. The US civil war ended more than 150 years ago, but the caste system is still alive and well today.
Joe Rochefort's War; Elliot Carlson; 2011; Navel Institute Press; 456 pgs; notes, appendices, index, glossary, bibliography
Joe Rochefort won WWII.
OK, that is a bit of hyperbole, but if any one man deserves that tag line, he is it. He actually fought two wars: one against the Japanese and one against the Navy. He won both, but beating the Navy would have to wait until after his death. He lead the Hypo (a code word) sigint (signals intelligence) group from a basement in Honolulu. His team cracked the code just enough to allow Rochefort to predict with uncanny accuracy the time and place of the attack on Midway. The Japanese lost four fleet (meaning big) carriers (Kaga, Hiryu, Soryu, and Akagi) to the American's one (Yorktown). If the Americans had lost that battle, resources otherwise marked for Europe would have been routed to the Pacific. The war might have been extended by many months. One could even imagine the US dropping the A-Bomb on its originally planned target, Berlin.
Joe Rochefort was a Navy man through and through. He wanted, more than anything, a sea command. He never really got one. Instead, as mentioned, he was assigned to sigint. He has spend some years in Japan learning the language and that, combined with his decoding experience and quick mind made him a good fit.
There have been big two movies about Midway. The early one staring Charleton Heston is tolerable, but the latest one is much better historically. If you have seen the latter, you already know a good bit of the story.
The new group started off badly. Sigint was not up to speed and they missed the attack on Pearl Harbor entirely, and so did everyone else, but the error would haunt Rochefort. Midway was sigint's revenge. The group was struggling with JN25(c), the Japanese code system. They were able to break the code and win the day, but not without drama.
Joe had one albatross which he could not shake… he was a "maverick". A maverick was an officer who has had come up through the ranks but was not a graduate of Annapolis. Many, if not most, Navy officers were snobs and bigots in that respect. Three officers stand out in this regard. Wegner and the Redmans Sr. and Jr.. They wrote derogatory reports about Rochefort through Navy back-channels. Nimitz would discover this late in the game and he was furious.
Early on , before much of the Japanese message traffic could be decoded, what little data they had came from Traffic Analysis (TA) of ship movements. This did not yield much and Pearl Harbor was the result.
It was interesting to read about the "IBM machines" that proved to be very helpful. The machines were essentially programmable punch card sorters. Sorting was one of the early targets of computing.
When the hammer fell on Honolulu, the Americans could intercept radio traffic but they could not tell what direction it was coming from. They could only say that the source was either at one bearing, or that bearing +180 degrees. In other words, their equipment was primitive even for the time, and it lacked direction finding capabilities.
Six aircraft carriers attacked Pearly Harbor. Luckily, the US aircraft carriers were at sea. Equally lucky was that the Japanese did not hit Pearl's huge stockpile of oil.
After Pearl, the Navy went on a witch hunt and largely blamed Admiral Kimmel. He would face years of criticism before taking his own life. Nimitz took over the Pacific Theater. Rochefort did not escape criticism from the likes of the Redmans.
The good news for Rochefort was the increasing presence of sigint in war.
The next major battle of the Pacific war was Coral Sea. The battle was a draw, but the Japanese were, for the first time, halted. The next engagement would be Midway where the Japanese would face defeat for the first time.
Rochefort and his team had identified Midway as the next target. The JIN's (Japanese Imperial Navy) code for Midway was AF. Washington (the Redmans again) disagreed. Famously, the US suckered the Japanese into tipping their hand on AF. They sent a message "in the clear" that Midway's fresh water condenser was broken. The Japanese noted that AFs water condenser was down. This was Rochefort's second error… he made Washington look stupid. But he was right. The Americans used Rochefort's uncanny predictions to sink all four of the Midway bound carriers. Nimitz famously remarked that Rochefort was only off by five minutes, five miles and five degrees. The rat bastard Redmans later tried to argue that the only reason Rochefort succeeded was because of work that they had previously done. That was BS but they kept at it. When Rochefort was put up for the Distinguished Service Medal (DSM), they nixed it, arguing in part that he did nothing himself, only his people did! By that logic, no officer would ever receive a medal.
Rochefort was also able to provide key information relating to the next major contest: Guadalcanal.
Rochefort would die before he was finally awarded the DSM (the highest military honor the US gives) by Ronald Reagan.
This book was a long read, but I never lost interest. It is the story of a naval battle that would rank up there with Jutland and Trafalgar.
I was surprised when my friend Dave Harper, quite accidently and coincidentally, suggested I read this book. I had just completed my model of the Erebus' sister ship HMS Terror, a fact that Dave did not know. It also surprised me that the book was written by Monty Python alum Michael Palin. Palin is well known as a globe trotter and as it turns out, he is very much interested in the days of English exploration.
The Terror and the Erebus were "bombs". A bomb ship was a warship that used mortars rather than cannon. Mortars demand a strong and sturdy platform to fire from, which in turn demands a reinforced deck and substructure. They served in war, but when the wars ended, their design features made them good at arctic exploration. In other words they were, with some additional modifications, good ice-breakers. The Terror was about 10 years older than the Erebus. Erebus was a Greek god similar to Satan. They were primarily sailing ships, but both had a small (25 hp) steam engine and a propeller that could move them at about 4 knots. I could find no instance in the book where they were ever used. Modern icebreaker engines deliver 40,000 hp.
The Erebus and Terror teamed up, with the newer Erebus in charge, to find both the North and South Magnetic Poles. They succeeded in the former quest and failed in the latter. They were at sea for 4 years, and narrowly avoided being caught in the ice at both ends of the Earth.
They went further south than any previous voyage. Many years later, Shackleton would break their record.
In May 1845, the Franklin Expedition set out, with the same two bombs, to try and navigate the Northwest Passage. John Franklin and his two crews would never see England again. The story of the Franklin Expedition is mostly speculation. A lot of money and rewards were spent to find them. They actually survived on the ice for about three miserable years.
The wrecks of the Erebus and the Terror were found in 2014 and 2016. Some bodies were found and analyzed. They all had elevated lead levels. What role lead had in the loss is hard to say. These men were tough as nails. It is not surprising that several of them tried to jump ship.
This is a fairly long book. It you are interested in the days of sail, or the politics of exploration and scientific discovery, it is an interesting read.
The image below is my model of the Terror. The Erebus would have looked very similar.
I have read several books about Stalingrad. This is definitely one of them.
The Battle of Stalingrad was contingent on the Russians winning Battle of Moscow. It was a close thing. Had the Germans been better prepared for cold weather conditions, they could have taken Moscow.
The battle for Stalingrad began in July 1942 and ended in February 1943.
Stalingrad was surrounded to the west and supplied from the other side of the Volga to the east. The fighting was bitter.
Hitler wanted the Caucasus mountains for oil and Stalingrad for its name… mostly.
As the Battle of Stalingrad progressed, the German army found itself hungry for the 650 tonnes of supplies per day it needed to fight. They were supplied by a single railroad line that became a pivotal target for the Russians.
By October, the Russians had control of the air. In November, 250,000 Germans were trapped in a pocket around downtown Stalingrad. The Germans called it the Kessel (Caldron in English). This was the turning point of the entire war.
The Russians decided to starve the Kessel. The German Luftwaffe tried to supply the Kessel from the air. The Russians shot down many supply sorties. The Germans starved to the tune of one dying every 7 seconds. The Germans were butchering 300 horses a day.
Hitler was a much better tactician than Stalin, but both managed to make some very big errors. The difference was that Stalin could afford them.
Von Paulus, the German head of the sixth army trapped in the Kessel, surrendered in February 1943. He had just been promoted to Field Marshal. Hitler thought the new rank would force him and his men to fight to the death.
I have often thought about how much further mankind might be if we (men) had not banished half of the worlds brightest minds (women) to a life of drudgery and gestation. But every now and then, one or two women manage to beat the odds. Henrietta Swan Leavitt was one.
Miss Leavitt was an astronomer, although her official title was "computer". She was a diligent researcher who spent much of her time measuring the apparent brightness of stars recorded on photographic plates.
In her day (circa 1915), the words "galaxy" and "universe' were synonyms. Examining the brightness of star can give clues to how far away it is. If you know how far away it is, you can know its absolute brightness and vice versa. Ms Leavitt studied stars in the Magellanic Clouds. Some stars are called "variable" stars, Their brightness varies over time. Some of those stars are Cepheid variables. What Miss Levitt discovered was that all Cepheid variables that share the same period also have the same absolute brightness. In other words, Cepheids can be used as a "standard candle". Once the distance to one Cepheid star is known, it is trivial to calculate how far away other Cepheids are. The story of determining the size of the universe is some what more complex. For example, inter stellar dust mucks up the calculations. But Henrietta's discovery was the first step. Before her discovery, Andromeda was though to be a cloud inside the Milky Way, which in turn was thought to be about 100,000 light-years across. Her work showed that Andromeda was another galaxy even larger than the Milky Way, and was something like two million light years away.
Another well known modern standard candle today is the type 1A supernova.
This book is a quick read, and an interesting recounting the squabbles between stubborn astronomers as the moved slowly towards a much grander description of the universe in which we live.
Miss Leavitt was born in 1868 and died of cancer in 1921.
Brian Cox is a few years younger than I. He looks to be much younger. This book is a companion to his TV series. For me, it was largely bubble gum. I am familiar with the history of science, the current state of paleontology, and scientific philosophy, so only a small fraction of the book's thoughts and facts were unknown to me. His writing style is fine… anyone who discusses the Spanish Inquisition and adds that "nobody expects them" is OK by me.
Having said that, it would be a good read for the average person who wishes to hear possible scientific answers to most of the BIG profound questions.
On that basis, I would say it is a fine read.
Project Azorian; Norman Polmar, Michael White; 2010; Naval Institute Press; 173 pgs, appendices, index
In 1969, the diesel-electric submarine K219 set sail from Kamchatka to take up its patrol station a few hundred miles off the coast of Hawaii. It was carrying nuclear tipped torpedoes and at least one nuclear tipped ballistic missile. Shortly after taking up its station, it sank.
The Americans heard it all happen on their Sound Surveillance System ( SOSUS), their system of listening buoys. The USSR had no idea what happened toK219, or where it happened. The US knew a sub had sunk, and had a decent idea of where it was. This launched project Azorian.
Thus begins one of the most bizarre tales in naval history. The submarine sank in 15,000 feet of water... far too deep for any submarine. The US sent the Halibut, a nuclear powered sub, which searched the sea floor with a towed camera system. That alone was a major accomplishment.
They retrieved photos of the stricken submarine. The bottom of the sub was blown out. It would appear that one of its ballistic missiles had lit up accidently, sinking the submarine. Why it happened s still a mystery. The US wanted the Soviet sub and its nuclear warheads.
The US approached Howard Hughes and together, they built a ship called the Glomar Explorer. It was seemingly a deep sea mining research vessel. In fact it was a mount for what would amounts to a giant hand or claw that was to be clandestinely lowered on a drilling rig pipes to the bottom of the sea, grab the forward section of K219, and raise it to the surface for collection and detailed inspection. And it worked! An amazing feat of engineering! Unfortunately, the submarine split in two while it was being raised and the US got much less than they had hoped.
The Soviets denied any knowledge of the submarine and covered it up.
The book is pretty dry. It contains a lot of naval detail that backs up the tale. The tale is like a James Bond story. There is speculation on why the submarine sank. It was most likely a mistake made by a crewman during a drill. It could also could be the case that the K219 was about to start world war three, but was thwarted by benevolent sailor.
The whole story was kept secret for a decade or two.
This book is about quantum mechanics and entanglement. You will know more about QM after reading it, but trust me, you will not understand it any better. It is too weird and there are no analogies in our macroscopic world that apply… not even causality. The book is a good history of the development of this crazy part of physics, from Newton and Young through Heisenberg, Bohr, Einstein and Bell.
QM seems to be saying that two particles that are separated by great distance can, some how, instantly influence another. This seems to violate relativity (which it kind of does). Einstein rejected the QM model because it was proposing "spooky action at a distance". For most of the 20th century, no one knew who was right: Bohr, the champion of QM, or Einstein, the master of relativity. Einstein is famous for saying "god does not play dice with the universe". He was wrong and Bohr was right.
The book spends quite some time on the infamous two slit experiment.
Richard Feynman had this to say about the two slit experiment:
"We choose to examine a phenomenon (the two slit experiment) that is impossible, absolutely impossible, to explain in any classical way. And which has in it the heart of quantum mechanics. In reality, it contains the only mystery."
The ideas in this book are far too deep to explore in a short piece like this. So rather than trying to write notes about the contents, I am going to describe the famous two slit experiment.
Newton showed that light was a wave using a prism. Waves display interference. Click the link to see water wave two-slit interference. Young's two slit experiment shined monochromatic light (light of one colour) through two vertical slits set a certain distance apart. When the light passes through the two slits and appears on a screen, it shows patterns of light and dark, aka "interference". Liight was a wave. Then Einstein came along and explained the photoelectric effect in which light is clearly acting like a particle (called a photon). Light is both a wave and a particle, and neither, at the same time! This is known as "wave-particle duality".
Flash forward a few years. The experiment is refined. With modern tools, they can see where and when a single photon hits the detectors. Laser light is used to create the interference pattern. Billions of photons interfering with each other to create an interference pattern on the detector.
So far, so good. Nothing odd is happening here.
If we turn the brightness down, or in other words, fire fewer and fewer photons of light, we would expect to see interference pattern disappear because there will not be enough photons to interact with each other to create interference. In the extreme case, experimenters can fire one photon at a time, separated by as much time as desired. In this scenario, it is obvious that the photon must pass through one of the slits and, since it is alone, no interference can appear. But… it does! As each photon is fired, slowly over time, a diffraction pattern emerges! This makes no sense. The only way to explain this is to say that the photon goes through both slits at once and interferes with itself! That is three exclamation points in one paragraph.
It gets stranger. If the experimenter makes any attempt to figure out which slits the photons go through, the pattern disappears. The reason for this is partly explained by what the word "look" means in this context. To "look" at a photon or any subatomic particle, we must bounce something off it. Doing this at the atomic level is like firing a bullet at a BB. If you hit the BB, you know where it was, but you now have no idea in which direction the BB is now travelling. To know more precisely where a particle is, you must hit it harder, and that act upsets the QM applecart. This is just a restatement of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. QM effects are reliable enough to make your smart phone work, but only if you do not look too closely at the mechanisms. If you look, QM hides.
No one has been able to explain this in terms people can understand, and no one has been able to find an exception to the rules.
The remainder of the book discusses the weird world of entanglement., focusing on Bell's Theorem which ultimately defeated Einstein's world view.
Dumb asses light Deepak Chopra like to read into QM some magical effect that binds us all together. I am tempted to call the "the Force". That is rubbish. It should be noted that entanglement does seem to work at infinite speed, but it cannot be used to communicate instantly over vast distances. Einstein is still right about that.
On April 26th, 1986, the Chernobyl nuclear reactor number four exploded. The explosion lifted a more than 200 ton "bio-shield" named Elina into the air, exposing the reactor's core.
If you have seen the docudrama about Chernobyl, then you are already aware of much of the contents of this book. I wanted to read it to better understand the physics. What I got was a better understanding of how the worst nuclear disaster in history could have happened at all. The short answer is that the USSR was crumbling, inefficient, and corrupt. The USSR was most concerned about saving face, extolling Soviet science as the best in the world, and doing everything on the cheap.
The result was the second major nuclear disaster in the USSR. A weapons-grade plutonium producing reactor in Siberia had a similar meltdown during the height of the cold war, but the USSR was able to keep it secret.
In their arrogance, the USSR opted on a graphite moderated reactor design, rather than the water moderated design used everywhere else in the world. They eschewed the giant concrete containment vessels that Western eyes associate with nuclear reactors... thinking themselves too smart, and their reactor designs so safe, that they would never have an accident (again). The Soviets built 10 RBMK (in Russian: High Power Channel Reactor) reactors. These reactors were built by a system that had to deal with vendors who routinely supplied sub-standard goods. Seventy percent of one major vendor's goods were faulty.
On one occasion, the Chernobyl plant out-performed its quota by 10%. This was accomplished in part by delaying routine maintenance operations. This sort of thing happened all the time.
Here is my major take-away from the book: the Chernobyl accident lead directly to the collapse of the Soviet Union three years later. Ecological activism became associated with anti-nuclear and anti-Soviet feelings. Lithuania and, most importantly, Ukraine, wanted out. Ukraine got out on December 1, 1991.
The explosion of reactor number four happened during a test of some of the reactor's emergency systems. The fatal test would, among other things, test the SCRAM (Safety Control Rods Activation Mechanism) functions. To do this, they wanted to simulate power losses on some equipment, such as safety equipment. If you think that sounds stupid, you are right. What happens next is complicated.
The boron control rods are tipped with graphite. The boron slows the reaction down and graphite speeds it up. So as the rods go in, the power goes up, and then down. Another accelerating effect involving cavities full of steam (called the positive void effect) also increased power output. Power output went from 200 MWts to 30,000 MWts in just a few seconds. Then it exploded.
What happens next was well covered in the docudrama. Chunks of red hot, and extremely radioactive, graphite were lying about on the ground. Fire fighters did not know what to make of them. For some who got too close, it would mean their death. Even remote controlled vehicles could not stand the radiation.
Initially, the powers that be relied on dosimeter readings, which indicated a tolerable amount of radiation. They downplayed the severity based on that. But what they chose to ignore was that the numbers that the dosimeters were giving were the maximum they could register! When better meters were used, the true picture came into focus, namely that the radiation was well into the dangerous/lethal zone.
Another problem was the water table. More Russian arrogance at work… they should have chosen a sight where ground water was not an issue. If the reactor got to the ground water, another explosion could be expected, along with radioactive water seeping into everything. In a heroic act, miners managed to tunnel under the reactor and freeze the ground solid with liquid nitrogen. They invoked a common Soviet saying: "Who, if not we?"
All things considered, the story of Chernobyl could have been much worse. A whole town, many small villages, and thousands of acres of farm land was contaminated in Ukraine, Russia and Belarus. But all told, immediate deaths could be counted on one hand; and the final total, which includes cancers caused by radiation, and guesses on future death tolls is between 4,000 (from the UN) and 90,000 (from Green Peace) souls.
I would like to think that the Chernobyl disaster had some positive impacts. As mentioned, it was the catalyst of the fall of the USSR (which Putin is trying to resurrect). No new RBMK reactors are being built. The original plan was shut these reactors down, but that idea was quickly modified when the practical realities were considered. People need power to live.
The interior of the Chernobyl sarcophagus will be deadly to human life for 20,000 years.
This was a very easy read. It is very well written. The author is aware of the avalanche of Russian names the book presents. He is careful to remind the reader of each players title and position whenever an obscure Russian re-enters the narrative. It has an excellent index.
A note about radiation:
The units have changed over the years. The old measures are the curie, rad and rem. They are replaced by the becquerel (GBq), gray (Gy), and sievert (Sv). They respectively measure the emitted radiation, the amount of radiation absorbed, and the biological damage done.
Lee Moller is a life-long skeptic and atheist and the author of The God Con.