If you ever read a book about science and the war (the war, there is only one), pick this one. It is long, but rarely overlong on detail, and fascinating. The book consists of 53 chapters with titles like "The X Apparatus" and "Wotan's Other Eye". Most deal with the never-ending new problems and new solutions that arose during the coarse of the war. It documents a kind of technological evolutionary arms race run amok. The author, R. V. Jones, had his fingers in it all (except decryption and computing). The author refers to most people by initials and last name which is quite helpful. After all, one should not use ones Christian names until one has been properly introduced.
Operation Crossbow is a pretty good WWII movie starring George Peppard. The plot centers on a spy mission to destroy Germany's underground V2 production facilities. There really was an operation with that title, and many aspects of the movie are true or close to true. I raise it because it opens with two British officers named Sandys and Lindemann arguing about Germany's rocket program. These were real people. Lindemann was portrayed more or less correctly, but in reality Sandys, the officer hero of the movie, was a glory seeking boob who was obstructionist and more than happy to take credit for other people's work, including that of R.V. Jones. Jones was the real hero of that story, and we should all be glad he had Churchill's ear.
The early part of the 20th century was unique in that major scientific breakthroughs resulted in technology that could be implemented by your average schmuck. To build a crystal radio, for example, all you need is a diode, aluminum foil, a cardboard tube or two, tape, some wire, and an ear-piece speaker. All of this might cost a buck or two. Like many a budding scientist, Jones played with such things as a boy. This not something we can do today. Try building a TV from bubble gum and bailing wire. Many of the technological advances and insights during the war came from Jones and his team. There are too many to mention individually, but most fell under the umbrella of radiation physics (radio, radar etc) and chemical physics (the V1 and V2). They all paved the way for the communications and computer age that we know today.
A German plan came down on the English coast undamaged. This was a rare opportunity to examine the German electronics first hand. An officer instructed two soldiers to keep absolutely everyone away from the site. They even kept other soldiers away when they pointed out that the tide was coming in. Such was the thinking of the common soldier. Luckily, after they got the sand and salt out, the find was an intelligence coup.
One cute story, included to lighten the read a bit, told of a colorful major Wintle. He was so upset that he did not get the posting that he was certain he should have (namely, being a spy in France) that he pulled out his pistol and waved it in front of his commanding officer in frustration. He was soon in front of a Court Martial and the conversation went something like this:
"There are three charges against you, Major Wintle. First you attempted to deceive your medical exam doctor into thinking you could not see out of your left eye, and are therefore guilty of attempted malingering. Did you attempt to deceive your doctor?"
"So you admit your guilt?"
"No sir. I was blinded in WWI. I did deceive the doctor… into thinking I could see with my left eye, and thus, here I am."
"Right. Forget that then. The second charge: you suggested that several politicians and a number of ranking officers should be lined up against a wall and shot. Is that true?"
"Yes sir. And I believe it is my patriotic duty to repeat what I said and why. The following people should be shot…"
By the time he got to number eight, the judge interrupted and said "Right. Forget that then. The final and most serious charge: you attempted to intimidate a superior officer with your pistol. What say you?"
"Oh no sir. I could never intimidate Colonel so-and-so. He is a British Officer and a gentleman! If I burst into the room and said the building was on fire, I am sure he would spend ten minutes writing a strongly worded memo about fire safety before even standing up."
"Right. Forget that then, too. Bugger off and don't do it again!"
One of the major inventions of the British was "window"… very thin strips of aluminum (or aluminium) of a length tuned to reflect German radar. Window was dumped by the ton, blinding the German's to incoming bombers, or blinding them to the fact that there were no incoming bombers. Dirt simple, and extremely effective.
A good trivia question: What city got hit by the most V2s during the war? Nope… not London. Antwerp.
Jones learned early that getting his reports read by the powers that be was not easy. He discovered by accident that if someone took offence to the reports and demanded that distribution be stopped and all copies returned, he could count on everyone reading the report before handing it over. This helped cut red tape a good deal, once he learned to manipulate it. Want people to hear or see something? Censor it. Just like today!
One passage in the book was quite surprising. In it Jones sang the praises of Werner von Braun in "bravely" saving his rocket research papers from a fire caused by British bombing. Von Braun was a de facto Nazi and was well aware of the horrid treatment meted out to the slave labor that built his toys. If not for the high demand on his talents, he would have almost certainly gone to jail for quite some time. Even scientists see other scientists through rose-colored glasses.
Another very enjoyable book from Christie Blatchford. I have always liked reading her columns in the NP. Her earthy style of writing is restrained in newsprint, but not so in her books. It is a worthy successor to Helpless, the story of the OPP and the feds turning their backs on the small town of Caledonia, ON. Truth be told, the sins of the system as described in Life Sentence do not hold a candle to the system allowing politics and ambition to trump even the most basic tenets of the rule of law in Caledonia.
A nice type size and good leading means a fairly quick read.
The book is broken into broken into several large chunks consisting of an anecdotal review of her career; then four long chapters on the big cases: R v. : Abreha, Elliott, Bernardo; and Ghomeshi.
In the opening chapter, she recounts some fun moments, like when the Special Investigative Unit that investigates police shootings hired a hot homicide detective only to discover that he was a fraud; or the when the government hired a race relations specialist who told lawyers that the Holocaust was not racist because no black people were involved. She notes as well, after years of legal wrangling, Duffy is back in the Senate sucking on the same teat as before. And more importantly, she asks why judges do not get the same scrutiny as senators. She points out that judges work for us, and that it is within our rights to criticize them, and they have a duty to disclose expenses just like everybody else.
In Abreha, Christie rails against the condescending treatment of jurors. In fact, we just had the Oland case pitched due to an issue of jury instruction. Jurors seem to be unable to get even the most trivial of research sources themselves, like having access to a dictionary. It is assumed that jurors are incapable of, for example, separating past misdeeds from current misdeeds, but it is inherently assumed that lawyers and judges are capable of such feats, as well as many others that mere mortals can only aspire to. Blatchford quotes one juror who said: "The arrogance of the judicial system doling out just enough information to keep us pure 'intolerable'. " I agree. In some cases, judges have actually lied to jurors. Actually, they all lie to the jurors, because they all say the same thing at the end of the trial… "You have now heard all the evidence.", and that is almost always a lie. If you say that is not right, you will get a lecture on "probative value versus prejudicial effect". IMHO: If we are going to have juries, they should have all the facts.
The Elliott case focused on a judge Cosgrove who went right off the rails during the trial. To make a long weird tale short, Cosgrove was incompetent. He threw his weight around illegally, and, at the end of the day, still did not acknowledge his misdeeds. Cosgrove was a patronage appointment. The Canadian Judicial Council was involved and actually debated whether "incompetence" should be tolerated in judges, so untouchable as they are once appointed. Camp is another judge recently in the news who actually used "ignorance of the law" as an excuse for his errors as a judge!. The appointment process is totally screwed up in Canada, but the good news is that it is getting better.
Reading about Bernardo again is hard. The facts of the case are stomach-turning. The Bernardo trial was totally screwed up by the prosecution. Innocent lawyers were trashed by the system. Politics, optics and expediency ruled the court's decision making processes. The crown made a deal with the devil (Homolka) when they definitely should not have. But worse for the legal system, victims were granted de facto status in the court, with their own attorney, who the crown then tasked to do things that were clearly in conflict. This mess resulted in some really dumb stuff. The press was not allowed to see the Homolka tapes (due to the victim's weight in the court), but could hear them. But the sound was bad, so the crown provided a transcript that they could not read, but the cops could read it to them. So the reporters had to scribble the text from the readings of the cops while listening to a tape, which they could not understand, of a video they were not allowed to see. The Bernardo case saw the legal system turn on itself, and it was ugly. This rise of the victim does not bode well, and we are seeing the impacts today. The victim should have no say in the evidence presented at trial, but in Bernardo, they ruled the roost. The state even went after reporters for breaching court orders WRT banned information, information that they had made public earlier. In one instance, the OPP fabricated evidence to get at a lawyer who had crossed the Province's AG, who was hip deep in conflict issues.
Finally, the Ghomeshi trial is discussed, and it too was a fiasco. Once again, the victims rose up, screwed up everything, and disappeared. The details of the Ghomeshi trial are still fresh in most peoples mind, but if you want more, read the book.
This was a good read. The system is not broken. I am sure 95% of convictions are routine and well handled. But it seems the bigger the trial, the more it seems like the lunatics are running the asylum. We recently had a literal show trial and it showed us that the judge was a screw-up.
I barely know where to start with this book. It was a challenging read. This was due in part to the large number of biological terms that are used regularly. The book does have a glossary, but it is far from complete. Ditto the index.
I have read several books about the origins of life over the years, but this is the best. It goes right down to the physics and chemistry of life, emphasizing the economics. By economics, I mean energy. The book analyzes the base forms of life (prokaryotes (bacteria), eukaryotes (us) and archezoa (some where in between).
I will curious to see what my bio-buddy's think of the book. It paints a picture of life that is almost Frankenstein-esque. Huge moving parts, mechanical do-dads, electric fields that rival lighting strikes, and the power of the slow burn. The slow burn is how we live… by very slowly burning our fuel, one electron at a time. A great deal is discussed about ATP (adenosine triphosphate), the coin of the energy realm inside your cells, and how it works. And, of course, evolution is present throughout. Discussions of how evolution did what it did are always fascinating.
I would love to summarize the book more, but it is so dense that to do so would require another book. I started highlighting it, but gave up. There is just too much new stuff there. I think I shall have to read it again some day. If your high school chemistry is OK, and your grasp of the basics of physics (you need energy to do stuff), then you should be able to follow the arguments.
It is absolutely amazing how much we have learned about the physics and chemistry of life during my lifetime. It is also very interesting how much we have yet to learn. One thing I am certain of, computing will play a central role. Biology will suck every cycle we can provide to aid in understanding us, and more.
I am not good with biology. Messy stuff. A Rube Goldberg invention of evolution. But it is us.
BTW: no mention of a god.
If you appreciate the beauty of mathematics, but hate the actual math, you might enjoy this book. If not, skip it.
The history of math is the history of science. And vice versa. For centuries, people twiddled about with unmarked straight edges, and compasses (to draw circles). From this, Euclid and others were able to prove what you and I would consider the bleedin' obvious. But it made sense to do it that way. It removed guesswork entirely and turned math into a rigorous philosophy.
It starts with Hippocrates (the other one, not the doctor) and "quadratures". The idea was to take a complex shape and calculate it area by breaking it down into rectangles. This gave rise the "squaring the circle"… creating a square from a circle using a straight edge and compass with the same area as the circle. As it turned out, it cannot be done.
From there, we pass through Euclid, who have us geometry, Pythagoras and his famous equation, Archimedes and areas, Newton and calculus, Euler, Cantor, Liebnitz, infinite series and other stuff. Along the way, Fermat proposed his much vaunted theorem. When the book was written, it had not been proved, but it has now. Time marches on.
The math is not hard to follow, and some of the ideas are very deep. Such as an infinity of infinities, each one infinitely larger than the next. They actually do exist.
This book came to my attention by way of Blythe Nilson. It is not deep, but rather a slice of science life. The topic is current. Pluto has been demoted because it had to be. This was a quick and easy read, approachable by anyone.
Like life sciences, astronomy has jumped forward by leaps, especially with the passing of photographic plates in lieu of digital technology. No longer do astronomer freeze their asses off 10,000 feet up and far from anywhere, only to get clouds and rain. Like the life sciences, astronomy has leapt forward from even just a decade or two ago. Especially planetary astronomy. The fly-by shot of Pluto was an amazing feat of technology.
This book was written before the Pluto fly-by of 2105. Also, I think the IAU has since modified its definition of "planet" yet again, although without changing the conclusions of the book or the now eight planets. My only real criticism of the book is that the author weaves the birth of his daughter into the story a bit much. Forgivable, of course.
Mike Brown and his associates discovered three Kuiper Belt objects, nick named Santa, EasterBunny and Xenu. The Kuiper belt is the suburbs of the solar system (not top be confused with the Oort cloud which is even further out). This generated the well known blitzkrieg of navel gazing, semantic hair splitting and so that led to the demotion of Pluto. The IAU reminds me of the various law societies... who are ironically a law unto themselves. Labels are important and every science gets involved in them to a greater or lesser degree.
The most interesting story from the book is about Santa. The usual course when a scientist discovers something is to study it; write a paper, name it, and announce and publish together. If all this happens in a dignified timeframe, it is all good. Brown et al sat on their discovery for some months, and then scheduled a talk that referred to K40506A (K = Kuiper; 2 = 2004; 05, 06 = month and day; and the "A" is a serialization). Within a few days of announcing the talk, a Spanish astronomer named Ortiz announced that he had discovered Santa, scooping Brown. In the modern world, telescopes are operated by one or two people, images are digital, and astronomers can call up telescopes and ask for a picture of an object at such-and-such coordinates, and it is emailed to them. A database of images, ID'd by their name (K40506A) with coordinates! They smelled a rat. And when the database was queried, the found the digital fingerprints of Ortiz all over them. They has stolen the discovery! Bastards.
Scientists in general think themselves above such things . Would that it were so. People are people, lab coats notwithstanding.
All in all, two thumbs up.
Islam: And the Future of Tolerance; Sam Harris, Maajid Hawaz; 2015; Harvard University Press; 128 pgs; index
God: The Most Unpleasant Character in all Fiction; Dan Barker; 2016; Sterling Publishing; 300 pgs; index
For atheists, this book is just plain fun. It tells you everything you already know about god (the biggest douche in the universe) in god's own words. A good book to have in the bathroom, reading a page or two at a time.
The subtitle of this book about says it all: A true Story of Finance, Murder and one Man's Fight for Justice. As you know, I do not read fiction these days. This a is true story about Russia and business and intrigue. It reads like John Grisham, except that it is actually plausible. Most of the upshot of the affair is part of the public record, largely in or form of the Magnitsky Act in the US and Europe. Magnitsky was an idealistic young tax lawyer in Russia. Good advice: keep your money out of Russia.
One tiny example: In Russia, if you physically steal the seal of a company, you can use that to transfer the company to someone else. And that is what they did. Raid the business; steal the seal; steal the business.
If you, like me, occasionally look south and shake your head at the messed up country that is the USA, then take solace... it aint Russia.
The book eye-opening, and a fast and engrossing read. If you get lost in the Russian names, there is a good index. If you want a glimpse into how a 3rd rate KGB operative became the richest man in the world, this book delivers. Hint: he stole it from the Russian people. Bill Browder recently appeared on The National discussing Russian issues.
Prisoners of Isolation: Solitary Confinement in Canada; Michael Jackson; 1983;U if T Press; 245 pgs, Index (poor), notes
This is almost a law text book, written by a UBC law prof. Boring as hell, right? Not so. I have read a couple of books about southern US justice; seen movies Like Murder in the First and Brubacker; and know a little about the history of incarceration in the bad old days. I was surprised to find out that all that Dickensian stuff was happening in the 70's in my back yard… the BC Pen. In fact, it turns out that the BC Pen was the worst offender in Canada, and that it became ground zero for prison reform in Canada in the McCann case.
The ideas and injustices make compelling reading and propelled me through the book pretty quick. The leading is tight, the font smallish (10 pt, I think), with little white space. So the 245 pages is a little deceptive.
McCann and others were kept in the hole, sometimes for years, often based on blurry, arm-wavy accusations that amount to little more than "I don't like the cut of your jib". The hole is a hideous box, no windows, no furniture, just a mattress and a pisser… 23.5 hours a day. The irony of all this is obvious. Prisoners are jailed for breaking the law, and then they are subject to years of unlawful treatment… aka torture.
McCaan put logical constraints in place. The rules used to use a binary distinction: administrative vs. judicial punishment. If something is "administrative", the administration can do whatever it wants without oversight. If judicial, then legal protections kick in. I find it amusing that, in the end, the only way to get past the rules they had created was to introduce the concept of "fairness" (aka the Fairness Doctrine"). It was like a six year old entered a room of lawyers and said, "Hey that's not fair!", and they saw the light. Near as I can tell, they just use the dictionary definition of the word. But it did not help.
Canada built Kent as a model prison. The new post-McCaan regime was in place, and things got worse, as the administration and guards found ways to twist the new rules, use them as not intended, or ignore them all together.
Changing institutions takes time. But a good start would be using cameras. A lot. And independent review and access to due process. If a guard or administrator does not follow the institutions rules, they get fired, not ignored or promoted. This is the same solution needed to clean up the RCMP, IOC, FIFA, and virtually every other body with power but no oversight.
I sickens me that we, like the Germans in WW II, are seemingly easily able to ignore gross injustice as long as we cannot see it.
The last chapter was an outline of the author's fix to the problem. I did not read it detail, in part because I have no idea how much of it made it into reality. My guess is not much. The penal system has two big problems in Canada: Basic fairness and lifers. You cannot expect people in jail, regardless of how guilty they are, to "get better" in any sense if they feel that system is more illegal than they are. Lifers are a problem too. Canada abolished the death penalty and replaced it with life terms (25 years). These prisoners are hopeless and present a special problem to SHU (Special Handling Units… the hole).
There a few jobs I could never do, and being an oncologist is one of them. The ups are great, but the downs are deep. This Pulitzer Prize winner is excellently written and very interesting. Gripping even. The march of technology is really obvious, from the early ultra-extreme mastectomies on the early 20th century, to the use of genetics in the 21st.
We live on knife edge. We all live in an apple skin think layer of gases that surround our planet. Deprive us of just a few breaths and we are dead. Rob us of liquid water and food, or vary the temperature a few degrees one way or another and we are dead again. Internally, we are an exquisitely balanced bag of chemicals immersed in a field of electricity that sports voltages that rival lightning. If nudged off kilter just a little, the result is death. Life itself relies on the death of cells (e.g.: your gut lining); the stasis of cells (e.g.: your brain) and the generation of new cells (in marrow, gut, gonads, breasts and so on). Controlling the death of cells is as important as controlling the birth of new ones, When the birth rates flies out of control, that is cancer.
Despite the marches that imply that breast cancer has been largely ignored over time, the opposite is true. Breast cancer was the early great cancer battlefield, in part because you can live without breasts. It was amenable to surgery in the dark days, and is now often treatable. The hardest part of the book to read is the horrific practices of surgeons in the early 1900s. First they would take a lump, then a breast, then lymph nodes, muscles, and even bones to try and get ahead of the disease. And because they all relied on personal experience, they did not realize that disfiguring these women did not extend their lives at all.
The big killer of women today is preventable lung cancer from smoking, followed by breast cancer.
The book covers the history of cancer from Galen to today. The upshot is that cancer is many diseases; we will probably never beat it; we may be able to survive it; and most of the hope in the future will come from genetics and data processing. In one sense, cancer is a form of gambling by nature. Mutation is needed for evolution, as is death. Inaccurate reproduction is dangerous, but stuff like sex gives advantages. The down side is that if several random things happen at the same time, you get cancer. The upside is that the odds of all the necessary precursor events taking place is quite small. And that gamble is built in, so beating cancer is not really possible. DNA sequencing means that we might be able to beat it to a draw (which means you still get cancer, but live just as long as if you did not). And like in other sciences, research now is advancing at a dizzying speed compared to 100 years ago.
The author blends personal stories with the grime history of the disease to create a compelling read.
Lee Moller is a life-long skeptic and atheist and the author of The God Con.