Another book on the war. THE war. Most people have never heard of this battle, much less read the book or watched the excellent movie of the same title.
Prior to the start of the war, The pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee (pronounced "shpay")slipped out into the Atlantic. Shortly thereafter, the war began and the Spee went into action. It sunk nine ships before it ran into the British who had been hunting it.
In early December, 1939, the British ships Ajax, Achilles (named for heroes of the Iliad) and Exeter (named for a town in England) duked it out with the Spee. The Spee had 6 11-inch guns. The largest guns it faced were mere 8 and 6 inch. The Spee all but sank the Exeter, the largest British ship, and then it withdrew to Montevideo.
There are two big mysteries associated with the battle: why did the Spee bug off, and why did it not fight its way out of the harbor.
The three British ships did damage the Spee more than they thought, but it still could have sunk the Exeter if it chose to do so, and perhaps the other two. Captain Langsdorff did not see it that way and slipped away from the battle. It could have fought its way out of the harbor with ease, but a masterful diplomatic bluff convinced Langsdorff that the Ark Royal (Britain's main aircraft carrier) and other ships had joined the blockade set up by the remaining Ajax, Achilles and the recently arrived Cumberland.
Instead of fighting its way out, the Spee famously sailed out of the harbor and scuttled itself. It is still visible at low tide in Montevide0. Lansdorff did the same to himself a few days later.
For buffs like me, it was very interesting reading about the mechanics of loading, aiming and firing of naval guns while the ship is being maneuvered.
The book was hard to follow due to the overlapping stories. The perspective jumps from the Spee to the British ships, recovering the same events, which I found confusing.
These are things religion (e.g.: Scientology, Catholics) and The Con (eg: Bernie Madoff) have in common:
This is a fairly long book, but it is possible to slide through parts with long lists of name and such. Agincourt took place in October, 1415. It is fascinating that we know so much about those times, and at the same time, so little. The general impression of most Agincourt stories is that English archers won the day. As always, the truth is more complex.
In the 1400s, the code of chivalry was the unwritten law. As an example, chivalry had rules for how to treat a captive, based on their rank, and how much you could charge as a ransom. The code of chivalry seemed to be one step down from god's law. Both sides prayed for gods favor, and it was assumed that the winner of the battle got it. Chivalry had a code for kings. E.g.: They could avoid placing their troops in peril by challenging the other guy to single combat. The loser would, by the code, be put to death.
The feudal system had many odd quirks. We are used to the idea of battalions, division, corps, squads etc as the breakdown of armies. In the feudal world, the hierarchy was king, lord, and men-at-arms (aka knights). To be a knight, you had to have x number of horses, pages, bowmen, fletchers, etc. Each knight brought the works with him.
The battle was fought in France near the town of Azincourt (sic). Many factors influenced the battle, including geography, the nature and number of troops, and the deployment of the same. It is possible that the latter was the prime difference in the battle. Henry V was close to his men, ala the famous Shakespeare play. (BTW: "Havoc" was the general army call for "loot the joint", giving us the phrase "Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war.")
The French lords were all about glory, place-in-battle and the favor of the king. They did not cooperate like the English did. And that was probably what turned the battle for Henry.
The French king Charles VI was nuts and was not there. Only his emissaries.
It was an interesting look at a time so different from hours. Wind the clock forward or back 100 years from 1415 and you would hardly notice the difference. One hundred years ago, the USA had few paved roads, only a small number of cars; the airplane was a cool toy; and the telephone and electric light were coming. Our world changes at lightning speed compared to theirs.
It is striking how complete religious beliefs dominated everyone's actions. Soldier's actually believed that they would have god's favor if they died in battle, making it much easier to convince them to actually do so. Such is the nature of "faith".
Finally, the following is a fun quote (slightly modified) from the book which I used in my talk to the BC Humanists about The God Con in August:
"Mondeville (an agent of the French king) recommended that doctors should use magical cures, not because they worked, but because if they do work, the surgeon will be credited with a marvelous piece of work, while if they do not work, he will not be accused of missing some vital step. He advised surgeons to always charge for medicine because the more expensive the cure the more confidence the patient will have in it. He also suggested that surgeons use big words, and if necessary, make up words, to impress their patients."
I did a chat to flog my book and my thesis (God is a con job) to the BC Humanists. I think It went fairly well. It seemed to be reasonably well received. I fear I did not manage my time as well as I could, nor did I get to closing arguments in a clearer sort of way. But that is normal post-talk regrets.
I was asked one question that, at first, I did not understand. Basically, it was “What do you think of people who call others ‘Islamaphobes’.”
First, a phobia is an irrational fear of something. If a fear is rational, it is not a phobia. If someone has a real phobia, they should see a shrink.
In my book, I discuss just how many Muslims could be called Islamists. It is a lot. And religious fundamentalists (aka: nut-bars) of every stripe are well known to do extreme things. The number of terrorist attacks in the last two decades is certainly large enough to cause concern for any sane person.
Second, another question that needs to be answered is how bad the risk really is. Once we know that there is a risk, we should also evaluate how that risk relates to other risks we take on every day. We do not lose a lot of sleep over fundamentalist Christians attacking civilians. They tend to attack single targets, like abortion doctors. But Islamists are indiscriminant and attack civilians as a matter of course.
If you meet an Islamist, you definitely have a reason to be concerned, and so the “Islamaphobe” label is wrong. In fact, I would go further and say that many Muslims and Muslim supporters use the phrase to simply shut up their critics. Don’t let them.
Muslims cannot cherry-pick their religion any more than Christians can. And yet most of them do. The Koran is not nice to infidels. If a Muslims rejects these aspects of Islam, then I suggest that: a) They are not true Muslims; and b) they can probably be trusted to not try to lop your head off over the smallest religious slight.
Another attendee asked me about the Unitarian church. Frankly, I do not get these guys. If you have a religion, then you are duty bound to spread the word (see The God Con for a discussion of this). Thus, I do not get how people who have religion would want to simply socialize with people of a different religious stripe. The “church” seems to want to have their cake and eat it too. The social aspects of the Unitarian church are laudable and should be provided by other state-sanctioned means such as community centers and such.
Mondeville recommended that doctors should use magical cures, not because they worked, but because if they do work, the surgeon will be credited with a marvelous piece of work, while if they do not work, he will not be accused of missing some vital step. He advised surgeons to always charge for medicine because the more expensive the cure the more confidence the patient will have in it. He also suggested that surgeons use big words, and if necessary, make up words, to impress their patients.
This modified text is taken from Juliet Barker's book on Agincourt. Mondeville was an agent of the dauphin of France in 1417.
I read this on Dale's recommendation. It is essentially a 1st year university text book. At 183 pages, it is not long. But like many text books, fairly dense. Dull as it may sound, I quite enjoyed it. The challenge: develop morality from reason alone.
Some impressions: Philosophers of yore were not that smart. Of course, they are a product of their times, which were steeped in religion. They seemed to be seeking a simple algorithm that could be used to test any action or idea's morality. (A fool's errand, IMHO.) This lead to absolute statements about morality (e.g.: lying is always bad) that are not helpful, but do simplify the problem.
I was amused to see the Prisoner's Dilemma featuring quite prominently. I have always been amazed at just how much this simple game can reveal about morality and behavior.
I have used economic terms like Pareto efficiency (which is close to Utilitarianism) and utility functions when talking philosophy. Utility functions are very abstract. In general, one can only make meta statements about them, but they are instructive. For people, a utility function is just a measure of what that person wants or values. Moral philosophy seems to rest heavily on the idea we are all the same, and in many contexts, we are. Utility functions suggest the opposite.
In the penultimate paragraph of the of the book, curiously, the author describes an employment situation where he uses the word "fair", as in "this is not fair for person x". This is the only time I noticed that word being used. This fairness idea seemed to fly in the face of a general meritocracy. I was reminded of when I worked at a mine when I was 16. Wielding a shovel was a big part of the job. I thought it unfair that a girl got paid what I got paid for shoveling even though, as essentially a rented mule, I was worth twice what she was. It would seem that Rachels would say this is perfectly "fair" and the alternative unfair. Hmmm.
I assume his next book will end the suspense and just tell me which moral scheme is best.
What a read! All dull dry facts that I could not put down. I have despised the RCC for years, if for no other reason, that they institutionalized pedophilia.
The RCC is a business that has found the perfect situation: They hide behind religion and the Sovereignty of Statehood.
The RCC was broke in the early 1900s. They cut a deal with Mussolini and suddenly they were rich. They cut a deal with the Nazis and suddenly they were rich as Creases.
They were in bed with Franco.
They were in bed with Mussolini.
They were in bed with Hitler. I think that is the dictator trifecta!
They were in bed with the Mafia.
Once linked with the mod, suddenly there chief critics (judges, cops, publishers) turned up dead. And in the meantime, one Pope came along that would change it all… and they moderated him.
One Pope insisted that all Cardinals answer the phone when he called ON THEIR KNEES.
They are out 1 billion in defending itself from buggery costs (in 2003) and will it probably cost them 10 billion when it is done.
Lead Us Not Into Temptation: Catholic Priests and Sexual Abuse of Children; Jason Berry; 1992; Doubleday
It begins with a story from Louisiana. The usual denials, obfuscations etc. follow a priest accused of sexual assault. The details are nauseating.
Nothing tops the story of Cinel, an RC priest with the usual list of sins, but an even bigger sense of untouchability. He went on vacation to Italy and lost his keys. He asked a mate to find his spares in his apartment. Instead, he found 160 hours of videos of what you might expect. Blechh. The videos, now in the hands of the diocese, would not be released as there were possible legal issues wrt to passing them on. The DA (Connick, a rabid RC) was adamant he would prosecute nothing. Cinel had sent a photo of one of his rapees to a Danish porn mag, who published it. His position: the person was of age (he wasn't) and he had received no money and, besides, he had not sent a picture… he had sent three rolls of film. His employer could not fire him because he was tenured. I googled Cinel. He got away with it all, as far as I can tell, and, hold on to your hats, sued to get his porn back! This is how strong the pro-church lobby is in the US. Canada faired a little better, but only a little.
The RCC treats accusers (family and child) as enemies. They suggest that forgiveness is all that counts, ignoring the possibilities of recidivism, and transfer pedophiles to protect them and the church. They go further to say that parents are at fault for bringing it up at all, as it will harm the child… like they give a rats ass.
Finally, some estimates put the number of gay priests at 60%. If you take gay+priest+promescuity, get a FAG. I.e.: hypocrite.
I wanted to get a feel for the current state of the very fluid science of human paleontology. This book did a fine job. 230 pages, but a quick read (loose leading, decent sized font). Over the years, the various names have come, gone, been absorbed and/or abandoned. It is tough to keep up. I wanted the latest evidence wrt to fire and language (80,000 BCE) and I got it.
It would seem, for example, that Neanderthals did not contribute to the modern Homo gene pool.
The most interesting story came from a book by Susan Schaller called The Man Without Words. It tells of a deaf child Ildefonso who grew up in a hearing, non-signing household. He was obviously smart but only communicated via a kind of charades. She was trying to teach him ASL when she realized that he literally had no concept of words (i.e.: almost no concept of (symbolic) concepts). There came a day when he suddenly realized everything had a name! His world exploded. He doesn't like to talk about his pre-names experiences because they now seem alien to him now. Without language, it would seem, complex thinking is damn near impossible.
This led to the fascinating conjecture that modern man may have all the mental equipment for abstract symbolic thought for thousands of years until this stroke of genius (naming things) hit them. Further, just as deaf kids today often create their own languages, this stroke of genius may have hit children first. How AC Clarke is that!
In any case, very readable, and a nice summary of the current debates.
Lee Moller is a life-long skeptic and atheist and the author of The God Con.