There is no WWII battle more famous than the Battle of the Bulge. It was more widely referred to initially as the Ardennes Offensive. The German code name for it was Watch on the Rhine.
To put the battle in context: D-Day has come and gone; The Netherlands have been liberated and Antwerp captured; Operation Market Garden, and Montgomery's pet project, was a spectacular failure. As the allies approached Germany, resistance grew.
But Market Garden was not Monty's biggest failure. Antwerp was. Monty took Antwerp and then turned his eyes East. He failed to liberate the north side of the Schelt, the long inlet that gives Antwerp access to the sea. It was up to the Canadian's to clear the Schelt, which they did at great cost, giving the allies their first really useful port. Antwerp was the target of the Ardennes Offensive.
Here are the player: At the top: Churchill; Roosevelt, Hitler, DeGaulle (a general pain in the ass) and Stalin. Below Roosevelt was Eisenhower and under him Montgomery, Patton, and Bradley who was in over-all charge on the ground. In the East: Manteuffel, Model, Sepp Dietrich, and most famously, Pieper of the Waffen SS) .
The SS, originally Hitler's body guard, had grown and become an army of itself: the Waffen SS (weaponized SS) . They were famously lead by Pieper, a fanatical Nazi (Pieper survived the war, spent 11+ years in jail; and retired until the French Resistance caught up with him 20 years later and killed him) led the best equipped Panzer division in the battle.
Eisenhower ran the overall show. He has three squabbling generals to deal with. Montgomery was a ass, who thought only of British and personal glory. Montgomery would push for certain tactics, sometimes with good reason, but always prefaced every suggestion with "Put me in charge". Patton was famously arrogant and head strong. And Bradley was a wimp. Bradley did not figure much in the battle because he had head-quartered himself in Luxembourg and was out of touch with events.
Bradley felt scapegoated because he was the one who thought that no offence could come from the Ardennes. But it did come.
The book was an engrossing read. The horrors of war come through strongly. A minor example: US dead soldiers were booby trapped by fleeing Germans. Death was everywhere. Everyone knows the final outcome of the most costly battle in US history.
If you have seen the movie, you are probably aware of the Massacre at Malmedy. In it, Peiper's men shot 84 US POWs in a field. In point of fact, the Germans shot just about everyone: POWs, locals thought to be in touch with the resistance, locals in general, and occasionally, each other. But Malmedy was big news and the American division that saw it returned the favor in kind. In one incident, twenty German's were under fire and decided surrender under a white flag. The American's waved the first man out, and then the rest followed. When the Germans were all out and exposed, the senior American gave the command, and they were all machine gunned. This had one positive effect: The German's would do almost anything to avoid having to surrender to that American division.
A military side note: the deadliest weapon in the battle field of Europe was not the tank or the machine gun, or artillery. It was the humble mortar.
Prior to the war's beginning, high frequency electronics was just getting off the ground. Television was introduced during the 1936 Olympics. Another development linked to television was not for public consumption; became England's secret weapon; and played a role in the Battle of the Bulge.
Perhaps the best kept secret weapon of the battle was Pozit. It is better known today as a ground proximity fuse. Since artillery was invented, gunners knew that a shell that exploded overhead was far, far more deadly that one that augers into the ground and explodes. It was possible to do this without Pozit, but it was tricky at best. Pozit used a small single purpose radar signal to detect the ground approaching and trigger the explosion, typically about 30 feet above ground. It worked every time. One well place shell could kill everyone on a 100 meter radius that was not protected. Pozit had a very large effect on German morale as well as battle field outcomes.
Another short remark about Montgomery: he was so pig-headed about getting overall ground command in the European theatre (which would never, ever happen… the Americans would never allow it) that he came within a word or two of losing his job. He railed against Eisenhower to an aide who had just come from Ike. The aide said Ike might replace him. "Replace me with who?!" asked Monty. The aide mentioned a name. Monty shut up, apologized as only a Brit can, and resigned himself to history.
The index in weak in this book, but otherwise a really educational and sobering read.
recently met my old friend Daniel Friedmann at a high school reunion. We were not close during high school, but certainly friendly. At the reunion, I discovered that Dan is Jewish, has written a book, and is, well… really Jewish in that he seems to buy every word of the first chapter of the bible. (Aside: I will refer to him as Dan because I know him. I mean do disrespect when I do so.) I did not finish the book, but I saw no acknowledgement of the fact that there are lots of origin stories -- indeed, there are thousands -- nor of the fact that they all make the same claim and cannot all be right. For Dan, the Jewish world view is correct.
It is interesting to me that Dan and I have both written books that are nearly exact opposites of each others. The guts of my book states that the guts of his describe reflect a world view that I, and all atheists, find illogical and repugnant.
In the preface, he says that the bible (or rather the Torah et al) "effectively" describes the world. I would disagree. The meaning of word "effectively" as he used it is a bit unclear. I would take it to mean that it "works", which is nonsense.
He then immediately asks the reader to put aside their personal beliefs and notice the alignment of biblical events and events in the development of the world from sciences point of view. But every argument he makes, including the alignment, depends on you believing him, the bible, and Kabbalism. Kabbalism (sometimes spelled with a "C") is where the "code" in the title comes from. Per the book, Hebrew letters are numbers too (who knew?) , and when properly understood, the numbers add up to something (I have no idea what).
Dan has a masters in Engineering Physics and rose to the top of Canada's premier space technology company MDA. He is very smart. In the opening passages of the book, he describes his inner conflict, during his fourth year at university, when he realized that science and the Jewish religion are not very compatible (this seems like a late revelation to me). So he set out to reconcile them.
This is a book is a quick, light read. I did not read it all. There is only so much of this stuff I can stand. Dan does some math and comes up with this: A Creation Day is 2.54 billion years; or 7,000 Divine Years. Obvious really. Using these and other figures, he creates a religious interpretation of the major development events of the universe. I did find one review of the book on line, and in it the author mentions that by Dan's numbers, Adam would have spent millions of years "naming things", a chore god gave him early on. I am not sure how he manages to name things that have yet to evolve or develop. Dan spends a little time explaining how Adam was not a man, but became one later?
Dan does quote one paleontologist, Stephen J Gould. Gould is a good source. Gould wrote a book about the overlap of science and religion (overlapping magisteria) that, as I recall, was not well received by his contemporaries. Gould is Jewish.
The stand-out debate of religion vs. science is the origin of mankind (Scopes etc). Dan describes both viewpoints, and then ignores the discord entirely. He sort of claims victory by saying that his biblical version of reality and the scientific version align after 6,000 years ago. This avoidance practice coupled with expectation bias and over-zealous pattern matching (see my book) seem pervasive in his book.
Dan generally gets his basic science right but often oversimplifies. For example, his calculations contain the time unit of days. But the day has not always been twenty four hours, a fact he overlooks. He leaves out completely why science is right. The whole history of intellectual and scientific philosophy, and the arduous centuries-long abandonment of religious "absolute truth", is absent. I think it is not relevant from his perspective… that of a fundamentalist.
I have never understood people who, like Dan, will bend themselves into logical pretzels rather than admit that what they were force-fed as a child might not be true. When numbers get involved, my skeptical hackles go up. Numerology is hokum. I am reminded of the BS that was spread about the pyramids. Take the height, divide by the base circumference, but take back two cubits for Mary, and you get pi! So aliens built the pyramids, and god wrote "codes" into literally every word he claims he wrote. It is amazing the things you can deduce when you start with the conclusion, and then reverse engineer the premises needed to make it so.
Dan even spends a little time talking about the "power" in the names of god… real power from what I can gather, but not enough to do work. Work is a concept that I know Dan understands.
I admire people who stick by their beliefs.
I admire even more those people who are brave enough to drop or modify a long-held or cherished belief when the evidence turns against it.
Dan seems also to miss one of the absolute corner stones of science: prediction. It seems to me that if any of what Dan believes is true, then hard predictions should flow from them. There have been innumerable times in history when the latest messiah claims that the rapture will be on such and such a date, and the believers sell all they have in anticipation. All those predictions failed.
Dan might argue that the alignments he has discovered with his math is a prediction or sorts. No… it is not.
The basic problems with Dan's conclusions are summed up neatly in a computing maxim: GIGO.
This was a very disappointing book. As a skeptic, all I could do was wonder at the tenacity of the journalists who were trying to find "Maria Duval", a legendary psychic who's name was used all over a large number of direct mail campaigns to suckers (old people and such) to elicit funds from them for "blessings" and stuff. Apparently, their research resulted in a CNN expose in 2016.
This is a serious issue, of course. My mother got taken for a few dollars simply because her memory was dodgy. We were lucky and stopped it early. One anecdote in the book speaks of an elderly woman who mailed her "application" in with her credit card paper-clipped to it. She attached a note to the effect of "Please: you fill it out and send me back the card".
They found Maria Duval, a little old lady who had sold her name off years ago and was now, for the most part, a typical victim of the scams she started, rather than the perp.
News flash: Scammers are adept at hiding their tracks, and there is a world-wide market place for "sucker lists" that they use to bleed the vulnerable dry. Knock me over with a feather!
The only good thing I can say about this book is that it is a fast read. No index. Few notes.
Rising 44: The Battle for Warsaw; Norman Davies; 2003; MacMillan Books; 617 pgs; Notes; index; appendices
You may be familiar with the Warsaw ghetto uprising. The ghetto uprising took place in 1943. It was the story of the Jews fighting back rather than allowing themselves to be slaughtered. This is not that story.
The Battle for Warsaw was the attempt by the Poles in 1944 to try to retake their country. The Russians were to the east, and the Germans were retreating to the west. The time seemed ripe. One can imagine the best outcome: The Varsovians (the correct term for a Warsaw-dweller) rise up in Warsaw; Russia advances on Warsaw (the enemy of my enemy is my friend); Together, they drive the Germans out; Russia leaves; and Poland is restored!
That did not happen. Russia was initially happy to carve up Poland with Germany when the war began. This was known as The Pact of Steel. Stalin wanted all that he could take. Even after reading this engrossing account of the battle, and its surrounding politics, I still could see no way that the Poles would get what they wanted (a stable border; and self governance… the greedy bastards!). But that could never be. They were between the proverbial rock and a hard place. Germany was defeated, and Stalin knew that his army from the east would take most of the countries between Russia and Germany in order to get to Germany. And he had no plans of giving any of them back.
Having said that, the Poles still got screwed. Russia deliberately laid off Warsaw until Germany had squashed the uprising and razed the city to the ground. Both England and Russia knew the truth but were never prepared to speak it. Instead, they played footsie with the issues, placating the Poles until even they realized the western allies could not intervene. But the big villain in all of it was Stalin. One can say a lot of bad things about Britain, but they did try. Spy missions, air drops, and so on were executed, usually by Polish soldiers and airmen working out of England. Russia refused to help. They even denied the allied planes (their allies, the ones shipping them arms) the right to land on Soviet airbases after making a long flight to Poland. This dramatically hobbled the western allies in trying to support Poland.
The Battle for Warsaw began on 1 August 1944, lasted 63 days, and ended Oct 2. The Yalta conference had, by then, already given Poland away.
Here is an example of the kind of bullshit politics that took place then (and now, if we are honest):
The Russians essentially argued that they had a right to reset the borders of Poland to the those before the war. Makes sense, right? Except, as far as Stalin was concerned, the war did not begin until Germany attacked Russia. By then, Russia had already swiped half of the country and they meant to keep it.
It is hard for a Canadian to appreciate the animus that existed in Europe at the time. Poles, Jews, Christians, Slavs, Croats, Germans… they all had long standing grudges. And it was quite possible for one to belong to two groups at once (a Jewish Pole might identify with being a Jew or a Pole or both). Anti-Semitism was everywhere. Borders of countries were fluid. Large movements of people were not uncommon. The Great War did not make any of this better.
But one cannot overstate the hate the Germans had for the Poles, and the Poles reciprocated. Nor can one overstate the bravery and determination of the Poles. You would be willing to fight to, if you watched the enemy walk into a neighborhood and shoot every last person dead just to make a point. Denmark, which also borders Germany, was treated with kid gloves by comparison, in part because the Germans saw the Danes as fellow Arian supermen.
I should also note that Churchill himself was a dealing from the bottom of the deck when it came to Poland. He conned the Polish government in exile. In his defense, as I implied earlier, I suspect the basic outcome would have been the same whether Churchill was honest or not.
The subject is of interest to me, so I read this rather long book with interest. I stopped after the war ended (somewhere around page 450) as I am not all that interested in the cold war politics that followed. This work is spiced up by asides of personal heroics, usually taken from diaries and such. It describes all the major Polish players in the Warsaw uprising, few of whom survived the war. Many died in Russian gulags.
Oddly, the Germans were a beneficiary of the uprising. It gave them 5 months of time to destroy Warsaw (which they saw as a mini-final-solution) and to assemble the Reich's defenses.
The book's font is small and the pages dense, so this is a long read for anyone.
If you are curious about creationism and ID from a science perspective, this is a light quick read that will bring you up to date. Hafer reminds me of me. The odd bad joke; a serious load of contempt for IDers and their ilk; copious diagrams and white space use; several fun anecdotes; all make for a fast easy read.
This is a book about ID (Intelligent Design), the stupid idea that we, and everything else, was designed by a designer. Generally a god, and generally a Christian god (that is the stupid part). The basic premise of the book is this: If there is a designer, he or she should not quite their day jobs. If creationism is a pig, ID is a pig with lipstick. The "evidence" for design is called "irreducible complexity". The idea is that certain structures (like the eye) are irreducibly complex… if you take any part out, the whole structure fails. This, in turn creates probability arguments against evolution. This is not true… see below.
Creationism is religion. ID is creationism on the down low. In one famous legal case (Dover Area School District), IDers took a creationist text book and edited it, replacing "god" with "intelligent designer" everywhere. But they screwed up (in one case, "creator" became "cintelligent designer"); the judge saw through it; and they lost, bigly.
Figuring prominently in the book is The Discovery Institute, a Washington State group that does no research, has no labs, does no experiments, makes no predictions, states nothing in numbers, has never published a paper (OK… one, but the editor was bribed, and the paper withdrawn), and yet spews pseudoscience like a fire hose. The Discovery Institute wishes to discover nothing. It wishes to inject religion into your life and our society... by stealth. They demand equal time in text books simply because they think they deserve it. They shout about academic freedom where none exists (public schools instructors do not have any "academic freedom" whatsoever). They fight dirty by getting stealth pro-ID people on school boards, and when they get a majority, they pounce, changing curricula. The "institute" created the famous "Wedge" document that ultimately leaked, exposing them for the conniving frauds they are. The "institute" is following in the footsteps of Stalin, the last guy who tried to quash evolution. That resulted in mass starvation.
When the institute and guys like Behe (a big Kahoona in the ID game) invoke science, they get the science wrong… every single time. Flagella in bacteria is an example of ID that Behe likes to promote. He made statements about flagella in bacteria (specifically, he said that IFT or InterFlagella Transport is required, which is false). Ironically, Behe points to malaria as an creation example (where he again gets the science wrong), but malaria is particularly bad today precisely because it has become resistant over time. In other words, malaria has evolved!
The human body is a mess. Back aches, fallen arches, rotten teeth, bad eyes, useless/dangerous organs like the appendix; our gonads are in the middle of a sewer; lost faculties (like the ability to create Vitamin C, something my cat can do); and the list goes on. The map of our nerves and arteries looks like a Jackson Pollack painting. And let us not forget giving birth.
Women have had the shit end of the stick since the dawn of humanity. Child birth and motherhood has huge rewards, but the risks prior to modern medicine were enormous. Assuming she did not die, a mother might get a fistula after a long, hard birth. A fistula is an abnormal "tube" growth connecting the uterus to the bladder or bowel. They can be created by difficult deliveries. A thus stricken mother will leak feces or urine from her vagina forever. This is every bit as unhealthy and awful as it sounds. And a lousy design. One thing about evolution is this: it largely doesn't give a shit about you once you have reproduced.
This is just the beginning of the major flaws in the design of our bodies. And a designer was not involved. It was evolution what done it.
Nothing about our bodies, or anything else in biology makes sense without evolution. But this does not deter the anti-intellectuals at the Discovery Institute.
It is often said by the aforementioned idiots, "What use is half an eye?"
"Nothing" is the answer if you intend to cut a working eye in half. But the actual answer is: "A half-working eye is better than no eye at all". The eye argument has been well addressed. Even a single photo-sensitive "eye" spot on a bacteria is better than no eye at all. What is most amusing about it is that the alternative (a designer) would have us believe that god that designed several different eye types over the millennia, perfected them, and then designed the terrible human eye from scratch, forgetting all he had learned from the past.
The basic issue with the human eye is this: In cuttlefish, the blood vessels and nerves that service the eye lie under the retina; in people, the opposite is true. Those vessels and nerves obstruct light and vision by sitting on top of the retina and, because the still have to get out of the eye, they exit trough a hole we know as our "blind spot". Other kinds of similar issues arise over and over, such as repurposing a spine and hips for upright walking (this is not part of the book, but still applicable).
ID and creationism have been around a long time. The Scopes Monkey Trial was in 1925 (as I recall). Almost 100 years ago... and we are still having the same stupid argument with fanatics without reason. That last sentence can be parsed any way you like.
faulty If you are a student of WWII like me, you might enjoy this book. A very quick read. Lots of pictures and maps. Some very interesting stories about the US's submarine warfare efforts in the Pacific.
There are nice stories about sub mascots and ice cream machines, and there are not so nice stories of pointless and pointed deaths.
I have seen every notable submarine movie ever made. Some of them are ridden with false clichés, and others are very accurate. One of the best is Run Silent, Run Deep. It reflected a mélange of submarine realities.
Some notables from the book:
In Run Silent, Run Deep, Clark Gable plays an obsessed skipper determined to kill a certain destroyer with a "down the throat shot" (meaning "bow on"). One submarine actually did pull this off.
When a sub "buttons up" for a dive, high pressure air is released into the sub. If the sub holds the air pressure, it is generally good to go on the dive. The "Christmas tree" (a bank of lights -- green on US subs, white on German -- indicating the sub's water-tightness) would not show a green dive light if it did not.
Some subs actually had mascots (puppies etc) that they kept hidden from the skipper... In one case, until he literally stepped in it.
One submarine actually killed itself with a faulty torpedo that boomeranged.
There actually was a guy who has his appendix removed by a pharmacists mate while at sea.
Subs never "crash drive". In wartime, all dives are combat dives and are done as fast as possible... every time.
Perhaps the first four torpedoes fired by a US sub in the war (fired by the Seawolf) all failed to detonate. This was the start of the Mark XIV (Roman numerals… Jeez!) torpedo issue. Operation Pacific (a John Wayne movie) deals with the subject matter but gets all the details wrong. The Mark XIV was designed with a magnetic detonator. It was meant to pass under the keel of a ship and then explode, breaking the ship's back (this is similar to the way the famous dam-buster bombs worked). Unfortunately, the Mark XIV torpedoes had issues with maintaining the proper running depth. They often ran 11 feet too deep, failing to explode. This issue lasted for two years! How would you like to be sent into a shoot out knowing that a high percentage of your bullets are blanks. It took a determined naval officer to get the powers that be to even admit there was a problem.
Notable boats discussed: Seawolf, Tang, Wahoo, and Trigger.
The book is full of photos. It is a very quick read. World War II shaped the modern world. Everyone should respect the men who fought and won this largest and most important of all wars.
This version of the report has introduction material and a number of appendices added. The full report is a part of it.
Because the Mueller Report is essentially photo-reduced to fit inside the book sized printed page of this report, the resultant font is very small. And I am getting a bit old. The reason they did this is clear… to keep all page references accurate and referable. That is, if you hear that something was written on page 150 of the actual report, you will have no trouble finding it.
I did not read it all. I only scanned the collusion/Russia half, knowing that it did not come to any conclusions that are not already part of history. Trump colluded his brains out (and he recently said he would do it again), but criminal conspiracy (which I believe requires a quid pro quo) could not be proven.
I read the half on Obstruction of Justice (OoJ) more carefully. There are several key obstructive acts that are as plain as day, all done in public, that they did not charge Trump with…. Because they say at the outset that they cannot charge a sitting president. Mueller all but said: "He is guilty, so Congress… you must act!"
The most striking thing about the OoJ evidence is that almost all of it took place in plain view or was report contemporaneously by various news outlets. I was constantly saying to myself "Oh yeah, I remember that."
So why have they not started impeachment proceedings? Beats me! I believe that should for many reasons, most of which were excellently described by John Oliver on his TV show (aired June 16, 2019).
This is not a readable book, but it is historic, and a good reference.
From Bacteria to Bach and Back - The Evolution of Minds; Daniel C. Dennett; 2017; W. W. Norton; 413 pgs, index, notes
I have always been interested in the evolution of humanity, and especially that of language and reasoning. FBBB tackles this very problem.
The book introduces (to me at least) the concept of "competence without comprehension". At its simplest, an elevator is competent at moving people up and down, but does not comprehend what it is doing. The same can be said for Watson answering questions on Jeopardy. One of the messages of Dennett is "don't worry about machines taking us over", which relies heavily on this concept.
For me, as a software guy, I was struck by how many times Dennett relied on software and hardware analogies taken from my industry. I too have often pondered these obvious similarities. For example, in computing, routine chores (like printing an essay) are passed off to sub-processors (purpose built and programmed chips) so the main CPU (a remark from the Department of Redundancy Department?) can do other things. A good human example is catching a hit baseball. A good player can, within a fraction of a second, "calculate" where that ball is going and where she has to be to catch it. They can then run to that spot, perhaps with a single refining glance at the ball, turn and catch it. No logical thought goes into any of this. No formula is used to calculate when and where the parabolic arc of the ball will cause it to intersect with the ground. Those calculations are farmed out and unconscious.
DNA itself is essentially a binary digital code... slightly less complex than Morse.
Another thought, which I raise in my book, is the sub-processing associated with interpreting incoming data from the outside world… i.e.: incoming sensual info. We have dozens of senses, and they are all working at once. One of the tricks of the trade in brains and computers is to manage the avalanche of incoming data and separate the wheat from the chaff on the fly. If we could not do this, we would all go nuts (schizophrenia may be an example of this).
Evolution is a master at getting the balances and trade-offs just right… a daunting task and a necessary one if you are going to be you (i.e.: your sense of self awareness). This sense is an illusion, but it is a tough one to kick. (Of course, evolution does no such thing, but it is hard to think about it without get all anthropomorphic.)
Another key component to our minds is Bayesian mathematics. Once pooh-poohed by math purists, it is, nevertheless, in common use by computers today for many different purposes. We use it all the time in our heads, and smarter people are at least somewhat aware of this. Here is the idea: You get a new piece of information in the "game of life". It could be anything at all, like say, a stock price goes up. You note this information. It does not trigger any action per se, other than you mumbling to yourself "oh, gold went up". But in your head, many of your other beliefs may be slightly adjusted (e.g.: "perhaps I should invest more in commodities", or some such). This too will affect other ideas in your head and so on. We do it without thinking or rigor. Computers can do it better because it is an extremely computationally-intensive chore. Each adjustment of a "dial" in you head affects the dials near it, which means they must be adjusted… but this means the original dial is affected and it must be adjusted again… on and on until the adjustments are to small to measure (in computing, this is called "relaxing a network").
This book is not an easy read. It is very thought provoking. One of the central themes in my book The God Con is that con artists and lying have shaped out mental evolution. I am happy to report that Dennett says nothing to contradict my hypothesis, and he even supports it to a degree. The idea here is that we are unique in the animal world in that we have empathy. We can imagine ourselves as another, and ask "What would I do or feel in that circumstance, if I were him or her". This ability is crucial to establishing our self-identity. You cannot understand a con without this ability. The ideas are intertwined. Dennett even discusses the Nigerian Prince scam, for example, and why it is still alive today.
Dennett goes on to discuss cultural evolution and memes in some detail. For you computer fans: memes are applets that can run on any virtual machine (aka: your brain). Our brains are an onion of virtual machines within virtual machines. P-code (Pascal's pseudo-code) died years ago, but the idea came back with a vengeance with scripted languages for the internet. This resurgence is driven by the fact that computers are blindingly fast compared to the 19080s.
The evolution of language has been deemed "the hardest problem in science". Nobody knows how it happened, or when. As little as 50,000 years ago, language may have been rudimentary at best. But the point is, it did evolve, and Dennett offers a plausible explanation for how that happened.
A line I liked:
Consciousness may not be real, but it is remarkably efficient to act as if it did.
George Carlin once said: "For years, I thought the most important organ in my body was my brain, until I realized one morning 'Look who is telling me that!'"
One last point Dennett makes, and I agree, is that it should be illegal to pass off a computer as a human being. In a year or two, it will be possible to appear to make anyone say or do anything with a computer simulacrum. As I write, an unflattering doctored video of Nancy Pelosi is making its way around the internet, and the wanna-believers are lapping it up. Thanks Facebook! This is the just pointy tippy-top of the iceberg.
As books go, this one is as deep as they get: Man trying to fathom his own mind.
Michael Lewis has written some great books (Moneyball, The Big Short etc). I cannot really count this one among them. Nevertheless, it was interesting. Heavy leading and lots of white space make the 219 pages a short read.
This book a basically a collection of anecdotes about Trump taking power.
The first section focuses on the DOE. When Trump took power, he resented having to spend money on transitions (which he is required to do by law). He wanted to keep the money for himself! As a result, there was no smooth transition between administrations. Quite the opposite, in fact.
The first thing the Trump administration asked for was a list of DOE names that had attended any climate related discussions!
Like all departments, the DOE had prepared a primer on what the role of the DOE was. But no one showed up to see it! Rick Perry attended a meeting to brief him. He spent mere minutes familiarizing himself with the department. One official was ousted from her physical office by Eric Trump's brother in law who took it. No one knew why.
The DOE does a lot of things, like making sure reactors don't melt down, and that no bomb material "gets lost". Over the years, the DOE has recovered enough material to make 160 bombs. It is populated by some very smart people. They made sure, for example, that Iran lived up to its part of the deal… until Trump killed the deal. Trump likes to do things in half measures. DOE interviewees point out the dangers of cutting corners, and the huge risks involved when you do.
It is hard to build a fence. It is easy to knock it down. And it is stupid to knock it down if you don't understand why it is there.
The same story unfolded at the USDA (Department of Agriculture). Everyone was waiting to hand over power, and no one showed up… for a month. Soon, the USDA board was occupied by a long haul trucker, an AT&T clerk, a gas company meter reader and a cabana boy. The USDA is responsible for a lot of things, like crops, and nutrition, food stamps etc., and it is now being run by the least competent people imaginable who all hate climate change
The Department of Commerce sounds dull. It does have trade responsibilities, but mostly it is a data bank (data from agencies like NOAA and NASA). Information is their currency. And they have a lot of it. They got the same treatment as the other departments. Wilbur Ross runs it. He and Trump are cut from the same cloth.
Fun fact: Really rich people do not want to be listed in the Forbes 500. Only three in the history of the magazine have fought to get on the list: Saudi Prince Alwaleed, Donald Trump and Wilbur Ross!
The problem is this: Scientific data can be used for many things. Like predicting weather to help farmers make timely planting decisions for example. Huge amounts of data were made public, and scientists used that data to make the world better (you will have to read the book for details), but Trump et al smelled climate change, removed all references to it from all web sites, and removed the aforementioned data from the cloud.
There is an interesting conflict building. AccuWeather gets its data from the feds. But they make money selling that information and the feds give it away for free. So AccuWeather sought to stop the feds from doing that.
Soon, you can expect to see headlines like "Hurricane coming! If you want to know where and when, subscribe to AccuWeather now!".
It will take many years to undo the damage that Trump has done to the US and the world.
This is an odd book. It was published, but is now vanity published. The only date on the book reflects the day I ordered it. My attention was drawn to this book by Dale Beyerstein, my philosopher on call. We were discussing religious belief and he mentioned that this book might be of interest.
The subject of the book is Armageddon, and why people buy into it. More specifically, why do they keep on believing, and in many cases, believe even more when the predicted date for the end of days is just followed by, well... more days.
The feeling you get when this happens is called cognitive dissonance, a term Dale Beyerstein thinks may have been coined by the authors. Cognitive dissonance happens when you "know" two contradictory things are true. The contradiction must be resolved. If you know the world will end on Tuesday, then you will experience CD on Wednesday.
The book asks why belief seems to grow after an utter failure of prophecy. For this to happen, the book argues that there are 5 necessary conditions to be met:
The book focuses almost exclusively on a bunch of nuts who see the end of days coming pretty much all the time. The head nut was a woman name Kelly who received "spirit writing" about the end of the world. The group was known as the Seekers. The whole movement was wrapped up paranormal powers, Scientology, UFOs (which were in vogue at the time), and the nuts who believe in them, etc. A real mish mash of ideas. I could not handle the narrative about all this. Endless detail, too many crazies and too many crazy ideas.
The books conclusions are interesting and controversial. The controversy comes from embedding people in the group to help better understand them. But to get in, you had to prove you to were a nut… and if you got in fast it was probably because you had a story so compelling that they wanted you in. And the next thing you know, you are the poster boy for the movement, and not a dispassionate reported. And you are corrupting the group (a psychological Schrödinger's cat). The authors were well aware of this problem.
Lee Moller is a life-long skeptic and atheist and the author of The God Con.