Astrophysics for People in a Hurry; Neil deGrasse Tyson; 2017; W. W. Norton and Company; 208 pgs; index
This is a very quick read. Tyson is an decent writer with unbounded enthusiasm for his work. For me, this was mental chocolate: sweet, over quick and familiar. For most readers, however, I think a large percentage of this book will be new information… information that we all should have. It speaks to where we are in the grand scheme of things, but most importantly, it tells of just how grand the grand scheme is. And no, there is no schemer, only the laws of physics. In my life time, the amount we know about the universe has increased many fold. No other people in history have seen this happen. The trend will continue, but as time goes by, the revelations are bound to get smaller and less impressive. In other words, it is a great time to be curious.
he Philippines are a large group of islands in the Pacific. The western part of the island group is largely open to the ocean. It is easy to enter the inner seas from the west. The east is a different matter. Luzon to the north and Mindanao to the south are the largest islands in the group. Samar and Leyte, essentially one island, are to the south and east of Luzon and form the eastern shores of the Philippines along with Mindanao.
In late October, 1944, a major landing was underway at Leyte Gulf in anticipation of MacArthur's return and the liberation of the Philippines. Leyte Gulf was filled with helpless transports and an attack by the Japanese was expected.
There are three ways to get to Leyte gulf. From the west (the Japan side), one can go through the Philippines via the Sibuyan sea and exit on the east side of the Philippines through the San Bernardino Straights, which separates Luzon from Samar and Leyte, and then turn south towards Leyte gulf. Or one can approach from the south, taking the Surigao Straight north of Mindanao, which opens onto Leyte gulf. The only other approach is from the eastern Pacific, an area controlled by the US. This is the field of battle for the largest naval conflict in history.
Japan was going all-in. Either they beat the US back, or Japan's navel dominance in then Pacific would be over, and Japan's fate sealed. Prior battles, especially the "Great Marianas Turkey Shoot", had all but wiped out Japans naval air power. They had carriers, but few planes and fewer crews to man them. However, they still had the world's two largest battleships ever: the Yamato and the Musashi.
The US was fighting far from home. They were stretched thin on ammo and fuel. But by all measures, they out gunned the Japanese.
This was a very complex battle that took place over a few days. I will give a 50,000 foot description.
The Japanese were in three groups (JN, JM, JS).
JN (for North) hung off the Philippines to the north and east. It was a carrier fleet, with almost no planes. It included the Zuikaku, the last Pearl Harbor flat top still afloat. It would not survive this battle. This fleet was assigned to throw itself at the northerly American ships as a feint to draw the Americans away from Leyte. They expected to get cut to pieces… and they were.
JM (for middle) went through the Sibuyan Sea and out the San Bernardino Straights. Its job, as was JS's, was to sink American ships and stop the invasion.
JS (for South) approached from the south through the narrow Surigao Straights.
The Americans were in three groups (AN, AM, AS).
AN was Bull Halsey's group. Their primary task was to guard the San Bernardino Straights. Halsey would split his force to create AM.
AM included a group returning from refits that were not completed. It steamed into the middle off Samar Island.
AS was to guard the Surigao Straights and the Leyte landing.
The Americans hit JN first by air in the middle of the Sibuyan Sea (the Battle of the Sibuyan Sea) , sinking the Musashi (the first Japanese battleship to be sunk my air power alone), and hurting the Japanese. The US over-estimated the damage done.
Then the Americans waited for the Japanese JS at the top of the Surigao Straights and beat them back decisively.
The Battle of Cape Engano (located off the north end of Luzon) followed with JM vs AM. It was a draw. And finally the Battle of Samar finished the encounter. This battle saw the introduction of the Kamikaze. The US took a lot of damage in this battle, mostly to escort carriers.
A lot of ink has been spilled on AN and Halsey. He did manage to finish off Japanese naval air power, but it was already all but dead. He spent most of his time steaming toward a fight rather than fighting. He left his post guarding the San Bernardino Straights to get JN. This left AM unable to handle JN when it slipped through the San Bernardino Straights un-noticed.
An equal amount of ink was spilled on why JM decided to bug out. The Battle of Samar was in Japan's favor. AM was on it knees, but they did not know that, nor did they know that JAs feint had actually worked. Poor communications. Had they continued to steam south to Leyte Gulf, they would have wreaked carnage. But instead they turn back through the San Bernardino Straights.
The Americans out gunned the Japanese and expected a win. Halsey almost reversed that. Poor intelligence on both sides led to poor decisions. Both sides also had command issues. There was no over all commander on either side. This led to poor coordination of attacks.
There was much carnage to follow before the war would end, but the Japanese would never again pose a serious navel threat (this does not count kamikazes).
The book is a fairly quick read. Lots of details on who did what, when, and why. It illustrates the old maxim that no battle plan ever survives contact with the enemy. It certainly underscores the need for good communications. In 1944, most ships ran "silent" and only sent short transmitted radio messages in code. This lead to delays and errors.
Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin; Timothy Snyder; 2010; Basic Books; 408 pgs; index (poor), Bibliography
This book is a long read about a difficult subject - human suffering on an unprecedented scale.
The obvious first question is "What are the Bloodlands"? The Bloodlands refers to the dirt between Germany and Russia during the early 20th century. I say dirt rather than listing countries because borders change and definitions are loose. In today's terms it covers Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Belarus, the eastern two thirds of Poland, the western borders of Russia, and Ukraine. After the war ended, the iron curtain came down and the nature of the crimes committed in these areas were covered up. Only now that 75 years have passed has more information come available.
For example, the liberating western allies never once saw a death camp. They saw the ends of several labor camps, and grisly as those images were, they were but a shadow of the crimes committed in the Poland death camps (they were all in Poland which became a Soviet puppet state). Another example: the truth is finally out about death sites like Baba Yar and Katyn. Katyn was a Soviet slaughter of Polish officers which they tried to blame the Germans for.
"During the years that both Stalin and Hitler were in power, more people were killed in Ukraine than anywhere else in the Bloodlands, or in Europe, or in the world."
Think about that statement.
We know Poland suffered greatly, due in part to being between a rock (Germany) and a hard place (the USSR), as did Belarus. It is worth noting that countries such as Canada (young, one border, surrounded by oceans) did not exist in Europe. Europe has regions that have certain ethnic characters, and the map of Europe has changed many times prior to the end of WWII. Poland, for example, had the largest number of Jews in Europe as well as large populations of Germans, Ukrainians, and Belarusians.
Chapter 1 deals with the Soviet famines. Starting in 1930, Stalin began "collectivizing" Ukraine farms. Kulaks (well off peasants) were killed. Farms became state property. And the state demanded ever increasing quotas of grain resulting in famine and starvation by the millions. The phrase "roving bands of cannibals" says much about the conditions. Stalin's wife committed suicide the day after the 15th anniversary of the October Revolution. She was clearly making a point. Young communists were told starving people were the enemy who "risked their lives to spoil our optimism". 3.3 million dead in Ukraine.
Chapter 2 is "Class Terror", basically blaming other people for the USSR's failings. If it wasn't a satellite state ruining things, it was foreign powers. It deals with the internal and external politics of both Hitler and Stalin from 1933 to 1937.
National Terror, Chapter 3, deals with purges. Poland shares a long border with Ukraine. In the late 30s, the most persecuted group in Europe were not the Jews, but the Poles. The definition of an "enemy" was so broad in the USSR that it could apply to anyone (it included as crimes certain "forbidden thoughts and ideas", and trivia like owning a rosary). Stalin's Great Terror purged the upper ranks of his officers and again fell on the Kulaks. . Torture was common place and often public. A million were killed. Many blamed the Jews for this. Later, when Germany and the USSR split Poland, the terror started there too.
Chapter 4: The Molotov - Ribbentrop line partitioned Poland. Poland was a haven for Jews and had the largest concentration in Europe. Germany got about 2 million Polish Jews and immediately began planning how to get rid of them. In about a year or so, eliminating Jews from Europe would become Nazi policy. The big players: Hans Frank (governor of Poland, and Hitler's one-time lawyer) , Himmler, Reinhard Heydrich (perhaps the evilest man in modern history) and Adolph Eichmann. Heydrich created the first Einsatzgruppen (special killing squads). Between 1940 and 1941, the two conquerors killed 200,000 Poles and deported a million more to gulags or concentration camps.
Chapter 5 deals with economics. Germany has attacked the USSR. The Germans had a Hunger Plan… feed the soldiers, starve the locals. The Russian war did not go as Germany planned. The
Einsatzgruppen were released in earnest in Poland, Belarus and Ukraine (among others). Vast numbers of Soviet troops were captured and treated far worse than any other POWs in Europe. Only about 50% would survive. No names were taken, unusual even in those times.
"As many Soviet POWs died on a single given day in Autumn 1941 as did British and American POWS over the course of the entire second world war."
The invasion of the USSR was supposed to solve Germany's economic problems. The opposite happened.
The Final Solution (Chapter 6). Himmler get s control of the eastern conquered territories. By now Communists and Communism were viewed a Jewish plot, so killing Soviets and killing Jews were justified in the same breath. When food was short, the emphasis for the Germans was to kill Jews (useless eaters). When labor was short, the emphasis was to kill those unable to work, and deport those who could to now-depleted German factories. This had the odd result of making Germany the country with the largest percentage of Jews and Slavs in Europe (other than their home countries). Atrocities were everywhere. Baba Yar and Katyn are two examples.
Holocaust and Revenge: Belarus was ground zero for Germany vs. USSR. Moscow was never taken, but Minsk was burned to the ground. A fantasy that is promoted to this day is that the Russians suffered more than any other group in WWII. This is false. In terms of territory, Germany barely penetrated Russia. Not so for the states in between. Jews in Belarus feared Soviet pogroms, but feared the Germans more. Poles hated them both but could see the future: If they defeat the Germans, they get Russian rule. The devil you know…? Many fled Minsk to the forests where Jews and others carried out sabotage. The movie Defiance w/Daniel Craig captured the internal conflicts quite well . By war's end, half the population of Belarus was either dead or moved. No other country was treated worse.
The Death Factories: I wont go into a lot of detail here. From the killing squads, body burning, baby shooting, and gas vans to factories of death. This is the most grisly chapter in human history. Six death camps did the dirty work: Chelmo, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka, Madjanek and Auschwitz. They were all in Poland, and the Western Allies never set foot in one. The horrible familiar images from the Nuremburg trials were all Americans visiting labor camps that had been recently abandoned.
Women, with more fatty tissue, burned better than men, and so workers would put them on the bottom of the pyres. Chew on that for a moment.
Resistance and Incineration recalls the closing days year of the war. The treatment of Poland and Warsaw are discussed at length. I have reviewed a book on this subject matter already.
Ethnic Cleansings: Although Poland "won" the war, it lost 47% of its territory and became a Soviet satellite state. As the war ended, Stalin went on another rampage. He wanted pure states with pure goals, which he would create come what may.
The closing chapters sum up the book.
I have read a lot about WWII. I am never surprised, but always shocked, when I read the details of human suffering at the hands of the Germans and the Soviets. One can get almost anyone to do unspeakable violence if they can be convinced that they are the victims. This is a long book, but I never got bored. It has helped put the eastern part of the war in better perspective.
As it happens, most of the events upon which this book was based either happened in my recent lifetime, or are matters of well known historical events, such as Chamberlin meeting Hitler. Thus, I do have a perspective on these issues. All in all, this is a hard book to summarize. In part because it is basically clinical psychology, which is a soft science at the best of times.
The book wraps its arguments around several well known cases and/or events. It opens and closes with Sandra Bland, the young black woman who was pulled over in Texas (she drove down from Chicago) for "failing to signal", ended up being manhandled out of the car, cuffed and arrested, and then hung herself in the jail.
The first case described in detail was about a high ranking CIA official who turned out to be a Cuban spy. The second was about Chamberlin meeting Hitler. The basic message is that we suck at spotting liars. Ample evidence is provided that shows that a computer evaluating parole issues from raw data scores much better results than a judge who can look the perp in eye and judge their demeanor. This does not surprise me one bit. As a life long poker player, I have determined that I suck at it too, and I would be better off simply following the odds.
We rely way to much on our ability to tell when we are being lied to. And once we make the decision to trust, we are easier marks because we will defend the indefensible far too long. We are too trusting, and we "default to the truth". I think a philosopher would call this the Principle of Charity. It is, as the book acknowledges, both a very risky thing to do; and very necessary as it is the grease that keeps society alive.
In this vein, we tend to think of others as simple and ourselves as nuanced. E.g.: A cop might see a nuanced response to stimulus from you as proof you prevaricating. This is exactly what happened to the Amanda Knox (another case study in the book). She reacted in a way the prosecutors saw as irrational, and therefore she was guilty despite the fact the physical evidence pointed elsewhere. This went all the way to the Italian Supreme Court before it finally got tossed for the rubbish it was. What reaction set the cops off? Basically, she was cool, clam, collected and quite. If she had cried like a girl, or some such, she would have walked.
The book calls these encounters as two "mismatched" people. We might say "talking or acting at cross purposes".
Another case with which I was very familiar was Harry Markopolus and his take down of Bernie Madoff. The SEC "defaulted to truth" and believed Madoff. Markopolis is unusual in that he does not "default to truth", but he has paid price: paranoia.
"Transparency is a myth." This line is repeated and emphasized and I agree with it. Transparency is the idea that if we can see what is going on on the outside, we can tell what is going on on the inside. On TV, we see people say and do things, and their faces and their words match exactly. This is called emoting. In real life it is rare. We do not wear ourselves on our sleeves. We are not transparent. But we tend to think others are.
Another interesting point is that the facial expressions and other tells that we think we universal, are not. A smile is not just a smile. It depends on the culture you are in.
The book examines the Sandusky pedophile case; a well know fraternity sexual assault involving loads of alcohol; the KSM Guantanamo Bay torture story and several others. It also delves into policing a fair bit. The bottom line of the policing analysis is that cops are incredibly reluctant to give up their supposed god-like ability to see into men's souls and pick the good guys and the bad guys. When science gets involved, and it shows them incapable of doing what they think they can do, then and only then, do they-ever-so-slowly recognize the truth.
Which leads into the study of the opening story about Sandra Bland.
I read this book to the end because it did keep my interest. My overall feeling is that it is far to broad, and overly simplistic in its analysis. I am always skeptical when people are broken down into groups that too broad to useful. The book does not really give advice on what to do about it.
Chamberlain was played by Hitler, who was really good at it. For some people, lying is their first option, and they do so with remarkable ease. Hitler, Bernie Madoff and my ex wife have these traits in common. I "defaulted to truth" with her as I do with most people. But I am skeptic and would love to know how I can tell if me and my listener are "mismatched".
Other cases are also explainable without appealing the "mismatched" perspective of the book. Bernie's success turned on greed and he was an expert con man. And Sandra Bland can be explained by bad policing policy (pull over everyone you can, give out as many tickets as you can, dig for a reason to doubt "them", abuse your authority), and bigoted, poorly trained cops. IMHO, Bland was pulled over for being black. When she got uppity, the cop lost his sense of perspective, she died, and, thankfully, the asshole cop was fired.
The ideas in this book are useful, but I see very little in the way of practical advice other than the skeptics mantra: Doubt is the handmaiden of truth, and above all else, doubt yourself and your ability to detect lies.
Chamberlain had the facts… he was just a pussy who did not doubt his ability to read people.
George HW Bush made the same mistake with Putin (remember "I looked in his eyes?") and Donald Trump, the stupidest person to ever occupy the White House, is doing it again.
The pages of this book are small and the leading loose, so this book is fast read and I read it. Perhaps this is my disdain for clinical psychology (which has done a lot of damage over the years), but I cannot recommend this book unless you are a student of the subject.
Dyer is a Canadian war researcher who wrote this book in 1985. From what I can gather, it is well respected. This edition has been revised and updated.
The book tours war historically, examining its roots and its evolution over the millennia.
The opening comments discuss some of the big picture history. For example, major battles prior to the 20th century would generate casualty rates as high as 50-60%, with an average of 20. In modern battles, this figure rarely exceeds 1 percent. This was due largely to changes in technology (weapons got better). This in turn changed the nature of soldiers and their mission. In the old days, soldiers did not get combat fatigue (shell shock, or today: PTSD) because they would die before it ever happened. Today, all armies recognize that troops can only take so many combat days (in WWII, it was 240) before they fall apart.
Dyer has always impressed me especially with regard to basic training, which he discusses in a chapter called "Any one's Son Will Do". Get them when they are young. Break them down to the same level, making them all equals, and then build up a small group dynamic where each man relies on the others to help him stay alive. Drill Sergeants are masters of psychological manipulation, and they know it.
In his opening chapter, Dyer makes this startling revelation: In WWII in the ETO, only 15% of combat infantry riflemen ever fired their weapon in anger! Most soldiers would never have reveal such a fact, until they were told they were not at all alone. More than four fifths of combat soldiers got through the war with killing anyone, and without firing a shot! More research has backed this up. Gettysburg was a hugely costly battle for Americans because it was Americans on both sides. More than half of the recovered muskets from the battle were loaded with more than one round, and only 5% were ready to be fired when they were abandoned or dropped. Six thousand had as many as 10 rounds in the barrel. In other words, most of the fighters were spending their time reloading a loaded gun, and, one assumes, ducking. No one is suggesting these men were cowards. Many were simply principled and did not want to kill.
The upshot of this is startling: if you could get the malingerers to enter the fray, the other guys didn't stand a chance. Which they did. New training got the numbers up to 50% in Korea and 80% in Vietnam. The US had figured out how to get men to kill automatically. Dehumanizing the enemy was a big part of it.
War goes back a long way. Chimps war on each other and so do we. We did not invent war, we inherited it. Dyer examines hunter gatherer groups and their interaction; ritualized warfare in groups like New Guinea bushmen; and other evidence of our more primitive past. Some suggest that ritualized warfare is not the "real deal". It does generate casualties at a low rate, which meant that they could do it a lot, which in turn meant high casualty rates over time. Hobbs, Rousseau and Darwin are invoked and examined for their viewpoints.
The birth of war was driven by human life style choices. Hunting and gathering can keep you alive. So can farming. But a new type of living was now being made: pastoralism (i.e.: nomads). They lived by herding domesticated animals. Inevitably, these groups clashed. The nomads would win fights because they were mobile, which meant they could concentrate their forces when needed. To combat this, walls around towns were built. When horses were domesticated, things accelerated. It is worth noting that Egypt was largely spared from nomadic attacks by its geography.
The Sumerians hit upon the idea that religion could be a better way of settling disputes. It worked for a while. Priests liked it because it gave them power. But as we know, religion is not a cure for war, but more often an excuse or a direct cause.
Aside: Women were equal partners in life until civilization and agriculture came along, driving the need for a power structure which eschewed women because it could.
Sargon was the worlds first emperor over a militarized society (circa 2300 BC). Around then, there was a major technological innovation: the compound bow. The bow and arrow has killed more people than any other weapon, ever. Unlike the English longbow (yet to be invented), the composite bow was short, powerful and could be fired from horseback.
Other inventions over time include the chariot (fast, hit and run, archery platform); the pike and phalanx; war galleys; improved, harder metals; bigger horses; the saddle and stirrup (700 AD); gun powder (1300 AD); and organized armies (which gave the powers-that-be the willies).
Aside: Japan had a warrior based culture. When the musket was introduced, they were appalled. A samurai could be killed by a commoner! Unacceptable… so they just stopped making them. That obviously changed later in history.
Armies got bigger, the percentage of soldiers dying went up, battles were huge but infrequent; and the average citizen was left alone.
Armies had to be trained and fed. You could not just conscript someone and throw them into battle. Standing armies were a part of every major European power from 1700 on.
What happened next was the introduction over time of the concept of "total war".
New weapons were being developed at a quick pace. It was soon discovered that a few men behind cover with guns could stop a large number of advancing troops. Tactics changed. WWI introduced the concept of the continuous front. The tank was used for the first time. It gave professional soldiers the hope that it might end the wars of attrition. It did, but it caused the continuous front to become mobile. This and aircraft took a terrible toll on civilians. The tank eventually spawned "blitzkrieg", or mobile "lightning" war. The world wars were the first where civilian deaths outnumber the deaths of combatants.
The next chapter in the book documents the history of nukes. There have been a lot of ideas over the years on this subject, but the prevailing idea is that you only need enough to destroy the other guy. This was known as MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction). And so far, this math has kept the nuclear peace for 75 years. The advent of nukes gave rise to the phrase "conventional war".
The birth of the professional army came in 1803 Prussia with the creation of the Kriegsakademie. This approach of using well trained professional soldiers was soon adopted by others. One hundred Germans in WWII were a match for 125 British or 250 Russian troops. Why? Because they had 10x as many good generals who knew how to get the most from men and equipment. The old game is now protected turf and generals everywhere want to keep it that way (the start of the military-industrial complex?). Technology has changed the equation a great deal. One example: a Spitfire in WWII cost 5,000 pounds to make. The supersonic Tornado, its 3rd generation successor, cost 17 million, 172 times more after adjusting for inflation.
The last chapter speculates about the future of war:
Baboons are nasty creatures. The males are obsessed with status and fight all the time. But in one troop something unusual happened. The aggressive males all died off at once from eating infected meat. Overnight, the troop settled down to a much more egalitarian society. And it stayed that way even after the demographics of the tribe returned to normal! The ritualized war fare on New Guinea bushmen killed a large percentage of combatants, one at a time, year after year. The government stepped in and told them this had to stop. They all agreed enthusiastically and never looked back! It seems both were caught in a local stability point that they could not get out of without a nudge. Perhaps there is hope in both those stories.
While not as eye-opening a book as Guns Germs and Steal, this book is a must read for anyone who wishes to grapple with these thorny issues. War has been with us for all of our history. But perhaps we can first ritualize it, and then dump it as a bad idea. I doubt it. The New Guinea bushmen were offered an alternative to their wars… essentially third party arbitration. This is something the top dogs will never agree to.
One final tidbit: Have you ever wondered if you were safer as an officer in combat, or as a soldier? In WWII, the answer was "soldier". In Vietnam, it did not matter.
Dyer himself has served, so he has seen some of all this from the inside.
Very Stable Genius, A: Donald J. Trump's Testing of America; Philip Rucker & Carol Leoning; 2020; Penguin Press; 416 pgs; notes, index
This was a much awaited book when it showed up. It covers the Trump history from getting elected (when the first thing he did was lie and claim he won the popular vote) to just after the infamous July 25th phone call to the president of Ukraine. Like books from other reporters like Bob Woodward, this book is heavy on basic facts. It is clearly written and as the title of the book implies, the authors know about whom they are writing. Unlike Woodward's books, which I found dry and dull, I rather enjoyed reviewing the events of the last few years in one compact reference.
Trump fired Comey -- who he knew was on the west coast -- by sending a letter a letter through one of his henchmen. He also torpedoed him on Twitter. When told that he had screwed up in sending the letter as he did, he replied "I know, fucking incompetence. Drives me crazy!" (referring to his staff). Trump never errs. Period.
The material in the book is largely familiar to anyone who has followed the election of the Mango Mussolini. If you had negative opinions of him, and who doesn't, this book will be satisfying and scary at the same time. If sheds some light on the Mueller report and why it fell so flat. It also illuminates the mind of Trump.
He is a petty, pompous, pugnacious, pinhead (at that is just the "P"s) in charge of a country he does not understand. Every person who has been in contact with him for any length of time has walked away from him covered in bullshit and fleas. Some still serve, but most have been arrested or driven from office.
In years to come, this book will become a reference for the times. The only unsatisfying aspect of the book is that it ends before the story is over.
As a skeptic, I have read a lot about cults. We had at least two ex-cult members lecture the BC Skeptics . I spoke with them in person. The difference between a cult and a religion is often subtle. In this case, we are talking about a political figure who demands utmost fealty and believes he can do no wrong. The is nothing subtle about Trump , and the parallels between the Trump movement and the rise of Nazi Germany continue to trouble me.
I recently read Prisoner's of Isolation which focused on solitary confinement in the Canadian penal system. Canada's practices were, as I described, barbaric. There is some light at the end of the tunnel for Canada.
This book is a much broader indictment of the US penal system, and specifically Attica. Canada was bad. The US was and is far, far worse.
Attica is a name familiar to anyone of my generation. I was a teen when it happened, and I must admit I did not pay much attention. Attica is a town and a prison in upstate New Your. On Sept 9, 1971, after months of simmering issues, the shit hit the fan. The prisoners took over, controlled the yard, and had many CO (correction officers) hostages. In the process, a CO was killed. After that, the cons took responsibility for the hostages and protected them. Rumors fostered by the state spread: castrations, torture, slit throats and such. The COs and the SPs (State Police) smelled blood. A few days later, the state (lead by the warden and the state head of corrections) let to dogs loose. What followed was chaos, torture and barbarity. Many cons and several hostage COs were killed, all by other COs. No attempts were made to match bullets to guns, guns to COs, or do any of that police professionalism stuff.
Bigotry was a major issue. Most of the prison population was non-white. Guard training was an issue: they had none. General cowboy attitudes, tough on crime types, and the general view that COs walked on water and cons were animals did the rest. These were jail towns and they hired any moron who could tote a gun from the local populace to do a "professional" job.
The top names in law were embroiled in a 40 year long cover up of crimes. The state was utterly heartless to everyone involved, including the families of injured or killed COs. The state refused to pay the salaries of the hostage COs because they were "off the clock". The state lost evidence, or denied it existed, or claimed privilege, or said it existed but it was unimportant throughout it all. The state even sent "support cheques" to widows, knowing that if they were cashed, they would, under NY state law, constitute an acceptance of compensation… i.e.: take this pittance which you desperately need, but if you do, you can never, ever sue. IOW: the state conned its own citizens.
You would think things would have gotten better, but not in the US of A. Some precedents were set, some rules changed, and some people made whole (ish). But mostly, the US doubled down, prison populations soared, , conditions got worse, for profit prisons made it worse still, and it is worse than ever now.
This is a long but gripping read. There are real heroes, real bad guys (most of whom died before the law could ever catch up to them), and lots of victims. The worst thing about it, though, is just how trivial it is for politicians to completely derail the justice system whenever they want and use it as a cudgel.
Universe From Nothing, A; Lawrence Krauss, Afterword by Richard Dawkins; 2012; Simon and Schuster; 191 pgs; index
I have known about this book for some time and finally got around to reading it.
Nothing is big topic. What is nothing? Just empty space? It still has time and volume, and the potential to have other stuff too, and the potential is something. Or: nothing is not nothing if it has the potential to be something.
One hundred years ago, the fastest form of commercial travel was the train and ship, and Einstein's special theory was still being debated . The General Theory of Relativity took longer to accept. One hundred years ago, we believed we lived in an island universe called The Milky Way. But now we know that the universe is far, far more vast. At this point, the author turns to Douglas Adams ("the universe is so big, you wouldn't believe it" etc).
To get a handle on the universe, we need to know how much stuff is in it. I.e.: what does it weigh?
Standard candles (Cepheid variable stars and Type 1A supernovae are the two biggies) have opened our eyes not just to the size of the universe, but its age and its destiny. The universe is expanding and will continue to do so forever. Here is an interesting idea: in 2 thousand billion years (2 trillion years), stars and galaxies will still exist. But future astronomers will literally have no way of knowing the deep history that gave rise to their universe. The rest of the universe would have disappeared beyond the horizon (or, if you prefer, they will be so far red-shifted that they will be moving away at over the speed of light and thus become physically undetectable). We are privileged and can see our history, but this will not be true forever.
The book gives a nice summary of what we know today and how we know it. The reasoning is fascinating. The bottom line is that dark energy is driving the universe to expand.
Another fun fact: if you are old enough to remember TV in the days of yore, you will remember that TV was broadcast and picked up with antennae. In the dead of night, the broadcasters stopped broadcasting and the channel in question would appear as "snow"… just a lot of static. About 1% of the snow you see is the after-glow of the big bang! This microwave background radiation can be sued to calculate the age of the universe: 13.72 billion years.
The fundamental base of the book is one of book keeping. We got a universe from nothing. But how. Energy (i.e.: matter and other stuff) is a zero sum game and so, suggests Krauss is the universe. If there are equal amounts of positive energy and negative energy (yes, there is such a thing), then the books still balance and sum to zero! And we get a flat universe…. Which is nice because curvy universes are more complex.
Krauss quotes Chris Hitchens often when it comes to the implications of all this. One thing seems clear, for Krauss there is no need of a creator. And the universe cares not what you might think of it. Stephen Weinberg is known for saying that science does not make it impossible to believe in god, it makes it possible to not believe in god.
This is a quick read. But the contents are deep and I may come back and read it again in a few years.
One analogy I liked for how it came about is this:
Take a ball and throw it in the air. It will fall to Earth. Thrown it harder, and it will still fall back to Earth. But throw it hard enough and it will never come done. This is a kind of symmetry breaking. One can imagine the potential for space doing this for eternities stacked on eternities, until one day, the ball did not come back down, and the universe was born.
One final quip from the book: One answer to "Why is there something rather than nothing?" is "There won't be for long!"
Miracle at Midway; Prange, Gordon W.; 1982; Open Road Media; 414 pgs; notes, index, Order of Battle, bibliography, chronology;
Dec 7, 41: the US enters the war after Pearl Harbor
Jun 4, 42: Midway
Dec, 42: Stalingrad
Jun 6, 44: D-Day
May 8: The Germans surrender
Sep 2: After six years (and one day)… the war ends with VJ Day.
When it comes to battles during WWII, the two that stand out the most are the Battle of the Bulge and Midway. There are others, of course: the Battles of the Atlantic/Britain/Stalingrad/Kursk; D-Day, Alamein, Market Garden and many more… and that is just the EOT. But these two stand out.
The Battle of the Bulge was the most costly, especially for the Americans. But it lasted for a month, and its ultimate outcome was inevitable. The decisive action at Midway was over in under seven minutes; the final outcome was by no means clear; and ownership of the Pacific was at stake.
Prior to Midway was the Battle of the Coral Sea. This was the first carrier vs. carrier battle ever fought. No ships saw the enemy. The Japanese had two of its Pearl Harbor veteran carriers damaged. The US also had two carriers damaged. Due to a non-battle related incident, the Lexington was sunk (actually, scuttled). Both sides towed their wounded carriers back to their home bases. The Coral Sea was a draw. But it set the stage for what happened next.
The Japanese were already planning an attempt to take and occupy Midway, a small atoll north and west of Hawaii, consisting to two small islands, Sand and Eastern, where the US had an airbase and refueling port. The American code breakers lead by Rocheport had broken much of the Japanese JN25 code and knew that AF, as the Japanese code worded it, aka Midway, was the target.
The Japanese were told that their two damaged Pearl Harbor veteran carriers would take three months to repair. The Midway invasion fleet set sail with the other four carriers that hit Midway: Akagi, Horyu, Soryu and Kagi. The Japanese also wanted to hit the Aleutians as a feint. Following behind the two attack fleets was the rest of the Japanese navy, including the largest battleship ever built, the Yamato, which carried Yamamoto, the fleet admiral. Nagumo, who lead the Pearl Harbor attack, lead the Midway attack force.
The Yorktown was towed back to Pearl and there, the shore crews also said three months were required to fix her up. Nimitz gave them two days. In a minor miracle, Yorktown sailed two days later to join her sister carriers Enterprise and Hornet. Fletcher and Spruance were to lead the American side.
As history records, the two fleets met north and west of Midway. A couple of squadrons of bombers found the Japanese carriers without fighter cover and hurriedly attempting to re-arm their planes to fight the American fleet (rather than to attack Midway itself). To this point, the US had had zero luck. But this time, in under seven minutes, three Japanese carriers were burning and subsequent action sunk the fourth. The cream of Japan's naval fliers and ground crews were wiped out.
Later, the Yorktown survived two airborne attacks, only to be sunk by a submarine's torpedo.
One difference between the Americans and the Japanese: When the Yorktown was sinking, the captain confirmed that all crew were off the ship, and then grabbed his kit and left. When Akagi went down, they Japanese spent most of the time trying to figure out who should or should not commit Hara Kiri.
I knew a lot about Midway, but this was still a stimulating read. The main reason the Japanese lost the battle was arrogance… what they called "victory disease". On paper, they were way ahead. There were other reasons too: Failure to deploy their battle ships; Inferior damage control technology (a consequence of the Bushido code); Poor use of scouts; Biting off more than you can chew; etc.
War is hell. The US launched around 30 torpedo bombers… old slow and carrying shitty US torpedoes. Not one hit its target, or if it did, it failed to explode. The crews knew their likely fate and only one or two of them escaped it.
If the Japanese had succeeded, the Pacific would have been theirs for some time. As it was, from June 6, 1942 (two years before D-Day), every subsequent move of the Japanese took them closer to home.
If the Japanese had been succeeded, I suspect that Tokyo would have been nuked. In any case, many more people, mostly Japanese, would have died.
The book is well researched with loads of detail.
Impeach: The Case Against Donald Trump; Neal Katyal, Sam Koppleman; 2019 (Dec); Mariner Books; 156 pgs, notes, exhibits
This book was banged out in two weeks and published just before Trump was actually impeached. In this case, I think the word "impeach" really means "impeach and convict (i.e.: remove from office)". It is remarkably current considering the pace of events.
Katyal is a regular on MSNBC and worked in the Obama Whitehouse. He is a Constitutional scholar and Professor of Constitutional Law. The book is a quick read. The writing is concise and clear.
He outlines the history of impeachment first. He then examines the evidence, and the case against DJT. The legal issues are well explained . He finds himself teaching the American people law in the usual way: establish a set of hypothetical circumstances, and then explore the legal consequences.
Except this time, the circumstances are real, and USA is dealing with a bizzaro hypothetical come to life. Finally, he offers up some legislative patches that might make it harder for the next out-of-control President to follow in DJT's footprints.
The Whistler-Blower's statement is in it in full. It was compelling reading. The WB really did his homework well.
Katyal lays out the case why DJT must be removed from office very convincingly. I could go through the long list of things that Trump has done, but they are well known and there is no point in my summarizing a summary.
The book is not expensive and is out in paperback. Read it for yourself.
Lee Moller is a life-long skeptic and atheist and the author of The God Con.