The Making of Donald Trump; David Cay Johnston; 2016; Melville House Publishing; 217 pgs; notes, index
David Johnston is a regular on the news shows as an expert on Trump and how he got to where he is today. The book is four years old now. There is very little that is new, and much that is familiar.
If you have followed the coverage, you are probably aware of grandpa Trump, who fled Germany to avoid the draft, and built and ran brothels. Daddy Trump was ruthless and corrupt. The Trump family has been in close contact with the mob. And so on…
The only thing that stood out for me is how many times Trump et al have been sued, lost, and then settled, only to have the settlement sealed. I do not think Trump would be where he is today without that. By sealing his court losses, he gets to pretend he won.
I learned little from this book. It is for Trumpaholics only now. But if you are not aware of the sordid details of Trump's life, this is the best book documenting the family up until 2016.
Red Sun Setting, The Battle of the Philippine Sea; William Y'Blood; 1981; Bluejacket Books; 213 pgs, glossary, appendices, notes, index
in thThe Battle of Leyte Gulf (BLG, October, 1944), which took place several months after the Battle of the Philippine Sea (BPS, June, 1944), essentially ended the mighty Japanese Navy as a threat in the Pacific. Ray Spruence, who acquitted himself quite well at Midway some two years before, was overly cautious. He headed the American side of the BPS and had a good shot at the taking out the Japanese Navy. But that would have to wait.
Regardless, the BPS, AKA "The Great Marianas Turkey Shoot" was a great success. The Marianas were the target of the invasion that was designed to bring the Japanese out to face the Americans. The Marianas include Guam, Saipan (a sad story, where many Japanese, fearing the Americans, committed suicide), Tinian (the Enola Gay took off from there), and Iwo Jima (the bloodiest of the island hopping amphibious assaults).
The Japanese were desperate at this point. They were up against it, primarily in terms of fuel. American submarines had dramatically curtailed their oil supply. This shaped the battle in many ways. At one point, Japanese destroyers were getting fueled from battle ships, rather than oil tankers! Much of the oil burned by the Japanese in the BPS was pumped directly from the ground in Tarakan, Indonesia and into the tanks of combat ships. This oil was high in paraffin and could be burned without refining. Thus, the fleet went to the oil, rather than the other way around!
Spruence decided he would wait for the Japanese to come to him. This made sense because the Japanese Navy planes had longer range than the Americans, and the Americans wanted to draw the Japanese in close. This worked to a point. The Japanese found the Americans first and launched all they had. But the defeat at Midway had decimated their Naval fliers and crews. The battle hardened Americans fliers met a bunch of rookies and tore them apart. Like the Battle of the Coral Sea (BCS) and Midway, no ship ever sighted an enemy ship. American submarines played a large part in the BPS, sinking at least one carrier. No so, for the Japanese.
The Thatch Weave, introduced at Midway by flier Jimmy Thatch, was used to good effect. The Japanese Zero (AKA Zeke) was faster and more agile than the Hellcat. But it could not take a punch. The Hellcat could. The Weave worked like this. Two planes fly together… a lead plane and a bait plane to one side and behind. A Japanese flier will naturally want to attack the rear plane first. The moment that happens, the two American planes veer violently towards each other, crossing each others paths and moving apart; and then they quickly swing back towards each other. This brings the Japanese plane chasing the bait plane under the guns of the lead plane, and down it goes.
One or three stories stood out for me.
A flier named Henderson flamed 4 "Zekes" (Mitsubishi Zeros) on his first pass, and then was lost from sight by his mates. His last message was "I knocked down four, and I have thirty more of them cornered!"
Another flier named Vracia landed his plane on the Lexington after the first major air engagement. As he was climbing out of the cockpit, he saw Admiral Mitscher looking down at him from the ship's island. He flashed a huge grin and held up 6 fingers, one for each kill.
A third story starred a Japanese flier. Because the Japanese fliers were so green, they had to be individually instructed by their flight leaders, in the air, minutes before they were to go into battle, regarding what each should do, and when, when they attacked. The Americans had a fluent Japanese speaker on board who listened in, providing essential intelligence for the Americans fliers about to enter the battle. At the end of the fight, the Americans let him go (i.e.: did not give chase) because, as an admiral quipped, he had done so much for them during the battle.
Although there was much more to the battle, it ended with the Americans launching everything they had at the Japanese at extreme range. This meant many fliers were forced to ditch as they ran out of gas on the return leg. In the end , the Americans sank three carriers and did damage to a few other ships.
On the Japanese side were the two biggest battle ships in world history: the Yamato (sunk at Okinowa) and Musashi (sunk in the BLG).They had a dozen or so carriers and many support and screening vessels. The Americans had a similar complement, including the carriers Yorktown and Lexington. Savvy readers will note that the Yorktown went down at Midway and the "Lex" was sunk in the BCS. The mighty US industrial base had replaced them. At the end of the war, the Americans had more than 100 carriers of various sizes. I believe that the Enterprise and the Hornet (the Dolittle Raid carrier) survived the war. If you recall the movie Magnum Force, there was a motorcycle "duel" on the decks of the Hornet at anchor in San Francisco Bay.
The BPS finished the Japanese Navy's command of the air. Indeed, the now nearly useless aircraft carriers (due to lack of planes, pilots and crews) were used/sacrificed as a lure/feint during the BLG.
The book has many fine photos and anecdotes. I enjoyed it a lot. The writing was compelling and It really aided my thinking about the Pacific War.
It is frustrating to look at the shared sense of duty that the Americans had in 1944. Today, they can't agree on which way is "up".
his book is in fine company. It is a book primarily about skepticism. The author and I have a little in common, in that we were or are members of a Skeptics Group. Prothero, a PhD geologist, is with the Pasadena Skeptics. I note that he is a PhD because he warns of books written by people who flaunt their PhDs.
The book covers geology related subjects that are a decent sub-set of all the crazy ideas that are out there. Young Earthers are trashed, as are flat Earthers, hawkers of crystals, Atlantis, dowsers, and moon-landing deniers.
Aside: Andy Kaufman died because he rejected modern medicine and relied instead on crystal healing.
It was a quick read and a good addition to my library on subjects (like Ley lines) that I would otherwise have to research.
One thing that comes across very clearly is that scientific illiteracy in the US is driven largely by the cesspool of the internet. In fact, by my count, he called the internet a "cesspool" four times. Ironically, the internet was created to serve scientists and promote data exchange. He speaks highly of, and quotes often, Carl Sagan. As a long time skeptic myself, I am familiar with the arguments about wrt scientific literacy, basic logical arguments, human biases, and such.
I only know one person personally that is foolish enough to posit a 10,000 year old (or less) Earth. I have had several exchanges with him over the years. One argument that gets repeated a lot is that his belief in god is no different than my belief in Newton's gravity and other scientific ideas like evolution. I often reply to this attack by explaining that I use the word "believe" in a different way (based on probability) than he does. The book suggests a different language, the gist of which is below:
Science has only one "belief"… namely, that the world is understandable. I do not "believe" in Newton's law, but rather I accept it, based on, in this particular case, an overwhelming preponderance of the evidence (Newton's laws got us to the moon and back). I like this language better, as it is easier to justify.
I also enjoyed the obvious fact that the author likes movies. He mentions several, including the worst SF film ever made (as voted by geoscientists), The Core.
The Abruzzo, Italy earthquake resulted in many deaths, and six seismologists were convicted of manslaughter for not predicting the quake! After 5,000 seismologists wrote letters, the conviction was overturned. Its hard to be a scientist sometimes.
The book has a well researched chapter on The Flood. The details of how Gilgamesh and the various versions of the old testament are weaved together into a mish-mash of "god's word" is very interesting. No one who understands how the Bible came to be can believe that it is the actual word of god, because it comes from several different sources, and it contradicts itself and reality… a lot. The absolute most charitable one can be is to say that the bible might reflect god's wishes, as filtered and understood by man. But that is thin gruel at best.
This book has a lot of fine photos and illustrations. It discusses basic skeptical issues like reserving judgment and human bias. And many of its topics are historical in nature, so there is lot here for a newcomer to the skeptical world to absorb.
If you have any interest in geology and the basics of skepticism, this is a good book for you.
ofThis book and The Splendid and the Vile cover much of the same ground, but from different perspectives. The latter looks at the politics and infighting in Fighter Command and other agencies from the top… Churchill, Beaverbrook et al and their upper-class struggle to win the war. This book views the struggle from the bottom. Regular men and women thrust into the war and getting life lessons in fighting and dying.
The first familiar person mentioned, who appears again and again, was Douglas Bader. The double amputee was inspirational for millions of Brits. Another name that popped up a few times was Watson-Watt, the genius behind England's secret weapon: radar.
Air Marshall Hugh Dowding and his junior Keith Park were the top people running Fighter Command. Leigh-Mallory was also there. His brother George Mallory was notable as one of the first to climb Mt Everest. He did not climb down and his mummified body stood guard over the route up for decades. Leigh-Mallory was re-assigned after the Battle of Britain to Burma. Ironically, he never made it: his plane ran into a mountain.
I would write more about these folks, but the book lacks an index, so finding items in it is hard. I will only mention a few highlights.
The very first Battle of Britain sortie was so badly botched that two friendly squadrons went at each other! The first fatality in the Battle of Britain was a British pilot, shot down by another British pilot.
One theme came up regularly: the death of the British class system. War boils people down to their lowest common denominators, and class disappears. This was eye-opening for many people, especially young upper-class women who were suddenly removed from their posh surroundings and injected into the thick of it.
Bader was always pushing for more aggressive tactics during the battle. He was an advocate, along with Leigh-Mallory, of the "big wing" concept, which never really got off the ground. He fought the Battle of Britain like a champion; got shot down; and closed out the war in Colditz.
Polish pilots were terrific (in its original and modern sense). At the end of the war, they were told to go home. Home was now behind the Iron Curtain. Ultimately, the government relented and any Polish pilots who wished to stay, could.
At the end, the V1s and V2s started falling. Brave ammo-less pilots would catch up to the V1 and tip it with their wing tips. This was called "nudging". This action threw off the V2s gyros causing it to crash.
When the battle was won, both Park and Dowding were tossed aside. As the book notes, people are remarkably dismissive of their saviors after the are saved.
This book was written just a few years ago. As a movie fan, I was pleased to see a lot of references to the movies that have been made about this period, most notably Reach for the Sky and The Battle of Britain.
I can think of a couple of propaganda films that featured killed British flyers going to heaven where they met their slain mates. I thought this was just story telling, but it actually reflected a prevalent strong belief in spiritualism at the time. This is not "spiritualism" as we use the word today. Then, it meant belief in ghosts. People like Dowding write books on the subject.
I liked this book better than The Splendid and the Vile in that it spoke more about day-to-day life of all the service people during the war. The Observer Corp, Home Guard, and especially WAAFs and various other female groups that worked at Blechly Park (code breaking), and a Bently Priory (tracking incoming bombers and scrambling fighters to intercept), and operated the radar units.
A Crack in Creation; Jennifer A. Doudna, Samuel H. Sternberg; 2018; Mariner Books;246 pgs; Notes, index
If you examine the book cover, you will notice that some of the letters are in yellow, the others in white. The letters in yellow are A, C, T, and G… the first letters of the four amino acids that make up DNA. The author's last name is "Dou DNA", but that is just a coincidence. So this is a book about biology. I know a lot more about physics and computing than I do about biology, but oddly, that knowledge was quite helpful. My thanks to Blythe Nilson who corrected some ugly errors in my first draft of this piece.
CRISPR, the underlying technology here, is as important to our future as nuclear power. So you should know something about it. You don't need to know how it works, just what it might be able to do.
Physics and chemistry are closely related. Biology is chemical. And DNA biology is also very computational. DNA's ACGT structure is binary (i.e. base 2) code. You might say "Then why are there four letters, rather than two?" Because nature needed an easy way to copy DNA. The DNA chain is made up of paired letters: A always pairs with T, and G with C (each pairing is a bit). This allows the DNA to be cut in two long pieces, and then each piece is reassembled into a complete DNA chain by re-pairing (or repairing) the chain by adding the appropriate matching letter. One copy of DNA becomes two. This is the chemical basis for reproduction.
Each triplet of these letters code for a particular amino acid, and the sequence of DNA dictates how these amino acids will be built into proteins. Proteins are the true stuff of life.
As I read this book, I was struck by the number of times I could see software analogies in the chemistry. In computing, data and code are two sides of the same coin. The same is true for the molecules of life. They are hardware (a fixed bunch of atoms arranged just so) and software (do this, then do that) all packaged up into a single object.
Enter CRISPR (an acronym for Clustered, Regularly Interspaced, Short Palindromic Repeats), a new technology that is both enormously promising and bloody scary at the same time. CRISPR is not a great name. Even knowing what the letters stand for tells you nothing about what is actually is. The one chapter in the book that describes the CRISPR details is challenging. It is full of acronyms and strange words, making it hard to follow. The rest of the book is much less challenging.
CRISPR was initially just an observation that part of the DNA of the bacteria consists of Repeating Clusters of DNA. The repeated bits read the same forward as backward (Palindromic), were quite Short, and were always the same distance apart (Regularly Interspaced). It soon became apparent that these genes were associated with the bacteria's immune system. What a bacteria fears is a phage (short for bacteriophage), a virus that attacks bacteria. The CRISPR genes contain a length of genetic material in the Regularly Interspaced part. These bits of RNA are actually viral RNA that was taken from a phage in the past, and is now used as a pattern matching template to recognize viral DNA. Associated with CRISPR is an enzyme that, once activated, destroys its DNA/RNA target… in this case, the phage.
Aside: RNA and DNA are chemically very similar and sometimes serve similar purposes. RNA is a single stranded molecule, and DNA is double stranded. RNA uses uracil (U) instead of thymine (T) in its code.
Once the enzyme is released, it zooms down the DNA chain at a rate of 300,000 nucleotides per second, carving it up into amino acid junk! That is fast!
Scientists realized that this mechanism could be used to find, change, and/or disable genes with amazing accuracy. For a software guy like me, I see many analogies to computer code. Each segment of phage DNA/RNA in CRISPR is used as template to find an invading phage and kill it. This is like a parameter to a subroutine or, if you prefer, a kind of microscopic Google search using the DNA segment as the search target. This is hardly surprising since, at its core, genes are a series of zeros and ones that are used to make you and me. In other words, it is all software and software is easy to change (hence the "soft" part).
CRISPR technology has enormous potential for both good and evil. It might be used to cure horrible genetic diseases such Huntingtons, or it could be used to create supermen. It can be used to hunt down one gene with one wrong letter, tag that gene for repair, and then get the mechanisms of body to repair it. Sickle Cell Anemia is one such disease.
When writing software, one generally designs top-down and builds bottom-up. In the software of real life, there is no design, only what works. Software starts with building tools; and then uses those tools to build larger software structures which, in turn are used as tools to build even more complex structures and procedures. And with all these tools lying around, there often comes a realization that the existing tools could be easily repurposed to do something that previously seemed out of reach. I have experienced this many times in my software career. Bio-researchers are discovering all these tools lying around in the cell and are closing in on learning how to use them.
CRISPR opens many doors, some of which we should probably keep locked. Curing an awful disease is obviously a good thing. Changing human germ cells is much scarier. Changes to human germ cells means that the change is passed on to offspring. And that smacks of eugenics, NAZI supermen, designer babies etc., and it raises many ethical questions.
The closing chapters of the book focus on the future and the inherent advantages and dangers that CRISPR embodies.
Biotech like CRISPR gives us god-like powers to manipulate life. Advances in biotech and computing make it possible for us to wield those powers. I do not think it an exaggeration to say that CRISPR is the biotech equivalent of the Manhattan Project. I hope mankind learns to use it wisely, because use it we will.
I do not have a lot to say about this book. A friend suggested it and I read it. It is well written, engrossing at times, and had many insights into the terrible struggle to survive that England went through in the first years of the war. There are a few very colorful characters, and few dark ones as well:
The image of Churchill walking around naked, drinking brandy and champagne, barking orders, and smoking his cigars is almost a cliché.
Lord Beaverbrook, the most interesting personality in the book, almost single-handedly ramped up airplane production and won the Battle of Britton. The Battle of Britton was the air war during the summer of 1940. The Blitz was the bombing of London and other civilian sites, and it went on much longer. The Battle Britton ended when the Blitz began.
Lindemann is a character I knew a bit about from other readings. He was Churchill's right-hand man, science advisor, and general all-round dickhead... hated by everyone. "Often wrong but never in doubt" sums him up pretty well. While he may have contributed to the war in many positive ways, the reverse was also true. For example, a few years later, he dismissed the idea of the V2 as a physically impossibility. He was very, very wrong.
Randolph was Churchill's ne'er-do-well son (his other children were women). A drunken, philandering, gambler… he spent about a million dollars a year (today's money) on booze, broads and gambling!
Rudolph Hess was the most interesting German character that was explored. I learned a few new things about his ill-fated trip to England to make peace. He would remain in Spandau prison, its last inmate, until he killed himself at age 94.
Adolph Galland is another interesting German character. He was an ace fighter pilot. I read his biography in my 20s. By the war's end, he was a general and ran the entire fighter defense of Germany. Later on, he was a technical consultant on the making of the movie "The Battle of Britton". He was the only pilot who was allowed, personally, by Hitler, to smoke cigars and fly at the same time. He smoked 20 a day.
The other principle characters are the remaining members of the Churchill family. A low-key Peyton Place.
Politically, the first years of the war were about survival and getting the US into the fray. The Lend-Lease Act was a big part of that. The pressure of constant bombing had eased up by mid '41, as Hitler turned his eye to the East. Within a week of Pearl Harbor (Dec 7, '41), the US was at war with both Japan and Germany. Germany declared war on the US, and the US reciprocated. The US was the only country that Germany declared war on in WWII! This is where the book ends.
This is a long book, but an easy read. If you skip a sentence or two, you don't miss much. I normally scribble notes into the books I read, and then summarize them afterward. I did that here, but only scribbled about a dozen times. In other words, I learned very little worth knowing. But if you want to get a feel for the gestalt at the time; the attitudes and feelings of both the government players and the people; and the nature of the suffering they went though, I would recommend it.
Ben Goldacre is a UK Physician. He has written two books on this general subject: the shorter Bad Science and the longer Bad Pharma. He is a good writer with a cutting sense of humor. Unlike most doctors (GPs anyway) he knows a thing or two about statistics and probabilities.
Blythe N. and Dave H. know about my disdain for chiropractors. During our radio days, their disdain for nutritionists turned out to be just as strong. Ben would concur.
Goldacre fires broadsides at the usual targets such as homeopathy, as well as a few lessor known examples of bad science, like brain training, detoxing, and the anti-oxidant scare. And like many other skeptical publications, he takes a close look at placebos and regression to the mean, the life blood of quacks everywhere.
Good vs bad science is easy to recognize, even for the cognoscenti, and for every study, there is an opposing study. To deal with this, a check list protocol was set up called JADAD a meta-analysis protocol was built on JADAD called the Cochrane Collaboration. These two ideas allow the truth to eventually come out. It is likely, for example, that the recent reversal on cholesterol was based on this method.
Surprisingly for some, he poo-poos placebo based trials, as this is often a dodge. Researchers test their products (i.e.: drug) against placebo, the lowest possible standard, and not against the best product on the market at the time.
A major warning from the good doctor: If anyone expresses anything with respect to diet in terms of certainty, they are full of crap. He debunks another myth by stating that most of modern medicine is, in fact, evidence based.
Here are some fun real-world examples (think big tobacco) of cheating in the business of drug science.
Or do what the NFL did: set up its own bad research; establish a self-published journal; and then stack it with doctors on the take (see League of Denial).
Both Bad Pharma and this book go into some detail on this topic. One solution, which is not yet been adopted, is to register experiments before they start. This forces a priori documentation of experiment protocols, success/ fail criteria, etc. and would go a long way toward eliminating some of the manipulation that goes on today.
The books closes with a discussion of the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) fiasco. Ben has a few kind words for Jenny McCarthy et al.
This is must reading for all skeptics.
The book follows the money.
6th century: Indulgences created to raise money. Full absolution granted to Crusaders; partial to Crusader helpers. You could even pay to have your relatives placed on the fast track out of Purgatory. And donations made The Rosary more powerful.
16th Century: Leo the X sells indulgences for sins not yet committed (the sin futures market)
19th Century, Gregory XVI needs more money so he borrows from the Rothschilds, who are Jewish in the extreme.
Pius IX tears down the Jewish Ghetto walls in Rome to appease the money lenders. It did not matter much, Jews were forbidden to move anyway.
Pius then sold Vatican bonds, freed himself of the Rothschilds and rebuilt the ghetto walls.
In 1858, a housekeeper secretly Baptized a Jewish kid. Pius found out and kidnapped the kid and raised him Catholic!
Early 20th Century. Leo speaks out AGAINST separation of church and state; freedom of the press, and religious tolerance.
1929: Pius XII signs Lateran Accords with Mussolini (an atheist). The church was suddenly tax exempt on just about everything, even property taxes.
Nogara is tasked to manage Vatican money and everything changes. Money begets money. The Curia expands rapidly. To raise more money, they occasionally declared a year to be "Holy", and begged for more dough. The church indulges in arbitrage.
1935: The Vatican has its fingers in every aspect of the Italian economy. Only the government owned more property. But lending money at interest is still naughty!
1930: The Reichskonkordat deal with the Nazis is signed. 1/3 of Germans were Catholic. Money from them for the Church money was deducted was deducted at source. The Vatican was rich!
The War: Despite tangible evidence of the Holocaust, the Pope refuses to speak out about anything! At the core… money. The Pope found his voice after the war ended. One Father (Juricev) said during the war that it was not a sin to kill a Jew or a Serb… as long as they were older than 7! Too many sins to enumerate here. The Vatican did business with blacklisted countries during the war. They learned how to launder money.
1942: Nogara creates the Opere di Religeone (the IOR, aka the Vatican Bank). The only bank with its own country (and vice verse), unrestrained by borders or pesky audits.
1943: The Vatican is heavily into the Insurance business. Jewish policy holders were rarely paid out.
The Rat Line refers to the Vatican underground railroad for Nazis after the war. The Germans (1/3 of them Catholic) used the Vatican Bank to store stolen loot. The Vatican provided shelter, documents, and money for fleeing Nazis. The Pope even asked for clemency for a leader of the infamous Einsatsgroupen killing squads. Vatican refugees were a laundry list of the worst monsters of the 20th century, including Clause Barbi and Adolph Eichmann. The Vatican was so afraid of the commies they would do anything. For them:
Catholic + Nazi == Fine, possibly misguided, fellow;
Catholic + Commie === Excommunicated bastard
1960: The church owns 120 million square feet of property (tax free). The only sovereign state with more territory outside its borders than in.
Enter the Mafia with Sindona. Sindona was hired to help manage Vatican money. Sindona met Gelli, a business man and Masonic Lodge (called P2) Leader. The Vatican hates Freemasons, because they are anti-religious and partly commie.
Catholic + Freemason == excommunication.
And yet, many Vatican priests and insiders were Masons.
1967: The Italians finally tax the Vatican just a little. By now Vatican holdings are a maze of holding companies, nearly impossible to untangle. But the Vatican did have money in munitions firms, pharmaceuticals (that made birth control pills), and printing companies that made porn.
Marcinkus ran the IOC. He and Sindona were as bent as they come. Enter Calvi (who would ultimately be found swinging from Blackfriar's Bridge), a banker. Also bent. Marcinkus sat on the board of many banks, many of which were off-shore tax havens. Sindona had 48 such companies.
Sindona bought Franklin Bank in the US (18th largest), which would eventually go down as the biggest bank failure in US history. Meanwhile, Sindona spent 5.4 million on the Nixon campaign in '73. Marcinkus and Sindona would play pat-a-cake with Italian and US justice for years. Sindona was given a Man of the Year Award by the US Ambassador to Italy.
The IOR had 175 million in Calvi backed off shore companies. Sindona blackmailed Calvi into helping him.
In 78, a Pope dies; A new Pope (John Paul I) is elected who promises change, including firing Marcinkus; That Pope is (almost certainly) murdered; The Pope's murder was covered up; And a new Pope (Is the Pope Polish?) John Paul II came in.
The Pauline Monks affair breaks. Monks stole millions; and spent it on the usual (fast cars, loose women, etc). Their guilt was beyond question. The Pope issued a decree to stop the Vatican investigation. Another cover up
Sindona, Calvi (Blackfriar's Bridge) and Marcinkus were the top of a rouges gallery of criminal assholes. Sindona was a mob connection; Marcinkus ran the IOR; and Calvi was mob and off-shore bank connection.
The collapse of Franklin Bank had many repercussions. Judges and prosecutors killed.
Sindona; faked his own abduction went on the run; got caught; got tried; and then was poisoned in prison.
Meanwhile Calvi was in financial trouble. He tired every source he could, but his fate was sealed. More facts about P2 (the Masonic Lodge) came out. Lots of members all over the Vatican, police and government.
The Vatican was in bed with an investment bank called Ambrosian's, run by Calvi. The Vatican denied this, but proved to the banks biggest debtor. When this bank collapsed, the Vatican told the Italians to shove their material witness requests.
The rest of the sordid tale is low-lighted with the Vatican's reply to the world when accessed of crimes. They ranged from: (silence), "It is the nasty media", and "How dare you. This the church." to "Fuck off… we are a sovereign country and we answer to nobody." That is, they claimed diplomatic immunity. In one instance, the Vatican sang and danced when they were serves with papers. Two years later, investigation ongoing, the Vatican said it ignored the papers because they did not come in a diplomatic pouch.
Marcinkus was teflon. He out-lasted many Popes. He was under indictment for a long time and could not leave the Vatican. He was due to be fired by John Paul I, but the Pope was murdered (and the murder covered up) just before it was to happen, Whew… that was close. He ended up at some shitty little parish in Arkansas or some such.
John Paul II was useless.
Benedict (Ratzinger) was senile. He ducked every issue (and there were shitloads of them) until the report about gays in the Vatican came out. He could not take it and quit. Among other sins, he refused to sanction a priest who diddled 200 deaf boys!
Pope Francis has made huge strides in cleaning up the IOR.
He has made controversial statements about gays and rape victims.
This is all to his credit, all of which was cancelled out when he refused to cough up the names of defrocked pedophile priests from the UN Child Protection branch. The church even allowed some convicted priests to return to duty! The Vatican has spent 4.5 billion on abuse settlements, 1.5 billion of which was lawyer's fees.
Meanwhile, the Vatican owns gobs of real estate and has tons of money (some of it Nazi gold) all raked off of money laundering.
I was watching a documentary on earthquakes about 9 days ago, based in part on this book. I ordered the book and started reading two days later.
I thought myself fairly knowledgeable on earthquakes, but I was wrong. Mostly because most of what we know we have found out in the last decade or two. The book is written as a sort of detective novel, leading up to its big conclusion.
Many people of my age probably think that we are in a largely earthquake free zone. Geologists thought so too, but wondered why the Cascadia had not had a large quake when every other part of the ring of fire did. They rationalized that our rocks are slippery so stresses can be relieved regularly. After Sumatra and the 250,000 dead there, interest picked up in Cascadia. Could a Magnitude 9 quake be in our future too?
In the olden days, lo, several decades ago in the sixties, plate tectonics was only just gaining acceptance. In the eighties, lasers were used to measure distances between points to see if the earth was moving. This was expensive and difficult. Then GPS came along. Geologists were not interested in GPS coordinates per se, they were interested in how far apart two rock-fixed points were. This was cheap and easy. Soon tons of data was pouring in and computer simulation started taking off. The other thing they did was to look for evidence of past quakes in multiple different ways. They found it.
Spoiler alert… We are due. The Juan De Fuca Plate is now called the Cascadia Subduction Zone Fault and it has let rip every 400 years or so with a massive quake. The last was 400 years ago.
If you live in the interior, you are laughing. If you live on the coast of Vancouver Island, you are fucked. Depending on the nature of the shaking, many buildings in Vancouver (esp brick and mortar "medium-rises") will collapse. In the worst case scenario, the entire west coast of North America from LA to Alaska may be hit hard. The expected tsunami would hit Crescent City like a hammer, and would probably do significant damage in Japan.
It is a good story. The evidence of the turbidite cores, tree rings, oral histories, ghost forests etc all come together nicely. The upshot is that we should be spending more on earthquake preparedness and building reinforcement.
One nice sub-story came from a ten year old British girl in Phuket who had been taught what to look for. She spotted the signs of an incoming tsunami. She convinced her parents and saved her family.
Cascadia is Sumatra. The death toll will be lower, but the damage worse. The good news is that while earthquake prediction is still a dark art, predicting what tsunamis will do is becoming relatively easy. For example, next time, we will be able to tell the Sri Lankans to bug up (not out) even if they are on the lee side of the island… which actually got hit worse than the weather side did. You will have to read the book to find out why.
Ordinary Men, Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution; Christopher Browning; 1998; 268 pgs
Just about everyone who is aware of the depths of Nazi evil have asked themselves this question: How could a modern, civilized nation sink into barbarity and, if I were there then, would I be shooting Jews in the back of the head too?
This book is about the latter half of that question. Its conclusions are drawn from trial transcripts, modern testimony, Nazi records and psychology experiments (specifically the Stanford Prison Experiment and Milgram's faked electric shocks experiment). Putting aside the notion of souls, this is basically a nature/nurture argument. One thing is certain, if we are just talking statistics, the answer to the question would seem to be "Yes. Being generous, three out of four of us would be pulling the trigger".
The Order Police 101 Battalion consisted of about 500 men. All but a few officers were born in the first decade of the 20th century. The average age was 39. In other words, old enough to know better. Virtually all were conscripted. Many were cops before the war. During the war, they shot 38,000 men, women, and children, and rounded up and deported 45,000 to the Treblinka gas chambers. Some men were set aside for labor. The standing order, SOP if you will, was to shoot children, women, and the infirmed where they stood. The bodies were left for other Jews or town folk to clean up. Others were marched out to nearby forests, forced to dig their own graves and then were shot in the back of the head at a range of inches. The descriptions are very grisly and graphic.
One interesting fact about all the participants in the Final Solution: There is no evidence that any one was censured for refusing to kill unarmed people, despite claimed fears to the contrary by many of the perpetrators at trial.
Most of the Battalions work was done as the Germans transitioned from the psychologically damaging shooting of Jews to the easier, out-of-sight, out-of-mind deportation to the gas chambers.
Killing 1,000 Jews in a single town was a typical one day action. In the first such action, the commanding officer asked if any of the 500 men would not want to participate. A dozen stepped forward. Others would find ways to avoid the work. None were punished for avoiding this work. The actual shooting was often fobbed off to blood-thirsty, anti-Semitic Hiwis, volunteers from Latvia, Lithuania, Ukraine and elsewhere. But 80% (a number that correlates well with the Stanford Prison Experiment) did pull the trigger. Liberal amounts of vodka were distributed to the men to ease their guilt.
There are many reasons why they did what they did. Almost all are rationalizations. Projecting the blame onto the ones who give the orders; thinking of what they did as merciful; blaming the Jews for passivity; concern for future employment as a reason not to shoot; antisemitism; and so on. But the biggest reason was peer pressure. This is not really what I expected. Like most, I assumed the killers were young, stupid, brainwashed Hitler youth. Not so.
Perhaps this is the reason the only group I have been a part of was a group that hated groups.
Do not think that the Germans were unique in their behavior, Think My Lai or ISIS.
I had one small nit with one supposition of the book. The author argues that there was no real self-selection bias in the battalion. I would argue that cops in general are predisposed to hierarchies, the exercising of power and deference to authority, Any many of the Order Police were cops before and after the war.
This book is hard to read. Just as the killers got inured to killing, the reader gets inured to reading about the killing. But it is important that we have a good understanding of the ugly side of human nature. It is relevant today. Consider ISIS; the drug war in Mexico where beheadings have become common place; the cult of personality in North Korea; Iran and Saudi Arabia and sharia law; the killing fields of Cambodia, etc.
I strongly recommend this book if you have any interest in the subject matter at all.
Lee Moller is a life-long skeptic and atheist and the author of The God Con.