On April 26th, 1986, the Chernobyl nuclear reactor number four exploded. The explosion lifted a more than 200 ton "bio-shield" named Elina into the air, exposing the reactor's core.
If you have seen the docudrama about Chernobyl, then you are already aware of much of the contents of this book. I wanted to read it to better understand the physics. What I got was a better understanding of how the worst nuclear disaster in history could have happened at all. The short answer is that the USSR was crumbling, inefficient, and corrupt. The USSR was most concerned about saving face, extolling Soviet science as the best in the world, and doing everything on the cheap.
The result was the second major nuclear disaster in the USSR. A weapons-grade plutonium producing reactor in Siberia had a similar meltdown during the height of the cold war, but the USSR was able to keep it secret.
In their arrogance, the USSR opted on a graphite moderated reactor design, rather than the water moderated design used everywhere else in the world. They eschewed the giant concrete containment vessels that Western eyes associate with nuclear reactors... thinking themselves too smart, and their reactor designs so safe, that they would never have an accident (again). The Soviets built 10 RBMK (in Russian: High Power Channel Reactor) reactors. These reactors were built by a system that had to deal with vendors who routinely supplied sub-standard goods. Seventy percent of one major vendor's goods were faulty.
On one occasion, the Chernobyl plant out-performed its quota by 10%. This was accomplished in part by delaying routine maintenance operations. This sort of thing happened all the time.
Here is my major take-away from the book: the Chernobyl accident lead directly to the collapse of the Soviet Union three years later. Ecological activism became associated with anti-nuclear and anti-Soviet feelings. Lithuania and, most importantly, Ukraine, wanted out. Ukraine got out on December 1, 1991.
The explosion of reactor number four happened during a test of some of the reactor's emergency systems. The fatal test would, among other things, test the SCRAM (Safety Control Rods Activation Mechanism) functions. To do this, they wanted to simulate power losses on some equipment, such as safety equipment. If you think that sounds stupid, you are right. What happens next is complicated.
The boron control rods are tipped with graphite. The boron slows the reaction down and graphite speeds it up. So as the rods go in, the power goes up, and then down. Another accelerating effect involving cavities full of steam (called the positive void effect) also increased power output. Power output went from 200 MWts to 30,000 MWts in just a few seconds. Then it exploded.
What happens next was well covered in the docudrama. Chunks of red hot, and extremely radioactive, graphite were lying about on the ground. Fire fighters did not know what to make of them. For some who got too close, it would mean their death. Even remote controlled vehicles could not stand the radiation.
Initially, the powers that be relied on dosimeter readings, which indicated a tolerable amount of radiation. They downplayed the severity based on that. But what they chose to ignore was that the numbers that the dosimeters were giving were the maximum they could register! When better meters were used, the true picture came into focus, namely that the radiation was well into the dangerous/lethal zone.
Another problem was the water table. More Russian arrogance at work… they should have chosen a sight where ground water was not an issue. If the reactor got to the ground water, another explosion could be expected, along with radioactive water seeping into everything. In a heroic act, miners managed to tunnel under the reactor and freeze the ground solid with liquid nitrogen. They invoked a common Soviet saying: "Who, if not we?"
All things considered, the story of Chernobyl could have been much worse. A whole town, many small villages, and thousands of acres of farm land was contaminated in Ukraine, Russia and Belarus. But all told, immediate deaths could be counted on one hand; and the final total, which includes cancers caused by radiation, and guesses on future death tolls is between 4,000 (from the UN) and 90,000 (from Green Peace) souls.
I would like to think that the Chernobyl disaster had some positive impacts. As mentioned, it was the catalyst of the fall of the USSR (which Putin is trying to resurrect). No new RBMK reactors are being built. The original plan was shut these reactors down, but that idea was quickly modified when the practical realities were considered. People need power to live.
The interior of the Chernobyl sarcophagus will be deadly to human life for 20,000 years.
This was a very easy read. It is very well written. The author is aware of the avalanche of Russian names the book presents. He is careful to remind the reader of each players title and position whenever an obscure Russian re-enters the narrative. It has an excellent index.
A note about radiation:
The units have changed over the years. The old measures are the curie, rad and rem. They are replaced by the becquerel (GBq), gray (Gy), and sievert (Sv). They respectively measure the emitted radiation, the amount of radiation absorbed, and the biological damage done.
History of Warfare, A; John Keegan; 1993; Vintage Books; 393 pgs; References, Bibliography, Index
This is another book that cannot be summarized. It is long, uses a small font, and is information dense. Since human history and war cannot be separated, you can view this book as a history of humanity through the lens of war.
The book opens and closes with Clausewitz. Clausewitz was a well known theorist about war and he argued famously that war was an extension of politics by other means. This book disagrees.
Keegan points out early that wars are often fought over religious issues, and that Muhammad, unlike Christ, was a man of violence who preached jihad. Islam is divided over two caliphs (successors to Muhammad). They disagree on who is in charge and the basic aims of Islam, which is often religion at knifepoint.
When guns were introduced to the battle field, many thought them unworthy of a soldier. In fact, Japan was so appalled at the idea that a common man could get a gun and kill man of high stature that they banned guns outright in order to perpetuate their close quarter combat military society. That all changed when the US sailed a gun ship into Tokyo harbor.
Throughout history, war and technology moved hand in hand. With each new weapon came new tactics and new goals.
The history of war is the history of empires and peoples… and there have been a lot of them through the ages. I had never heard of many of them, such as the Yanomamo of Peru: they were called "the fierce people" and were known for stylistic forms of ritual combat.
War as we know it started with the invention of the bow and arrow (man's deadliest innovation to date) . The bow is a simple machine used to store muscle energy as mechanical energy and quickly release it. The bow was a true stand-off weapon... a game changer. Later, the composite bow was invented. These bows shot arrows further and faster, were much smaller than their predecessors, and could be wielded easily from horseback. .
The first written history of war comes from Sumerians wall reliefs. Sumer was the land between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers around 5,000 years ago.
The next innovation was the chariot. One may wonder why the Egyptians et al did not ride horses into battle. Horses have changed a lot due to selective breeding. Five thousand years ago, horses were small. They were well muscled in the rear but could not carry much weight on their forelimbs. This meant that a rider had to sit way back on the horse, making control difficult. But horses were good at pulling things, like a chariot. Later in history, the chariot was abandoned for the mounted cavalry soldier.
Fortifications are discussed at some length. Fiction has made much of siege engines vs. fortifications. In reality, fortifications nearly always won out in a siege... until the age of gunpowder.
Much is made of the clash between the nomadic horse peoples of the steppe (e.g. Mongols) and the settlers and farmers of cities and towns. There really was no way for them to coexist as they both competed for the same resources.
Another group of well known raiders, the Vikings, used ships rather than horses.
The book also goes into depth on armies: how they are formed, manned, fed, organized etc. Armies are built in many ways: through enslavement, conscription, and through volunteers who are rewarded in some way, such as citizenship. Rome was built that way and Rome had the first body of professional fighting officers in history.
The introduction of iron was another game changer. Iron was strong, but very heavy, so most armor remained made of bronze. Cannons of bronze were supplanted by larger cannons of iron. Gunpowder allowed iron shots to fly horizontally which allowed cannons to undermine defensive fortifications. Siege engine shots were lobbed and generally dealt ineffective glancing blows.
There is so much information in this book that it is best used as a reference work. Subsequent chapters discuss logistics and supplies and, of course, the modern wars that shaped our world: The US Civil War, the French Revolution, WWI and WWII, the introduction of nuclear weapons, and so on.
Freeze Order; Bill Browder; 2022; Simon & Schuster; 313 pgs, Links, acknowledgements
My main frustration with this book is that it has a lot of players and no index! There is no excuse for the lack of an index in today's world. As it is, for example, if you had forgotten who "Vladimir" is in the book, you had to read-back in the book to find a mention that defines him. This can be very frustrating when some players are referred to by both their first and last names alone.
This is the sequel to Red Notice, Browder's excellent book on a subject that has had a huge influence on international politics… namely the Magnitsky Act. This law, now adopted by more than 34 countries, including Canada, allows countries to seize the assets of international criminals and the sponsors of terrorism. Putin is the big fish in that pond, and he is worried. Much of his wealth resides outside Russia.
The book starts well before the book Red Notice was published and could be characterized as a diary of Browder's experiences as he published the book and pushed the Magnitsky Act around the world... And, of course, Putin's attempts to get him.
If you have not read Red Notice, you should do so before you read this book. Spoiler alert: if you have not read it but plan to, stop reading this now!
Browder set up a investment company in Russia which made millions. Putin stole the company and 230 million dollars, accused Browder of stealing that very same money, threw Browder's lawyer Sergei Magnitsky in jail, and tortured him to death. Browder created the Magnitsky Act to punish Russia and has made it his life's work. Putin wants him dead.
The book reads like a Hitchcock movie script (think The Man Who Knew too Much, or North by Northwest). The innocent victim (Browder) goes to a lawyer to get help fight to the Russians. The lawyer's name is John Moscow (really!). He digs into Browder's case and helps him. But months later, he was working for Putin! John Moscow used his inside knowledge to harass Browder in an attempt to get him onto Russian soil. This is against all legal tenets but it took many court appearances to get the western courts to eject Moscow from the case. One lesson of this story is that the law, designed to protect the innocent, can be turned into a deadly weapon in the wrong hands. Moscow is a perfect example of what everyone hates: a crooked lawyer.
The story goes on, at times almost comically, in its cloak and dagger clichés. The clichés turn out to be real. Another minor observation: the Russians (i.e. Putin) like to poison people, but they are really not very good at it. Quite a few have survived being poisoned, including a player in this story. Putin should stick to straight up assassinations, like Boris Nemtsov who was shot eight times right outside the Kremlin. A mystery truck had pulled up and stopped, blocking the surveillance camera's view. That story also figures in this James Bond plot.
The original 232 million dollars had exploded into 232 billion, much of which went through Danske Bank. As a person of Danish descent, this was disturbing to me, but the Danes wasted no time in busting the bad guys when this crime came to light.
I have nothing but admiration for Browder. He leads the life of a fugitive while fighting for a just cause.
The madness of Putin does not stop with Bill Browder. Now he is waging a war he cannot win in Ukraine.
A Pocket History of Human Evolution; Silvana Condemi, Francois Savatier; 2019; The Experiment; 128 pgs, index
I have very little to say about this book. It is a concise summary of our current understanding of human evolution, from the first words and stone tools to our modern tribal, warring, world. It is only 128 small pages long and summarizing a summary does not leave much but the title.
When was fire tamed? How did we become bipedal? These and many other questions are answered, although not always with great accuracy. That is to say, there is still much to learn. The evolution of humanity is complex. There was a lot of interbreeding which just makes things more complex.
Short though this book is, each paragraph contains something profound to think about.
Twilight of the Gods, War in the Western Pacific 1944-45; Ian W. Toll; 2020; W. W. Norton and Company; 792 pgs, notes, index, bibliography
Admiral Kimmel and General Short, to whom this book is dedicated, were dealt a lousy hand. They were the top brass when Pearl Harbor was hit, and they paid the price. Kimmel ultimately committed suicide. MacArthur, on the other hand, had a nine hour heads up on the de facto state of war between the US and Japan, and he did nothing. Zip. Nada. Rather, he cloistered himself and read the bible. MacArthur, was a "pompous and ignorant ass", the Montgomery of the Pacific, and went on to become king of Japan. As a direct result of his sloth, half of the US air force in the Philippines was wiped out on the ground. He should have been court martialed and jailed, or even shot. But such is life and politics.
This is a long and detailed book. It begins, more or less, with the invasion of the Gilbert and Marshall Islands. The first really big action was the Battle of Leyte Gulf, the largest naval battle in history. I will not discuss this battle in any detail as I have already done so with another book. MacArthur spent most of his time trying to take supreme control of all forces in the Pacific. Halsey, known as "Bull" Halsey was about as smart as his name sake. Dogged and pig-headed. Other commanders such as Spruence were more cautious. After Leyte, the Japanese navy was no longer a threat. But there was still plenty of tough fights ahead.
The Marshalls, the Solomons, Tulagi, Guadalcanal, Wake, Ulithi, Peleliu, Kwajalien, Guam, Saipan, Iwo Jima, the Philippines, Okinawa… these are some of the better known islands that were taken during the island hopping part of the war. These island fights were bloody to say the least. Japanese suicide charges were fairly common near the start of this campaign, but too costly in terms of man power. Later, Japanese held islands were dug out labyrinths of caves and tunnels that had to be taken at a horrible cost. On Iwo Jima, for example, only a dozen or two Japanese soldiers were captured. Thousands died for their emperor. Japanese hawks basically lied their asses off to the emperor and the Japanese people. For example, they kept the loss of the four aircraft carriers at Midway a secret for many months after the fact, and even then downplayed the outcome.
Meanwhile, US subs were choking the life out of Japan. The fleet had a huge appetite for oil, and the silent service made sure very little reached Japanese shores. On the other side of the coin, Japanese kamikazes appeared for the first time in the struggle for the Philippines. They were basically unstoppable and a precursor of today's smart weapons. They were responsible for an extraordinary amount of damage. Young pilots were taught just enough to take off and that was it. And they begged for the opportunity to live forever by sacrificing themselves for the emperor.
The Japanese built the two largest battle ships in history: the Yamato (sunk off Okinawa) and the Musashi (sunk during the Battle of Leyte Gulf). They were huge (879 feet long; 72,000, tonnes battle loaded), and an anachronism. By now, battle ships were out and carriers were in.
Many missions by US subs were memorable, but one stood out for me. A sub skipper named Enright had captained the Dace (all US subs were named after fish, the most famous being the Tang) and returned to Pearl with zero tonnage sunk. He felt perhaps he was not cut out for skippering a boat. But 8 months later, he decided to try again as captain of the Archerfish. On 27 August, he found a target that looked to be a large carrier. It was the Shinano, built on the third, now repurposed, Yamato-class battleship hull. After a long chase, the Archerfish fired a spread of 6 torpedoes. Four hit, and the Shinano went down. Normally, four hits would not have sunk her, but she was running on a reduced crew and had yet to be fitted out for war. Enright's story was not believed until after the war when the existence of the Shinano was revealed . A sub patrol's success is based on tonnage sunk. A good patrol might sink eight ships with combined tonnage of 40-50 thousand tonnes. Enright sunk one ship, and at 65,000 tonnes , had scored the highest tonnage sunk on one patrol.
From the Philippines on, the main weapon of the Japanese was the kamikaze. The Japanese were happy to throw away their young men, and as mentioned, they really wanted to go. The Japanese had a number of kamikaze weapons (planes, subs, missiles and more), but the usual one was a young man in a crappy plane. As the war progressed, the Japanese had fewer and fewer planes, and more Kamikazes. This was due to the lack of oil, needed to smelt the steel, needed to make planes. On the American side, they had so many new planes coming in that the would simply retire, or bulldoze older or slightly damaged planes into the sand and replace them with newer, better planes. Such was their economic might.
The worst battle, IMHO, was Iwo Jima… almost literally hell on Earth. Sulfur fumes and hot gases came out of the ground. If you were climb into a fox hole, you would be forced out just to cool down. The deeper you dug, the hotter the dirt got. It is difficult to describe how awful the conditions were on both sides.
Iwo Jima gave damaged bombers, flying from Tinian to Japan and back, a place to land. This was a very big deal.
At this time, the Japanese air force was all but non-existent, with the noted exception of suicide pilots. The Battle of Okinawa was waged in the air primarily by these planes. Okinawa was only 300 miles from the Japanese mainland.
We all know how it ends. Due to politics, MacArthur, the general who should have been shot, became the new ruler of Japan, which quickly joined the ranks of civilized nations.
A word or two about religion is appropriate. Both sides demonized the other. But any measure of civilized behavior, animated by religious fervor, the Japanese were far more fanatical. In addition to kamikazes, there were instances of ritual cannibalism. And the entire Japanese population, deluded by years of propaganda, and driven by the belief that they were the chosen people, and that the emperor was their actual and true god, were prepared to die. This belief held sway until August 14, 1945, when their god told them to lay down their arms to surrender. Which they did! One speech from one guy ended the war. One wonders how many lives could have been saved if he had done so earlier (in fact, due to politics, it was never really an option).
Uncounted numbers of people died during the war to appease the gods. Christopher Hitchens said "Religion ruins everything", even war.
The Japanese were told that the Americans were a mongrel and bloodthirsty race. Most were shocked by the humanity the Americans displayed towards them after their surrender… no doubt in part because they knew they would not have been so kind. MacArthur may have been a douche bag, but he did understand the psyche of the Japanese and used it to good effect.
There are many arguments on both sides regarding the use of the A-Bomb. I will not go into them here, other than to say that using them probably saved many lives. One motivating fear was that Russia was rushing its forces to the East and they might try to take Japan's northern island, in which case Japan would have joined Germany as a divided country, one half behind the iron curtain. That would have been bad.
This is a long read, but very well researched and written.
Weird Earth; Donald R. Prothero; 2020; Red Lightning Books; 248 pgs; notes, further reading, index;
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.
The Splendid and the Vile; Erik Larson; 2020; Crown NY; 502 pgs, index, sources
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.
Another very enjoyable book from Christie Blatchford. I have always liked reading her columns in the NP. Her earthy style of writing is restrained in newsprint, but not so in her books. It is a worthy successor to Helpless, the story of the OPP and the feds turning their backs on the small town of Caledonia, ON. Truth be told, the sins of the system as described in Life Sentence do not hold a candle to the system allowing politics and ambition to trump even the most basic tenets of the rule of law in Caledonia.
A nice type size and good leading means a fairly quick read.
The book is broken into broken into several large chunks consisting of an anecdotal review of her career; then four long chapters on the big cases: R v. : Abreha, Elliott, Bernardo; and Ghomeshi.
In the opening chapter, she recounts some fun moments, like when the Special Investigative Unit that investigates police shootings hired a hot homicide detective only to discover that he was a fraud; or the when the government hired a race relations specialist who told lawyers that the Holocaust was not racist because no black people were involved. She notes as well, after years of legal wrangling, Duffy is back in the Senate sucking on the same teat as before. And more importantly, she asks why judges do not get the same scrutiny as senators. She points out that judges work for us, and that it is within our rights to criticize them, and they have a duty to disclose expenses just like everybody else.
In Abreha, Christie rails against the condescending treatment of jurors. In fact, we just had the Oland case pitched due to an issue of jury instruction. Jurors seem to be unable to get even the most trivial of research sources themselves, like having access to a dictionary. It is assumed that jurors are incapable of, for example, separating past misdeeds from current misdeeds, but it is inherently assumed that lawyers and judges are capable of such feats, as well as many others that mere mortals can only aspire to. Blatchford quotes one juror who said: "The arrogance of the judicial system doling out just enough information to keep us pure 'intolerable'. " I agree. In some cases, judges have actually lied to jurors. Actually, they all lie to the jurors, because they all say the same thing at the end of the trial… "You have now heard all the evidence.", and that is almost always a lie. If you say that is not right, you will get a lecture on "probative value versus prejudicial effect". IMHO: If we are going to have juries, they should have all the facts.
The Elliott case focused on a judge Cosgrove who went right off the rails during the trial. To make a long weird tale short, Cosgrove was incompetent. He threw his weight around illegally, and, at the end of the day, still did not acknowledge his misdeeds. Cosgrove was a patronage appointment. The Canadian Judicial Council was involved and actually debated whether "incompetence" should be tolerated in judges, so untouchable as they are once appointed. Camp is another judge recently in the news who actually used "ignorance of the law" as an excuse for his errors as a judge!. The appointment process is totally screwed up in Canada, but the good news is that it is getting better.
Reading about Bernardo again is hard. The facts of the case are stomach-turning. The Bernardo trial was totally screwed up by the prosecution. Innocent lawyers were trashed by the system. Politics, optics and expediency ruled the court's decision making processes. The crown made a deal with the devil (Homolka) when they definitely should not have. But worse for the legal system, victims were granted de facto status in the court, with their own attorney, who the crown then tasked to do things that were clearly in conflict. This mess resulted in some really dumb stuff. The press was not allowed to see the Homolka tapes (due to the victim's weight in the court), but could hear them. But the sound was bad, so the crown provided a transcript that they could not read, but the cops could read it to them. So the reporters had to scribble the text from the readings of the cops while listening to a tape, which they could not understand, of a video they were not allowed to see. The Bernardo case saw the legal system turn on itself, and it was ugly. This rise of the victim does not bode well, and we are seeing the impacts today. The victim should have no say in the evidence presented at trial, but in Bernardo, they ruled the roost. The state even went after reporters for breaching court orders WRT banned information, information that they had made public earlier. In one instance, the OPP fabricated evidence to get at a lawyer who had crossed the Province's AG, who was hip deep in conflict issues.
Finally, the Ghomeshi trial is discussed, and it too was a fiasco. Once again, the victims rose up, screwed up everything, and disappeared. The details of the Ghomeshi trial are still fresh in most peoples mind, but if you want more, read the book.
This was a good read. The system is not broken. I am sure 95% of convictions are routine and well handled. But it seems the bigger the trial, the more it seems like the lunatics are running the asylum. We recently had a literal show trial and it showed us that the judge was a screw-up.
Battle for Leyte Gulf, The; C. Vann Woodward; 2007; Skyhorse Publishing; 222 pgs; no index
The 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.
When pondering on disaster relief, it is helpful to know what natural disasters we should prepare for.
War is hardly natural, and we seem to always be on the brink of it somewhere in the world, so I ignore it.
There are two major issues to deal with: How big might it be, and what are the chances of it happening. A crude break down of “how big” is Local vs Global.
Here is the list off the top of my head (Disaster; Size, Probability):
Only “Pandemic” stands out. It has the potential to go global; AND since it has happened in the past (Spanish Flu, Swine Flu, SARS), and, due largely to air travel, is more likely to happen in the future… the probability is high.
Covid 19 was not unlucky, it was inevitable. A moments thought, which is about as much as I put into this piece, will convince anyone that the smart money should go to prevention of pandemics.
Therefore, ergo, ipso facto, and thus, Donald Trump disbanded the pandemic teams, cut the budget for the CDC and tried to build a wall to keep out Mexicans. He has turned recklessness into an art form. Of course, he did not create C19, but he has, and is, making it much worse.
I always want to end on a happy thought. This can be fixed.
1) Reduce the number of people on the planet by 3 billion at least;
2) Reduce the number of Donald Trumps by one (ideally, remove the whole family tree); and
3) Stop treating every square inch of the planet as a tourist destination.
Lee Moller is a life-long skeptic and atheist and the author of The God Con.