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.
I really liked the film series of the same name that documented the experiences of Easy Company of the 101st Airborne. The book 's chapters each correspond to a 1 hour piece of the film series. I re-watched the series as I read the book.
Easy was trained by a much hated Captain Sobel. But Sobel's strict emphasis on fitness made Easy the most fit unit in the ETO (European Theater of Operations). Easy landed at Normandy, fought through Holland and Belgium, participated in Operation Market Garden, and famously played a key role in defending Bastogne from the German onslaught during The Battle of the Bulge.
The book is an easy read. It is about as close to fiction as I read these days, but of course, it is not fiction. The attention to military detail was fantastic in the film. I spotted things that were referred to in the book, but never pointed out in the film. So unless you were there, or were a veteran of other battles, the film had aspects that you would never notice without reading the book. Having said that, the film viewing time is longer than the book reading time. So if you have seen the film, you have not missed much. In fact, for most people, you can read the book faster than you can watch the show.
What these men had to endure is beyond anything I will ever experience. I stand in awe of what they accomplished… beyond simple survival.
The film ends with interviews of some of the soldiers… now quite old. The paradox of war is in the title. When you arrive as a recruit, you and your mates are equals, regardless of background. And if you survive the whole affair, they are your best friends to whom you owe your life, and vice versa. All of the survivors are glad for the experience, but only with the after the fact knowledge that they make it. Regardless, the emotional ties are strong and very touching.
The cliché "blood is thicker than water" does not refer to kinship ties, but to spilt blood between soldiers.
This was a read of a different nature. I wanted to learn a little more about feminism and a friend recommended this and one other book. It is different for me because it views the world from a perspective that I might try to empathize with, but cannot experience. It is worth noting that the book is 30 years old now, and some things have changed. I also note that Ms Wolf is very "beautiful", or at least she was in 1990. How much beauty-bias she personally suffered is hard to say.
The book has six chapters: Work, Religion, Culture, Violence, Sex, and Hunger,
There are many examples in every chapter (too many at times) of the various burdens women must bear… some external and some internal. For example: the intro points out that the average American woman would rather loose 10-15 lbs than any other goal. That is really sad. It certainly has a strong external component to it. You can blame Twiggy et al for that, but surely part of this issue is internal.
She introduces the concept of the PBQ (Professional Beauty Qualification). She argues that the PBQ is a way to discriminate against women in a safe, litigation-proof way. The standards for on-air female personalities are quite different than for men. One woman lost a case where her employer said she was too, old, too unattractive, and not deferential enough to men. Yikes! The PBQ, Wolf argues, is the currency of womanhood.
Here is a shocking statement from the book: Young professional women spend up to 1/3 of their income on their appearance. Or to put it slightly cruder: Want to keep your job: get your boobs done.
Culture obviously has shaped women. Women's culture is driven by women's magazines and the advertisers who support them. The advertisers are constantly telling women how they should or could look, and assure them that if they buy their goop, all their woes will go away. In fact they create the woes first, and then fix them. And they deliberately promote competition between women. The author suggests that "adornment" is a huge part of female culture, and I am sure she is right. But I wonder if that aspect of female culture is not part of the problem. Putting such a heavy emphasis on adornment seems rather shallow to me, but I am a guy.
Women and weight is always an issue. Weight Watchers tells women "Always wear your makeup. Even to walk the dog. You never know whom you are going to meet." That says a lot. About appearance issues and weight. The author's Religion chapter focuses primarily on the cult aspects of beauty and make-up. She spends quite a bit of time focusing on the bullshit of skin creams that promise rejuvenation. One marketing line caught my eye: "A lipstick you can have a lasting relationship with." I wonder if it comes with batteries.
Cults are something I know a little about. And it is all (well, most of it) there. Chanting, purifications, confessions and other mind control techniques are on full display. If the woman is also hungry, that helps as it will impair her reasoning.
Sex will always be an issue. And men control the issue. The book cites several cases where women were raped or brutalized, only to have the legal system tut-tut them, or suggest it was all in good fun. Who can forget the Canadian judge who asked a female victim why she didn't just keep her knees together? Ms Wolf does not approve of pornography and she may have a point, but these are issues that can be resolved academically, which is my only real complaint about this book… It could have used more science to back up its conclusions.
There is no doubt that weight and conditions like bulimia and anorexia are major concerns for women. The author quotes a number of statistics on the subject. If one takes the worst numbers that have been put forward, then 1 in 10 college age women are anorexic and 5 more are bulimic. If the true figures are even close to that, that is very troubling indeed. The rail thin heroin-chic skinny look came in with Twiggie and has never left. Porn and women's magazines are part of the problem, to be sure. They both make people of both sexes feel that their bodies are not as good as they could be.
Cosmetic surgeries have gone through the roof. Joan Rivers had more and more done until the last one killed her. The author argues that this is a form of violence toward women, and it is hard to argue that she has a point. Doctors invade diseased bodies as a last resort. Cosmetic surgeons call healthy bodies sick and then invade them. The industry is huge and largely unregulated. Things may have changed in 30 years, but in 1990, doctors could not tell a patients the risks of cosmetic surgery because they did not know themselves.
I found the book over-long on examples, and short on analysis and statistics. But these are quibbles. I can say this: it is more complicated being a woman in our society than a man. We have a long way to go as a society to level the playing field. And women (and men) need to learn how to be happy with themselves and others.
I recently visited my sister-in-law and complemented her on her looks. I had caught her in a rare moment: au natural (no makeup). She thought I was ribbing her. That should not happen.
There is no WWII battle more famous than the Battle of the Bulge. It was more widely referred to initially as the Ardennes Offensive. The German code name for it was Watch on the Rhine.
To put the battle in context: D-Day has come and gone; The Netherlands have been liberated and Antwerp captured; Operation Market Garden, and Montgomery's pet project, was a spectacular failure. As the allies approached Germany, resistance grew.
But Market Garden was not Monty's biggest failure. Antwerp was. Monty took Antwerp and then turned his eyes East. He failed to liberate the north side of the Schelt, the long inlet that gives Antwerp access to the sea. It was up to the Canadian's to clear the Schelt, which they did at great cost, giving the allies their first really useful port. Antwerp was the target of the Ardennes Offensive.
Here are the player: At the top: Churchill; Roosevelt, Hitler, DeGaulle (a general pain in the ass) and Stalin. Below Roosevelt was Eisenhower and under him Montgomery, Patton, and Bradley who was in over-all charge on the ground. In the East: Manteuffel, Model, Sepp Dietrich, and most famously, Pieper of the Waffen SS) .
The SS, originally Hitler's body guard, had grown and become an army of itself: the Waffen SS (weaponized SS) . They were famously lead by Pieper, a fanatical Nazi (Pieper survived the war, spent 11+ years in jail; and retired until the French Resistance caught up with him 20 years later and killed him) led the best equipped Panzer division in the battle.
Eisenhower ran the overall show. He has three squabbling generals to deal with. Montgomery was a ass, who thought only of British and personal glory. Montgomery would push for certain tactics, sometimes with good reason, but always prefaced every suggestion with "Put me in charge". Patton was famously arrogant and head strong. And Bradley was a wimp. Bradley did not figure much in the battle because he had head-quartered himself in Luxembourg and was out of touch with events.
Bradley felt scapegoated because he was the one who thought that no offence could come from the Ardennes. But it did come.
The book was an engrossing read. The horrors of war come through strongly. A minor example: US dead soldiers were booby trapped by fleeing Germans. Death was everywhere. Everyone knows the final outcome of the most costly battle in US history.
If you have seen the movie, you are probably aware of the Massacre at Malmedy. In it, Peiper's men shot 84 US POWs in a field. In point of fact, the Germans shot just about everyone: POWs, locals thought to be in touch with the resistance, locals in general, and occasionally, each other. But Malmedy was big news and the American division that saw it returned the favor in kind. In one incident, twenty German's were under fire and decided surrender under a white flag. The American's waved the first man out, and then the rest followed. When the Germans were all out and exposed, the senior American gave the command, and they were all machine gunned. This had one positive effect: The German's would do almost anything to avoid having to surrender to that American division.
A military side note: the deadliest weapon in the battle field of Europe was not the tank or the machine gun, or artillery. It was the humble mortar.
Prior to the war's beginning, high frequency electronics was just getting off the ground. Television was introduced during the 1936 Olympics. Another development linked to television was not for public consumption; became England's secret weapon; and played a role in the Battle of the Bulge.
Perhaps the best kept secret weapon of the battle was Pozit. It is better known today as a ground proximity fuse. Since artillery was invented, gunners knew that a shell that exploded overhead was far, far more deadly that one that augers into the ground and explodes. It was possible to do this without Pozit, but it was tricky at best. Pozit used a small single purpose radar signal to detect the ground approaching and trigger the explosion, typically about 30 feet above ground. It worked every time. One well place shell could kill everyone on a 100 meter radius that was not protected. Pozit had a very large effect on German morale as well as battle field outcomes.
Another short remark about Montgomery: he was so pig-headed about getting overall ground command in the European theatre (which would never, ever happen… the Americans would never allow it) that he came within a word or two of losing his job. He railed against Eisenhower to an aide who had just come from Ike. The aide said Ike might replace him. "Replace me with who?!" asked Monty. The aide mentioned a name. Monty shut up, apologized as only a Brit can, and resigned himself to history.
The index in weak in this book, but otherwise a really educational and sobering read.
recently met my old friend Daniel Friedmann at a high school reunion. We were not close during high school, but certainly friendly. At the reunion, I discovered that Dan is Jewish, has written a book, and is, well… really Jewish in that he seems to buy every word of the first chapter of the bible. (Aside: I will refer to him as Dan because I know him. I mean do disrespect when I do so.) I did not finish the book, but I saw no acknowledgement of the fact that there are lots of origin stories -- indeed, there are thousands -- nor of the fact that they all make the same claim and cannot all be right. For Dan, the Jewish world view is correct.
It is interesting to me that Dan and I have both written books that are nearly exact opposites of each others. The guts of my book states that the guts of his describe reflect a world view that I, and all atheists, find illogical and repugnant.
In the preface, he says that the bible (or rather the Torah et al) "effectively" describes the world. I would disagree. The meaning of word "effectively" as he used it is a bit unclear. I would take it to mean that it "works", which is nonsense.
He then immediately asks the reader to put aside their personal beliefs and notice the alignment of biblical events and events in the development of the world from sciences point of view. But every argument he makes, including the alignment, depends on you believing him, the bible, and Kabbalism. Kabbalism (sometimes spelled with a "C") is where the "code" in the title comes from. Per the book, Hebrew letters are numbers too (who knew?) , and when properly understood, the numbers add up to something (I have no idea what).
Dan has a masters in Engineering Physics and rose to the top of Canada's premier space technology company MDA. He is very smart. In the opening passages of the book, he describes his inner conflict, during his fourth year at university, when he realized that science and the Jewish religion are not very compatible (this seems like a late revelation to me). So he set out to reconcile them.
This is a book is a quick, light read. I did not read it all. There is only so much of this stuff I can stand. Dan does some math and comes up with this: A Creation Day is 2.54 billion years; or 7,000 Divine Years. Obvious really. Using these and other figures, he creates a religious interpretation of the major development events of the universe. I did find one review of the book on line, and in it the author mentions that by Dan's numbers, Adam would have spent millions of years "naming things", a chore god gave him early on. I am not sure how he manages to name things that have yet to evolve or develop. Dan spends a little time explaining how Adam was not a man, but became one later?
Dan does quote one paleontologist, Stephen J Gould. Gould is a good source. Gould wrote a book about the overlap of science and religion (overlapping magisteria) that, as I recall, was not well received by his contemporaries. Gould is Jewish.
The stand-out debate of religion vs. science is the origin of mankind (Scopes etc). Dan describes both viewpoints, and then ignores the discord entirely. He sort of claims victory by saying that his biblical version of reality and the scientific version align after 6,000 years ago. This avoidance practice coupled with expectation bias and over-zealous pattern matching (see my book) seem pervasive in his book.
Dan generally gets his basic science right but often oversimplifies. For example, his calculations contain the time unit of days. But the day has not always been twenty four hours, a fact he overlooks. He leaves out completely why science is right. The whole history of intellectual and scientific philosophy, and the arduous centuries-long abandonment of religious "absolute truth", is absent. I think it is not relevant from his perspective… that of a fundamentalist.
I have never understood people who, like Dan, will bend themselves into logical pretzels rather than admit that what they were force-fed as a child might not be true. When numbers get involved, my skeptical hackles go up. Numerology is hokum. I am reminded of the BS that was spread about the pyramids. Take the height, divide by the base circumference, but take back two cubits for Mary, and you get pi! So aliens built the pyramids, and god wrote "codes" into literally every word he claims he wrote. It is amazing the things you can deduce when you start with the conclusion, and then reverse engineer the premises needed to make it so.
Dan even spends a little time talking about the "power" in the names of god… real power from what I can gather, but not enough to do work. Work is a concept that I know Dan understands.
I admire people who stick by their beliefs.
I admire even more those people who are brave enough to drop or modify a long-held or cherished belief when the evidence turns against it.
Dan seems also to miss one of the absolute corner stones of science: prediction. It seems to me that if any of what Dan believes is true, then hard predictions should flow from them. There have been innumerable times in history when the latest messiah claims that the rapture will be on such and such a date, and the believers sell all they have in anticipation. All those predictions failed.
Dan might argue that the alignments he has discovered with his math is a prediction or sorts. No… it is not.
The basic problems with Dan's conclusions are summed up neatly in a computing maxim: GIGO.
Rising 44: The Battle for Warsaw; Norman Davies; 2003; MacMillan Books; 617 pgs; Notes; index; appendices
You may be familiar with the Warsaw ghetto uprising. The ghetto uprising took place in 1943. It was the story of the Jews fighting back rather than allowing themselves to be slaughtered. This is not that story.
The Battle for Warsaw was the attempt by the Poles in 1944 to try to retake their country. The Russians were to the east, and the Germans were retreating to the west. The time seemed ripe. One can imagine the best outcome: The Varsovians (the correct term for a Warsaw-dweller) rise up in Warsaw; Russia advances on Warsaw (the enemy of my enemy is my friend); Together, they drive the Germans out; Russia leaves; and Poland is restored!
That did not happen. Russia was initially happy to carve up Poland with Germany when the war began. This was known as The Pact of Steel. Stalin wanted all that he could take. Even after reading this engrossing account of the battle, and its surrounding politics, I still could see no way that the Poles would get what they wanted (a stable border; and self governance… the greedy bastards!). But that could never be. They were between the proverbial rock and a hard place. Germany was defeated, and Stalin knew that his army from the east would take most of the countries between Russia and Germany in order to get to Germany. And he had no plans of giving any of them back.
Having said that, the Poles still got screwed. Russia deliberately laid off Warsaw until Germany had squashed the uprising and razed the city to the ground. Both England and Russia knew the truth but were never prepared to speak it. Instead, they played footsie with the issues, placating the Poles until even they realized the western allies could not intervene. But the big villain in all of it was Stalin. One can say a lot of bad things about Britain, but they did try. Spy missions, air drops, and so on were executed, usually by Polish soldiers and airmen working out of England. Russia refused to help. They even denied the allied planes (their allies, the ones shipping them arms) the right to land on Soviet airbases after making a long flight to Poland. This dramatically hobbled the western allies in trying to support Poland.
The Battle for Warsaw began on 1 August 1944, lasted 63 days, and ended Oct 2. The Yalta conference had, by then, already given Poland away.
Here is an example of the kind of bullshit politics that took place then (and now, if we are honest):
The Russians essentially argued that they had a right to reset the borders of Poland to the those before the war. Makes sense, right? Except, as far as Stalin was concerned, the war did not begin until Germany attacked Russia. By then, Russia had already swiped half of the country and they meant to keep it.
It is hard for a Canadian to appreciate the animus that existed in Europe at the time. Poles, Jews, Christians, Slavs, Croats, Germans… they all had long standing grudges. And it was quite possible for one to belong to two groups at once (a Jewish Pole might identify with being a Jew or a Pole or both). Anti-Semitism was everywhere. Borders of countries were fluid. Large movements of people were not uncommon. The Great War did not make any of this better.
But one cannot overstate the hate the Germans had for the Poles, and the Poles reciprocated. Nor can one overstate the bravery and determination of the Poles. You would be willing to fight to, if you watched the enemy walk into a neighborhood and shoot every last person dead just to make a point. Denmark, which also borders Germany, was treated with kid gloves by comparison, in part because the Germans saw the Danes as fellow Arian supermen.
I should also note that Churchill himself was a dealing from the bottom of the deck when it came to Poland. He conned the Polish government in exile. In his defense, as I implied earlier, I suspect the basic outcome would have been the same whether Churchill was honest or not.
The subject is of interest to me, so I read this rather long book with interest. I stopped after the war ended (somewhere around page 450) as I am not all that interested in the cold war politics that followed. This work is spiced up by asides of personal heroics, usually taken from diaries and such. It describes all the major Polish players in the Warsaw uprising, few of whom survived the war. Many died in Russian gulags.
Oddly, the Germans were a beneficiary of the uprising. It gave them 5 months of time to destroy Warsaw (which they saw as a mini-final-solution) and to assemble the Reich's defenses.
The book's font is small and the pages dense, so this is a long read for anyone.
If you are curious about creationism and ID from a science perspective, this is a light quick read that will bring you up to date. Hafer reminds me of me. The odd bad joke; a serious load of contempt for IDers and their ilk; copious diagrams and white space use; several fun anecdotes; all make for a fast easy read.
This is a book about ID (Intelligent Design), the stupid idea that we, and everything else, was designed by a designer. Generally a god, and generally a Christian god (that is the stupid part). The basic premise of the book is this: If there is a designer, he or she should not quite their day jobs. If creationism is a pig, ID is a pig with lipstick. The "evidence" for design is called "irreducible complexity". The idea is that certain structures (like the eye) are irreducibly complex… if you take any part out, the whole structure fails. This, in turn creates probability arguments against evolution. This is not true… see below.
Creationism is religion. ID is creationism on the down low. In one famous legal case (Dover Area School District), IDers took a creationist text book and edited it, replacing "god" with "intelligent designer" everywhere. But they screwed up (in one case, "creator" became "cintelligent designer"); the judge saw through it; and they lost, bigly.
Figuring prominently in the book is The Discovery Institute, a Washington State group that does no research, has no labs, does no experiments, makes no predictions, states nothing in numbers, has never published a paper (OK… one, but the editor was bribed, and the paper withdrawn), and yet spews pseudoscience like a fire hose. The Discovery Institute wishes to discover nothing. It wishes to inject religion into your life and our society... by stealth. They demand equal time in text books simply because they think they deserve it. They shout about academic freedom where none exists (public schools instructors do not have any "academic freedom" whatsoever). They fight dirty by getting stealth pro-ID people on school boards, and when they get a majority, they pounce, changing curricula. The "institute" created the famous "Wedge" document that ultimately leaked, exposing them for the conniving frauds they are. The "institute" is following in the footsteps of Stalin, the last guy who tried to quash evolution. That resulted in mass starvation.
When the institute and guys like Behe (a big Kahoona in the ID game) invoke science, they get the science wrong… every single time. Flagella in bacteria is an example of ID that Behe likes to promote. He made statements about flagella in bacteria (specifically, he said that IFT or InterFlagella Transport is required, which is false). Ironically, Behe points to malaria as an creation example (where he again gets the science wrong), but malaria is particularly bad today precisely because it has become resistant over time. In other words, malaria has evolved!
The human body is a mess. Back aches, fallen arches, rotten teeth, bad eyes, useless/dangerous organs like the appendix; our gonads are in the middle of a sewer; lost faculties (like the ability to create Vitamin C, something my cat can do); and the list goes on. The map of our nerves and arteries looks like a Jackson Pollack painting. And let us not forget giving birth.
Women have had the shit end of the stick since the dawn of humanity. Child birth and motherhood has huge rewards, but the risks prior to modern medicine were enormous. Assuming she did not die, a mother might get a fistula after a long, hard birth. A fistula is an abnormal "tube" growth connecting the uterus to the bladder or bowel. They can be created by difficult deliveries. A thus stricken mother will leak feces or urine from her vagina forever. This is every bit as unhealthy and awful as it sounds. And a lousy design. One thing about evolution is this: it largely doesn't give a shit about you once you have reproduced.
This is just the beginning of the major flaws in the design of our bodies. And a designer was not involved. It was evolution what done it.
Nothing about our bodies, or anything else in biology makes sense without evolution. But this does not deter the anti-intellectuals at the Discovery Institute.
It is often said by the aforementioned idiots, "What use is half an eye?"
"Nothing" is the answer if you intend to cut a working eye in half. But the actual answer is: "A half-working eye is better than no eye at all". The eye argument has been well addressed. Even a single photo-sensitive "eye" spot on a bacteria is better than no eye at all. What is most amusing about it is that the alternative (a designer) would have us believe that god that designed several different eye types over the millennia, perfected them, and then designed the terrible human eye from scratch, forgetting all he had learned from the past.
The basic issue with the human eye is this: In cuttlefish, the blood vessels and nerves that service the eye lie under the retina; in people, the opposite is true. Those vessels and nerves obstruct light and vision by sitting on top of the retina and, because the still have to get out of the eye, they exit trough a hole we know as our "blind spot". Other kinds of similar issues arise over and over, such as repurposing a spine and hips for upright walking (this is not part of the book, but still applicable).
ID and creationism have been around a long time. The Scopes Monkey Trial was in 1925 (as I recall). Almost 100 years ago... and we are still having the same stupid argument with fanatics without reason. That last sentence can be parsed any way you like.
Michael Shermer is the editor of The Skeptic, one of the two major skeptical journals. He is a psychologist and has been a professional skeptic for about as long as I have. I admire his work.
I read this book largely because it covers a lot of the same territory as mine. I wanted to make sure he wasn't going to make me look stupid. He did not. Dying is our major fear, and religions exploit that. I doubt Mr Shermer would disagree.
In the prolouge, he discusses an ISIS publication on death called "Why We Hate You, Why We Fight You". There are six statements in it, all starting with "We hate you (because)". The reasons are: you are disbelievers; you are too secular and liberal; some of you are atheists; your crimes against Islam; your crimes against Muslims; and invading our lands. The last one is kinda reasonable.
In his initial discussion of death, he points out many of the same problems that I did. For example, it not possible to imagine your own death, except as a spectator, which makes no sense at all.
What follows in the book is largely a discussion of death in all its forms and impacts (e.g.: capital punishment; dreams; how animals react, etc).
At one point, Shermer suggests that ideas about the afterlife and death postdate writing. This seems to ignore oral traditions and I reject it. People have been making stuff up forever… with or without writing. Writing just made it better.
I wrote about the democritization of the afterlife as a part of the evolution of religion. I did not use that phrase, but I like it and have adopted it. Democritization of eternal rewards was the start of the con.
The book discusses the various views of the afterlife...which is a lot like discussing the properties of the integers between one and two. Fun fact: the word "paradise" comes from "pairidaeza", meaning "walled garden". This is to be expected from peoples who grew up in desert-like conditions.
He discussed "forever", which is a long time to be "blissfully bored". Woody Allen said "Eternity is a long time, especially toward the end."
Shermer discusses the views of modern nut-bars like Deepak Chopra, whose ramblings swing from the bleeding obvious to the incomprehensible and back inside a single sentence. He spews "pseudo-profound bullshit", which is something a computer can be programmed to do better than he can(it has been done). Deepak is a huckster (my observation) who loves to kill arguments using quantum mechanics… which he does not understand (and, in fairness, neither does anybody else).
As a long time skeptic, I skimmed a chapter or two on topics with which I am very familiar, such as OBEs and NDEs (No, not the Order of the British Empire… OBE == Out of Body Experience; NDE == Near Death Experience). At least one of the best OBE stories happened in Seattle and involved a tennis show. Barry Beyerstein did a presentation to the BCS on the topic, debunking it thoroughly. Another alumnus of the BC Skeptics was cited in the book: Leonard Angel on reincarnation. Move toward the light… or away… it makes no difference to a dying brain.
Ray Hyman and other notable skeptics were mentioned when it came to those walking talking assholes who tell you they can talk to your dead relatives for a fee.
In discussing souls, Shermer goes into another domain with which I am familiar: science fiction (and philosophy). He mentions ideas like: If the Star Trek transporter duplicated you twice (as TNG did to Riker in one episode), which one gets the soul? Who is the real you? Science fiction has beat this horse to death over the years. Our ancestors thought of this in a thought experiment called "The Ship of Theseus". The idea, which I alluded to in my book, is this: What if you have a ship in a barn. Over the years, timbers rot and are replaced. After enough time, nothing of the original remains. Is it still Theseus' ship? Like the tree falling in the forest, it depends on what you mean. Is the ship the wood or the pattern?
The book also reviews the latest attempts to literally live forever (temporal immortality), or for at least a long time. Fear not… death will be with us for a long time. It is, in fact, and ironically, natures way of keeping the species alive. I am not a big fan of Ray Kurzwell's "singularity". As Shermer puts it: Futurists are always saying the next big thing is right around the corner… they never say it is coming in 600 years. I am also reminded of the adage: Relieve the camel of its hump if you will, but you may be relieving it from being a camel.
One final word: Oprah (yes, that Oprah) asked an athlete if she felt a sprit or higher power? She replied "I am an atheist". She went on to explain that she found awe in love and nature and creation in general. Oprah replied "Oh, I do not call you an atheist then." So let me say this to Oprah, who would probably argue that everyone should be able to dictate their own pronoun, "Screw You… you bigot".
Shermer is a good writer. If you have never spent much time thinking about these ideas, I recommend the book. I found some good insights and a little history that I did not know.
Lee Moller is a life-long skeptic and atheist and the author of The God Con.