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.
This is an odd book. It was published, but is now vanity published. The only date on the book reflects the day I ordered it. My attention was drawn to this book by Dale Beyerstein, my philosopher on call. We were discussing religious belief and he mentioned that this book might be of interest.
The subject of the book is Armageddon, and why people buy into it. More specifically, why do they keep on believing, and in many cases, believe even more when the predicted date for the end of days is just followed by, well... more days.
The feeling you get when this happens is called cognitive dissonance, a term Dale Beyerstein thinks may have been coined by the authors. Cognitive dissonance happens when you "know" two contradictory things are true. The contradiction must be resolved. If you know the world will end on Tuesday, then you will experience CD on Wednesday.
The book asks why belief seems to grow after an utter failure of prophecy. For this to happen, the book argues that there are 5 necessary conditions to be met:
The book focuses almost exclusively on a bunch of nuts who see the end of days coming pretty much all the time. The head nut was a woman name Kelly who received "spirit writing" about the end of the world. The group was known as the Seekers. The whole movement was wrapped up paranormal powers, Scientology, UFOs (which were in vogue at the time), and the nuts who believe in them, etc. A real mish mash of ideas. I could not handle the narrative about all this. Endless detail, too many crazies and too many crazy ideas.
The books conclusions are interesting and controversial. The controversy comes from embedding people in the group to help better understand them. But to get in, you had to prove you to were a nut… and if you got in fast it was probably because you had a story so compelling that they wanted you in. And the next thing you know, you are the poster boy for the movement, and not a dispassionate reported. And you are corrupting the group (a psychological Schrödinger's cat). The authors were well aware of this problem.
Dinosaurs: A Concise Natural History; Fastovsky and Weishampel; 2012; Cambridge University Press; 375 pgs; Index, glossary
We live in the age or mammals. Or do we? Birds are literally dinosaurs and there are twice as many species of birds as mammals. So perhaps we still live in the Age of Dinosaurs. And if we do, you should know a little of how it came about.
Here is how it did NOT happen: It did not happen 6,000 years ago, but 220 million years ago. It did not happen in the twitch of the lips of Barbara Eden. It happened after the table was set (which took place over billions of years) and dinosaurs evolved over 160 million years before most disappeared.
This is a straight up university text book. It is the best one out there that I know of. It is full of a lot of terminology, dates, bones, pictures, bios etc. A fulsome coverage of the state of knowledge of Dinosaurs and their kin.
In the last half century or so, the number of Dinosaur genera has doubled. If you would like the answers to what they ate, when they lived, how they survived, how warm was their blood; how they chewed, ran, walked, raised their young, digested, etc and how we think we know this stuff… this is the book.
It is pretty dry of you are not interested in the topic. I liked it.
I borrowed it from the library and really enjoyed it. I admired that you didn’t mention the don-the-con once!
As a committed atheist of many years standing I have read quite a lot on the puzzling subject of belief in God(s) and found Lee Moller’s “The God Con” to be a refreshing and hard-hitting survey of religion - and mystical - related issues. Lee is not at all reticent to express his views and covers a broad range of fraud-tinged subjects going well beyond just religion. The book is sprinkled with quotations from various sources and I found those to be particularly amusing and edifying. I would suggest this book as a worthwhile introduction for anyone interested in a sweeping view of the subject.
Henry J R (Hank) Reiner Q C
Well worth the read. Lee Moller’s take on religion is unique and captivating, with his no-holds-barred attack on the irrationality and absurdity of faith as a way of settling questions about why we are here and why it matters. The book strays from the main theme that religion is a con to pursue insights such as why eternal life wouldn’t be all it’s cracked up to be, and therefore one of the major offering points of religion is not only unproved but not worth as much as is claimed. So it only establishes its claim that religion is a con in the vernacular sense of something harmful to you if you get caught up in it, and doesn’t distinguish between L. Ron Hubbard’s intentional deceptions in Scientology and the local minister’s fumbling explanations of the things he has no clue about. Nevertheless, it’s time well spent.
Lee Moller is a life-long skeptic and atheist and the author of The God Con.