Ben Goldacre is a UK Physician. He has written two books on this general subject: the shorter Bad Science and the longer Bad Pharma. He is a good writer with a cutting sense of humor. Unlike most doctors (GPs anyway) he knows a thing or two about statistics and probabilities.
Blythe N. and Dave H. know about my disdain for chiropractors. During our radio days, their disdain for nutritionists turned out to be just as strong. Ben would concur.
Goldacre fires broadsides at the usual targets such as homeopathy, as well as a few lessor known examples of bad science, like brain training, detoxing, and the anti-oxidant scare. And like many other skeptical publications, he takes a close look at placebos and regression to the mean, the life blood of quacks everywhere.
Good vs bad science is easy to recognize, even for the cognoscenti, and for every study, there is an opposing study. To deal with this, a check list protocol was set up called JADAD a meta-analysis protocol was built on JADAD called the Cochrane Collaboration. These two ideas allow the truth to eventually come out. It is likely, for example, that the recent reversal on cholesterol was based on this method.
Surprisingly for some, he poo-poos placebo based trials, as this is often a dodge. Researchers test their products (i.e.: drug) against placebo, the lowest possible standard, and not against the best product on the market at the time.
A major warning from the good doctor: If anyone expresses anything with respect to diet in terms of certainty, they are full of crap. He debunks another myth by stating that most of modern medicine is, in fact, evidence based.
Here are some fun real-world examples (think big tobacco) of cheating in the business of drug science.
Or do what the NFL did: set up its own bad research; establish a self-published journal; and then stack it with doctors on the take (see League of Denial).
Both Bad Pharma and this book go into some detail on this topic. One solution, which is not yet been adopted, is to register experiments before they start. This forces a priori documentation of experiment protocols, success/ fail criteria, etc. and would go a long way toward eliminating some of the manipulation that goes on today.
The books closes with a discussion of the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) fiasco. Ben has a few kind words for Jenny McCarthy et al.
This is must reading for all skeptics.
The book follows the money.
6th century: Indulgences created to raise money. Full absolution granted to Crusaders; partial to Crusader helpers. You could even pay to have your relatives placed on the fast track out of Purgatory. And donations made The Rosary more powerful.
16th Century: Leo the X sells indulgences for sins not yet committed (the sin futures market)
19th Century, Gregory XVI needs more money so he borrows from the Rothschilds, who are Jewish in the extreme.
Pius IX tears down the Jewish Ghetto walls in Rome to appease the money lenders. It did not matter much, Jews were forbidden to move anyway.
Pius then sold Vatican bonds, freed himself of the Rothschilds and rebuilt the ghetto walls.
In 1858, a housekeeper secretly Baptized a Jewish kid. Pius found out and kidnapped the kid and raised him Catholic!
Early 20th Century. Leo speaks out AGAINST separation of church and state; freedom of the press, and religious tolerance.
1929: Pius XII signs Lateran Accords with Mussolini (an atheist). The church was suddenly tax exempt on just about everything, even property taxes.
Nogara is tasked to manage Vatican money and everything changes. Money begets money. The Curia expands rapidly. To raise more money, they occasionally declared a year to be "Holy", and begged for more dough. The church indulges in arbitrage.
1935: The Vatican has its fingers in every aspect of the Italian economy. Only the government owned more property. But lending money at interest is still naughty!
1930: The Reichskonkordat deal with the Nazis is signed. 1/3 of Germans were Catholic. Money from them for the Church money was deducted was deducted at source. The Vatican was rich!
The War: Despite tangible evidence of the Holocaust, the Pope refuses to speak out about anything! At the core… money. The Pope found his voice after the war ended. One Father (Juricev) said during the war that it was not a sin to kill a Jew or a Serb… as long as they were older than 7! Too many sins to enumerate here. The Vatican did business with blacklisted countries during the war. They learned how to launder money.
1942: Nogara creates the Opere di Religeone (the IOR, aka the Vatican Bank). The only bank with its own country (and vice verse), unrestrained by borders or pesky audits.
1943: The Vatican is heavily into the Insurance business. Jewish policy holders were rarely paid out.
The Rat Line refers to the Vatican underground railroad for Nazis after the war. The Germans (1/3 of them Catholic) used the Vatican Bank to store stolen loot. The Vatican provided shelter, documents, and money for fleeing Nazis. The Pope even asked for clemency for a leader of the infamous Einsatsgroupen killing squads. Vatican refugees were a laundry list of the worst monsters of the 20th century, including Clause Barbi and Adolph Eichmann. The Vatican was so afraid of the commies they would do anything. For them:
Catholic + Nazi == Fine, possibly misguided, fellow;
Catholic + Commie === Excommunicated bastard
1960: The church owns 120 million square feet of property (tax free). The only sovereign state with more territory outside its borders than in.
Enter the Mafia with Sindona. Sindona was hired to help manage Vatican money. Sindona met Gelli, a business man and Masonic Lodge (called P2) Leader. The Vatican hates Freemasons, because they are anti-religious and partly commie.
Catholic + Freemason == excommunication.
And yet, many Vatican priests and insiders were Masons.
1967: The Italians finally tax the Vatican just a little. By now Vatican holdings are a maze of holding companies, nearly impossible to untangle. But the Vatican did have money in munitions firms, pharmaceuticals (that made birth control pills), and printing companies that made porn.
Marcinkus ran the IOC. He and Sindona were as bent as they come. Enter Calvi (who would ultimately be found swinging from Blackfriar's Bridge), a banker. Also bent. Marcinkus sat on the board of many banks, many of which were off-shore tax havens. Sindona had 48 such companies.
Sindona bought Franklin Bank in the US (18th largest), which would eventually go down as the biggest bank failure in US history. Meanwhile, Sindona spent 5.4 million on the Nixon campaign in '73. Marcinkus and Sindona would play pat-a-cake with Italian and US justice for years. Sindona was given a Man of the Year Award by the US Ambassador to Italy.
The IOR had 175 million in Calvi backed off shore companies. Sindona blackmailed Calvi into helping him.
In 78, a Pope dies; A new Pope (John Paul I) is elected who promises change, including firing Marcinkus; That Pope is (almost certainly) murdered; The Pope's murder was covered up; And a new Pope (Is the Pope Polish?) John Paul II came in.
The Pauline Monks affair breaks. Monks stole millions; and spent it on the usual (fast cars, loose women, etc). Their guilt was beyond question. The Pope issued a decree to stop the Vatican investigation. Another cover up
Sindona, Calvi (Blackfriar's Bridge) and Marcinkus were the top of a rouges gallery of criminal assholes. Sindona was a mob connection; Marcinkus ran the IOR; and Calvi was mob and off-shore bank connection.
The collapse of Franklin Bank had many repercussions. Judges and prosecutors killed.
Sindona; faked his own abduction went on the run; got caught; got tried; and then was poisoned in prison.
Meanwhile Calvi was in financial trouble. He tired every source he could, but his fate was sealed. More facts about P2 (the Masonic Lodge) came out. Lots of members all over the Vatican, police and government.
The Vatican was in bed with an investment bank called Ambrosian's, run by Calvi. The Vatican denied this, but proved to the banks biggest debtor. When this bank collapsed, the Vatican told the Italians to shove their material witness requests.
The rest of the sordid tale is low-lighted with the Vatican's reply to the world when accessed of crimes. They ranged from: (silence), "It is the nasty media", and "How dare you. This the church." to "Fuck off… we are a sovereign country and we answer to nobody." That is, they claimed diplomatic immunity. In one instance, the Vatican sang and danced when they were serves with papers. Two years later, investigation ongoing, the Vatican said it ignored the papers because they did not come in a diplomatic pouch.
Marcinkus was teflon. He out-lasted many Popes. He was under indictment for a long time and could not leave the Vatican. He was due to be fired by John Paul I, but the Pope was murdered (and the murder covered up) just before it was to happen, Whew… that was close. He ended up at some shitty little parish in Arkansas or some such.
John Paul II was useless.
Benedict (Ratzinger) was senile. He ducked every issue (and there were shitloads of them) until the report about gays in the Vatican came out. He could not take it and quit. Among other sins, he refused to sanction a priest who diddled 200 deaf boys!
Pope Francis has made huge strides in cleaning up the IOR.
He has made controversial statements about gays and rape victims.
This is all to his credit, all of which was cancelled out when he refused to cough up the names of defrocked pedophile priests from the UN Child Protection branch. The church even allowed some convicted priests to return to duty! The Vatican has spent 4.5 billion on abuse settlements, 1.5 billion of which was lawyer's fees.
Meanwhile, the Vatican owns gobs of real estate and has tons of money (some of it Nazi gold) all raked off of money laundering.
I was watching a documentary on earthquakes about 9 days ago, based in part on this book. I ordered the book and started reading two days later.
I thought myself fairly knowledgeable on earthquakes, but I was wrong. Mostly because most of what we know we have found out in the last decade or two. The book is written as a sort of detective novel, leading up to its big conclusion.
Many people of my age probably think that we are in a largely earthquake free zone. Geologists thought so too, but wondered why the Cascadia had not had a large quake when every other part of the ring of fire did. They rationalized that our rocks are slippery so stresses can be relieved regularly. After Sumatra and the 250,000 dead there, interest picked up in Cascadia. Could a Magnitude 9 quake be in our future too?
In the olden days, lo, several decades ago in the sixties, plate tectonics was only just gaining acceptance. In the eighties, lasers were used to measure distances between points to see if the earth was moving. This was expensive and difficult. Then GPS came along. Geologists were not interested in GPS coordinates per se, they were interested in how far apart two rock-fixed points were. This was cheap and easy. Soon tons of data was pouring in and computer simulation started taking off. The other thing they did was to look for evidence of past quakes in multiple different ways. They found it.
Spoiler alert… We are due. The Juan De Fuca Plate is now called the Cascadia Subduction Zone Fault and it has let rip every 400 years or so with a massive quake. The last was 400 years ago.
If you live in the interior, you are laughing. If you live on the coast of Vancouver Island, you are fucked. Depending on the nature of the shaking, many buildings in Vancouver (esp brick and mortar "medium-rises") will collapse. In the worst case scenario, the entire west coast of North America from LA to Alaska may be hit hard. The expected tsunami would hit Crescent City like a hammer, and would probably do significant damage in Japan.
It is a good story. The evidence of the turbidite cores, tree rings, oral histories, ghost forests etc all come together nicely. The upshot is that we should be spending more on earthquake preparedness and building reinforcement.
One nice sub-story came from a ten year old British girl in Phuket who had been taught what to look for. She spotted the signs of an incoming tsunami. She convinced her parents and saved her family.
Cascadia is Sumatra. The death toll will be lower, but the damage worse. The good news is that while earthquake prediction is still a dark art, predicting what tsunamis will do is becoming relatively easy. For example, next time, we will be able to tell the Sri Lankans to bug up (not out) even if they are on the lee side of the island… which actually got hit worse than the weather side did. You will have to read the book to find out why.
Ordinary Men, Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution; Christopher Browning; 1998; 268 pgs
Just about everyone who is aware of the depths of Nazi evil have asked themselves this question: How could a modern, civilized nation sink into barbarity and, if I were there then, would I be shooting Jews in the back of the head too?
This book is about the latter half of that question. Its conclusions are drawn from trial transcripts, modern testimony, Nazi records and psychology experiments (specifically the Stanford Prison Experiment and Milgram's faked electric shocks experiment). Putting aside the notion of souls, this is basically a nature/nurture argument. One thing is certain, if we are just talking statistics, the answer to the question would seem to be "Yes. Being generous, three out of four of us would be pulling the trigger".
The Order Police 101 Battalion consisted of about 500 men. All but a few officers were born in the first decade of the 20th century. The average age was 39. In other words, old enough to know better. Virtually all were conscripted. Many were cops before the war. During the war, they shot 38,000 men, women, and children, and rounded up and deported 45,000 to the Treblinka gas chambers. Some men were set aside for labor. The standing order, SOP if you will, was to shoot children, women, and the infirmed where they stood. The bodies were left for other Jews or town folk to clean up. Others were marched out to nearby forests, forced to dig their own graves and then were shot in the back of the head at a range of inches. The descriptions are very grisly and graphic.
One interesting fact about all the participants in the Final Solution: There is no evidence that any one was censured for refusing to kill unarmed people, despite claimed fears to the contrary by many of the perpetrators at trial.
Most of the Battalions work was done as the Germans transitioned from the psychologically damaging shooting of Jews to the easier, out-of-sight, out-of-mind deportation to the gas chambers.
Killing 1,000 Jews in a single town was a typical one day action. In the first such action, the commanding officer asked if any of the 500 men would not want to participate. A dozen stepped forward. Others would find ways to avoid the work. None were punished for avoiding this work. The actual shooting was often fobbed off to blood-thirsty, anti-Semitic Hiwis, volunteers from Latvia, Lithuania, Ukraine and elsewhere. But 80% (a number that correlates well with the Stanford Prison Experiment) did pull the trigger. Liberal amounts of vodka were distributed to the men to ease their guilt.
There are many reasons why they did what they did. Almost all are rationalizations. Projecting the blame onto the ones who give the orders; thinking of what they did as merciful; blaming the Jews for passivity; concern for future employment as a reason not to shoot; antisemitism; and so on. But the biggest reason was peer pressure. This is not really what I expected. Like most, I assumed the killers were young, stupid, brainwashed Hitler youth. Not so.
Perhaps this is the reason the only group I have been a part of was a group that hated groups.
Do not think that the Germans were unique in their behavior, Think My Lai or ISIS.
I had one small nit with one supposition of the book. The author argues that there was no real self-selection bias in the battalion. I would argue that cops in general are predisposed to hierarchies, the exercising of power and deference to authority, Any many of the Order Police were cops before and after the war.
This book is hard to read. Just as the killers got inured to killing, the reader gets inured to reading about the killing. But it is important that we have a good understanding of the ugly side of human nature. It is relevant today. Consider ISIS; the drug war in Mexico where beheadings have become common place; the cult of personality in North Korea; Iran and Saudi Arabia and sharia law; the killing fields of Cambodia, etc.
I strongly recommend this book if you have any interest in the subject matter at all.
My heritage is Danish and so I feel a certain obligation to understand the role of Denmark in the war. There are four Scandinavian countries: Iceland (allied possession during the war); Norway (occupied and resisted); Denmark (occupied and resisted); and Sweden (neutral but anti-German). Finland is not Scandinavian.
Denmark, a small country of only 4 million, was overrun within 24 hours in April, 1940. Denmark borders Germany and Danes and Germans share a lot of common culture. The Germans recognized the importance of Denmark for its food supply and its strategic location. As such, the Germans "went light" on the Danes.
Many brave stories came out of the Danes struggle to harass and damage the German war effort. The most significant strategic contribution of Denmark took place immediately after D-Day when the resistance bombed rail lines and such and prevented the Germans from rushing reinforcements to the new front.
They also found the wreckage of one of the early V1s on Bornholm Island. The intel from that discovery led to the bombing of Peenemude, the Nazi V-weapons development site.
A famous mission of the war was the twin raids on the Gestapo Headquarters in Copenhagen and Arhus. Shell House in Copenhagen was bombed by RAF Mosquitos (Canadian made) at very low flight levels. The Germans had created a prison for resistance fighters on the roof of Shell House and the Mosquitos literally had to skip their bombs in through the front doors of the building. Germans died, Danes survived.
For those involved, including my father, the most famous Danish accomplishment was to get almost the entire Jewish population of Denmark out and over to Sweden just one day before they were due to be rounded up and exported to the German camps.
Like any other occupied country, the Danish underground conducted sabotage raids and paid the price, usually in the form of torture and death. Many civilians were shot in retribution. The underground also killed many Danish collaborators (it was called liquidation).
Many amusing-in-hindsight stories also came out. The one I like best is the British radio kits that were sent to Denmark during the war. They ran on AC. Denmark at the time was DC. The Danes, took the British version apart and made a new one. It was 1/3 the size, ran on AC or DC, and was more rugged and much easier to manufacture. Eventually, the British adopted the Danish design.
Also amusing, the Germans set up guard posts at key intersections in the city. They were protected by 4 foot tall concrete walls . The wall left only the German's head and shoulders exposed. The Danes, as they walked by, would hang signs on the wall saying "This Nazi is not wearing any pants."
One attack was called the Smorrebrod Raid. Danish airport workers smuggled plastic explosives into their airport and placed time-delayed bombs all over the place. They smuggled them in in what we would call their lunch boxes (Smorrebrod means "Butter and Bread") which the German's did not search. After such a raid, the "perps" would generally be smuggled out of Denmark to Sweden.
It should be said that the Norwegians fought and brave fight against the Germans and suffered terribly. Sweden, while technically neutral, provided aid to its neighbors at every opportunity, risking the wrath of the Nazi's.
In 1880, William Herschel tripped over an astounding discovery. He asked a simple question. Sunlight warmed the skin. Do the different colors of the rainbow carry different amounts of heat? He set up a prism to cast a large rainbow on a wall (this is tricky because the angles must be right and the pesky Earth just keeps on rotating). He placed a thermometer in several different bands of color, and a control thermometer just off from the red end of the spectrum where no light fell at all. To his amazement, the control thermometer recorded a rising temperature and the others nothing. He had discovered infrared light and that the rainbow is not just what meets the eye. This opened the door to the entire electromagnetic radiation (EMR) spectrum. By WWII, they had a full theory of light from Maxwell, and radio was all the rage.
The book begins in the 1930's. Radio was not the concern, impending war was, and the first crude radar units were built. Radar is the invention of the title. Radar saved Briton. It is said that the A-Bomb ended the war, but radar won it.
As dry as this book might sound, it is quite engrossing. I must admit I went rapidly through the last 120 pages or so that covered the cold war and other events leading up to our modern world because I am already reasonably familiar with them (it is mostly computer related). My interest in this subject dovetails nicely with my interests in technology, WWII, and the history of science. Science and war go back a long way, and there is nothing like a good war to accelerate both basic science and technology.
A primer is perhaps useful. Light is an ambiguous term. We use it to mean the light that we can see, and any form of light whether it can be seen or not.
The broad forms of light are: Radio; Cell Phone; Microwave; Infrared; Visible; Ultraviolet; X-Rays; and Gamma rays. In wave lengths, these go from miles in the radio spectrum to femtometers and shorter (smaller than the nucleus of an atom). Frequencies are the inverse of wavelength and energy is proportional to frequency. So radio waves are very low frequency, low energy, very long wave length light. Gamma rays are very high frequency, high energy, short wave length light. Radar focused primarily in the microwave band, around the same frequencies used by your microwave oven, with a wavelength of around 2 centimeters. Sort of in the middle.
Generally speaking, the higher the frequency, the lower the wavelength; and the better you can see. To use radar to see an enemy airplane, centimeter wavelengths were the key. One problem is that different materials interact with EMR in different ways at different frequencies. For example, rain plays havoc with 1 cm radars because water absorbs the energy (which is why your microwave works).
In 1940, a group of Brits went to the US to trade secrets. This was known as the Tizzard mission. The US needed the British technology, although they did not know it at the time, and the Brits needed the US's manufacturing capabilities. The Brits brought their super-secret Resonant Cavity Magnetron. This device could create strong emissions of microwave energy at just the right wave lengths. Radar won the war, the magnetron made radar work. The Americans were gob-smacked. The RadLab was created and it produced radars at a dramatically increased pace. Radar was used to detect incoming threats, count them, and get there altitude (all different applications), aim guns, monitor traffic in harbors, guide plans to a safe landing (today we call this ILS for Instrument Landing System), FoF (Friend or Foe) systems and lots more.
Aside: Some FoFs worked by detecting small changes in a planes returns caused by distinctive engine vibrations. Amazingly, analog computers of the day could sniff this out. Cool.
More than a few famous names worked at the RadLab, including Nobel winner I. I. Rabi, Robert Watson Watt (he is related), William Shockley and ploy-math Luis Alvarez. Alvarez would move on to the Manhattan Project, and later in his career he would be known for the asteroid/dinosaur extinction theory.
The development of the bomb took most of the Nobel winners out of the market. This lead to the following amusing conversation:
S1: The bomb guys get all the breaks! They snatch up all the Nobel winners first.
S2: Well, Rabi just won, so we have one too now.
S1: Yeah, but we have only had ours for 3 weeks!
It soon became apparent to the higher-ups, especially Vannevar Bush, that basic science was important, And so scientists suddenly found themselves considerably higher up in the food chain, leading to this: A scientist found himself being frustrated by a military pencil pusher. He (sorry, they are all he's) turned to his tormentor and asked "Who do I see about getting you fired?"
Meanwhile, the Germans were working on their radars in a kind of intellectual, evolutionary game of leapfrog. One project was code named Freya. Freya, Odin's wife in Norse mythology, and the source of Friday (Freya's Day), had a magic necklace that allowed her to see for hundreds of miles in every direction. Only the Nazis would be arrogant enough to use her name on a radar project.
This book is long and full of a lot of detail. It has a good index, lots of notes, and a list of acronyms used. Very helpful. Radar systems were the start of high frequency electronics. Modern computers were a direct result of all that. Radar technology combined with computing power opened up the rest of the EM universe to us. The computer power came from the transistor, invented by Shockley. Early analog computers would contain hundreds of tubes, each tube being a bit. Today, millions of transistors can fit on the head of a pin.
The largest radio telescope in the southern hemisphere is located in Parks Australia in the middle of a sheep paddock. It was built by RadLab alums after the war.
If you enjoy reading about WWII, EMR technology, applied physics and its impact on our lives, this is a book I would recommend. Another, longer, similar book does the same for nuclear physics: The Making of The Atomic Bomb.
It has been suggested that radar advanced applied solid state physics by two decades. The PC, cell phones, the internet, HD TV, smart phones, astronomy, planetary research, NMR machines… a near endless list of things we have already started to take for granted. All delayed by twenty years. You would recognize this world because in people terms, it is practically yesterday.
A recent puff (read: stupid) question for politicians is "If you could, would you go back and kill Hitler as a youth?" Well, if you did, you would have to give up quite a lot today.
I continue my research into religion. News flash: it is still stupid! If you want to find out more about Islam, this book is a good place to start.
In my youth, I read a lot of science fiction. Many plots would feature a radical religious sect not unlike Islam as the main "bad guy". I have always been conscious of religion trying to tell me what to do. Now I see this SF plot unfolding on a global scale. What really bugs me is the hypocrisy of the piously religious who brush off the terrors of Islam with moral relativism.
You have probably seen Ali on TV. She is hard to miss. She was born a typical rabid kill-the-infidel Muslim. She escaped an arranged marriage and made it to the Netherlands. There she as elected to the Dutch parliament. Now she is an atheist, a lecturer at Harvard, and advocate for Islam reform. I say she is hard to miss because she is thin, pretty and about 6 feet tall. She has written the other books which I have note read: Infidel; Nomad; and The Caged Virgin.
If you thought Islam was barbaric, rest assured you are correct. Where she grew up, every Friday was marred by stonings, beheadings and limb removal by sword. At that is the tip of the iceberg,
She is an excellent writer, despite English not being her native tongue.
Basically, she argues that Islam is still a barbaric religion. Christianity was born inside the Roman Empire. They had to go along to get along. Their book was written by men, and therefore subject to debate, but it is still holy. Christianity and politics do not mix. Islam also has two other thorny problems. Unlike Christianity, it lacks any kind of hierarchy. That is, the is no pope to sanction or condemn an imam. The second is that the Koran is literally the last word of god. Mohammed wrote the Koran as a direct instrument of god. The Bible was written by men. The Koran, as the literal last word from god, is absolute, The Bible is haggled over all the time. Believers in the literal last word of god are, for obvious reasons, hard to reason with. Once a Muslim accepts this one point, everything else follows from it and that Muslim becomes the equivalent of a blood thirsty fundamentalist Christian. For these people, their goal is simply to take over the world.
In a sense, you can argue that Islam is religion as it would have itself: An absolute belief system with answers for everything, that is enmeshed in politics, has laws for everything, and any deviance is crushed, usually to death. In their world, you can die for asking a single innocent question, such as "Why pray five times and day, and not four?"
In the US, an irrational battle of labels is waging. Remember Ben Affleck blowing a gasket when someone even mentioned Radical Islam, shouting "racist" and "Islamaphobe"? Obama wont utter the phrase. And yet it is accurate and neutral in tone.
Ali argues that moderate Muslims (she calls them Mecca Muslims) must take a stand, reform Islam, ban jihad, and bend to "western" values. Period.
Moral relativism be damned, this is an evil religion. If someone who shouts "Allahu Akbar" while killing an innocent, that person is a Muslim, regardless of protestations to the contrary. And it is other Muslims who must recognize this and stop them. Actions speak loudly, and in this case, we must define our groups by their actions. We cannot tell what they think.
Ali goes over her history quickly as it is covered in her other books. She is risking her life and is a remarkable woman. My list admirable women includes Vashti McCollum, Elizabeth Warren, and others, and now Ali.
Sam Harris is one of four outspoken atheists of our time. The others are Dawkins, Dennett, and Hitchens. He is a philosopher by training. He is smart fellow and the book lays out a tight argument for a societal rejection of religion. The sins of religion are plain to see. Religion and its corollary god, are simply ideas, poorly thought out ideas, that have been elevated to sacredness.
God has written a lot of books, or so the priests tell us. Why then, as Harris points out, is he such a crappy writer compared to people like Shakespeare, whom he created?
The idiocies of religion are laid out in full, blood-red color. A few years ago, there was a fire in a building in Mecca. First responders refused to aid burning women inside the building because they were not properly dressed. The Bush White House was a rats nest of prayer groups and Christian circles as the US invaded Iraq to get their president another term.
When asked, most believers will tell you there is nothing you could say, do, or show them that would change their minds. Harris points out that this is an admission that, whatever their beliefs, they do not represent a model of the real world. It is easy to show that what comes next is rarely pleasant.
One point he makes, which should get a lot more attention, is the idea of true faith. If people, especially radical Islamists, really believe that the Koran is the last word of Allah, and that all the world should bow before him, them we are in grave danger. Any belief gripped that hard is a danger to society.
Fun fact 1: The RCC never excommunicated a single Nazi, but kept Galileo in jail for 300 years.
Fun Fact 2: The Nazis did not invent the yellow star of David as a Jewish ID badge. Islam in Baghdad did.
Fun Fact 3: Spain translates more books into Spanish in one year than Islam has translated to Arabic in 1,200 years.
Faith is the enemy. The large majority of believers in even the lesser Islamic countries agree that suicide bombing is a good thing, and that the bomber goes straight to heaven.
Harris points out that religion is in our society too. Stem cell research was banned by Bush for religious reasons. Prohibition and the enormously expensive war on drugs, like all victimless crimes, are a product of religion. Moral relativism is a scourge. Evil is evil and we need to come to grips with that.
The last chapter, which has been criticized by others, focuses on spirituality and meditation. Frankly, my brain seizes up when words are bandied about with respect to our internal conversations with ourselves. Harris is fairly well know for his thoughts in this area. The good news: he will not try to kill you if you disagree.
Faith -- true faith -- is the enemy.
"The wandering bands of Sapiens storytellers were the most important and destructive force the animal kingdom ever produced."
This phrase appears early in book. It is another book about the rise of human kind on this Earth. It is similar to Guns, Germs and Steel and A Brief History of Everything.
I read it mostly for the early history: the invention of languages, stories, religions, gods and kings and such. In that respect it delivered.
One myth the book explodes is the idea of primitive cultures as being more in touch with and more cooperative with nature. It is not true. Every human group, everywhere, wasted no time in bending the environment to its one uses, and grabbing all the low hanging fruit as fast as they could, lest the other guy get it. Think the death of the North American mega fauna and the hands of the native populations.
It takes on what the author calls "romantic consumerism"… the general idea that you life is best served by jetting all over the world and getting exposed to as many cultures as possible. It also attacks cultural relativism for the evil that it is.
The author made an interesting observation about religions in general. They can be broken down into three gross categories: Many gods (polytheism); Two gods (dualism); And one god (monotheism).
Polytheism is marked by a laid back attitude. If you meet someone who believes in another god, no problem. You just add it to the list.
Dualism is marked by conflict: Creator versus destroyer; good versus evil; heaven versus hell.
Monotheism (i.e.: the big three) is awash in the blood of the non-believers.
Roman Catholicism is kind of an odd-man-out. They believe in one god with three faces (father son and holy ghost). They embrace dualism with God versus Satan. And they are also polytheistic in that they have hundreds of saints, and each saint has its followers. Practically speaking, "saint" is just another word for demigod.
The author uses the phrase "the exception that proves the rule" incorrectly and more than once. Truth be told, few people know how cliché is intended to work.
It has some interesting observations about money and credit. The author argues that the British obtained global imperialist domination over France because they paid their bills and were a good credit risk. Credit at the time was a new concept that the French failed to appreciate.
The last few chapters get into philosophy, happiness, and extrapolating the modern world out into the future, a most dangerous game.
An easy read, with the occasional bit of humor.
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.
Lee Moller is a life-long skeptic and atheist and the author of The God Con.