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Thursday, August 30, 2012

Proof that God is a Green Bay Packer fan

Soybean field next to my house.

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of Battleship Musashi: The Making and Sinking of the Worlds Biggest Battleship

Having pulled out of the League of Nations following its condemnation of their invasion of Manchuria, the Japanese laid down two hulls for No. 1 battleship and No. 2 battleship. The managers of the Nagasaki shipyard were sworn to secrecy any violation of which was to be punished by whatever punishment the navy deemed appropriate according to the document they had to sign.

Each ship was huge, and the shipways and cranes had to be completely rebuilt to handle their enormous size and weight which dwarfed anything at sea. Carrying 18" guns they were 124 feet wide (to accommodate the tremendous recoil of the guns) some thirty feet wider than the previous records. and they had 40 centimeter (about 16 inches) thick hulls. Each ship would have both diesel and steam engines, diesel having been unreliable. The hulls were specially reinforced to fend off the new shells that they learned could still damage a vessel even in a near miss. They had to build a new freighter with an especially wide hull to transport the 18 inch-turrets to Nagasaki. They had never made rivets this big before. They needed 4-centimeter diameter (about 1.5 inches) rivets and because of the thickness of the hull had to be precisely made.

The book is as much about secrecy as building the ship with its myriad detail about specifications. The Japanese were obsessed with hiding the ship's construction. They built special hemp screens all around the building site, constructed a warehouse in front of the British consulate which had a view of the harbor, and arrested anyone who even looked at the buildings. The incident of the missing blueprint, which turned out to have been destroyed by a young draftsman hoping to work someplace else in the plant, resulted in the imprisonment and torture of several completely innocent designers before the discovered the culprit. All Chinese were deported and anyone protesting the deportations was placed under special watch. When the ship was finally launched, they organized am air raid drill to keep people in their homes, and when the ship caused a mini tidal wave that flooded several homes - -the water in the bay rose 50 centimeters just from the displacement of the huge ship -- police forbad them from leaving their flooded homes lest they see the size of the ship before it could be moved to another dock and again hidden from view.

All because they were afraid the United States might discover the size of the battleships, a size, as it turned out, that was totally irrelevant since the carriers came to dominate naval warfare. Indeed, their 18-inch guns could shoot over the horizon and dominate all other surface ships, but it was those little winged gnats with torpedoes that spelled its doom. Even the Japanese recognized the ultimate uselessness of these great ships and converted battleships 3 and 4 to aircraft carriers.

The desire for secrecy continued to the end. After its sinking, in order to prevent anyone from learning of the loss, the surviving sailors were stripped of their Musashi identity and assigned to some mythical unit. Many were transported back to Japan and were torpedoed again, rescued, reassigned to another ship and again torpedoed. About 146 made it to Corregidor -they were never allowed to leave the Philippines, again to prevent anyone learning of the disaster, where all but 29 were killed in the defense of Manila.

Marred by a couple of minor errors probably due to errors of translation along with a couple of "then's" where "than''s" were called for, it's a fascinating look at the creation and demise of the great battleships.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Groklaw - Digging for Truth

Groklaw - Digging for Truth:

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Can Indoor Tanning Prevent Breast Cancer and Autism? | Mother Jones

Can Indoor Tanning Prevent Breast Cancer and Autism? | Mother Jones:

These first lines are very funny:

A doctor in a white lab coat stands at the pearly gates. The voice of God booms, "And your good deeds?" The man responds, "Well, as a dermatologist, I've been warning people that sunlight will kill them and that it is as deadly as smoking."<>
A bottle of SPF 1000 sunscreen materializes in the dermatologist's hand. "You'll need that where you're going," God says.His smug smile fades as God snaps, "You're saying that sunlight, which I created to keep you alive, give you vitamin D, and make you feel good, is deadly? And the millions of dollars you received from chemical sunscreen companies had nothing do with your blasphemy?"
A bottle of SPF 1,000 sunscreen materializes in the dermatologist's hand. "You'll need that where you're going," God says.

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Friday, August 24, 2012

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of The Ape That Spoke: Language and the Evolution of the Human Mind

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of The Ape That Spoke: Language and the Evolution of the Human Mind:

McCrone begins with two assumptions: that "self-consciousness must have a biological basis" and that the mind evolved.

Language is one of the defining human characteristics; indeed it is language that has permitted our species to learn how to control the environment around us rather than being forced to adapt to it. Language permitted self-awareness and self-consciousness.

Being intelligent is hard work. The brain uses about one fifth of the oxygen intake even though it's only about one fiftieth of the body's weight. During the climatic changes of the Miocene era some 10 million years ago, the apes which had flourished in the rich forest environment were forced to adopt a land-gait and leave the trees. Most of the ape lines became extinct, a process almost completed today; they had reached an evolutionary dead-end. Only the human line of apes survived. Because two-legged movement is not as efficient, nor as fast as four-legged, these strange upright ancestors of ours developed social organizations for the common defense (also a characteristic of the few remaining apes like baboons and chimps.) Still, this alone was not enough for several early hominid lines became extinct, unsuccessful experiments of God.

The Australopithecines, with strong jaw for chewing up the tough roots and plants of its diet disappeared with the advent of the colder ice age. Our direct ancestors, with smaller jaw, a more varied diet, and the ability to cook, were better suited to adapt to the change in environment. The last 3,000,000 years have been dominated by the ice-age with only brief 10,000 - 20,000-year long interruptions of more temperate climates (we near the end of the most recent one now.) These periods placed terrible stress on the animals that had developed warm coats and had adapted to colder climates. Many species died out. The lightweight homo line with his intelligence and flexible diet was again successful. Another advantage was food-sharing -- almost unique to humans -- and pair bonding. But language, appearing it is thought with home sapiens, was to make a crucial difference. "Language paved the way for all the special abilities that we so value abilities such as self-awareness, higher emotion and personal memories."

McCrone examines how various basic mental abilities work such as thought, memory and learning, in order to appreciate the structures that language expanded.

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Your Unspecial Antitrust Snowflake « Courtney Milan’s Blog

Your Unspecial Antitrust Snowflake « Courtney Milan’s Blog:

 "This post is for those publishing professionals who think that if they can just get the DOJ to understand the argument that publishing is special, the lawsuit against the agency publishers will magically vanish."

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Bad Grades Rising at Audit Firms -

Bad Grades Rising at Audit Firms -

Forgive me, but isn’t it time for the accounting profession to take a serious look at GAAP. Why shold it be up to the SEC to “shut down this ridiculous circus show.” Where is the profession? And it seems in every financial scandal, of which there have been far too many, the accountants get a pass (except perhaps for Enron where they had a deliberate hand in cheating.) How could Corzine’s fund lose more than a $1 billion. It just seems inconceivable that accountants would approve a system that could permit something like that to happen. And if the GAAP aren’t intended to prevent fraud then WTF good are they?

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Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of The Good Thief's Guide to Amsterdam

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of The Good Thief's Guide to Amsterdam:

Charlie Howard writes books about thieves and suspense.  He's also a thief himself.  Approached by a man who wants him to steal three monkey figurines of little apparent value, but the theft must occur in a certain time frame.  Charlie decides, against his better judgment (the money's really good,) to take on the challenge. He recovers two of them only to discover he had competition, and that the American who hired him has been severely beaten and left for dead. Charlie is soon a suspect in the murder and the subject of a search by other bad guys, all of them looking for the three figurines that are somehow related to a diamond heist years before.

Charlie manages to figure it all out and, in a scene worthy of Nero Wolfe, brings together all the participants where he reveals the culprit.

Good series each in a different locale.  What a deal, the author gets to flit around to all these neat cities as research for the next book and can probably claim the traveling expenses as a business deduction.  I’m jealous.

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Thursday, August 23, 2012

Which ebook reader is best?

I have a Nook Color, Nook Tablet (rooted to Android Honeycomb so I can access more apps) a Kindle Fire, Kindle 3, and an iPhone and iTouch. (I’m a software/hardware junkie. I had an Eris HTC Android phone but the battery life was bad.) I have used and read on the Kindle, Nook, Kobo, and Google Books apps. All work, but the Kindle software wins every time and I find myself always purchasing for the Kindle app because: 1. the sync to last page read always works; not so with Kobo or Nook. 2. Highlights are automatically exported to the Kindle. website where I can review and cut-and-paste from them which helps when quoting for reviews of which I write many; not so with the others. 3. Using Readbility I can instantly send articles I want to read to my Kindle and they appear in the Kindle Cloud and are accessible across all Kindle apps – oh, yes, I often read on my netbook. That’s huge. Can’t do that for Nook or Kobo of Google Books 4. Amazon has hands-down the best search software and the largest database of books.
Kobo and Google Books are improving almost daily. I tried the iBooks store, but it sucks royally. Not even close to any of the others. Nook seems to be static. Ironically, I find reading on my iTouch using the apps. the most appealing as it’s extremely portable and flexible. I have tried the iPad, but it’s too big. The Kindle Fire is great and I like its software. I got my wife a Nook Touch so we could keep our libraries separate (she reads mostly children’s and YA books.) I buy many, many more books now that ebooks are here and am gradually replacing, where possible, my physical collection of 1500 plus with their ebook equivalents.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Goodreads | Mark Roth (Pittsburgh, PA)'s review of Deadly Choices: How the Anti-Vaccine Movement Threatens Us All

Goodreads | Mark Roth (Pittsburgh, PA)'s review of Deadly Choices: How the Anti-Vaccine Movement Threatens Us All:

We are currently going through an epidemic of Whooping Cough here in NW Illinois and even adults are being urged to get re-vaccinated. Herd immunity has been lost through lack of vaccination. There is a strong anti-vaccine community around here still, despite the revelations about Watson who, we now know, faked a lot of the data with regard to autism. I think much of the antagonism originated with the massive campaign to vaccinate everyone against swine-flu during the Ford administration which increased the number of Guillain-Barre cases, a very small risk (0.1%) but widely reported in the press. See also The Swine Flu Affair: Decision-Making on a Slippery Disease* written at the request of Secretary of HHS Califano in 1977.

Califano, in his introduction, points to some of the difficulties government officials face when dealing with policy decisions:
. First, how shall top lay officials, who are not themselves expert,deal with fundamental, policy questions that are based, in part, on highly technical and complex expert knowledge-especially when
that knowledge is speculative, or hotly debated, or when "the facts' are so uncertain? When such questions arise, with how much deference and how much skepticism should those whose business is doing things and making policy view those whose business is knowing things-the scientists and the experts?

How should policymakers-and their expert advisers-seek to involve and to educate the public and relevant parties on such complicated and technical issues? To , what extent can there be informed and robust -public debate before ahe decision is reached?

Increasingly, the' questions that Presidents, cabinet officers and other officials, confront involve extraordinarily technical complexities and uncertainties : defense policy and disarmament choices involving sophisticated and expensive weapons systems, for example ;' health policy decisions involving subtle questions of scientific possibility and probability.

You also see the same kind of unscientific thinking with regard to raw milk, any discussion of which brings out the crazies.

*You can read this free online at 

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Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of Extremes

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of Extremes:

A continuation of the Retrieval Artist series.  These are people who for a fee and whatever other reason specialize in finding those who have been forced to seek out new identities to escape the law, often because they might have violated some obscure regulation of another planet. The book has three parallel points-of-view:  Miles Flint, a retrieval artist,  DiRicci, a cop investigating the murder of a marathon runner, and Oliviari, a “Tracker” who looks for people like a Retrieval Artist, but for very different reasons. It turns out, each is searching for the same person.

Rusch does a nice job of portraying the panic and fear that can result and the extremes to which the non-infected will go to protect themselves from the infected, including killing them. A Utilitarian’s wet-dream.

All this takes place on the moon, near a new city called Armstrong. Rusch’s alternate world is well-thought out with personal links, sophisticated computer connections, and a hostile environment outside the dome that surrounds Armstrong.  Unlike her earlier work that focuses more on Flint and Paloma (his mentor) this one also has fewer aliens and the complex cultural interactions that force the need for retrieval artists and trackers. It’s more of a police procedural (not a negative) than the couple others I have read. I will be reading more.

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Missouri Republicans imply God Planned rape.

Republicans Press Todd Akin to Quit Race -

  "Ms. Barnes echoed Mr. Akin’s statement that very few rapes resulted in pregnancy, adding that “at that point, if God has chosen to bless this person with a life, you don’t kill it.”"  In other words, God decided that this life should begin through rape. Unbelievable.

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Friday, August 17, 2012

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of The Least Dangerous Branch: The Supreme Court at the Bar of Politics

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of The Least Dangerous Branch: The Supreme Court at the Bar of Politics:

 "There is a very interesting series of articles on the impact Bickel has had, especially his “counter-majoritarian difficulty” written by a selection of liberals, libertarians, and conservatives at SCOTUSblog. I'll link to one, from there you can find the rest."

What role the judiciary should play on a democratic society has been the subject of debate for centuries. Most of us with a passing knowledge of landmark decisions thought Marshall had pretty much settled the issue in Marbury v Madison and McCullough v Maryland when he established the principle we now call judicial review which grants to the judiciary the right to declare legislative acts unconstitutional.  That power, when applied, most egregiously in decisions like Dred Scott and Plessy and even more controversially, Lochner, gives pause to democrats who believe that the legislature embodies the will of the people and shouldn't be contradicted by a tiny group of non-elected judiciocrats. The argument for judicial restraint, so much in favor now on the Borkian conservative side, appears useful only when you disagree with whatever judicial philosophy holds sway on the court that results in outcomes you disagree with.

Bickel, apparently, began a reexamination in academic legal circles, of the principle of judicial review. This was followed by Robert Bork's article promoting what we now call originalism as a way to define the role of the judiciary in a democratic society.

Whether democracy inherently means majority rule and because of that the court must adhere to the wishes of the majority through the legislature is an argument I'm not prepared to defend. It certainly makes for an interesting discussion and one wonders whether it was at the back of the mind of Justice Roberts in his recent  decision upholding the individual mandate.

Cherminsky argues in his article that the Constitution itself is anti-democratic and thus hardly majoritarian, for example the Electoral College and only one branch is directly elected, the House of Representatives.  He suggests that a system that avoids having justices make value judgments is impossible and therefore theory must focus on those underlying values. As an example he cites Heller and MacDonald gun rights cases where both the majority and dissent focused on what people thought in 1791 rather than what might be a compelling legitimate government interest.

Other books that might be of interest:  Democracy and Distrust by John Hart Ely and Cosmic Constitutional Theory by J. Harvie Wilkinson, both cited by Cherminsky in the above article.

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Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Tenth Case by Joseph Teller

Unlike Bronx Justice Bronx Justice which was more or less autobiographical, this novel has more humor and less of a sense of doom. It has some funny lines, related to the way things work, like cop-speak. The cop writes in his report: " 'did knowlingly and voluntarily grant them consent to affect entry of the premises.' Jaywalker would go to his grave in awe over how cops abused the English language. It was as though, in order to receive their guns and shields, they were first required to surrender their ablity to spell correctly, to follow the most basic rules of grammar and to write anything even remotely resembling a simple sentence." Surprisingly this book turned out to be a real page-clicker (when read on a Kindle one can't really talk about turning a page.) The client, a young woman with a problematic past, has been accused of stabbing her elderly husband to death after taking out a $25 million term-life policy on him. Now this is where I got cranky. Samara is eighteen when they get married and they remain married for about 8 years. Fine, no problem. But when they met he was described as an old man of 61 who could have been her grandfather. Now I'm 63 and do creak in the morning (and often in the afternoon,) and yes I could be be, and am, the grandparent of an 18-year-old. But 61 is NOT that over-the-hill. One quote that I must include. I would assume it reflects the mindset of the author: Long ago, he'd heard that Abraham Lincoln had once boasted that he would never represent a guilty client. Lincoln might have been a great man, but in Jaywalker's book that one remark if accurately quoted, branded him an absolute worthless criminal defense lawyer. Who was he to decide that help should be extended only to the virtuous and withheld from the sinners? To Jaywalker, it smacked of tax relief for only the wealthy. Luckily and in spite of his gross misunderstanding of the defender's role, he had somehow managed to find other work, thought perhaps tellingly, as a Republican. Excellent book. I'm getting to be quite a Teller fan.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Goodreads | The Wise Men: Six Friends and the World They Made by Walter Isaacson - Reviews, Discussion, Bookclubs, Lists

Goodreads | The Wise Men: Six Friends and the World They Made by Walter Isaacson - Reviews, Discussion, Bookclubs, Lists:

This is the story of what became known as the "American Establishment." "Establishment" was a term that originated in England to describe a circle of powerful men. Richard Rovere has proposed that the two parties in this country are really either populist or establishment, not conservative or liberal.

     The American Establishment were "Atlanticists." Their similar schooling gave them an appreciation for Western European values and the perceived benefit of a traditional Europe. They were instrumental in shepherding the Marshall Plan through a hostile Congress. They felt a cosmopolitan duty to preserve the culture and civilization of the West.
This was to become a problem many years later as Asia became the focus of U.S. concern. Francophile Acheson was fundamental in recommending support for France in its futile attempt to preserve the colonial empire. Acheson's efforts resulted in an avalanche of U.S. funding, ultimately supplying France with far more than we spent on them during the entire Marshall Plan.

     The establishment is profiled through the careers of Robert Lovett, John McCloy, Averell Harriman, Charles Bohlen, George Kennan, and Dean Acheson. They were all intelligent, educated at elite private schools, and most came from wealthy families. The six were not ideologues, preferring to adopt a pragmatic outlook, holding moderate views and they believed in consensus. Unfortunately, their sensible world view was translated by more simplistic minds in the fifties into being "soft on communism." They were not highly visible to the public (except when McCarthy made them targets), but preferred to persuade leaders privately and intellectually. They were fervent capitalists which made McCarthy's charges against them ludicrous. They believed in a strong link between free trade, free markets and free minds.

Isaacson and Thomas fill the book with marvelous anecdotes and they describe the unique characteristics of the six lucidly and with humor. For example, Dean Acheson resigned as Under Secretary of the Treasury under FDR in a dispute over whether the United States could legally buy gold at a price higher than that set by Congress. The authors explain differences among the six this way: "Acheson's friend Harriman would never have gone to the mat over a matter of principle with a President, he would likely have sidled away from the conflict to work on problems that he would be left to solve on his own. Lovett would probably have worked out some compromise, making any mountainous dispute seem suddenly like a small bump. So, too, would have John McCloy, the legal workhorse; like Bohlen, he would have been willing to go along. Kennan would no doubt have agonized about resignation only to become lost in philosophical brooding."

     I had for many years vastly misunderstood George Kennan's role in the development of the cold war. The famous "X" article, which provided the foundation for containment, was misinterpreted to create the underpinning for Nitze's NSC-68 and development of the arms race. Kennan was really arguing for a non-military, less aggressive stance. Ironically, Nitze, icon of the modern American military was adamantly opposed to U.S. entry into Vietnam because he was aware of the limited resources of the United States. Prophetic indeed.

We may owe current European unity to the efforts of John McCloy who, as High Commissioner of Germany, and its virtual czar, was an exceptionally sincere and honest broker among the war-torn nations of Europe. His word was taken with equal faith in all the capitals and he laid the foundation for the economic miracle that was to take place. (There is a new biography of McCloy out recently - it's on my list.)

By the late seventies and early eighties the Establishment was out of favor. It was blamed for the cold war, Vietnam, and assorted other blunders; but its replacement, the self-centered, undisciplined, partisan, non-professional politicians-diplomats of the Reagan-Nixon era- has historians and revisionists yearning for the old order which had been, at least, consistent, selfless, and devoted to the national interest. "There was a foreign policy consensus back then, and its disintegration during Vietnam is one of the great disasters of our history," said Henry Kissinger. "You need an Establishment. Society needs it. You can't have all these assaults on national policy so that every time you change presidents you end up changing direction."
These men were responsible for building a coalition that resulted in 40+ years of Pax Americana. "They were public servants, not public figures, and did not have to read the newspapers to know where they stood....In their sense of duty and shared wisdom, they found the force to shape the world."

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Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of A Measureless Peril: America in the Fight for the Atlantic, the Longest Battle of World War II

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of A Measureless Peril: America in the Fight for the Atlantic, the Longest Battle of World War II:

Richard Snow’s father served as a lieutenant aboard a destroyer escort in the Atlantic during WW II. Using letters and other papers of his father, he has recreated the battles against German subs. About two-thirds of the book consists of a collection of short, but interesting, chapters, essays, almost, that provide an  introduction to naval development between the wars before we meet his dad.

Snow begins with a brief summary of the development of the German submarine force. One interesting detail is that most of the military construction was done by “Organisation Todt” named after its creator Fritz Todt who built the Autobahn and the submarine pens in France, pens that still stand.  They used 14 million tons of concrete in their construction (the Hoover dam used 4.4 million) and the allies were never able to penetrate the twenty-five-foot thick walls and roof. There were barracks for over one-thousand men and several U-Boats in addition to full repair facilities.  Refits could be done in total safety. He begins by setting the stage very sympathetically, noting how many subs Doenitz was lacking at the beginning (he wanted 300 but began with barely a tenth of that), Hitler being in such a rush to get things started.

Lots of interesting detail related to the functioning of a German sub.  I had no idea of the maintenance required to keep the torpedoes in good working order. Every few days they had to be checked (and they were very heavy and required much moving about by hand not to mention at the beginning of a cruise they were stored in companionways with only a plywood floor over them leaving very little space for the crew to move about.) And each required handling as if it was a raw egg.

In the meantime, FDR was building a team of extremely competent subordinates including Henry Stimson as Secretary of War (he had also been Secretary of War until 1911 under Taft, not to mention Secretary of State under Hoover.)  Stimson was a vigorous hawk, a position FDR wanted in order to build up the military in preparation for the certain conflict with Germany. Harold Stark, Chief of Naval Operations, had written a detailed examinations of the options for distributing forces should war arrive.  The fourth option, Item D, which he recommended, was to maintain a holding operation in the Pacific (even thought eh Navy preferred to carry on the fight there, and concentrate on beating Germany first, the idea being that if Britain fell all bets were off. This option became known as Plan Dog.

Unfortunately, there was a lot of amateurism initially. Yacht owners were anxious to join the anti-submarine effort but usually just provided inconsequential target practice for the subs.  Known as the Picket Patrol, they produced more false sightings than real contacts.  In one infamous incident, the crew of a cabin cruiser watched in astonishment as the sea boiled up around them.  A German sub surfaced rigfht next to them. The German captain yelled at them in “excellent Americanese, “Get the hell out of here.  Do you want to get hurt?  Now scram.” Captain Peter Cremer loved the Picket Patrol the value of which “was precisely nil” by creating “complete chaos by seeing U-boats everywhere and sending the few destroyers chasing hither and thither and find nothing.”  

Project LQ, an attempt to disguise old freighters and turn them into mini-warships that would pretend to be in mechanical distress to sucker German subs into attacking from the surface where they could be picked off, was likewise a dismal failure, resulting in a loss of 25% of the American sailors and one German crewman. A British historian called it the most “self-destructive operation undertaken by the U.S. Navy during the war. On the other hand, Doenitz had had years to build a well-trained Navy;  Admiral King had just a few months.

Cities along the east coast didn’t help either.  The mayor of Miami, worried about the loss of tourism, refused to black out the city thus silhouetting  American shipping and making them perfect targets for marauding U-boats. Despite pleas from Admiral Andrews it turned out no one had the authority to order them to do anything. It was only the ridicule of a local journalist that finally persuaded him to engage in a blackout. Doenitz had had years to build a well-trained Navy;  Admiral King had just a few months.  He settled on the time-tested method of convoying, a task that was of little fun.

"In a way, the people protecting the convoys lived the life of the very, very old. The simplest tasks were daunting in prospect, dangerous in performance. Everything was exhausting: going from the wardroom to the bridge was to navigate a hellish fun house where the floor might drop forty feet, and steel door frames swivel sixty degrees in a deft, prankish attempt to break your spine. The seasick made themselves choke down food since vomiting on an empty stomach was so much more painful.”

While King did an admirable job at organizing what he had, he was quite resistant to new forms of technology. Secretary of War Stimson had forced General Marshall and Hap Arnold to look into the new 10 centimeter radar which used the British invented magnetron that increased transmitting power one thousand fold making it very practical for airplanes. King remained a staunch advocate of the convoy system. “Admiral King has a terrible blind spot for new things, about as rugged a case of stubbornness as has been cultivated by a human being,” said Vannevar Bush who was instrumental in getting FDR on board (pun intended.) The adoption of this radar was to be instrumental in U-boat destruction. No longer could they anticipate the approach of aircraft since they had no way of receiving 10-centimeter radar.

Several reviewers have complained that Snow should have focused more on his father’s personal experiences as portrayed in the letters to his mother and less on the larger view of the war in the Atlantic.  I suspect for many of us who have read a great deal about the Battle for the Atlantic, that criticism might be valid. I thought his examination of the German U-Boat side, coupled with examples of their devastation and linked to his father’s experiences provided an excellent introduction for those who many be less familiar with events.  It’s written in a very clear and engaging manner, hence my positive endorsement.
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Monday, August 13, 2012

The LendLink Debacle or Why It Helps to Read Before Posting

This is a classic example of a few ill-informed and self-righteous people creating a viral response for a perceived injury that resulted in considerable harm to a completely innocent person and made a lot of enemies for independent authors. Good summary of what happened with links here. Unfortunately some of the interior links have been taken down after the perpetrators feet were jammed down their own throats.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of Blood on the Moon

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of Blood on the Moon:

Ellroy writes with intensity.  As I’m sure everyone knows who is remotely interested in his writing, Ellroy has been obsessed with the death of his mother (nee Hilliker) whose murder was never solved. The Black Dahlia, written after this book,  was an unsatisfactory  attempt at atonement, and the books I’ve read of his continue to obsess with familial relationships.

That’s especially true of Blood on the Moon,  first in the Lloyd Hopkins police series.  Lloyd is that special cop who sees beyond the obvious and has a brilliant track record catching the bad guys.  But his relationship with Janice, his wife, whom he loves, and his children, whom he wishes above all to protect by telling them stories of his life on the streets lest they experience them themselves, and his senile parents whom he promised to keep in their home, and his brother who he coerces to maintain them --“are you going to kill me Lloyd when our parents are dead?” Why? because of some incident at Christmas when Lloyd was 8, even if it was rather horrific, and the women he saves and sleeps with.  All of these relationships form a convoluted psyche that Ellroy explores brilliantly, I think. Lloyd’s affair with Kathleen, a former schoolmate and now feminist bookstore owner reveals his “rapacious ego” and driven obsession as a foil to the obsession of the serial killer, whom Lloyd believes to be a gay man driven to kill women because of his own tormented self-identity.

Hints to Ellroy’s obsession with the death of his mother abound on the pages.  At one particularly gruesome homicide, Lloyd cuts down the 29-year-old female victim, before the ME has had a chance to check out the scene, cradles her body in his arms, and murmurs how he won’t let her murderer go free and he’ll render justice. It reeks of romance, vengeance, and an idealized perception of women.  We learn the origin of Lloyd’s obsessive behavior toward the end of the book, although I found the scene less than convincing.  His relationship with Kathleen also had a surreal quality to it that I thought jarred with the rest of the book.

There’s a thread in modern detective literature that the bad guys can’t get caught unless the rules are broken. Lloyd certainly breaks many of them in his own personal vigilante quest for his personal justice.  It’s a theme I find insidiously subversive, and really if Lloyd had followed the rules in this book the carnage would have been much less.

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Friday, August 10, 2012

The Thomas Jefferson Hour

The Thomas Jefferson Hour:

Re Barton's book a quote:

"A well-known letter to Benjamin Rush perfectly illustrates Barton's method. Jefferson wrote, "I am a Christian, in the only sense in which he wished any one to be; sincerely attached to his doctrines, in preference to all others; ascribing to himself every human excellence, and believing he never claimed any other." When Barton reads this passage he fixates on the word "Christian." Jefferson tells a fellow signer of the Declaration of Independence that "I am a Christian." When any fair-minded reader sees this passage s/he focuses on the phrases, "attached to his doctrines," "every human excellence," and "never claiming any other." In other words, what Jefferson is actually saying to Rush is something like the following. "I'm more of a 'Christian' than the so-called 'Christians,' because I understand, as they don't, that Jesus was only a man, albeit a very great ethical teacher, and I subscribe to his teachings rather than the aura of divinity that has been imposed on him. Nor do I think Jesus himself believed himself the son of God or a member of the Trinity. Since this is what is truly meant by 'Christian,' I can more justly call myself a 'Christian' than the irrationalists who believe things that a rational being must reject." Barton regards Jefferson's letter to Rush as a confession of Christianity; but what Jefferson meant was that he was an admirer of Jesus the man and ethical reformer, and that he resented that so-called "Christians" had hijacked the man and his message. In a late letter Jefferson distinguished the kind of Christianity he wished to promote (rational, demystified, simple, natural) from the Platonized, encrusted thing he now called "nicknamed Christianity.""
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A Bad Day for David Barton, But a Good Day for History

A Bad Day for David Barton, But a Good Day for History:

The appropriate downfall of a hack.

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Saturday, August 04, 2012

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of The Bass Wore Scales

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of The Bass Wore Scales:

This is the fifth in the hilarious liturgical mystery series.   It started off a little slow and I was wondering where in the world the author was taking us with a minister killed in his study with the door locked from the inside using a key that was forged and impossible to duplicate.  He was ostensibly killed by a guerilla he had brought in there to be baptised.

“Now, if Brother Kilroy’s a Presbyterian or a Methodist, a Lutheran or an Episcopalian, there’s no problem. If Kokomo needs to get baptized, Brother Kilroy could do it with a squirt gun if he had to. But he’s not. He’s a Baptist, and you’re not born again unless you go under for the count.  “You know, gorillas usually don’t have a problem with water like chimps do. Kilroy probably would have been fine if he hadn’t tried to hold him under.” “No kidding.”

Never fear, the solution is nicely rational.  In the meantime, the racecar driver who was being sponsored by St Barnabas, has been killed after a race and will be buried in his race car with the radio tuned to his favorite country station (but only for five years - that’s all he paid for.)  I loved the scene where Hayden talks to the sleezy burial plot retailer who misunderstands Hayden’s request for a special plot, “This here section—Section D—that’s for white folks only.” Meg was horrified. “White folks?” I said. “No, you misunderstand. I want a plot in the No-Smoking section.” “No-Smoking?” “Oh, yeah,” I said.

Or the scene where the PETA protesters mix it up with the NASCAR folks: They had angered the wrong folks. From my vantage point, I saw at least ten of the PETA protesters lying on the ground. The PETA women weren’t faring much better than the men, because, although a male NASCAR fan isn’t likely to hit a woman that he’s not married to, a female NASCAR fan has no such problem, and the ladies were taking advantage of easy pickin’s. The PETA women probably didn’t even realize that brass-knuckles came in designer colors.

The characters are all extremely likeable and there is such an undercurrent of puns and humor it’s difficult not to really enjoy the series. On to # 6.

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Thursday, August 02, 2012

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of The Fear Index

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of The Fear Index:

The best thrillers and horror stories don’t involve chain saws or mutated snakes.  They take something prosaic, something we are all familiar with, something we trust, and then tweak it.

That’s the premise of a wonderful book I read years ago called[book:Adolescence of P-1|1414021] by Thomas Ryan. An algorithm created to seek out knowledge learns and soon desires to protect itself. Read it.

What separates humans from other animals is language. That used to be the case. It’s no longer true.  Computers can now assimilate, translate, and communicate.  Not to mention that they are all connected and have access to virtually all of human knowledge.  So can they learn and adapt?

The other thread that surfaced while reading Fear Index  is what happened to Long Term Capital Management in 2000.  A hedge fund founded by a brilliant economist, the premise was that if you get enough smart people together you can write some brilliant computer algorithms that will permit outperformance of the market.  They collapsed spectacularly in 2000 requiring a bailout.

Combine those two events and ideas and you have Fear Index.

Alex Hoffman is a brilliant physicist who founds a hedge fund which does spectacularly well bring returns of 80% to its investors. Constantly tweaking its algorithms to provide even better returns, they are poised to add even more money to their fund.  But some weird things are beginning to happen.  Alex gets a rare book in the mail with no indication who might have sent it.  Investigation reveals it was purchased using an account in the Caymans he owned but was not aware of.  All the transactions happened over the Internet. Then his house is broken into by someone who had all the key codes.

The algorithm Hoffman’s company created uses sophisticated analysis of human fear to determine market positions. All of a sudden the company finds itself taking huge short positions that pay off when companies they were shorting suffered some form of catastrophe. They reap immense profits, but how could the algorithm have foreseen those seemingly random events? And how did the notes of Alex’s therapy get on the web.  And who installed the surveillance cameras and built the server farm?  In the meantime, Hugo’s algorithm is learning and doing things on its own.  Really good story.  4.5 stars.  Less than 5 only because it’s so similar in concept to Ryan’s book.

As an aside, Harris has a very nice explanation of what a hedge fund does and how hedges work.  Let’s say, as in his example, that you make a bet with someone for $1,000,000 that the girl across the hall is wearing black knickers.  Whether she is or not really isn’t relevant to the bet because you’re going to bet someone else $950,000 that her knickers are NOT black, so your maximum exposure is $50,000. You can, of course, hedge your other bet even further as will all the other betters.  There will be winners and losers each time the knickers are revealed but the maximum exposure should be relatively small and if you make enough bets over a period of time it doesn’t matter if you are wrong some of the time, because you’ll win enough times to come out ahead.  In theory.  That’s what hedge funds do and it explains why there are trillions of dollars being bet on trivialities and when things go wrong, as in Corzine’s little escapade, billions can be lost, or in his case, disappear. (Did the accountants make off with it, perhaps?)  In the meantime, I’m making a side bet that the fried, fat encrusted ribs and whipped-cream-covered chocolate chip ice cream  I just ate won’t kill me before I get this review up.

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