'The Interrupted Journey' book review

When it comes to the topic of UFOs, there is a marked difference between many peoples' casual impression of the whole field and how the subject appears when you make an effort to investigate it. The casual impression is that it's a fringe topic with only a few really meaningful events and that most of it is silly people saying daft things to get in the papers. I don't say this to sound elitist because I've had that view myself for many years. It is only recently, when I've had the time and energy to investigate the subject, that I've realised how different the issue of UFOs is when one does a in-depth study.

If one properly investigates the subject of UFOs, then a very different world comes into sharp focus. As Timothy Good has explained in many books, there is an enormous amount of evidence all around our planet of human encounters with UFOs. It's certainly true that many of those encounters have little physical evidence and rely for a large part on eye-witness testimony. Such reports can therefore be dismissed as too thin for serious analysis, but there are also a very large number of reports that have many respectable witnesses and a host of supporting evidence, for example the UFO encounter in Rendlesham Forest. It is also clear that military forces around the world are grabbing as much of the physical evidence as they can and censoring reports before they reach the mainstream media. This is especially true of the United States military who have soldiers in more than 150 countries around the world (considering there are only officially 196 countries in total, this is a huge slice). If we also consider the simple fact that most Western media outlets will not publish anything that is marked classified, for sensible reasons, It is hardly surprising that if the U.S. military decides to put a lid on the UFO phenomena, it would become a fringe and murky subject. Read More...

'Command and Control' by Eric Schlosser - book review

This week, I've been reading Eric Schlosser's 'Command and Control', an extensive and comprehensive non-fiction book that looks into the history of nuclear weapon safety in the U.S.A. since the Second World War. Schlosser wrote the excellent 'Fast Food Nation' and this book is just as thorough and just as alarming. Schlosser's book makes it clear, using an exhaustive list of events, that it's pretty much a miracle that a nuclear weapon didn't accidentally explode in the United States in the last sixty years.
I'm a supporter of CND, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, and so I was keen to read this book to be as knowledgeable as possible on such an important subject. I came to the decision, several years ago, that I would rather be killed by a nuclear weapon than be even partly responsible for dropping one on millions of other people. There are many visceral examples of what such a nuclear strike would do in books and television, from an excellent passage in the book 'Doomsday Men', that I recently reviewed, as well as the harrowing and brilliant series 'Threads', made by the BBC (when the Beeb was being brave). I heartily recommend both items, but be aware, the Threads programme pulls no punches at all.

'Command and Control' is a thick wedge of a book. Schlosser exhaustively reports on the history of nukes in the U.S. and the cold war. To be honest, there were sections that I skipped, as page after page of descriptions of missiles and strategies can get dull. Fortunately, the book switches between this history and the recounting of a particular event; a disastrous accident that occurred at a Titan II missile silo. Schlosser's account of the accident is riveting. His writing reminded me a lot of Stephen King's 'The Stand', with the same approach of giving each character's back story, before narrating what happened to them during the accident. I wouldn't be surprised if Schlosser starts writing fiction soon, he's certainly prepared the ground.

Heisenberg: Physics and Philosophy - book review

This week, I've been reading 'Physics and Philosophy' by Werner Heisenberg. Heisenberg was one of the leading lights of the Quantum Physics generation in the early twentieth century. He was the prime discoverer of the Uncertainty Principle; that it is impossible to know both the velocity and position of a subatomic particle at the same time.

I'll say, straight away, that 'Physics and Philosophy' is a dry read; the book is never going to succeed as a mainstream popular science book. Heisenberg writes like a physics professor giving a church sermon, but he also writes with an air of calm authority. He isn't polemicist or a demagogue. There's no sign that he has an axe to grind. As a result, the book reads as a benchmark of sober thought on the philosophical implications of what physicists discovered in the early twentieth century.

During his book, Heisenberg stays very much in the middle ground of the philosophical interpretations of quantum physics. He never concludes that the mind is required for matter to appear out of the quantum realm, unlike Wigner and Von Neumann, but neither does he follow the lead of Einstein and doggedly advocate the Classical Physics viewpoint of an external reality that is present and real all the time, whether we observe it or not. Instead, he talks calmly about what he thinks we can reliably conclude from the experimental evidence and the mathematics, and how that is elegant and beautiful and sufficient just by itself. Read More...

Fever: a magical cancer cure

This week, I've been reading 'Farmer Buckley's Exploding Trousers and other odd events on the way to scientific discovery'. It's a popular science book from the people at New Scientist magazine and is a series of short stories (each a few pages long) about weird and wonderful and often very important scientific and technological inventions and discoveries. I'm enjoying the book, although reading a long string of disconnected stories can feel a bit laborious sometimes, but there some absolute gems amongst the collection.

One story really jumped out. On page 21 of the book, the author describes the fascinating story of Dr William Coley, an American doctor living and working in New York in the 1870's. During his work, Dr Coley stumbled upon a fascinating pattern. He treated many patients with tumours. The standard medical treatment for these tumours was to cut them out, but they invariably grew back. Coley found that patients who had tumours, but then suffered an infection that sent them into a high fever, very often were entirely cured of their tumours. For example:

The man's medical records were quite clear. His case was hopeless. In the space of three years, he had had five operations to remove a tumour from his neck. The last was a failure: it was impossible to remove the whole tumour. He would die soon. As if that wasn't bad enough, the poor man then suffered two attacks of erysipelas, a skin infection that produced a lurid red rash and a high fever. But when the fever broke and the man recovered, his tumour had vanished. Seven years later, he was still alive and well. There could be only one explanation: whatever had caused the fever had also destroyed the cancer.


'Supernormal' book review and Influence Idea thoughts

The purpose of this article is to review a book, but I thought I’d chat some more about the Influence Idea and 'Reality is Light' before the review, as they are connected. Just a quick note: The links in the following paragraphs connect to the larger articles I’ve written about these ideas, available elsewhere on this website, so feel free to switch to them if you'd like a fuller explanation.

To start off with, I'll explain the Influence Idea again, briefly. It's surprisingly simple. The Second Law of Thermodynamics states that everything in our physical universe becomes more disordered over time; this is called Entropy, but something strange is going on because Life becomes more ordered over time. Life grows, develops and reproduces, constantly increasing order in the universe. Since Life exists in the universe, and is clearly acting entirely against Entropy, and Entropy governs all physical things in the universe then, logically, Life must be being created and maintained by a non-physical, positive, organising influence originating from outside physical reality.

Doomsday Men and Dr Strangelove

Here's a quick book review of a book I've just finished called 'Doomsday Men' by P.D.Smith. The book is all about the history of atomic research, from Madame Curie onwards, and how it became used to build the ultimate military weapon, the hydrogen bomb and its fictional but apocalyptic dark sibling, the radioactive 'cobalt bomb'.

I enjoyed the book. It was pretty clear from early on (in fact, P.D.Smith admitted as much himself) that the author had been writing a biography of Leo Szilard, an admirable and brilliant Hungarian physicist who had to leave his home in Budapest when Nazism and anti-Semitism emerged in central Europe. He ditched up in London and finally emigrated to the United States. Unlike other brilliant Hungarian physicists who ended up playing a major role in the development of atomic power and the atomic bomb (such as Von Neumann and Edward Teller), Szilard was a compassionate and ethical man. Read More...

Cormac McCarthy's 'The Road'

My odd review of Cormac McCarthy's 'The Road' is up on the sci-fi now web site here. They wanted sci-fi/fantasy book reviews and that's what I came up with. Here's the text:

When I was young, I thought people were much nicer to each other. This, I think, was down to the sci-fi books I read. When things went wrong in them, people pulled together, showed their mettle, overcame the odds like stars in a matinee war movie. It was a glowing, warm idea that was seriously dented when I saw ‘When worlds collide’


The Utter horror of the 'three for two' offer

I was in Waterstones today to buy a present for a relative. I had a rough idea what I was after and went straight to the appropriate section. There, stacked neatly on the shelf, were two books by John Lindqvist, the writer behind the hit Scandinavian film ‘Let the Right One In’, which I think is currently being remade in America on the grounds that the original is full of foreigners who talk funny. They’ve also shortened the title to ‘Let Me In’. I guess this is because a) no movie about Vampires should ever refer to them as ‘The Right One’ or b) Five words in a title is too long. Since ‘Twilight’ and ‘True Blood’ are incredibly popular and are stuffed full of blood sucking creatures of the night who somehow retain tender romantic feelings while their souls sit writhing in the nethermost depths of hell, I’m guessing it’s mostly about the title length.

Film tie-ins aside, I picked up the two books by Lindqvist that I wanted. Sorted! I could go home and have a cup of tea. Then I spotted something. Sitting prominently on the front cover of both books was a sticker marked ‘3 for 2’. Oh. That’s good, I thought. I have two books I want. I can pick up a third for nothing. I looked around casually. There were lots of ‘3 for 2’ books on the tables around. I’ll definitely want one of those.

The only thing was, each one I spotted I didn’t want.


My favourite cycling books and films

A friend asked me recently to recommend some cycling books and films. Instead of just telling him, I thought I'd stick them on my blog so everyone can check them out.

First off, an absolute gem of a French animated movie called 'Belleville Rendezvous'. There's not much dialogue but there doesn't have to be. The expressions and actions tell you everything you need to know. A young french lad is given a bicycle and it transforms his life. With the help of his grandmother, he becomes a professional racer (incredibly skinny apart from HUGE thighs). He takes part in the Tour de France but ends up in the broom wagon. From there, he is kidnapped, taken to New York and made to take part in a 'simulation' Tour De France ran by gambling gangsters. Strange, magical, often hysterically funny. The only criticism I would have is that the middle section about the three old ladies - the Belleville triplets - drags on a little too long. Apart from that, brilliant.