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Children's Encyclopedia vol. 2

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Epic of Kings / Shahnama by Ferdowsi / Levi

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Secret War in Shanghai by Bernard Wasserstein
 - treachery, subversion and collaboration in the second world war

Another book in my collection to further fuel my interest in espionage during the Second World Wall.

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Nineteen Eighty Four by George Orwell

I rarely read fiction, although 1/6 of the books I read last year perhaps show my reading preference is becoming more flexible. However, of the fiction I have read, most of the titles I have turned to because of a reference to them from a non-fiction title. Nineteen Eighty Four had been referred to once or twice in the books I had read on Cold War espionage and eavesdropping governments, and is perhaps increasingly referred to in conversations about our "Big Brother" society and the "Edward Snowdon revelations" - things that already interest me.

This book, Orwell's last, was published in 1949/50, and he had set it in the dystopic future of 1984, I suppose with idea of how the Cold War conflicts could pan out or how global superpowers could form next. Reading it now in 2014, one does so from a perspective of how things could have panned out, while also, chillingly, how things perhaps are. I say he wrote it in a dystopic future, but that description is perhaps a matter of perspective and with hindsight - maybe it was simply a predicted future for him, I don't know - I have not looked into any conversations he may have had about his intentions at the time.

Whenever writers create a world in a not so distant future, they do so at a risk - a risk that what they portray won't happen. When you read such a book at the time it was written all is well and good, but should what they have written remain in popular culture through to the time period in which the tale was set, then things can fall apart. This happens in both books and films and I'm thinking of the likes of Back to the Future which was created in the 1980s but had its second part set in 2013. In that world there are awesome things like hoverboards and hover cars, neither of which have really come about, along with some strange fashions. Back to the Future has a benefit I think, because it is a story based on time travel, and within that story is the feature of an "alternate reality" - the way I explain the lack of hovercars/boards today while keeping the story real in my head (which surely we all like to do) is to imagine that the characters in their small region of the United States, affected the time line in such a way that those technologies never came about - a feature of the Butterfly Effect if you will.

Obviously we didn't pass through a period of Orwell's world, like-for-like, back in 1984, but it's not hard to see similarities/or imagine them, here and there. In Orwell's world there are "telescreens" all over the place for example - television-like devices that are capable of not only displaying content, but also recording the world and people in front of it too. I imagined these telescreens to be just like the flat-screen TVs that we have today, but didn't exist for us in 1984. With the simple inclusion of a webcam and microphone, Orwell's telescreen is chillingly comparable to a mashup between a TV and any number of devices we use today that have webcams built in to them; laptops, tablets and phones.

With Orwell's "Big Brother" watching everyone's every move through his telescreen technology and hidden microphones (we have CCTV), it makes me accept just how close we really are to be living in such a way as Orwell's characters. In Orwell's tale the people just accept the way things are, they actually have no choice, in fact they have essentially been brainwashed/conditioned to live like this. In our world we likely believe we have a choice, or that we chose "this", but the book makes you question (if you didn't already) this: Do we really have a choice about how we live or are we all brainwashed/conditioned too?

Fast forward Orwell's book from 1984 to 2014 and, because of how the people are controlled, I can't imagine his 2014 to have progressed technologically since 1984 - there would have been no need for it, and no drive for such "progress". For this reason we are perhaps at liberty to compare Orwell's 1984 to our 2014, or any future date - the year being irrelevant, you can cast it mentally aside.

In our 2014 we choose to share our lives, our thoughts and experiences, through pictures and words via our "telescreens", through the likes of Facebooks and Twitters. Some of us feel like this is a choice we have, even a freedom to do this, and "how wonderful it is", but is it really a choice? Is it freedom? Is it wonderful? I was born into a world without the internet - I have the experience of computers creeping into our homes and those computers being connected to the internet and other devices taking the place of those early ones - it is the way things have developed, one step at a time until we are in the "situation" that we are in now: our likes and dislikes, buying habits, diets, all manner of things, logged somewhere, waiting to be mulled over by a Big Brother. The situation we are in now wasn't actually a simple one-off choice or decision we made back then, they're all developments and encroachments, some reasonably gradual, a subtlety that leaves us barely able to react/respond/object.

The main character in the book is Winston. He becomes aware of how things are, as Neo became aware of The Matrix he was in in the film of the same name (surely others have made this comparison). Winston acquired a book which explained how things had developed, a history, well, a real one because his had been shaped to suit 'the cause"- as he reads it it is like he is reading the Bible. It gets explained that Winston already knew about the "how" things had come to be, just like I (and perhaps many readers) feel aware of the "how", but just as Winston is about to read on and learn and reveal to us the "why" things are the way they are, he stops reading.

Some of the explanations are fed to the reader throughout the book, such as the existence of the class system, but shortly after Winston starts reading his book he is arrested and his captor discusses with him the contents of that book, and has the "why" explained. Basically, the class system is all important, with those at the top of the pyramid being the ones controlling those below. Sometimes it feels like that is how our world works. Orwell tries to explain that what those Elite at the top want from us is power (in The Matrix this is portrayed as electrical power, but in hind sight one should perhaps not take it so literal). In our world I'm torn between the idea of there being some ulterior motive by those at the top (who's to say those that think they are at the top are not being controlled by something above them), and everything just being the way it is through human nature, or "mother nature" - everyone (or everything) affecting each other, often subtly, sometimes not so, like fluctuations of influence that ripple all the way through societies and "class systems". Perhaps these ripples are within, what can described as, a field of influence, or the "Akashic Field". Some might say that it is the guiding hand of one being, a God, that is what is guiding us, by some divine plan, to some end point - I have no issues with describing "this" as God, but to me it feels like we are just bubbling along, as everything does, there is no "external" influence, God is not without, "it" is within, within the very field we and everything is part of.

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Late for Tea at the Deer Palace by Tamara Chalabi
 - The Lost Dreams of my Iraqi Family

I found this to be a charming book about the changing Arab world and the forming of Iraq in the first half of the 20th century.

The picture painted is from the perspective of a family with high standing, so while it doesn't represent the experiences of all during that time period, the perspective was still fascinating and the first half of it reminded me of Charles Darwin's Bleak House which was set in Great Britain but time periods did meet.

I notice also that I read The Arabs, a History by Eugene Rogan earlier this year. That was a long book at over 700 pages (this one being 400) and while Rogan's wasn't hard to read, I remember little of it. Tamara's book, on the other hand, early on painted some lovely and vivid pictures in my mind, which I am sure will stay with me for some time, just like Bleak House.

However, once the book reaches the time just after the Second World War, the tone of the books changes, representing the hardships of the changing times - strifes which the Chalabi family struggled more and more through the Cold War years and through to the years when the region was controlled by Saddam Hussein. At this time the family was forced into exile in both London and Beirut and the charm of the past lost its shine.

Much of the book seemed to revolve around the life of Bibi, but once the time period reaches that when the author herself was born and experiencing the world for herself, the writing slipped more to one of her own perspective and her struggles with making sense of Iraq - a region she knew she had ties with, yet had no first-hand experience with - she still managed to reflect on the family struggles but I think a greater bearing was, by this point, put on the Iraqi's struggles as a whole.

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The Art of Thinking Clearly by Rolf Dobelli
 - the secrets of perfect decision-making

This small and simple book contains a collection of 99 cognitive biases, as Wikipedia states on the topic, these can lead to "inaccurate judgment, illogical interpretation, or what is broadly called irrationality." Dobelli catalogues the biases he has come across and provides real-world examples to aid explanation, he also provides tips to recognise, avoid and counteract these biases. eg:

- The self-serving bias tip: Invite your enemy over for coffee and ask for an honest opinion about your strengths and weaknesses.

Each topic is given its own chapter, but these span only a few pages - ideal for an introduction to each, and to grab a bite during a busy and distracted day, but if you want a more in-depth read on anything in particular then you'll want to look elsewhere. At the end of each chapter is a list of other related biases so you can skip back and forth and branch out on a particular area of interest if you want to. This is how I read the book, rather than reading through each chapter from 1-99 - a sign, I suppose, that the small snippets were perhaps a little too brief for me.

The chapters of this book can be read in any order, or dipped into at random when you have a spare minute to absorb something (ideal when you haven't the time to absorb anything more substantial.) Some things I did notice in reading through this book quickly were that Dobelli used the "our ancestor's would have benefited from this behaviour, whereas we don't" reasoning a few times, and also quoted Mark Twain more than once!

One particular bias I was interested to find out more about after reading Dobelli's chapter, was the News Illusion. In reading about this illusion I realised I had discovered this illusion myself a few years ago, but had never come across a name for it or realised there was such a documented thing. In searching on the internet for some more insight I discovered there were some disgruntled people objecting to Dobelli's use of their work/ideas (on a number of areas of the book). I read on to find arguments and explanations from both sides. Once I had read these is was hard for me not to then automatically question or downgrade Dobelli's efforts - Dobelli does state at the beginning of the book that this collection of biases is just things he has picked up on through life and then, as I mentioned, listed them and provided real world examples. He does mention the work of others (including Nassim Taleb a number of time and his books Antifragile and The Black Swan) - but, I agree, he doesn't have dedicated section at the end to 'properly' acknowledge these or state his sources. To read that he had plagiarised the work of others does seem extreme, but when he has provided real world examples in the form of personal experiences that other's claim were never his experiences in the first place, one can't help but to paint a different picture of Dobelli's life, and also the lives of others when they use "their own life experiences" to produce a piece of non-fiction - I guess some authors either like to gloss-up their own life for the sake of it, or do so to make their book more exciting.

For a book about cognitive biases, it's own revelations seem to add reasoning to the above issue. Maybe it wasn't intentional, but cognitive biases on the authors part contributed to this outcome. Quite ironic I thought!

See also:

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Treachery by Chapman Pincher
 - Betrayals, Blunders and Cover-Ups: Six Decades of Espionage. The True Story of MI5

With all of the books that I have read by James Bamford (see below), it was hardly surprising that this book should stand out for me at a local library. Also, it's hard to miss at almost 700 pages. The librarian advised me not to drop it on my foot, and this being the paperback version. I suspected I'd be renewing it a few times, but I only did so once, which it a testimony to how readable I found it to be.

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Shadow Factory by James Bamford
 - The Ultra-Secret NSA from 9/11 to the Eavesdropping on America

I have previously read both Body of Secrets (in 2011) and Puzzle Palace (in 2007) by the author of this book. In purchasing this book, written in 2008, I expected Bamford to provide me with an insight into the more recent events of 9/11 (as the subtitle suggests), whereas the previous two titles were more about World War II and the Cold War (which I found very interesting).

While what happened in America on '9/11' has been widely documented and discussed by anyone and everyone, Bamford's breakdown of the sequence of events leading up to the event is highly detailed (right down to phone numbers and e-mail addresses used by the attackers), Bamford also outlines the facts as he is experienced to do so. He also analyses the NSA leading up to the attack. In doing this, the mindset of both the attackers and the NSA are revealed. Bamford shows that the attackers didn't come across to the people that met them as all that religious, which was a surprise to me because I had been lead to believe they were devout (if extreme) Muslims and carried out their attacks for largely religious reasons. That isn't to say there weren't religious motives, indeed Osama bin Laden, who they were working for, made it a religious war (as much as I think Bush did) in the way he came across in the videos he released.

The conclusion I gleaned from the first chapter, which leads readers right up to the moments the planes hit, was that in the mindset of some groups, religious or otherwise, there is a 'need' for war. Bamford pointed out that there is a history of war, at least dating back to the Russian influences in the Arab world/Afghanistan region, and once that war disappeared America became the new target. That isn't to say motives were imaginary - I think there were and are people in those regions that believe their lives have been meddled with by the United States. The attacks on 9/11 were therefore retaliatory and I do think the American mindset was wrong to then seek revenge (where does it end if one seeks revenge for a retaliatory attack), rather than (the public at least) take the opportunity to question why, really why, do some people dislike America this much?

Instead, the attackers have been painted as extremists. Sure, flying planes into buildings is extreme, but their motives didn't come across as such. I do find it sad that those men developed a plan that, from the perspective of their own individual lives, would simply cease to exist upon the moment of impact. It even seems like their mindset would only allow them to think as far ahead as "flying planes into buildings". I suppose I simply fail to comprehend suicide where there seems no intention to end ones life - that didn't come across in what I read. Those men were bright, intelligent young men who were obviously capable of so much - it's just a shame, in many ways, that that was what they planned for.

Next up is the NSA's mindset. In the lead-up to the attacks the NSA had backed away from (the idea of) monitoring anyone and everyone. It seemed that their own citisens were off-limits (at least without a warrant), but anyone else in the world didn't have the rights of the same 'freedoms' as Americans, and were therefore fair game when it came to eavesdropping. The NSA was fearful that if it blatantly listened in on all local communications, and that became known by the American people, that there would be hell to pay.

Once 9/11 happened, it seems the gloves came off. Indeed the case of Edward Snowdon reveals a lot of what Bamford has already shared - in particular the NSA and their 'data mining' interests. To be honest I haven't found the Snowdon leaks as shocking as the media portray them, I've hardly read anything about it, I guess I've always had at the back of my mind what intelligence agencies are capable of, so when it got revealed what was actually going on I wasn't surprised - more amused that the media make a big deal about it, and that their voice (as they seem to proclaim) is that of the general public. (I think the public reaction mimic the media rather than the other way round, as if, as a whole, we're shown how to behave/react).

Bamford reveals that there were objections within both the NSA and government to this eavesdropping behaviour. On page 118 he mentioned that democratic congresswoman Nancy Pelosi expressed her concerns in classified letters to the NSA Director Michael Hayden.

On page 117, Royce Lamberth, the presiding judge of the FISA court at the time, and "probably the most experienced person in the country on the topic" years later harshly criticised the program and said "We have to understand you can fight the war [on terrorism] and lose everything if you have no civil liberties left when you get through fighting the war."

I strongly agree with this attitude. "Fighting a war against" terror is illogical. It might not be so from an attacker's perspective, but war is terrifying. I know this, and as far as I'm aware I'm not even in a war (although it is often claimed that the country I reside in, is).

The justification for the NSA taking its gloves off and going hell-for-leather and eavesdropping on its own citisens is that the 9/11 attacks could have been prevented if the NSA had been allowed to listen in on its own citisens. Bamford points out, however, that if "Hayden had simply done as his job allowed and traced ... calls and e-mails back from the Yemen ops center and obtained a FISA warrant for the California phone numbers and e-mail address ... And then by [legally] monitoring their domestic communications, the FBI could have discovered the other members of the group." and thus prevented the attacks.

Because the attacks had been "allowed" to happen, America had been embarrassed and thus the only course of action was to seek revenge. The NSA's attitude changed overnight and took advantage of the situation. Eavesdropping gained "speed and freedom", but the approach "sacrificed order and understanding". Just like how computers were used to crack codes in the Second World War, more and more computing power would be used in this new war to support a "shotgun approach" - "flooding the FBI with useless intercept reports, slowing down legitimate investigations, and placing thousands of innocent names on secret blacklists." The program "zoomed from dangerously underreacting prior to 9/11 to dangerously overreacting afterward."

This happened within a month, and this rapid change illustrates what the NSA was capable of all along (you don't just develop these systems and put them into action overnight). It was only America's inhibitions that had kept the gloves on. The financial costs (on top of actually fighting two wars overseas) also shot through the roof on an organisation that was already costing the economy billions of dollars. One has to wonder where all the money and new recruits come from.

While the NSA and government as a whole lowered its moral standards, there were still many that felt uncomfortable by the changes within the system. Bamford quotes the views of some linguists working within the NSA, highlighting just what kinds of personal conversations were being recorded and listened in on, not only conversations between foreign targets, foreign targets and Americans, but also between Americans. Again, I think this shows that Bamford's book had already revealed the attitude the intelligence system had already taken before Edward Snowdon made them general knowledge. The objections and concerns in those quotes are what Snowdon's "revelations" echo.

While I don't agree with the system and how it developed as Bamford documents, views which Snowdon obviously shares, operatives would have effectively signed their life away by signing up and participating - therefore I think Snowdon was in the wrong and the U.S. Department of Justice rightly charged him with "violating the espionage act" []. Snowdon has been branded a hero [] for his whistle blowing actions, personally my feelings are divided. Had all the people that think he is a hero read The Shadow Factory, that was written five years prior to Snowdon's tales, they would have already had their eyes open to what was being done.

Following the course of history, the book then moves on to the Iraq War, which begins with the so-called weapons of mass destruction. As we know, these WMDs never materialised, we were told that the 'intelligence' was clear. I remember the news at the time and how as time passed and no WMDs were found, British Prime Minister at the time, Tony Blair, looked more and more like a puppet, as perhaps did official spokes people in the United States (other than Bush himself). and because Saddam Hussein didn't comply (and the inspectors found nothing) the Americans decided to bomb the place and hunt down Saddam - liberating the people of that region was just a reason to gain support. Bamford's chapter 'War' (pages 143-158) documents this part of history from the intelligence agencies' perspective. He reveals both the tactics used, and how even intelligence staff suspected things weren't right and that they were being manipulated, just like the rest of us.

One quotation (Adrienne J. Kinne p.149) is as follows: "I am greatly fearful of what has been happening with our country, and our Constitution... and I just kind of saw in those two years of service how things drastically changed for the worse. Part of me will always regret not having upheld my oath of military service to the fullest extent that I should have. You know as a soldier we take an oath to defend the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic." Kinne later became part of Iraq Veterans Against the War [] Although at the same time Bamfords notes have the contradictory quote from Kinne: "We're going to bomb those barbarians", from an interview March 13, 2008.

Another interviewie, [David Murfee] Faulk [who allegedly monitored the phone calls of countless Americans overseas, from a Georgia listening post] [] when talking about IEDs said on p.150-1: "...we killed a lot of innocent people, but I have no way of knowing ... A lot of people don't really care about that ... And that was one of the reasons I got out - to actually have to do that and know that people are going to live or die based on that is something I just can't live with. It's not the kind of mistake I want to make." The reality of the use of IEDs is that, as Bamford points out: "few senior NSA officials [those who are gathering the intelligence for targets] ever left the comfort of their eighth-floor suite of offices and visited the [Iraq] war zone." I think this is a serious question we need to pursue with the use of armed drones - devices which remove all but the slightest hint of human decision making, and the morals that every human being should live with - I don't think people should command others (or devices) to end the lives of others if they wouldn't be prepared to put their own hand's around that person's neck and end their life while that person's family stood by and watched.

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Overcoming Anger and Irritability by William Davies
 - A self-help guide using Cognitive Behavioral Techniques

This is one of those books, a self-help guide, that I have picked up from my local library to enable me to gain some further insight into a particular topic. I don't think I feel the need to turn to self-help books to address my own issues as such, but in reading some such books I do put myself into the mindset of that scenario and think "would this book help me". Rarely I think self-help books would help me. I find they oversimplify a topic or issue (or perhaps that's because I'm not actually reading the book in the way it was intended), I find them very repetitive - repeating the same scenarios time and time again - the authors making too big an attempt to think of every possible scenario their readers might actually be experiencing, and at worst, (because of the oversimplified and repetitive approach), come across as condescending. The irony, for this particular title, is that I might come away from this book feeling irritated!

Actually, my empathic abilities meant that in reading each of the scenarios, I connected with each of the people in the repeated cases and was left feeling frustrated by the example reactions and the author's proposed solutions.

Take this example case. There is a guy having a drink at a bar. The door war faulty so it wouldn't automatically close after each person came in. When each person came in they left the door open, causing a cold draft. The guy having the drink gets increasingly annoyed and by the fifth person blows his top at that person. The author's rational alternative solution for the guy was to politely ask each person coming into the bar to close the door. Personally I find the prospect of doing that annoying. My solution would have been to mention the problem to the barkeeper/owner of the establishment - perhaps they weren't aware of the problem - perhaps they are, and are awaiting for someone to repair the door. If the natural behaviour of each person entering the bar was to leave the door open then one could expect more of the same, beyond the fifth person to enter, regardless of me blowing my top, so if I wasn't happy with sitting in a draft, and the barkeeper didn't opt to close the door for me after each person entered, I'd either sit somewhere away from the draft, or leave (again making the faulty door the concern of the barkeeper) causing the establishment a potential loss of further trade from myself (if I was to stay for more drinks, or even making me think twice about drinking there again, at least until the door was repaired.)

It's not all bad news and annoyance in the book though. The main reason I picked up this particular book was because of news headlines at the time regarding the links between cynical thinking and dementia. This book was the closest reference I could find - I figured cynical thinking is a form of negative thinking and must have similar effects on the body and personal well-being as being angry and irritable. The introduction also draw links too, in the form of highlighting the benefits of psychotherapy - I figured that the techniques used to overcome the negative thoughts that cause people to become angry and irritated, could be adopted to overcome cynical thoughts - the way people think being the key: "it has become clear that specific patterns of thinking are associated with a range of psychological problems and that treatments which deal with those styles of thinking are highly effective." By treatments the author means 'cognitive behavior therapy' [CBT] and only medical treatment for extreme cases. Davies points out that "The pioneer in this enterprise [CBT] was an American psychiatrist, Professor Aaron T. Beck, who developed a theory of depression which emphasized the importance of people's depressed styles of thinking'"

This backs up my belief that positive thinking is the way forward, and it reflects what I have read in other books. You can read more about this in my blog article which responds to the current news "Cynics more likely to suffer from dementia."

As well as reading the introduction to this book while I was in the library, I also flicked through the index. I noticed 'Caffeine' was mentioned with specific pages on 221-4. I have noticed caffeine to have effects on my own way of thinking and health, both when I was drinking more and when I tried to go without.

In addition to caffeine (and the use of other drugs), some other pointers I am mindful of (while it seems others are not and instead turn to medication to 'fix' a problem) are introduced on pages 66-67 (and discussed in more detail in the second part on pages 215-243, routine, exercise, diet, sleep, and stress:

Routine: it is very important to maintain a fairly consistent routine in terms of times of eating and sleeping, to maintain a steady 'circadian rhythm'. Otherwise you find yourself in a permanent state of 'jetlag', which is very disruptive.

Exercise: humans are built for activity, and during phases when we don't get this we are liable to be that much more irritable.

Diet: some people eat lots of sugar-rich food which sends their blood sugar level sky-high and then correspondingly low. Other people feed themselves so poorly that they are effectively suffering from malnutrition.

Drugs: routinely consumed drugs such as caffeine, alcohol and nicotine are vastly underestimated in their effect. Recreational drugs can also devastate one's mood.

Sleep: getting insufficient sleep on a regular basis is bad news indeed.

Stress: having too much to do, too many pressures on you, tasks you find difficult to achieve, and other life stresses take a severe toll on your moods.

The author then goes on to include social factors, but I consider these to be external, and, if we can improve all of the above (which are within our control), then we will surely be in a better position to handle challenging social situations with a positive attitude.

Like other self-help books, this one is broken down into two parts. The first part claiming to give you all the background insight or "theory", and the second part largely questionnaires and tasks (such as keeping a diary)... or "bumph" as I tend to perceive it (especially when there are lots of blank lines where you're requested to fill in your own answers... something that doesn't work so well when the book is borrowed from the library). The second part is supposed to provide you with the "techniques for resolving irritability and anger", but the dividing line doesn't seem to be that clear and there is a lot of repetition going on. In fact it took me longer to read all of the information in part two, and I skipped all of the tasks and repeated scenarios.

Typically, and again, I find this approach to be condescending - I like to think that by the end of the first half I've read and understood the topic and can start to, mentally, work out a way forward on my own. The way such books can be presented, especially this one with its 12/14 point font size, well spaced out pages and plain and simple diagrams, makes me imagine the authors have also used the content to produce Power Point slides for presentations on the topic. Such a presentation, I can imagine, might form a series that spans six weeks, with a day for each with irritability-inflicting caffeine laced throughout, but the book, instead, can be churned through in a day (coffee optional).

One such diagram that author provides is the flow chart illustrating Trigger - Appraisal/Judgement - Response. Some of the charts expand on this but these three parts (by including things like Inhibitions, which affect how/if we respond) are the basis for all. While the second half of the book is about "Sorting it out", it does still continue to provide interesting information. The author goes on to list (on pages 110-112) a "number of labels that are given to the different categories of unhelpful appraisals that people make.":

Selective perception - This means ... a person sees part of the story but not the whole story...

Mind-reading - ... [jumping to conclusions, assuming someone is thinking a certain way, in the case of becoming irritated by someone, you guess their thoughts to be negative ones. This negativity, in the case of 'mind-reading' is a reflection of negative thoughts and tendencies being reflected on others.]

Awfulizing - ... whereby, when we don't get what we want, we will see the situation as 'awful' [ie through the eyes of negativity. There is a wonderful German word I have discovered, weltuntergangsstimmung, which basically means behaving like a situation is "the end of the world"].

Use of emotive language - ... when we make our appraisals and judgements [often] ... the 'conversation' is with ourselves. This being the case, the language can be even more emotive. [The concept behind the book Every Word Has Power, is that our language has power, and I think it is important for a healthy person to speak, and think, positively.]

Overgeneralization - This is where we notice a particular observation which is true ... and then make a sweeping generalization from that fact. [again, to affirm negative thoughts.] Overgeneralizations are very common and usually very destructive.

The author spells out these unhelpful appraisals, as do I, to show readers that, yes there bay be a bad situation that happens which we have no control over, which irritates us or makes us angry, but by employing any of the above within our mindset we paint the picture in a darker light, which doesn't help anyone or ourselves (and this is something we go have control over.) Obviously, it can be difficult to change our habits of seeing things in a particular way. However, a concept the author mentions that I find particularly fascinating, and one that is really the key to improving things is that "as far as the brain is concerned it doesn't really matter much whether you do things in reality or in imagination. What this means is that simply reviewing thing in [a positive] way ... and simply imagining thinking in the most cost-effective way is ... as good as actually doing it at the time of the event - in terms of changing your patterns of thinking..."

It is mentioned that you have to do this lots of times, like when you practice any new task, because you are essentially rewiring your brain, or opening up the neural pathways that reflect that new attitude or behaviour. The author likens this to beating a path through the jungle.

I think the power of thought is a great one, but the author follows this 'reviewing' phase with 'cementing'. I agree in large because it's all well and good thinking positively, like praying or meditating on a scenario, but you need to act on it and put those thoughts into practice. Self-help books that talk of some magical way of getting all what you desire in the world (perhaps like The Secret) rely on this tactic. You first plan your highly positive approach in your head, imagining what it is you want, and then when you talk to people you speak and act as if those things are actually reality. The author call this approach 'AA' - Alternative belief, and Action. Of course some people could potentially go from one unhealthy extreme to another. On page 199 the author points out that "we have to recognize that there's no law that says we should get wheat we want, any more than other people always get what they want."

It's good to review a situation that didn't go so well, and to be mindful of it. But the key is not to repeatedly think of how it went, but how you would have liked it to have went, because again, you train your brain for the latter in doing this. (p.163) On p.210 the advice is to "relive the situation, but give it a better ending. This, technically, is known as 'cognitive rehearsal'. It is very effective because, as mentioned before, the brain can't really tell whether you're doing things in reality or in imagination. So you are treading the path through the [neural] jungle, preparing [it] so that the next time a similar situation arises you're more likely to respond in the way you want rather than in a way your habit or your anger tells you."

Why we might be prone to thinking negatively are discussed in chapters 11 (Beliefs), 13 (Inhibitions), and 15 (Mood). Indeed our upbringing, probably specifically growing up around people with negative attitudes or not having our negative tendencies addressed early on, will mean we have to consciously address how we think about things once we mature to a point where we are capable of this.

Role-models: page 161-162

"Following a good example: page 207-208

In conclusion, the advice given in this book is based on professional experience and there is little doubting that the advice is sound and logical. I'm pleased to have noticed a lot of causes and I have developed a lot of the techniques on my own, like keeping a good sleeping pattern and routines, getting regular exercise and not drinking too much coffee.

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Vulcan Test Pilot by Tony Blackman

As a child, say, some twenty years ago, I would stay with my grandparents for a while during the summer holidays. They lived in Coventry (in the UK) and one of our outings was to the Midland Air Museum at Coventry Airport. My most distinctive memory of my visit is climbing up inside the cockpit of the Vulcan Bomber on display there.

The photograph I took when I visited the Vulcan Bomber on display
at the Midland Air Museum, many years ago.

My suvenier, a bookmark, still in my possesion from my visit!

Something inspiring came from that experience and I still think of the Vulcan Bomber fondly. Thanks to some recent documentaries on the BBC I know a little more about the Avro Vulcan and the other two V-Bombers, the Victor and the Valiant. I also know more about the history surrounding them and their raison d'etre - things I didn't grasp in my childhood.

TV snapshots of Vulcans on display back in the day.

The web and Wikipedia have been a good source of further information. I have enjoyed reading about how the Vulcan developed, first with the 'true delta' Mk1 and then the Mk2, and the issues of 'buffeting'. Reading about disasters and watching video clips of craft disintegrating in flight has been entertaining too - it is a strange thing to find entertaining, like watching the Formula One racing only for the crashes.

It was when I was visiting a client that I noticed this book on his bookshelf - Vulcan Test Pilot by Tony Blackman. I started a conversation with my client on the topic and he kindly lent me the book to read. Having now read the book from cover to cover I can say it really is a great insight into not only the Vulcan itself, but also the history of the time and test piloting new aircraft in general, especially back in the 1950s before computer-aided-design, computer simulations and their use combined with wind tunnel technology. Today it seems we turn to computers for everything, but the engineers and designers back then showed what was achievable with the right skills.

I found it a little remarkable that it is unlikely that a Vulcan ever reached the speed of sound/Mach 1 - perhaps my naivety of the capabilities of jet-powered aircraft led me to assume all could reach and exceed such speeds, after all, Concorde could achieve Mach 2. The Vulcan would start to 'buffet' at close to Mach 1, a problem that was discovered with the Mk1 and persisted with the new wing shape in the Mk2. I did like reading about how a Vulcan, being a large bomber, could actually outmanoeuvre an F-15 at high altitude. Aircraft have their limitations and of course the Vulcan was no exception - I have learned that from the book.

The last chapter of the book is dedicated to the last flying Vulcan, XH558. This particular Vulcan was actually the first Mk2 and it seems quite fitting that it should be the last one capable of flying. I have learned that the stresses and strains (or fatigue) that an aircraft (especially of this type) suffers throughout each flight cause its deterioration. This deterioration is something that is predicted, monitored and calculated so that an aircraft can be grounded before it becomes unsafe. This will become a reality for XH558, it may fly for its last time this year (or next), something I find strangely emotional. I have yet to see a Vulcan fly (except from video footage), so I'm keeping an eye on the Vulcan to the Sky project to make sure I get my chance.

Tony Blackman has done a good job of recounting his experiences as a test pilot and making what turns out to be very much a technical topic, quite readable for the lay-person. Now I only wonder if there are similar books for the Vickers Valiant and the Hadley Page Victor so that I can compare!

You can read more here:

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Castles in the Air by Judy Corbett

It just so happened that I was moving into my own derelict castle in Wales just as discovered this book in a library!

Ok, so I'm not actually living in a castle, although an Englishman's home is his castle, even if I'm living in Wales. And there are leaks. But this book did feel very fitting, and it was an entertaining read. I may well pay Gwydir a visit one day and have a nosey at how things have progressed since the book was from

You can read more here:

Brian's Little LibraryFast-forward now to 2020, and I found my very own copy of this book.


The Arabs: A History by Eugene Rogan

Considering this book weighs in at over 700 pages, while I was reading it I thought how easy it was to read. I have read long history-based books before and often find the process a hard slog. I don't think there was anything particularly gripping about it, but I found it interesting enough.

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Greed by Richard Girling


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The Chilling Stars by Henrik Svensmark and Nigel Calder
 - A Cosmic View of Climate Change

This book basically explains how it is actually solar activity which is the cause of climate change.

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The Atlantis Blueprint by Rand Flem-Ath and Colin Wilson

The Atlantis Blueprint

I read this book back in 2007 and now decided it was time to re-read it.

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Brian's Little Library


The Sphinx & The Megaliths by John Ivimy

The Sphinx and the Megaliths

I read this book back in 2006 and now decided it was time to re-read it.

Brian's Little Library


The Children's Encycolpedia by Arthur Mee

Many years ago, when I was a child, I inherited a ten volume set of Arthur Mee's Children's Encyclopedia. I had never read more than one or two articles over the years, but I had always liked the idea of one day reading them all - it looked to be quite a feat! Well over the course of 2013, in between reading other books, I read my way through Volume One. Only nine more to go!

Brian's Little Library


Because some of my reviews on books have increasingly included vast notes and quotations, I would like to point out that I do recognise that these books are protected by the Copyright act. I put my views online to share with other internet browsers in the hope that little snippets of information may be useful and my views interesting. I have always included links to the online retailer Amazon and encourage anyone that finds any title particularly interesting (thanks to what I have to say) to either buy a copy or borrow one from their local library.


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