Daily Archives: July 28, 2011

Don’t know much about Human Beings

I don’t know much about human beings these days, though I used to think I knew everything worth knowing about them.  Putting a little distance between myself and the daily onslaught of news, spending my time in my own company instead of in the company of other people, and watch/listening instead of speaking when I’m around others has forced a realization that I don’t know spit about these creatures.

But it’s also clear to me that I didn’t know spit about them back when I knew a lot about them.  Including me.  I was in too close and personal, too much a part of the herd, to see what was happening around me.  A person inside a jetliner going several hundred miles an hour can throw a rock from the tail section all the way to the pilot and when it plunks against his scalp that rock will have traveled further than Babe Ruth ever hit a baseball.  A fly inside the cabin of a jet fighter is supersonic when it goes from the back of the cabin to the front.

In a sense, the same phenomenon is at work when humans are in the company of other humans.  Bunched up together in a stadium, concert hall, skyscraper, there’s an invisible wall around them disguising the fact the rocks they throw are going further and the flies are flying faster than anyone had any right to expect.  The person in the next seat, the stewardess serving meals and drinks, the movie playing  seems real to them, while the 20,000 feet to the ground doesn’t, while the outside rushing by doesn’t seem real at all, and all that microscopic activity on the ground below them doesn’t count for anything.

Back when I rode airliners, worked in buildings full of people, drove around inside a vehicle in heavy traffic and kept track of events I knew a lot about human beings.  Same as you do now.

But now that I’ve backed away, put some distance between myself and humanity, to me they look more like chickens than they ever looked like human beings.  I understand chickens fairly well, but I don’t know squat about human beings.

Old Jules

Simon and Garfunkel — I am a Rock

Bookstack – Quick Reviews

Bottom to top

Leavenworth Papers #17 – The Petsamo-Kirkenes Operation: Soviet Breakthrough and Pursuit in the Arctic, October 1944, Major James F Gebhardt,Combat Studies Institute, US Army Command and General Staff College, 1948

Detailed examination of the Soviet success in the offensive attempting to identify what the US military should learn from it. Concluded light infantry to be the weapon of choice in arctic warfare. Examines the lessons learned by the Germans fighting under those conditions.

Good read for those interested in such matters.

Hidden Horrors – Japanese War Crimes in World War II, Yuki Tanaka, Transitions: Asians and Asian Americans Series, 1996

The Contents describes it better than I can:

1. The Sandakan POW Camp and the Geneva Convention

2. The Sandakan Death Marches and the Elimination of POWs

3. Rape and War: The Japanese Experience

4. Judge Webb and Japanese Cannibalism

5. Japanese Biological Warfare Plans and Experiments on POWs

6. Massacre of Civilians at Kavieng

Conclusion: Understanding Japanese Brutality in the Asia-Pacific War

Tanaka elaborates on the collaboration between the US and Japan to cover-up and downplay many of these events because of the post-WWII need for Japan as a strong Pacific partner against Communist aggression. Many were not investigated, prosecuted, even mentioned again in public media.

Fifty years after the Japanese surrender Tanaka writes: “Consequently, we Japanese have failed to recognize ourselves as aggressors, still less as perpetrators of war crimes. Moreover, because of the widespread perception of ourselves as victims of war, the notion of “victim” gradually expanded even to the point that the Japanese state was also seen as a victim of war.”

Reveals various deals made between the US Command under Dugout Doug and the Japanese commanders who conducted human lab experiments on POWs. Immunity from prosecution in return for everything learned in the experiments.

The King’s Own – Captain Frederick Marryat

Marryat’s a worthy read. He was a British Navy Captain when he retired in the 1820s and began publishing fiction works based on his experiences. His writings almost certainly were foundations for Horatio Hornblower and a lot of other sea yarn characters in fiction series during the 20th Century.

Marryat’s the daddy and granddaddy of them all.

Flashman and the Angel of the Lord, George MacDonald Frazer

The Flashman series is possibly the most laughing [and among the most educational] historical fiction series ever written.

I thoroughly resent Frazer dying before he wrote several more of them, though I re-read the ones he did write at least one time every decade. He’s welcome to resent me dying off without reading them again if it works out that way.

The Flashman Papers in Chronological order

Flashman [Britain, India and Afghanistan, 1839-42]

Royal Flash [England, 1842-43, Germany 1847-48]

Flashman’s Lady [England, Borneo, Madagascar 1842-45]

Flashman and the Mountain of Light [Indian Punjab 1845-46]

Flash for Freedom [England, West Africa, USA, 1848-49]

Flash and the Redskins [USA 1849-50 and 1875-76]

Flashman at the Charge [England, Crimea and Central Asia 1854-55]

Flashman in the Great Game [Scotland, England1856-58]

Flashman and the Angel of the Lord [India, South Africa, USA, 1858-59]

Flashman and the Dragon [China, 1860]

The Engines of God, Jack McDevitt

Respectable and readable sci-fi.

The Conscience of the Rich, CP Snow

Strange and unsettling book. Published during the 1950s the title’s an anachronism to such an extent the reader feels a bit lost at the beginning, figuring on some class warfare thing that would have found that name a decade later.

In fact, it’s probably the book Maugham would have written in Of Human Bondage if he’d been writing about a family of Jewish aristocrats in Britain during the 1920s and 1830s. The intractable controls imposed by the Jewish family on personal choices of family members in almost every facet of their lives.

Unsettling, but a worthy read.

Telegraph Days – Larry McMurtry

That original McMurtry book where he decided to become Louis L’Amour wasn’t bad, certainly a lot better than some that came later. I’d put Telegraph Days somewhere up near the top of his work since he became the great American novelist trying to push L’Amour out of the way.

The Time it Never Rained – Elmer Kelton

Good read about that pivotal time in the relationship between independent ranchers in the west and the US government, coincident with the drought of the 1950s.

Rumpole’s Last Case – John Mortimer

Another good Rumpole. What more needs saying?

The Black Throne – Roger Zelazny and Fred Saberhagen

Saberhagen books were always considered safe to buy at a quarter in the thrift stores until this one. I imagine it wasn’t him dropped the ball, but maybe it was just a pot-boiler for both of them. The writing craft is what’s at fault. Everything’s there, crisp dialogue, plot, characters with some depth. Good command of the language.

But something’s missing. I wouldn’t spend a quarter on it next time if I can remember when I see it again in a thrift store.

Other blogs you might enjoy:


Retired university librarian. Oblique political humor of a liberal slant, frequently a smiler, sometimes a chuckler or horselaugher.
If you know more about politics than I do you might enjoy it even more. To me they’re just faces sometimes attached to names, but fun and interesting.

Just An Earth-Bound Misfit


“Airplanes, cats, guns, war, the more than occasional rant about the party of the Confederacy, the spinelessness of the Democrats and crap about anything else that flits through the somewhat offbeat mind of an armed lesbian pinko as she slides down the Razor Blade of Life.”

I’m not crazy about a lot of the content, but the airplane pics she posts are worth the price of admission and reading the posts offers a different slant on things worth chewing on.

An Old Texan Remembers

Trips, weather, just whatever thoughts move him to post them any given day.

This is dedicated to All you old guys who read here:
Guy Clark – Boats to Build