Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Sapiens

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind
443 pages
© 2014  Yuval Noah Harari




In Sapiens, Yuval Harari presents a natural history of the human race from its flowering across Eurasia to a worried reflection on the prospects of of technohumanism. The book's ambition is enormous, its execution simultaneously intriguing and annoying.  Its broad strokes are fascinating; the author distills all of human history into a series of 'revolutions' and draws lessons from each. The details between all those strokes are the bothersome bit.  Harari begins with the Cognitive revolution, which is still mysterious but resulted in humans developing language and telling stories. He moves then to the Agricultural revolution, and then to the Scientific.   In the 21st century, we stand on the precipice of another -- one that may destroy us, either by physical force or by eroding every conception of what it means to be human.

After an opening chapter of strictly-factual anthropology, Harari shifts into broad-strokes historic commentary. He introduces the agricultural revolution as the worst deal man ever struck, trading as we did an active, independent lifestyle for sedentary control -- gaining the ability to sustain larger populations, but at the cost of health, happiness, and freedom. Agriculture gave rise to empires, which he does not scorn but views with marginal favor, seeing them as powerful forces that keep the peace and bring people together under common law and trade networks. A keystone of Harari's perception of mankind is that we are a mythic species, a story-telling species. The much-abused word myth is not a synonym for falsehood, but rather a story of meaning -- one which binds the people who tell it together, imparting a common understanding of the world.  The Declaration of Independence, for instance, constitutes a myth; not because it is a falsehood, but because the American "story",  the tale of colonists standing up for themselves and throwing off the yoke of arbitrary authority in the name of natural rights, is one that forms the basis of American identity, even after the Constitution which followed it is nothing but dirt caked inside the imperial boot.

More to the point, though, Harari asserts that natural rights, law, money, and other core concepts are likewise usual fictions with no material existence. So long as we all believe in them, acting as though they are real, they serve us well. Religions are the ultimate expression of this mythic power -- often being not merely an ideology, but an entire corpus of ideas and institutions that bind every part of human life together in the same story.  Interestingly, Harari uses a definition for religion -- a system of values and norms based on superhuman order --  which is broad enough to include liberalism, communism, capitalism, nationalism and Nazism.   No doubt that tweaks a few noses.   Those ideologies' connection with the idea of mythos is certainly worth exploring in depth, if only so people realize that the power of ideas has a deeper source than we realize -- and care should be exercised.  The examples he uses are a mixed bag; some have obvious religious connections (classic liberalism has the underlying assumption of natural rights; communism has the historic dialectic), while others are more of a stretch, in part because definitions are up in the air.  He references capitalism, for instance, but with no definition  --  is he referring merely to the private ownership of goods,  or to belief in Adam Smith's invisible hand?

Harari manages to combine constant dismay at what humans have done to the world with an apparent hope that we'll keep doing more of it. That is, he's seemingly optimistic that economic globalization will create a world-empire that will do for the globe that Rome did for Europe, but constantly bewails  the effect we have on the world, chronicling extinctions and such. We have little positive to show for our time on Earth, he concludes miserably, and expects still worse from the future as we begin doping ourselves with soma to hide from the misery of existence.

Although I found a few ideas here very intriguing on the whole I was not particularly impressed. Let's take extinctions, for instance: he blames every extinction since the dinosaurs at the hand of man, but doesn't connect these to other parts of his own narrative -- for example , what if people began farming because they had few other choices,   competition having exhausted hunting and foraging opportunities?  The natural world is not some garden, a static thing to  be taken care of; it teems with life and death.  Harari speaks with absolute confidence on a great many subjects, crossing disciplines as deep and broad as the Pacific in the same breath.  I can only think of Will and Ariel Durant, who -- after fourteen thousand pages dwelling on human history, religion, music,  and philosophy -- wrote only in humble awareness of how little they knew.  Sapiens is replete with confidently announced facts with no footnote as reference -- and no reference in reality, sometimes. To use one particularly pungent example: Harari asserts that in 1860, a majority of Americans agreed that enslaved blacks were persons who should be citizens, and that a bloody civil war was required to get the South to agree.  That laughably bad reference to the Civil War is not merely inaccurate in its simplistic nature: it is inaccurate in every respect.  When did they have this national argument about slaves and citizens? Surely Harari isn't referencing the 1860 election, in which Lincoln  -- the inspiration for South Carolina's secession --  maintained he had no interest whatsoever in  forcefully eliminating slavery where it existed.  The extension of the franchise came later, as a part of Reconstruction in an effort to keep the old elite from voting itself back into power.  

The most interesting aspect of Sapiens for me is Harari's emphasis on man as a creature who lives in myths, but that discussion needed more nuance. To refer to everything not material as fictitious is absurd: one might as well say that society doesn't exist, because it's a relationship between people and not a tangible thing in itself.  The relationship exists in our minds, as memories -- it is not mere fiction. Harari recognizes the importance of our mental reality, I think, but his language intimates that we're all living in agreed-upon lies -- a spectre no less dispiriting than his fearful forecast,  a world wherein people no longer resist death and discouragement by creating beautiful things together, but instead dope themselves with soma and drowsily acquiesce.

In short,  Sapiens has moments of interest as a polemic; in terms of historical substance, it is far more superficial than Guns, Germs, and Steels to which it is often compared.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Danger Heavy Goods

Danger Heavy Goods: Driving the Toughest, Most Dangerous Roads in the World
Also known as: Juggernaut: Trucking to Saudi Arabia
© 1988 Robert Hutchinson
288 pages

"Makes Smokey and the Bandit Look Like Smokey and the Boy Scouts"


When is a lorry not a lorry? When it's leaving the country, according to the British drivers here. A continental trip makes a lorry a bonafide truck, and the run covered here puts even American transcontinental trips to shame. In Danger: Heavy Goods,  Robert Author recalls a run from England to Saudi Arabia he participated in in the early 1980s, at a time when Arabian ports were so overcrowded that ships sat at sea for weeks waiting for their turn to unload.  He takes readers through a string of countries which no longer exist, across the Bosporus Bridge, and down to Ar'ar by way of  Iraq -- which is invading Iran. Well, golly.

Where to start with this book?  It is a snapshot of Europe in the early 1980s, where Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, and the DDR were still destinations and  Gorbachev is trying to reform the Soviet Union by banning alcohol. It is a road trip of epic proportions and epic aggravation. Time and again the drivers that Hutchinson partnered predict that the middle east run is doomed. The pre-EU customs inspections of Europe -- the frequent scrutiny of their records, the endless paperwork -- was bad enough, but the middle east is a bonafide nightmare. From Turkey to Saudi Arabia, every official from customs agents to parking attendants wants their cut,  a little bit to grease the palm The preferred bribe is cigarettes, and every country has its most-favored denomination: Turkey is Marlboro country,  Syria swears by Gitanes, and Rothmans rule in Saudi Arabia.   Bureaucratic delays are endless, some of them lasting as long as a week, and once the cigarettes are exhausted anything else is up for grabs. English newspapers, catalogs, canned food?  The amount of aggravation drivers throughout Eurasia receive at the hands of customs officials in Iraq and Saudi Arabia  amaze the author: it's like they don't want goods.

If one can get by the customs agents without being arrested for mysterious circumstances, there's still everything else to contend with. Take your pick -- roads that turn into bobsled runs as soon as they're wet,  or threaten to throw trucks into rig-destroying quagmire if they stray from the beaten path. And which is more dangerous, Turkish prostitutes or the fact that Iran and Iraq are bombing one another? Tough call.  There are plenty of surprises which far friendlier, though. Although drivers on the mid-east run are technically in competition with one another, there's a mild level of camaraderie in the face of a common enemy, customs. In one chapter, the British drivers warn a drunken Turk of a heavy police presence despite Turks being the main rival of British firms for transeuropean traffic. (They warn him in German, while in Czechoslovakia.  German is also used as a go-between language in Ar'ar,  Saudi Arabia.)

Danger is a most interesting 'memoir', delivered by a guide who has an honest interest in every country he visits, frequently regaling readers with historical background on the places he and his coworkers are passing through in their two trucks.  Virtually every aspect of the run has been overtaken by history, though. I haven't been able to find any stats on truck traffic to Saudi Arabia from western Europe, but with a few decades of oil money sunk into the ports I doubt it's as thick as it was when featured here

Related:
Truck this For a Living: Tales of a UK Lorry Driver, Gary Mottram

Epic of Gilgamesh

The Epic of Gilgamesh
© 1997 verse translation by Danny P. Jackson
116 pages



When I threw in with the Classics Club, I knew the Epic of Gilgamesh had to be  on there. The oldest known recorded story? How could it be missed?  I've had intentions of reading it since encountering an excerpt of its Flood narrative in high school world literature, and have even listened to recitations of the drama. For those who have never encountered it: Gilgamesh is a king whose subjects behold him in fear and trembling. So potent is he that he gets away with nicking people's wives on their wedding night. It's good to be the king, no? The people of Uruk plea to the gods for relief from the king, and in response they send him...a bro.  A wild man named Enkidu, who alone is Gilgamesh's match for sheer manliness. He is utterly untamed, in tune with the animals and such, until a priestess seduces him with her feminine wiles (and by this translation, she literally jumps him). Abandoned by his  four-legged friends in the forest, Enkidu goes to meet Gilgamesh, whose reputation precedes him. After a good brawl to shake hands with,  these two men of power start taking down monsters and cutting down trees. They attract the rage of some of the gods -- especially that of Ishtar, who attempts to seduce Gilgamesh but is forcefully refused by him delivering a list of all the men she's  used and destroyed --   and Enkidu dies, deflating Gilgamesh's sails. Having previously been blithe about death, Gilgamesh is now hit with its reality, and goes to seek out the only man who cheated death, Utnapishtim, he who survived the Great Flood.  Utnapishtim attempts to dissuade him from the immortality quest, but then clues him in on a secret plant -- one which is promptly stolen by a snake. Gilgamesh resigns himself to making the best of life that he can, and that's' that. (Unless you count the last chapter, which involves Enkidu and a brief visit to the Netherworld.)

Anyone who has read Genesis will see shared aspects and perhaps dimly remember that Abraham originally hailed from the city of Ur, just down the river from the site of Uruk. Most obvious is the Flood story, of course, but so is the snake costing man the secret of immortal life. I found it interesting when I first heard this story that Enkidu's knowledge of woman immediately ruptured his 'one with nature' status.  In Genesis, Adam and Eve aren't said to 'know' each other until they've been severed from their own natural paradise and put to work as farmers, but there's still a tenuous link between sexuality and alienation from the natural world.   I faintly remember reading that  the agricultural Sumerian religious rites involved sex (see the priestess as a reminder), so perhaps that's the connection: he who would control nature cannot be at home in it, and Enkidu does start learning about farming from the priestess after they leave.   Other, more distant similarities can be found between Gilgamesh and other ancient stories:  Gilgamesh's refusal of a divine seducer, for instance, brings to mind Circe and Odysseus.

Not included in this translation are the 20 new lines discovered a couple of years ago in Iraq, which add a bit to the Enkidu and Gilgamesh adventures. Apparently they meet monkeys in the forest, and the wild beast Humbaba is presented a forest-king who is entertained. That might explain why Humbaba appears like a man in so much Sumerian art, though that could be laziness or something else.  I'm glad this is the translation of Gilgamesh my library has:  it's rendered in verse in approachable English, and features 20 illustrations that invoke woodcuts.

Related

Friday, December 2, 2016

The Flame Bearer

The Flame Bearer
© 2016  Bernard Cornwell
304 pages


The Scots were my enemies.
The West Saxons were my enemies.
Bebbanburg’s garrison was my enemy.
Ieremias was my enemy.
Einar the White was my enemy.

So fate had better be my friend.


When the library received this book, I mimicked Johnny Carson's character "Carnac" and held it to my head, intoning thus: "Uhtred of Bebbanburg is on the verge of recapturing his family fortress, stolen from him decades ago. But then comes a rider with news that a friend is in peril and needs help!  Torn between his lifelong ambition and keeping troth with his friends, Uhtred reluctantly rides away and sees his opportunity fade away yet again."

Page twenty, folks. I'm a bonafide psychic. Of course, I mock with love. I have read a ludicrous amount of Bernard Cornwell, and the Saxon Stories is responsible.  But there are ten books in this series, and lately I've been wondering when Uhtred is going to capture his old castle so he can die in peace already. He's had his foot in the door -- the castle and death's -- a few times before, and every time something  happens off in Northumbria or Wessex or some other heartily-named place. A woman is usually involved, and off he goes to rescue his friends. But now, with The Flame Bearer, the reign of teasing is over. This time the torturedly complex politics of Britain -- Saxons fighting over who should rule the free kingdoms of Wessex and Northumbria, those same kingdoms plotting against one another and their mutual enemies the Danes and Scots --  will bring Uhtred back to the gates of Bebbanberg, that fortress of few gates and mighty ramparts.

One of the greatest pleasures of the Saxon Stories series has been Cornwell's flitations with oratory. Perhaps inspired by Danish warrior lore,  Uhtred often chants his accomplishments to frighten his enemies. He is Uhtred who killed Ubba by the sea, who now as a greybeard  has a reputation that quivers bowels across an island.  Cornwell's flair for dramatic narration is unmatched, especially while ruminating on the horrors -- and joys -- of battle. I'm not sure how he does it, since I'm tolerably certain that Cornwell has not in fact fought in a shield wall.  But this is a story that needs a few passages of Epic Narration, because here Uhtred is finally doing what he has yearned to do since he was a boy, and it will require equal parts deception and epic kickassery.  (Pardon my Ænglis.)

The Flame Bearer also exhibits Cornwell's usual gift for funny dialogue, though not quite as much of it.  Uhtred is too old to take many people seriously;  he has killed too many great men to have any use for the young pups strutting and pretending on the stage. A paragraph of my view for Warriors of the Storm stands:

Need I give the usual praise? Dramatic prose of thunder flashing as armies trudge through the mud to meet destiny,  quick wits amusing each other in conversation, bombastic speeches and a few sly jokes.  All the usual Cornwell strengths are here, though it's a quick book so they're over more quickly. The twists and turns aren't as sharp here, possibly because once the reader has marched with Uhtred for so long, one gets used to his sudden bolts of inspiration [...]. 

That ended with "Next Stop: Bebbanburg!", but Cornwell mentions in his historic note that the series isn't over.  This is the story of England's beginning, and now that the spectre of his father has been quietened, now Uhtred of Bebbanburg has reclaimed his legacy, I look forward to seeing his role in fulfilling Alfred's  vision of a united kingdom.




Wednesday, November 30, 2016

British Historical Fiction






Ancient and Legendary Britain
Stonehenge, Bernard Cornwell
The Winter King: A Story of Arthur, Bernard Cornwell
Enemy of God: A Story of Arthur, Bernard Cornwell
Excalibur: A Story of Arthur, Bernard Cornwell

Roman Britain
Under the Eagle, Simon Scarrow
The Eagle's Conquest, Simon Scarrow
When the Eagle Hunts, Simon Scarrow

The Birth of England: Anglo-Saxons and the Viking Era
The Last Kingdom, Bernard Cornwell
The Pale Horseman, Bernard Cornwell
Lords of the North, Bernard Cornwell
Sword Song: the Battle for London, Bernard Cornwell
The Burning Land, Bernard Cornwell
Death of Kings, Bernard Cornwell
The Pagan Lord, Bernard Cornwell
The Empty Throne, Bernard Cornwell
Warriors of the Storm, Bernard Cornwell
Finn Gall, James Nelson (IRISH EXTRA)
Dubh-Linn,  James Nelson. (IRISH EXTRA)

High Middle Ages
Captive Queen: A Novel of Eleanor of Acquitaine, Alison Weir
In a Dark Wood, Michael Cadnum
Here There Be Dragons, Sharon Penfield
The Archer's Tale, Bernard Cornwell
1356, Bernard Cornwell
Heretic, Bernard Cornwell
Azincourt, Bernard Cornwell

Tudors, Stewarts
Katherine of Aragon: the True Queen, Alison Weir
The Other Queen, Phillipa Gregory
The Lady Elizabeth, Alison Weir
The Marriage Game, Alison Weir
Armada, John Stack
Come Rack! Come Rope!Robert Hugh Benson
Innocent Traitor, Alison Weir

Age of Discovery and Early Empire
A Conspiracy of Paper, David Liss
A Spectacle of Corruption, David Liss
The Fort: A Novel of the Revolutionary War, Bernard Cornwell
Redcoat, Bernard Cornwell
Sharpe's Tiger, Bernard Cornwell
Sharpe's Triumph, Bernard Cornwell
Sharpe's Fortress, Bernard Cornwell

England against the World: the Napoleonic Era
The Life and Times of Horatio Hornblower, C. Northcote Parkinson
Young Hornblower, C.S. Forester
Captain Horatio Hornblower, C.S. Forester
Commodore Hornblower, C.S. Forester
Lord Hornblower, C.S. Forester
Hornblower and the Hotspur, C.S. Forester
Hornblower during the Crisis, C.S. Forester
Admiral Hornblower in the West Indies, C.S. Forester
Master and Commander, Patrick O'Brien
Sharpe's Rifles, Bernard Cornwell
Sharpe's Eagle, Bernard Cornwell
Sharpe's Trafalgar, Bernard Cornwell
Sharpe's Havoc, Bernard Cornwell
Sharpe's Gold, Bernard Cornwell
Sharpe's Escape, Bernard Cornwell
Sharpe's Fury, Bernard Cornwell
Sharpe's Battle, Bernard Cornwell
Sharpe's Company, Bernard Cornwell
Sharpe's Sword, Bernard Cornwell
Sharpe's Enemy, Bernard Cornwell
Sharpe's Honor, Bernard Cornwell
Sharpe's Regiment, Bernard Cornwell
Sharpe's Siege, Bernard Cornwell
Sharpe's Revenge, Bernard Cornwell
Waterloo, Bernard Cornwell
Sharpe's Christmas, Bernard Cornwell


...and thereafter
Gallows Thief, Bernard Cornwell
Aces over Ypres, John Stack (WW1)
Enigma, Robert Harris (WW2)


*cackles*








Conclave

Conclave
© 2016 Robert Harris
484 pages


Inside the Casa Santa Marta, the elders of Rome are again assembling to choose the next bishop of Rome, and thereby the governor of Catholics the world over.  The Dean of the College of Cardinals labors in sadness prompted not only by the death of his friend and boss, but by the fact that he now has to manage the conclave of cardinals,  in which over a hundred men are hidden in a secret chamber until such time as they elect St. Peter's successor.  Although it is an election covered in the shroud of holiness, it is an election still, and the cardinals who vote are men of ambition. Their desires and foibles bring endless complication -- blackmail and simony do stir the pot --  leading to numerous dramatic shifts during successive ballots. The finale, which unfolds in a Europe smoldering under terrorist attack, includes another twist ending which proved an Achilles heel, for me.  Anyone who has followed my reading here knows I read anything Harris writes, delighting in his diverse settings (Rome, Cold War Russia, Belle Epoque France...and so on!)   Everything that lead ups to it was first-rate: the descriptions of  places and processes within the Vatican usually hidden away, the arguments between the cardinals over what sort of man and what sort of direction were needed -- and then Harris has this Dan Brown, Angels and Demons moment in the last ten pages.  Ah, well.






Monday, November 28, 2016

Columbine

Columbine
© 2009 Dave Cullen
417 pages



Columbine. I remember it, of course.  I was in eighth grade when Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold turned their high school into a bloody spectacle. That day on April 20th, 1999, is always referred to as a school shooting, but that label misses the point. Harris and Klebold weren't shooters, they were failed bombers.  They didn't turn the cafeteria and library red with blood because they had a score to settle with the jocks, they wanted to depart a world of inferiors in a blaze of glory.  Dave Cullen's Columbine is a disturbing history of the April attack, one which draws extensively from the corpus of material the two deliberately left behind.  Cullen's history has a target, though, as he aims to rebuke not only the media for creating and perpetuating various myths about the horror, but the sheriff's department for negligence and deception.   Most importantly, Cullen maintains that Harris and Klebold were not abused loners who 'snapped', but psychologically disturbed individuals who planned the attack for more than a year.

Columbine is a receptively easy read. Cullen is a journalist, and knows how to grease the runners to captivate readers with a story. The problem is the grisly subject -- or subjects. The graphic nature of the shootings isn't dwelt on overmuch, but through Cullen's research considerable time is spent in the head of Harris and Klebold. This is, to say the least, a toxic atmosphere. Cullen's thesis is that Harris was a clinical psychopath, one who could lead a double life. In society, he could be productive and charming, convincing adults into purchasing guns on his behalf, and even dating a twenty-something despite being a kid working at a pizza parlor.   By himself -- in his journals, with people he regarded as confederates -- Eric was full of contempt for society, for virtually everyone.  He acted out his contempt in 'missions' of petty vandalism and theft,  and when confronted by authority figures, could always manipulate them into believing he was repentant.  Eric was joined in these missions by Dylan Klebold, a depressive misfit who nontheless managed to snag a prom date; both boys had active social lives.

There is no doubt that the April attack was a methodically planned horror instead of a loner's 'snap'.  Not only did the boys ramble and rave in their bloodlust for months prior, but the equipment took time to purchase and put together --  for their bombs were homemade concoctions, based on plans from the internet.  The April 20th attack itself was a multi-stage drama of the horrific: first, a diversionary bomb in the outskirts of the city to draw police away, then several massive explosions would rock the school cafeteria at peak traffic time.  Hundreds would be killed by the inferno, and as students streamed out of the exits, Eric and Dylan would be waiting for them with intent of sweeping up survivors with gunfire  before their inevitable demise at the hands of the police. Still worse, their cars, parked in areas where emergency services would establish a perimeter, were rigged to blow after their deaths, adding still more chaos and death.  This is no impulsive revenge quest, but a premeditated campaign of war against the humanity they loathed. Fortunately for the students of Columbine,  all of the bombs failed to explode. and the murderous pair soon lost interested in shooting people after the first dozen, resigning themselves to self-slaughter.

Their campaign of death should not have been an ambush. Cullen notes that Eric's sociopathy, his contempt for the world, often displayed itself in the arrogant way he and Dylan both leaked information.  Harris' toxic website often broadcast his hatred for the world,  and numerous people were aware that they had guns and were experimenting with pipe bombs. The police, having previously arrested the pair for breaking into a van and stealing equipment from it, even had a warrant for a search of Eric's house -- one which was never executed.  Although Cullen labors to dispatch many minor myths associated with the Columbine attack -- the pair's association with a 'trench coat Mafia', the sole targeting of 'jocks', etc --   he rebukes local authorities far more seriously for their negligence in following up on Harris, and for attempting to conceal how high he had already registered as a potential threat from the public.

Cullen's case is simple: Eric Harris was a psychopath who essentially co-opted the suicidal tendencies of his manic-depressive buddy into an attempt  to depart a world they loathed in a manner that demonstrated their superiority over the zombies.  Some parts of his argument are stronger than others: for instance, the numerous heavyweight bombs, which would have killed hundreds indiscriminately, indicate that the two weren't just after jocks. (The intense planning obviously belies any impulsive snap, of course.)    The case for Eric's sociopathy strikes me as solid as well. Less convincing is the utter denial that Harris and Klebold were bullied, as Cullen points to their circles of friends and the fact that Harris was a bully as well.  A bully can be bullied; the two categories are not exclusive, and Klebold strikes me as an easily-bullied sort of personality. While Harris' journals are nothing but wrath and rage, Klebold is more relatable, alternating between wrath and idolization of a girl.  Numerous students have also testified in interviews that the two were subjects of abuse -- but who in a modern high school is not?  

It is never easy to dwell on this kind of rage, and strong stomachs are definitely required to endure constant exposure to Harris' utter lack of humanity.  Cullen's interesting approach -- alternating build-up and aftermath chapters -- kept me glued to the pages, and I'm grateful for a history that indicates how Columbine attempted to climb back to its feet after the attack, to reclaim the school and honor those who perished.  Columbine's story after the fact is also difficult, though, riven with lawsuits and slow-to-heal psychological wounds. But the school survives still, and these days much has changed: police have different active-shooter protocols now (immediate engagement, no more waiting for SWAT)  threats of violence are often met with zero-tolerance policies, and it is doubtful in the post 9/11 world that teenagers could get away with leaving mysterious dufflebags in the school cafeteria, ticking away.  Although a cry for stricter gun laws follows every shooting in the United States -- understandably -- Columbine also points to the limits of those laws, as the culprits' most potentially dangerous weapons, the bombs, were fashioned from ordinary consumer goods. Thank heavens Harris had to put them together at the last minute for want of safe storage space, otherwise his serial bombing might  have succeeded.   Those with intent to harm will find a way to try it; good security policies are needed to counter these threats. At Columbine, I couldn't help but notice that the sole guard was off at lunch during the attack. One guard for 2000 students?!  My high school had two deputy sheriffs, and we couldn't have boasted a thousand students on a good day.  (Of course, we were post-Columbine.)

Columbine is haunting, effective reading.


Related:

  • The Ashes of Waco, Dick Reavis. The boys' April 20th assault was allegedly timed to 'honor' Timothy McVeigh, whose own bombing was allegedly revenge for the Waco massacre.