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Copyright 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 by Paul Woodford. All rights reserved.

You Can’t Read That!

You Can’t Read That! is a periodic post featuring banned book reviews and news roundups.

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YCRT! News

I knew about Banned Books Week, but 404 Day is new to me.

The South Carolina House has penalized two state colleges to the tune of $70,000. Their crime? Assigning gay-themed books to students.

Strongly worded, and justifiably so: “The Rude Pundit sees little difference between the outraged South Carolina lawmakers and the outraged Brandeis protesters. They are on the same side of the same filthy coin, which reads, ‘This person says things I don’t like; therefore, no one should hear this person.’”

Is it news that banned book readers are more likely to be involved in their communities? It shouldn’t be.

From an email sent to YA author Lauren Myracle: “I recently read the vulgar hot tub scene in your book ttyl, and I was appalled. I immediately had all of your books pulled from our local library.”

YA author John Green: “Earlier today I received an email from a high school English teacher in Strasburg, Colorado who plans to teach an elective Young Adult literature course. A group of parents created a petition to ‘cleanse’ the book list, claiming that the majority of the books on the curriculum, ‘are profane, pornographic, violent, criminal, crass, crude, vile, and will result in the irreparable erosion of my students’ moral character.’”

Whoa. In my last YCRT! column I mentioned pending legislation in Kansas that would make it possible for parents to bring legal action against teachers and schools accused of teaching “objectionable material” to minors. This could become a new weapon in the book banners’ arsenal, and I’m disturbed to see it being deployed elsewhere in the country (in fact I now wonder whether the Kansas bill originated with the American Legislative Exchange Council, and whether identical bills will soon appear in other red state legislatures). Here’s an example from Delaware, where parents are trying to ban the teaching of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World: “Ron Hagan, a father of a Cape Henlopen High School student … said parents might be able to file suit if they felt the school taught obscene content. He argued the school should choose a different book which would emphasize positive instruction.”

The American Library Association has released its list of the 10 most challenged books of 2013.

YCRT! Banned Book Review

house of the spiritsThe House of the Spirits
Isabel Allende
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I ordered a copy of The House of the Spirits from my local library after learning it was the subject of a recent banning attempt at a North Carolina high school. The parents who challenged the novel, which had been assigned to their 10th grade children, described it as graphic, immoral, and pornographic. In a now-famous letter to the school board, Isabel Allende defended her work and the challenge was overruled.

In a recent development, however, Fox News has taken up the parents’ cause and is also calling for a ban, misleading viewers by stating that the novel is part of Common Core, a set of educational standards increasingly opposed by conservatives (in fact, the novel has been taught at high schools around the country for decades, has been the recipient of multiple awards, and … naturally … has nothing to do with Common Core).

Before I review the novel, let’s talk about the attempted banning and whether The House of the Spirits really is a “graphic, immoral, and pornographic” novel that should be off limits to high school students.

The challenging parents’ objections center around sex, rape in particular but I suspect happy consensual sex as well, since the author doesn’t have Jesus smite the fornicators on the spot. What sex there is is not described in any sort of prurient detail … no descriptions of naked bodies, no mention of genitals or positions … what’s there is along the lines of “they made love on the riverbank,” or “Esteban took the girl back to the hacienda and forced himself upon her.” Hardly titillating, but if any mention of sex at all is your definition of pornography, then yes, this is an adult novel.

I can’t help thinking the parents who brought the challenge were equally disturbed by the lack of explicit religiosity on the part of the novel’s characters, and by the depiction of the central male character’s conservative views as wrong-headed and out of step. This character, the patriarch of the family at the center of the novel, is shown in a particularly unflattering light, so in addition to thinking it immoral, the parents might also see The House of the Spirits as an attack upon Christianity and traditional father-knows-best values.

Isabel Allende’s novel, while it acknowledges sex, is not about sex; it is a novel of politics and societal change, written from a decidedly progressive point of view. This, far more than the brief mentions of sex, probably explains why Fox News has thrown its lot in with the book banners.

Now, for the novel itself:

I often tell my bookish friends I don’t care for magical realism, so when they heard I was going to read The House of the Spirits they took delight in reminding me that Allende’s novel is an exemplar of magical realism. I did not find it so, or more accurately did not find the small amount of magical realism I encountered distracting or off-putting. Clara is clairvoyant, as befits her name, and her daughter and granddaughter believe she communicates with them from the grave. Okay, Clara can also move small things around with her mind. None of this, at least to me, seemed essential to the story, so I read on willingly.

A family saga is at the center of the story, unfolding over several decades against the political and social backdrop of a South American country, from approximately the 1910s to the 1980s. The country is firmly in the hands of conservative landowners, until it isn’t, at which point things turn ugly: the ousted power brokers sabotage the initiatives of the new Marxist president, eventually bringing on a military coup with its attendant inquisitions, violence, and rampant murder. The family is directly affected by all of this, and in the case of the youngest generation, who are in their 20s and 30s at the time of the coup, intimately involved as well.

The patriarch, Esteban Trueba, lives out the span of the novel and dies at an advanced age. He’s one of the great villains of literature: a horrible man, utterly dislikable. He beats the peasants who work on his ranch, pays them in scrip they must spend at the company store, and rapes one young teenaged girl after another, producing bastard offspring who will later haunt his life (and the lives of his legitimate children). He beats his wife. He throws tantrums and smashes inanimate objects. At one point he evicts the peasants from his land, after burning their meager possessions and even their homes. He’s bad.

Though Esteban is mostly written about in the third person, there are brief passages where he talks to the reader directly, presenting himself as a decent man who only wishes the best for his peasants and family, but must show a firm hand, etc. I could not figure out the reason for these first-person interludes until the very end of the novel, when Allende reveals that Esteban’s granddaughter is the person assembling this family history, and that in addition to consulting her now deceased mother’s extensive journals, she also allows her old grandpapa to write some passages.

Though the country of the novel is not named, it’s clearly Chile, and the political and social developments that dominate the last third of the novel are based on actual events in that country, including the election and eventual deposing of Isabel Allende’s uncle, Salvador Allende. The great poet Pablo Neruda also makes appearances through the novel, though he is never referred to by name.

It’s a hell of a story, fascinating throughout, and for those of us who know a bit about Salvador Allende and the military coup that ousted and assassinated him (and thousands of others), a chilling read as well.

I don’t remember reading anything this heavy in high school. No, that’s not right, sure I did: The Grapes of Wrath is roughly comparable in the political vein; East of Eden, which spans generations against a backdrop of political and societal change, is even more similar. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m heartened teachers are still encouraging students to read adult literature like this, even more heartened that a school board in North Carolina stood by its guns and kept the book on the reading list. If I may speak a little more personally, I hope Fox News and the politically-motivated book banning mob they’re whipping up take a wrong turn and march right off a cliff.

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Air-Minded: PASM Photoblogging

It’s time I posted more photos from the Pima Air & Space Museum in Tucson, Arizona. As a volunteer tour guide, I’m sometimes able to visit parts of the museum visitors don’t get to see. There’s always something interesting hidden away.

These two Japanese Kamikaze planes, for example. Until recently only the fuselages have been visible, but now the wings and other components have been uncrated, and it looks like our restoration volunteers are slowly getting them ready for display:

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Okha flying bomb, left; Tsurugi Kamikaze plane, right

Some other hidden treasures:

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Sights & head-up displays

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F-4 instrument panel & ejection seat

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Erco gun turret

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Erco gun turret (detail)

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Erco gun turret (detail)

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Drop tank racer


Of all the items in the storeroom, the Erco gun turret was the one I couldn’t stop photographing. If you follow the link to Flickr and look at the large original photos, you can see it’s still loaded with practice rounds. These turrets were mounted on the noses of US Navy PB4Y-1 Liberators and PB4Y-2 Privateers during WWII. I hope it goes on display soon; it’s cool as hell.

Speaking of bomber self-defense guns, PASM recently acquired a Vietnam-era B-52D that for decades had been on static display next door at Davis-Monthan AFB. Since we already have three other B-52s on display in the museum yard, we’re breaking this one up and displaying parts of it indoors. The first piece to go on exhibit is the tail gun section, which when seen without the rest of the airplane looks like a prop from the 1979 sci-fi film Alien:

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Boeing B-52D tail gunner section

Last but not least, this Douglas A4D-2 Skyhawk in USMC livery, fresh out of the paint shop, on display less than a month:

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Douglas A4D-2 Skyhawk

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Another Racist, Another Unfriending

The racism was probably always there, but he never came out with it until recently, and when he did it came out of the blue. A friend and fellow military veteran, a man I’ve known almost 20 years, a man I knew to be conservative but whom I always regarded as reasonable and intelligent, put up a post on Facebook a couple of months ago asking why Obama had never shown anyone his birth certificate. Last week he put up another post denouncing Hank Aaron, the venerated home run king, as a “brain-damaged libtard” for speaking out in support of Obama and comparing the modern-day GOP to the KKK.

When I engaged my friend the first time, pointing out that Obama had in fact shown the world both his short-form and long-form birth certificates, he reacted the way you’d think a reasonable person would, saying “Oh, really? Oops, sorry then.” I didn’t think he was entirely sincere, since how could any literate person who pays the slightest bit of attention to the news not know Obama had made his birth certificates public, but I let it go. If he was willing to listen to reason, there was hope.

The second time, after the Hank Aaron post, I was a little more blunt, asking him what the hell he was talking about. His answer was an inarticulate jumble of right-wing tropes: something something Republicans freed the slaves something racist southern Democrats started the KKK argle bargle libtards are the real racists herp derp Hitler was a leftist just like you.

Gotta give him this, he didn’t call Aaron a nigger, as so many right-wingers did when the 80-year-old Aaron — who was there during the days blacks were not welcome in major league baseball or anywhere else, a man who knows racism in a way you and I never will — spoke out. But you could tell he really wanted to.

He’s no longer my friend. I can abide conservatism, but I cannot abide racism and stupidity. I’m trying hard to hold onto the notion that it’s possible to be conservative without also being racist and stupid. But the deeper conservatives sink into their alternate Fox News reality, the harder it is to believe that.

Ending a friendship. Or, as they say on Facebook, unfriending. Big whoop. How impotent is that? I want to shout the bastard down, drive him off Facebook and Twitter, tell him he can’t sit at the table with the grownups, heap ridicule and shame upon him, lock him away in a FEMA camp.

Well, at least I won’t have to read any more of his hateful posts. That is something.

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Saturday Bag o’ Heartbleed

bag of heartbleedThe internet is for sharing information and almost by design resists secrecy. For every security gap we find and fix, a new one opens up. We know the drill by now: change passwords, use different ones for every online account, never ever write them down.

I bought into the Heartbleed scare, at least to the extent of changing passwords for my blogs, social media, email accounts, and sites I buy things from. But I used one password, and wrote the damn thing down. I can’t wait for biometric scanners.

Speaking of biometric scanners, this is the month the bullshit contract on my crappy Samsung Galaxy runs out and I can upgrade to an iPhone, which has a fingerprint scanner. But they can hack that too! Yeah, with my cold dead hacked-off finger, at which point I probably won’t care.

While I’m at it, have I mentioned I support national ID? Can’t happen soon enough, especially with all these red states trying to keep non-Republicans from voting. Mark of the beast? Hail Satan, bring it on.

Yes, I’ve been neglecting Paul’s Thing. I’ll try to do better. But hey, I lost one whole day this week to Heartbleed, shot the shit out of another trying to fix a WordPress coding problem on my hashing blog, wrote a long book review on Goodreads, and backed up my blog databases. I’ve been entertaining a visiting friend. Scheduling volunteer docents at the air museum. I’ve been busy. Sue me.

We’re cooking today. Last month, cooling off after a bicycle ride with friends, we decided to start a cooking club. We’re to meet every other month at a different member’s home, with members drawing lots for who will prepare the appetizer, salad course, main dish, and desert (whoever draws the main dish is the host). For each dinner, we’ll prepare recipes from a single chef’s cookbook.

Today’s our first dinner. We drew the main course so we’re hosting. The chef is Hugo Ortega and the cookbook is Backstreet Kitchen. We’re making slow braised short ribs. I’ll take photos and write it up on my cooking blog tomorrow or Monday.

I was scrolling though movie choices on Amazon streaming last night and came across the 1943 German film Titanic. The blurb said it had been banned in Germany because the Nazis feared scenes showing passengers panicking as the ship sank would encourage similar panic in a civilian population being terrorized by around-the-clock Allied bombing. Though it was Goebbels who banned the showing of Titanic in Germany, it was also Goebbels who had commissioned the movie in the first place. Presumably, if Goering’s Luftwaffe had kept American and British bombers at bay, it would have been widely shown.

Well, I had to watch that, didn’t I?

It was awful: crude anti-British propaganda from beginning to end, and the most wooden acting you’ll see this side of Clutch Cargo. Ship designer and president of the White Star Line Bruce Ismay was the chief villain, abetted by the British officers of the ship, who rushed to do his reckless, greed-driven bidding. The hero was a German first mate, a last-minute crew substitute for an ailing British officer. The German was the only ship’s officer to stand up to Ismay; after the ship hit the iceberg and began to sink he organized the lifeboats and saved several lives. All in all, quite a different narrative than the one most of us grew up with.

I’ll try to keep Dr. Goebbel’s Titanic in mind when right-wing nut jobs on Facebook confound me with their peculiar, unreal visions of the world. It’s no wonder they believe the things they do, given the narrative presented to them by Fox News and AM hate radio.

I hope that’s the closest I ever come to a Hitler analogy on this blog, and I promise never to do it again.

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Sunday Bag o’ Birds

hummingbird_tote_bag-r3bb2720c14254dd28b19e9bf4850ba2a_v9w72_8byvr_324Five years ago I photoblogged the birth of two hummingbirds. The mother had built her nest on a storage hook hanging from a support beam underneath our patio overhang. Donna and I would watch her through the sliding screen door to the patio, then dash out to check on her eggs whenever she flew off. Later, we photographed the chicks as they grew into tiny hummingbirds. We were heartbroken when one died, but the other one lived, and there’s been a nest on that hook every spring since.

Probably there’d been a nest on that hook in previous years, and we just hadn’t noticed it. Hummingbirds live only three or four years, so the current nesting mother is most likely a child of the mother bird we first observed. And sure enough, there’s a new nest on the hook now, this time containing just a single egg.

I’m going to try leave this mother bird and her chick alone and not take too many photos, but of course I’ll take some. Like this one, which I took this morning:

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Woodford patio hummingbird crop of 2014

I thought I might get some really good shots with our big digital SLR camera, but the nest is tucked up so tightly under the overhang there’s no room for it, and I’ll have to use our small point & shoot Canon G9 as before. Fortunately, it too is a very good camera … especially when I remember to force the flash to eliminate the shadow under the patio roof.

In other domestic news, Polly and her boyfriend David are taking our old couch away today, along with a gas barbecue we’ve been holding for her. When we got a new gas grill years ago we refurbished the old one for Polly, but it’s only now she’s finally able to take it off our hands. The old grill’s been on the patio long enough for at least two generations of hummingbirds to get used to it … I wonder if the current mother hummer will notice its sudden absence.

Donna says I need to get out and expand my social circle, so yesterday afternoon I went to a Baja Arizona Kossacks meet-up. When I started contributing diaries to Daily Kos a representative of the group, which is composed of dKos diarists who live in the Tucson area, invited me to join. I did, and we started exchanging messages and comments. Well, now I have faces to go with names, and I’m glad I forced myself to be sociable (so unlike my normal self). Members of the group are mostly men and women of my own age, politically progressive and with a wide range of interests, and I think I made some new friends. I’ll certainly go to future meet-ups. By the way, if you click on the Baja Arizona Kossacks link, there’s a live blog of yesterday’s gathering (with incriminating photos).

Interestingly, yesterday’s host had an old BMW motorcycle under the carport, and I instantly fell in love with it. When I asked him about his bike he told me he doesn’t ride much any more and is thinking of selling it. It’s a bit rough and needs some work, but might be just what I need. In a previous post I talked about replacing the Goldwing, which is stupid because the Goldwing is the perfect ride for me … but maybe what I really want is a vintage bike to tinker with and use as a townie, saving the Wing for longer road trips. Here’s a photo, not of my host’s bike but one of the same model and year:

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1971 BMW R75/5

What do you think? Is it me?

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You Can’t Read That!

You Can’t Read That! is a periodic post featuring banned book reviews and news roundups.

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YCRT! Rant

Legislators in the Kansas Senate are considering a bill that will make it easy for parents and district attorneys to bring legal action against teachers, librarians, and school principals who expose students to “objectionable material” (which the bill broadly defines as anything that goes against community standards).

If enacted, this bill will be a godsend to those who want to purge public schools of literature, creative thinking, science, history, or anything else they don’t like. Imagine the chilling effect it would have on teachers, who would not dare assign a Vonnegut novel, explain carbon dating and the age of the earth, teach students about slavery or the Indian wars, or so much as mention evolution. This one’s worth keeping an eye on: I’ll set up a Google alert and report future developments.

Imagine how empowering such a law would be for the mother who compiled this list of “objectionable material” being forced down the innocent throats of public school students in Clarence, New York. Rather than having to present her case for banning books before a school board and risk losing (which, thankfully, she did), all she’d need to do would be to find a politically-ambitious conservative district attorney to arrest and prosecute the teachers and principals involved. No more Jonathan Swift and his eating of Irish babies for you, children of Clarence, New York!

dumb_dad_p2689021Or this guy (who happens to be Canadian, but could just as easily be from Kansas, New York, or Arizona). He wants his son’s school district to ban The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Why? Because he says it’s “pornographic.”

I try not to get personal, but I feel a deep antipathy toward self-appointed censors who wave the porno flag every time they encounter the subject of sex in books, magazines, TV, and movies. This guy, for instance. I’m going to guess, just from a glance as his self-satisfied mug, that he is no stranger to masturbation, and knows full well the difference between actual pornography and the mere mention of sex in a young adult novel. He knows labeling The Perks of Being a Wallflower as pornographic is bullshit, but he knows it will alarm other parents (and get his face on TV). If a law like the one being debated in Kansas were in effect where he lives, the school district would cave immediately, and guys like him … or the alarmed mother from Clarence, New York … would be dictating what all children read and learn.

YCRT! News

Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (in which said Indian mentions masturbation, once, without actually describing it, but probably more offensively is the main character in a book about being Native American in a part of the country where Native Americans are denigrated and marginalized) continues to top the news. It’s been challenged by parents in Albany, Oregon, and Meridian, Idaho. The school board in Oregon is keeping the book but considering some sort of restriction; the school board in Idaho banned it outright.

Right behind is Isabel Allende’s The House of the Spirits. A mother unsuccessfully challenged the novel’s inclusion on a high school reading list in Watauga County, North Carolina, where the school board voted to retain the book. But now Fox News has sought out and interviewed the mother and is making opposition to Allende’s novel part of its case against Common Core educational standards. By the way, I’m currently reading The House of the Spirits and will post a review when I’m done.

Russell Miller published a biography of L. Ron Hubbard, founder of Scientology, in 1987. The book was kept out of American bookstores for 27 years as the result of litigation brought by Scientologist leaders, and is only now becoming available to American readers.

In Fairbanks, Alaska, a right-wing politician demanded a local grocery store stop selling Ms. Magazine because it supports women’s reproductive rights — and the store pulled Ms. from its shelves!

Here’s another case of political book banning, this time in Japan.

After a high school student newspaper in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin published an article about rape culture, school administrators issued policy guidelines restricting future reporting to pre-approved topics. Students and faculty are protesting the new guidelines, but for now they remain in effect.

The Texas State Board of Education will soon decide whether or not to establish Mexican American studies courses for high school credit. Schools in Houston are implementing MAS classes this year. After Arizona infamously banned MAS programs and books from its public schools two years ago, it’s refreshing to hear another red state is considering going the other way.

Political correctness run amok: #CancelColbert and trigger warnings. Honestly, it’s hard to see the difference between censors on the left and the right. Their end goal is the same: banning books and restricting free speech.

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Mini-Gypsy Tour 1/2014 Photoblog

If I can afford it, there’ll be another motorcycle tour this year, hence the “1″ in the title. Mini-Gypsy Tour 2/2014 will involve either Sturgis or Four Corners; haven’t decided yet. The first tour of 2014 was a more modest affair, a six-day round-robin from Tucson to Flagstaff, Las Vegas, Zion National Park, and back.

Actually, I’ve got some nerve even calling this a mini-Gypsy tour. A real Gypsy would ride 400 to 600 miles every day. None of my daily rides topped 400 miles, and there were a couple of days I didn’t ride at all, relaxing instead with my son Gregory and his family in Las Vegas.

A quick summary:

  • Day 1: Tucson to Flagstaff via back roads through the Mogollon Rim country
  • Day 2: Flagstaff to Las Vegas via I-40 and US 95
  • Day 3: Family time in Las Vegas, test-riding new motorcycles
  • Day 4: Three-state ride to Zion National Park with my son
  • Day 5: Family time in Las Vegas
  • Day 6: Las Vegas to Tucson via US 95, I-40, US 93, I-17, I-10

The first day’s ride to Flagstaff was gorgeous, but the closer I got the colder it got. One forgets Flagstaff sits 7,000 feet above sea level. I actually stopped about 40 miles out to put on warmer clothing and a face mask; as soon as I reached the outskirts I started seeing bicyclists in shorts and jerseys and felt like a huge pussy.

The second day looked like it was going to be beautiful as well, but since early-morning temps were in the high 30s I decided to wait a while before leaving, hoping it would get a little warmer. Bridges and overpasses get icy, and I didn’t want to risk that on two wheels. I killed time until 9 AM, but to no avail … by then it had clouded over and the wind was picking up. Nor had it warmed up any. I’d wanted to get off I-40 and ride as much of what remains of Route 66 as possible between Flagstaff and Kingman, but it was so damn cold and windy I decided to stay on the interstate and get the ride over with as quickly as possible. I rode most of the distance between Flag and Kingman leaned over in a 30 to 40-degree left bank, struggling to keep the motorcycle going straight and in my own lane in a strong crosswind. The only thing I had to look forward to was the long road from Kingman to Las Vegas, since the wind from my left would then be a tailwind. Inexplicably the wind kept coming from my left once I turned north toward Vegas, and I rode that leg leaning left as well. It was no fun.

On the third day Gregory and I went to a local dealership in Las Vegas to test-ride some new bikes. I rode a new Indian Chieftain and Gregory rode a Victory Cross-Country.* Later we went to lunch at the oldest Mexican restaurant in Las Vegas, a picturesque little hole-in-the-wall right off Fremont Street, where we met Carolyn Goodman, the mayor. Late in the afternoon we visited the BMW dealership, where Gregory picked up a demo bike for our ride to Zion National Park the next day. Interestingly, the bike he borrowed was a K 1600 GLT, the same model I rode and reviewed in November 2011.

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Gregory and the demo Victory Cross-Country (photo: Paul Woodford)

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Posing with the Indian Chieftain I took for a test ride

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Gregory with Mayor Goodman

The fourth day was a long one. I’d forgotten how far it is from Las Vegas to Zion. Just getting from one side of Las Vegas to the other now takes almost an hour; add the distance to Zion and back, plus puttering around the park itself, and it’s a 400-mile ride. We had the whole day, and it’s a good thing we did: we left at 9 AM and didn’t get home until about 5:30 PM. Along the way we stopped at a Harley dealer just outside St. George in Utah. They were offering factory demo rides on a big selection of 2014 models trucked in from Milwaukee and we could have taken rides on new Harleys as well, but we skipped the opportunity in our haste to get to the park. I’ll get to the photos in a minute.

On day five I stayed home with the kids and went to one of my grandson Quentin’s fast pitch games. Sadly his team lost, but later in the day Q and I built a cool digital camera from a kit.

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Quentin with the digital camera we assembled (photo: Paul Woodford)

Day six was the ride home, and it was as windy as day two, if not more so. It isn’t fun battling strong crosswinds on a motorcycle. You have to work hard to keep going in a straight line, and making constant small and large corrections during gusts requires all your concentration. Fortunately once I was south of Kingman and on my way to Wickenburg, Phoenix, and Tucson I was finally riding into a headwind. That’s not a lot of fun either, but at least I didn’t have to lean into the wind and struggle to keep the bike on the road. I left at 8:30 AM and got home about 4:30 PM. As with the windy ride from Flagstaff to Las Vegas, I was exhausted when it was over.

Lesson learned: bring a compact point & shoot camera in addition to a big digital SLR. I took only the big camera on this trip and wound up passing on a lot of good photo opportunities because it would have been too much of a hassle to stop and fish the SLR out of the saddlebag just for a quick shot or two. On previous tours I took many more photos, probably because my small Canon G9 was in my pocket, close to hand. Still, though, I managed to take a few photos, several with the tripod and wireless shutter release I brought along. Like these shots from Zion:

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Court of the Patriarchs, Zion National Park (photo: Paul Woodford)

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With Gregory in Zion National Park (photo: Paul Woodford)

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With Gregory in Zion National Park (photo: Paul Woodford)

Thanks, Gregory and Beth, for putting up with me in Las Vegas. It was fun seeing you and Quentin again, and having some time to be with you in between motorcycle rides. Thanks for all the great food too!

* Now, about those test rides:

I’ve been thinking about getting a new motorcycle to replace the Goldwing, but with no particular sense of urgency. The Wing has less than 84,000 miles on it and is in top shape, so it’s more a matter of wanting something new & different than needing it. Still, I had looked forward to testing the new Indians, and I must say I was very impressed. The new Indians are solid motorcycles with strong power plants and quality construction … they’re head-turners to boot. Most important, they can’t be mistaken for Harleys. They’re Indians, and the only way you can get a more genuine one is to restore an antique.

The generation of Indians that preceded this one never fooled anyone. They were Harley clones made with aftermarket parts and engines. The only thing Indian about them was the name and skirted fenders. The newest Indian, made by Polaris, is designed and built from the ground up with not a single after-market Harley part on it. It’s a complete, integrated package with all the modern bells & whistles: the Chieftain model I rode has ABS, cruise control and stereo, a six-speed transmission, even an electrically-positioned windscreen. And unlike the last company to try to revive the Indian brand, it’s not like Polaris came to the job cold … they’ve been building Victory motorcycles since 1998.

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Well, it turned MY head (photo: Paul Woodford)

But to make a long story short, the Indian, as much as I loved it, is not the bike for me. It sits too low, and it’s too long a reach to the foot controls and hand grips (keep in mind that at 6’4″, I’m not exactly a short rider). My first question to the dealer was whether anyone makes a higher, police-style saddle for the bike. His answer was no.

The Victory Gregory rode is a better fit ergonomically: the saddle’s higher and the reach not nearly as long. I took a long look at the Victory Vision last year and decided against it because the integrated saddlebags were more for looks than for storage, but the Cross-Country series has roomy bags and you can get a trunk as well, putting it in the same league with the Goldwing. Now my only hesitation is that Victory engines, like those on the Indian, still rely on air cooling. With tighter emissions and economy standards, I don’t know how much longer air-cooled twins are going to remain viable.

When I rode the BMW K 1600 GLT in 2011, the same model Gregory rode to Zion with me last week, I thought it was the bike for me. I liked everything about it except the foot pegs, which were positioned too high and aft for my old knees. Since then I’ve had one knee replaced, and it would be a struggle for me to ride the BMW in comfort unless I made modifications to the foot peg position (which can be done, I’ve learned, but of course repositioning them forward and down, even by an inch or two, would come at the expense of cornering). And with new models selling for $30,000, I fear the BMW will be forever out of my reach … unless I can find a deal on a used one.

I’m riding what is arguably the best long-distance tourer in the world, the Honda Goldwing, and the one I have is paid for and still in top condition, barely broken in. Even though mine is a 2001, it’s the same model they’re still selling today, thirteen years later. In fact, a lot of Goldwing owners are anticipating Honda coming out with a new design in 2015 or 2016. If they do, that might turn out to be the best choice for me. So I’ll wait a while longer. No need to do anything rash, like spending a ton of money on a new ride I might regret buying in a year or two.

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Mini-Gypsy Tour the Next

ba-HOLLISTER_8_B_421942468Packing for tomorrow’s motorcycle trip. This one won’t be too rigorous, just a six-day ride to Flagstaff, Las Vegas, Zion National Park, and home again. Mostly I’ll be in Las Vegas with my son Gregory, daughter-in-law Beth, and grandson Quentin. I leave in the morning, heading for Flagstaff via back roads through Globe and Pinetop.

The weather forecast says rain’s possible Wednesday, the day I’ll ride from Flagstaff to Las Vegas, but I don’t expect a deluge, just isolated showers. If it does rain, I’ll get wet. Then I’ll dry out. At any rate I’ll have all day Thursday in Las Vegas to recover.

My son plans to borrow a bike and ride with me Friday to Utah and Zion. If the weather near Zion doesn’t look good we’ll head west to Death Valley instead. Saturday I promised to stay in Vegas to watch Quentin and his team play baseball. Sunday I’ll head home via Kingman, Wickenburg, and Phoenix.

As always, I find myself overthinking packing, since space is at a premium. One extra pair of pants, or two? Where to stow the camera? It needs to be protected from the weather but easily accessible, and on that subject, shall I bring the big tripod or the small one? Paperback and Kindle, or just the Kindle? Should I make room for a dry pair of riding boots in case it rains and soaks my regular pair? Damn, boots take up a lot of room … but hey, you can stuff ‘em full of socks and underwear. Need to leave a little extra space in case I pick up a new t-shirt or two.

Riding a motorcycle is like flying an airplane. You have to be anal to do it right!

Donna decided we needed to watch Nebraska the other night. I bit my tongue and punched in our Amazon PIN on the remote to pay for it, knowing I wasn’t going to enjoy it. By which I don’t mean to say the movie’s bad: Nebraska deserved all the recognition it got at the Academy Awards, Bruce Dern in particular. But I knew from the snippets we’d seen on Oscars night it was about stupid people in dreary settings, and I knew it would depress me. Boy, did it … I wanted to slit my wrists! If there is a hell I can only pray it doesn’t involve being surrounded by stupid people for all eternity, and if ever there was a movie about the hell of being surrounded by stupid people, Nebraska is it. Except the characters in the movie don’t know they’re stupid and trapped. Because they’re stupid.

Next time we pop for a movie at home, I’m pickin’.

I’ll check in from the road somewhere. If you’re driving around in the Southwest and you see me on my Goldwing, please don’t run me off the road! Oops, you’re probably from Nebraska. Well, forget what I just said about the movie. I love Nebraskans!

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