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June 2017
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Saturday Bag o’ Bloggage

BellaI didn’t want to say anything until we were sure, and now we are: Bella the Yorkie has found her forever home. We took Bella in because her mom is sick and can no longer have pets in the house. Last weekend we took Bella and Maxie shopping. I was standing on a strip of grass in the parking lot, waiting for them to pee, when a lady walked over to see them. She said she had a mini dachshund at home and had recently lost a Yorkie like Bella. I told her Bella was looking for a new home and she said she’d love to adopt her. Donna came out of the store and joined the conversation, and before you know it the deal was done, but not before Donna took Bella over to check out the family and their house. They passed with flying colors and Bella is there now.

We have mixed feelings. Bella was a smart little girl, and though her previous mom fell down on the task of housebreaking her, she was trying hard at our place and we think we got her there during the month we had her. She was sweet and affectionate with both of us, and she loved to play. Donna could have easily kept her, but my heart’s set on another miniature dachshund, so it’s best she found a home with good people who love Yorkies.

I wanted to take another look at Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein,” last read when I was a teenager, so I paid a buck-eighty for Amazon’s Kindle edition. I started to read it last night and couldn’t get through two pages. Spaces between words were missing on nearly every line of text, likethis. It was like trying to read “The Canterbury Tales” in Middle English: I could make sense of it but it was a lot of work. I put it aside, unfinished, sent Amazon a nastygram, and mentioned my disappointment on Facebook. This morning a friend sent me a link to a free downloadable Kindle edition from Project Gutenberg, and so far it’s free of errors and typos.

This morning’s chores included making a fresh jug of sugar water for the hummingbird feeders. I keep the jug in the fridge and refill the outdoor feeders from it every Saturday. This time I changed the water/sugar ratio from 4:1 to 6:1. More water is better when it’s super hot, and it’s been super hot.

I see larger birds swooping over the swimming pool from time to time, scooping up water in their beaks as they skim the surface, but never smaller birds or hummingbirds. I wonder where they go to drink? Anyway, I put out an old metal bowl of water this morning, down on the ground near the wild bird feeder, and am keeping an eye on it. So far no takers.

The Washington Post published a scoop about how President Obama was warned in August 2016 of Russian meddling in the 2016 election, and how he did nothing about it until after the election, when he punished Russia by sending 35 of its diplomats home and closing two recreational compounds leased by its government. You know what, though? There’s no scoop here. All this stuff was covered months ago by the Washington Post and other media outlets. This seems to be a trend in journalism today: promise shocking new revelations and smoking guns; deliver moldy old news in a fresh wrapping.

I have a beef with Obama, a man I respect and admire in every respect save one: not wanting to appear “partisan” or stir up the racist right, he caved on some really important shit. He stood by and watched as red state after red state suppressed Democratic voters through bullshit voter ID schemes reminiscent of the poll taxes and voter qualification tests of the Jim Crow South. He stood by as red state after red state gerrymandered voting districts to further disempower Democratic voters. The result has been solid Republican majorities in the House and Senate, and the installation (I can’t bring myself to call it an election, not when the other candidate got three million more votes than the guy who’s in office now) of a Republican president.

President Obama could have sicced his Justice Department on state-level voter suppression. He could and should have ordered them to go after gerrymandering. He didn’t, and now we have an administration that most assuredly never will, and things are going to get much worse over the next four (and possibly eight) years. He stood by and watched as Russia put its thumb on the scale during the 2016 presidential election. He didn’t want to be seen as partisan. He didn’t want to fight dirty, and yet he was in the fight of his and his party’s life.

You bet I fault him for that. If you look back at blog posts I put up during the time he was president, you’ll see this has always my beef with President Obama. But beware of saying anything about it today! Party line liberals will jump in your shit. Like this:

Screen Shot 2017-06-24 at 10.37.10 AMScreen Shot 2017-06-24 at 10.37.29 AM

Their argument seems to be that anything negative you might say about Obama (or Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders) will be seized upon and weaponized by the right, thus weakening the struggle against Trump. I remember SDS leaders saying similar things during the Vietnam protest movement of the 1960s, trying to keep unruly members on message. Lenin and his buds were big on party discipline too, and they took harsher measures than merely jumping in people’s shit.

Well, that was bullshit then and it’s bullshit now. The right has seized upon and weaponized every negative thing said by every liberal and progressive ever, and yet the struggle goes on. Weaponize this, assholes.


Attack the Enemy When He Is Unprepared

1016099_10151660204112346_1995651026_nWasps love our pool. They light on the water, float on surface tension for a few minutes, then fly off to their nests. They’re drinking, as anyone would in this heat, and I suspect storing a little extra water somewhere to deliver to the nest. It’s normally live & let live at Woodford Manor, but when the number of wasps floating near us in the pool goes from one or two to five or six, it’s time to find the nest and deal with it.

Wasps are smart, and they learn. They used to build up under the eaves of our house, up high but at least where we could see their nests. After I sprayed and knocked down a few nests I thought they’d given up on our house, but I was wrong … they’re still up under the eaves, but now their nests are cleverly hidden, tucked into sharp corners hidden by crossbeams, areas so tight you can’t get your head in there, even on a ladder, to find them. Like I want to stick my head in a tight space where there might be a nest of wasps, am I right?

The wasps have been more numerous than ever this year. We sprayed and killed a couple of hidden nests last month, but they’re still around. The other day I saw three or four wasps buzzing around under the highest peak of the breezeway between the house and garage, and by using a ladder and bending my head so hard I hurt my neck, finally found their secret Shangri-La.

An exterminator told us to get up early to spray wasp nests. Get ’em while they’re still sleeping, as unsporting as that sounds. I took his advice. When the dogs woke up to pee at 5 AM I got up with them, dressed, got my spray can and ladder, and did what had to be done. Got ’em, too.

Coincidentally, we’re in a heat wave here in southern Arizona. It was hot and muggy at 5 AM, inside and out. We program the thermostat to let the house temperature go up to 80°F from midnight to 6 AM. We usually get up at 6:30, and by then the AC’s back on. This morning I broke a sweat just dressing in the bathroom. I wanted to be covered as completely as possible, so I wore long pants, a long sleeved shirt, and a full face motorcycle helmet. I was drenched by the time I came back in.

That patch at the top of the post is from one of my former F-15 units, the 43rd Tactical Fighter Squadron. When I was with the Hornets (I know hornets and wasps are different, but I can’t tell one from the other), the 43rd flew out of Elmendorf AFB, Alaska. The 43rd—which today trains pilots to fly the F-22 at Tyndall AFB on the Florida Panhandle—has an interesting history, which you can read about on Wikipedia. I want to quote two sentences about the squadron’s time in Alaska:

In 1982, the 43d became the first squadron to convert to the F-15 Eagle. Without help from a combat ready unit, the squadron developed its own F-15 training program and completed the first ever F-15 low runway condition reading tests.

Why? Because that was mostly me. Me and Crumer, the first two F-15 pilots to arrive in Alaska. Then-Alaska Senator Ted Stevens brought the F-15 to Alaskan Air Command against the wishes of the Pentagon and USAF, and Crumer and I were on our own, working in a back room of what was still an active F-4E Phantom II squadron. For two months, with no F-15s of our own to fly, with no other F-15 pilots to back us up or any help from the USAF, we worked out a training and conversion program, and when jets and pilots finally began arriving, we trained them and got the unit off to a good start. Crumer and I did it all, including sliding down ice-covered runways in the first of our F-15s, tailhooks down to catch cables if the brakes didn’t grab, to determine how well we’d be able to operate in Arctic conditions.

Well, enough bragging—what have I done for anyone lately, right?

It’s just after eight in the morning and the temperature outside is already over 90°, on its way to a forecast high of 110°. It was so hot yesterday Pima Air & Space Museum canceled my scheduled afternoon tram tour and sent me home early, but not before I wandered into Hangar Three to take a few photos.

In an earlier post I put up photos of a WWII Soviet IL-2 Shturmovik we’re restoring. The wings are being built in one hangar, the tail section in another, the cockpit in a third. I mentioned that the engine has been on display in Hangar Three, and here it is:

IMG_3591 IMG_3590

The engine is a Mikulin AM-38F, a liquid-cooled V-12. Presumably, it’ll take its place in the nose of the IL-2 before too much longer. The IL-2, by the way, was the most produced aircraft in history. All total, the USSR built more than 36,000. Two remain today, but soon there’ll be three.

While I was in the hangar I walked over to the northwest corner where the museum has its “black aviation” display. Many air museums have sections devoted to the history and achievements of black aviators. Sadly, most of the displays I’ve seen are like Pima’s: neglected, tucked into a back corner where few visitors go, looking and feeling like a tokenistic afterthought:

IMG_3592 IMG_3593

Somewhere on the wall there’s mention of a WWII-era black bomber training unit in southern Arizona. Most everyone has heard of the Tuskegee Airmen, the black Mustang pilots who escorted American bombers during WWII. Well, of course: those men flew fighters, and that’s where the glamor is. But there were other Tuskegee Airmen too, and they flew bombers, getting little glory. One of the many WWII B-25 training bases was down the road in Douglas, Arizona, where one or more all-white squadrons trained alongside a segregated all-black squadron. Nearby Fort Huachuca had long been home to segregated black infantry units, from the “Buffalo Soldiers” of the Civil War through WWII, and that’s probably where the black aircrews who trained at Douglas Army Airfield were housed.

About fifteen years ago an Army friend asked me to officiate his son’s wedding. The venue was the old black officers’ club at Fort Huachuca, “separate but equal” (right) until President Truman ordered the military to integrate in 1947, at which point it became an all-ranks auxiliary club for everyone stationed there. I love this kind of history, and explored that place from top to bottom. Sadly, a few years later the Army tore it down. What’s left today? A plaque on the wall in an out-of-the-way corner of a hangar at Pima Air & Space Museum.

You know, guys & girls (I’m talking to you, Pima Air & Space), we can do better. Our women in aviation exhibit occupies a big area in the middle of the main display hangar, featuring big screen videos and aircraft flown by notable woman aviators. The black aviation display has no videos, just faded photos. There aren’t any aircraft, either: not a Red Tail Mustang, not a black-crewed B-25 Mitchell, not even one of the trainers black student pilots learned in during WWII (and the sad thing is we actually have one of those but it’s on display in another hangar and you’d only know the part it played in black aviation history if you read the fine print on the sign).

We can do better, and we should.


My Not-So-Wild-One Motorcycling History (Updated)

Update (6/18/17): The original post is from September 2008; the updates are at the end. The first update, added a couple of years ago, was about my daughter Polly’s Ducati Monster. Today’s update is about my son’s BMW. I also added a couple of photos that recently came to light.

Why include my kids’ bikes? Because it’s kind of a family thing. Because it’s Father’s Day, and my dad is the one who got me started on motorcycles. Here’s a Facebook post I put up a couple of hours ago:

Dad had an old Harley when we lived in Laramie. He taught me to ride it, sitting on the back with 14-year-old me at the controls. When I was a freshman in college he gave me a little Honda 50 Sport, which I later courted Donna on. For decades afterward he’d blame himself for turning me on to motorcycles. And here I am today with a son and daughter who both ride. Sure, I could blame myself for that, but Dad gave me an out and I blame him instead. Happy Father’s Day, Dad, and rest in peace.

Once in a while I write about motorcycling, but I ride—and think about riding—all the time. Today, riding the Goldwing up Mount Lemon to get out of the heat, I began mentally cataloging the motorcycles I’ve owned and ridden, and it occurred to me I ought to write about them before dementia sets in.

I learned to ride in 1959 in Laramie, Wyoming, on Dad’s 1948 Harley Panhead. It was solid red (where it wasn’t covered with oil) and had a great long dual saddle, black leather saddlebags with studs and fringe, and a windshield. You worked the throttle with your right hand, the clutch with your left foot, the rear brake with your right foot, and the front brake and gear shift with your left hand. You had to be able to chew gum and walk at the same time to ride a motorcycle in those days! I looked for a photo of that bike for years; my sister Cece found a box of slides taken by my grandfather during a visit to Laramie, and here it is:


Laramie, 1959: Mom w/my sisters Mary & Cece on the Harley

You’d think a 14-year-old kid who’d been taught to ride a Harley would’ve had a fool for a father, but I was quite the straight arrow in those days and never did any joyriding. I only rode it with my Dad riding behind me. Dad taught Mom to ride it too. One day she dropped it in the driveway while Dad was at work. Mom, who weighed all of 98 pounds, picked it right up and put it back on the sidestand.

After I started college in Sacramento, California in late 1964, Dad got tired of paying for all the gas I was pouring into the family Ford and bought me a used Honda 50. Hondas were everywhere in those days, and you met the nicest people riding them. There were two models of the 50, and Cub and the Sport. I had a Sport, which was the cool one. It would have been cooler if it were red, but alas, mine was white. I was six foot four then, as I am now, and used to take Donna for rides on that tiny machine—we must have been a ludicrous sight.

65 honda 50

1964 Honda 50 Sport

Donna and I moved to Germany, got married, and had a child, and there were no motorcycles in our lives for a while. In 1967, back in California, we bought a new Honda CL90, mainly for me to ride to and from Sacramento State. I wanted a 160 twin but couldn’t afford it. Still, the Honda 90 was plenty powerful for our needs, and would get up to freeway speeds. Mine was blue. I rode it every day for two years, eventually putting a knobby on the back and using it as a trail bike.

67 honda 90

1967 Honda CL90

In 1969 I finally got my twin, a Honda CB350. Today a 350 cc machine would be considered tiny, and even then, when British twins ran 650 to 750 cc, the Hondas were quite small in comparison. But to me it was a big, powerful bike, and I always rode it with respect. All the Honda 350s were two-tone; mine was green & white, and after a while I repainted it solid green and bobbed the rear fender with a hacksaw (I shudder to think of that now) to make it look cooler. My first long motorcycle trip was on the CB350, riding with two buddies on bigger bikes: Sacramento to Napa, over to the Pacific Coast, up Highway 1 to Mendocino. I got the thing up to 100 coming down the hill into Vallejo and nearly crapped my pants when the forks started to wobble.

69 honda 350

1969 Honda CB350

1959308_10152224170482346_798153308_n (1)

Mendicino ride, 1971

We sold the 350 in 1972 when we moved from California to Montana, and I didn’t have another motorcycle until 1974, when I bought an old BSA Lightning. It was, I think, a ’65 or ’66, and had been used hard. But God was it fast—both the BSA and Triumph 650 twins of those days were faster than Harleys, and the BSA in particular was considered a real hot rod.

65 bsa 650

1965 BSA Lightning

The Beezer was my pilot training bike. I rode it during T-37 and T-38 training at Vance AFB in Oklahoma, then started having second thoughts about motorcycling. Donna and I had a young son, and shortly after finishing pilot training and starting my flying career, we decided to have a second child. Risking life and limb on motorcycles while simultaneously risking same in fast jets seemed a bit much, so, in 1975, I sold the BSA and quit riding.

I didn’t get my next motorcycle until 1986, once our son was grown and our daughter was a young teenager. I should have waited longer, but just couldn’t. I’d always wanted a Harley; by this time I was a major, working for US Special Operations Command in Tampa, Florida, and I thought if I can’t afford a Harley now when will I ever be able to? So I bought a new 1986 Super Glide. I loved that bike and wish I still had it today. This is the actual machine in front of our house in Tampa:


1986 Harley-Davidson FXR

I rode that bike all over Florida and loved every minute of it. Old softie that I’ve become, I wouldn’t last 25 miles in that low-slung saddle today. The USAF sent me to Okinawa to fly jets again in late 1988. Fellow officers who’d been there counseled me not to take the bike because the salt air would rust it away, so I sold my beloved scoot and shipped out for Japan, where of course there turned out to be a big Harley scene, both American and Japanese, and I kicked myself the whole time I was there.

I wanted to buy another motorcycle in Honolulu, Hawaii, our next duty station, but there weren’t many places to ride and I couldn’t justify the expense. So I waited until 1995, when we got to Nellis AFB in Las Vegas, Nevada, where I picked up a secondhand Honda Goldwing. This was a 1988 GL1500, the first year of the six-cylinder engine. Compared to the Super Glide it was incredibly sophisticated, but unlike the Harley, it didn’t sing to me. The handling was stodgy, it didn’t swoop into curves, it was top heavy. It also had some irritating features, like a cruise control that wouldn’t engage above 75 mph.


1988 Honda Gl1500 Goldwing

Since I never cottoned up to the Goldwing, I decided to replace it with another Harley, and in 1999, now out of the USAF and living in Tucson, I bought a new Electra Glide, the touring model. It was a great choice, and if it had been more reliable I’d have it still. But 1999 was the first year of a new engine design, and mine crapped out with just 13,000 miles on the clock. Harley paid to rebuild the engine but I could never trust it after that. Here I was with a long-distance tourer I was afraid to ride more than 50 miles from the nearest dealership lest it leave me in the lurch again, standing on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere. Very disappointing, and I’ve never quite forgiven Harley for it. Still, those first 13,000 miles were a blast.


1999 Harley-Davidson FLHT

After that experience, I decided bulletproof and perhaps a little less fun to ride wasn’t a bad way to go, and started thinking about Goldwings again. Then, in 2001, Honda came out with a totally new Wing, and everyone said the new model handled like a race bike. I test rode one, fell in love, and wound up buying it the same day. Fun to ride, powerful, comfortable—you talk about swoopy—and you can set the damned cruise control at 110 if you want to (not that I would ever do such a thing, Donna). Bulletproof and fun!


2001 Honda GL1800A Goldwing

I expect I’m back with Hondas for good now, though I occasionally lust after BMWs, Moto Guzzis, and—oddly—Urals. But Donna has been far more patient with me than I have any right to expect, so I think I’ll be keeping my current ride for many years to come.

The kids and their rides:

A few years ago I inherited a project bike from a friend, a Ducati Monster. It was partially disassembled when I got it, though not by any means a basket case; I put it back together (adding new tires, battery, and brakes) and gave it to my daughter Polly. She rode it for a couple of years, not always safely, and to my great relief finally sold it.


Polly on her 2000 Ducati 750 Monster

For the past few years my son has been renting motorcycles and going on trips with me. We’ve been to Colorado, Utah, California, me on my Goldwing, Greg on Harleys, Indians, and lately BMWs, which he’s come to love. In May he found a slightly used, pristine BMW K1600GT, and I went with him to San Luis Obispo to trailer it home to Las Vegas. The very next day we took it for a spin to Zion National Park and the mountains of southwestern Utah.


Greg with his 2014 BMW K1600GT


We Was Robbed

trump_at_deskSeen on Twitter: “RT if you still haven’t said the words ‘President Trump’ aloud.” These lips haven’t, but I did type them once, in a January blog post. In my defense, I was quoting a Washington Post headline, and I hope George Soros won’t invalidate my intolerant liberal license.

So now we have, or had, a liberal with a gun. Had to happen sooner or later. On Facebook, conservative family members have been copying & pasting rightwing jabs at intolerant liberals ever since the election. I expect my newsfeed to overflow with them now. I dunno, maybe they think they can bully the rest of us … the majority whose votes were invalidated by the Electoral College … into shutting up about the un-American travesty of a wannabe dictator they put in office, with help from the Russians.

Yikes. I’m not one to hold a grudge, but I’ve been angry since the 8th of November, and it’s not letting up. We was robbed, folks, and the bastards are a long way from being done with us.

Every now and then a writer or publisher will offer me a free book in exchange for a review. I don’t need any more physical books cluttering up the house, but if the description sounds interesting, I’ll download and review the ebook version. A friend of mine always scolds me for doing this without payment, but my reviews are in no way scholarly or researched, and I review every book I read anyway … it’s nice to get a freebie once in a while.

So long as the freebie’s worth reading, that is. I’m pretty good at deciphering book jacket blurbs and knowing if something’s up my alley or not, but occasionally I’ll get stuck with a crappy book, poorly written or not at all what the publisher promised, a book I have to plow through and write about because that’s my end of the deal. And if I write a terribly negative review, which I will because I won’t pull punches on bad books, I worry the freebie faucet will run dry. So far, though, that hasn’t happened.

I hate it when vaguebloggers and vaguebookers don’t give you the deets, so here are links to two reviews I wrote in exchange for free books:

Cohen’s novel was one of the best I’ve read in ages. Marcinko’s was an airport thriller about special operations, but since I worked with snake eaters who knew Marcinko (the disgraced former head of Seal Team Six), interesting.

BrllaDonna’s taking a friend to dialysis today. Our friend is suffering from leukemia and kidney failure, and we’re watching her dog Bella, a puppy who, to our sad surprise, wasn’t housebroken. We’ve had her for two weeks and she’s basically trained now, barring the occasional accident, which tells me we haven’t lost the touch and are ready for another miniature dachshund puppy … as soon as Bella goes home.

Meanwhile, I’m hunkering down for what promises to be a very hot day, with even hotter days forecast for the weekend and following week, as high as 114°F. I’m closing shutters to keep the sun from beaming through the windows, and putting up the big umbrella over the shallow end of the pool so I can jump in later without getting radiation burns.

One of our bicycle clubs is putting on a hare & hounds ride Sunday morning, but the hares don’t want to start until 10 AM. It’ll be close to 100° by then … even starting as early as 8 AM would be pressing it. I wish they’d consulted an experienced hare (namely me) … there are places in downtown Tucson where you can get a cold beer before 10 AM, and I know where they are. Donna has already said she isn’t going, and I’m wrestling with it. The last time I rode one of these trails in triple-digit heat, two months ago (who says global warming’s a hoax?), I got so close to heatstroke I went down, scraping the hell out of one knee. A smart person would stay the hell home. I like to think I’m smart, but I don’t always act that way. We’ll see.


Sunday Bag o’ Blessings

blessing bagI took the motorcycle out for a putt early this morning. I wanted breakfast, and I wanted to be home before it got hot. I rode curvy back roads to Vail, then cut back into Tucson. Along the way I considered several restaurant options, finally settling on an IHOP. There were lots of good local restaurants along the way, but I didn’t want to put up with squalid one-holer restrooms. Not that I anticipated visiting the loo, but if I did I didn’t want to wait in line. Thus IHOP (or Denny’s, or a Village Inn): nice clean restrooms.

Maybe that’s the wrong criterion. Yes, IHOP has nice restrooms, but when I asked my server for a small tomato juice she said they no longer serve it, just apple and orange juice. When I went up front to pay, there was a long line and only a single cashier. The woman at the head of the line was monopolizing the cashier, trying to get a conversation going with her. The people behind her were becoming impatient and pushy. I took my place in line behind them, wishing I’d gone to Viv’s on the corner near our house. The ride was nice, though. Fifty miles on good roads with no traffic, home before most people are even up.

Polly’s here, doing her laundry. The job she got a month ago hasn’t started yet. She says they’re waiting for background check results. I think they’re stringing her along. It’s equally possible she’s stringing us along. We ganged up on her and got her to put in an application at Ace Hardware, where she worked before. I don’t know who’s paying her rent. It’s not us. When this shoe drops, I fear the thump will be loud indeed.

Then I think of friends who are parents our age, and their son, and count our blessings. Fifteen years ago the son, then 18, underwent serious brain surgery. He’d suffered debilitating epileptic seizures all his life and was barely getting through school, even on the special education track. Having the damaged portion of his brain removed and letting it “rewire” itself seemed the best option, but imagine the agony he and his family went through, wondering if they were doing the right thing, wondering what the consequences might be.

It was a leap of faith. It worked. The seizures stopped and he began to learn to learn again. Though he’d always need some degree of support to finish school and hold down a job, his family had the resources to give him that support, and he began to get back on track.

About ten years ago, he shit the bed at a really good job his father had helped him get. I don’t know the details, but from the hints his parents gave us it sounded like he went on a rage at work. More training, eventually another job, then a place of his own to live and a car, the family there to fall back on when needed, and things got back to normal. Four or five years ago he had additional brain surgery. I don’t know what happened to prompt that. A month ago, he had some kind of neurological episode. This time he checked himself into hospital. His medications were adjusted and he went back to work. Then, last Wednesday, he had a stroke while he was driving and smashed into a tree. The stroke is affecting one side of his brain. The accident damaged the other. He’s in a trauma center ICU. They can’t treat the stroke with blood-thinners because he’s still bleeding on the car wreck side. Although he’s beginning to respond to commands he’s unable to talk. He’s still in his early 30s.

We’ve known him and his parents since he was in junior high, well before the first brain surgery. We haven’t seen his parents much over the past two or three years, but we stay in touch with him. A couple of years ago he asked me about joining the Air Force. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that with his medical history he didn’t stand a chance of getting in. His optimism could be heartbreaking, as it was then. Other times he’d be down in the dumps. Our daughter Polly, also one of his close friends, alternates between peaks and valleys, though they’re slightly less extreme.

Our first reaction to news of the stroke, the additional brain damage, and the gloomy prognosis was hey, at least his mom and dad were able to give him 15 good years and a shot at a normal life. Then we remembered the setbacks he’s suffered during those years. Okay, then, they gave him some good years. What would his life had been like if he’d never had neurosurgery in the first place? For all we know he’d still be struggling to finish high school, and would have been living at home all this time. He would not have wanted that.

No one knows what will happen now. With his rewired brain, it’s impossible to predict how his recovery will proceed, or to what extent. We’ll hope for the best. The young man has a lot of folks looking out for him, that’s for sure.

Meanwhile, we’re counting our blessings.


You Can’t Read That!

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


Promotional photo for Hulu TV series “The Handmaid’s Tale” -Reuters/Brian Snyder

YCRT! News

Colorado school district pulls library copies of “Thirteen Reasons Why” over concerns it sensationalizes suicide, later reinstates the book.

This article, from the American Library Association’s Intellectual Freedom Blog, celebrates public library programs (in San Francisco, New York City, and elsewhere) featuring drag queens in costume reading books to children and sharing make-up and fashion tips. Wow, I don’t know about that. The whole concept sounds shovey-down-the-throaty to me, and I think many library patrons and parents will have a big problem with it.

Silly minorities, books are for and about white people. “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” is challenged yet again, this time in Minnesota.

An interesting op-ed from the Toronto Sun: Forget ‘Cultural Appropriation’–It’s About Censorship.

The news roundup is deliberately short this time around. I’m leaving room for a review of the book everyone’s talking about these days, Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale.”

YCRT! Banned Book Review

handmaids taleThe Handmaid’s Tale
Margaret Atwood

With the recent rightward shift in American government and the elevation of authoritarian Christians to positions of power in the president’s cabinet and personal staff, Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel “The Handmaid’s Tale” is on many minds today. People are re-reading it; new readers are experiencing it for the first time; hundreds of thousands are watching Hulu’s TV adaptation. When Atwood makes public appearances, the first question she’s asked is “How close are we?”

Who can say? Atwood herself is reluctant to tackle that question. Still, “The Handmaid’s Tale” is convincing and believable. The society it describes doesn’t feel far-fetched. We know there are theocratic, woman-suppressing societies very much like it; we know there are some among us who would welcome it here.

As for the novel itself, it is highly readable. The unnamed narrator (her real name, that is, not her Handmaid name, which is Offred) is human and insightful. She can be caustic and occasionally funny. Along with clear-eyed descriptions of her present life in the commander’s household, she offers up memories of her former life: a college student, a free woman, later a wife and mother trying to stay under the radar as the theocrats take power and begin to clamp down. You want to infiltrate the alternate universe of the book and help her escape the clutches of Gilead.

How real was Winston Smith, in Orwell’s “1984”? How real were the characters in Huxley’s “Brave New World”? They were paper cutouts, there to populate hypothetical futures. Offred is real, contemporary, relatable. That the society she lives in is every bit as creepy and nightmarish as those of Orwell and Huxley is a bonus … Atwood can write a dystopian novel with the best of them, along with believable, relatable characters (as she demonstrates again in her recent MaddAddam trilogy).

My memory plays tricks. I thought I’d read “The Handmaid’s Tale” in college, but that was more than 15 years before it was published. Re-reading it now, I realize I’d finished only part of it before: the second half of the novel was new to me. Why did I read it again (or for the first time in full, take your pick)? For the same reasons as everyone else. It’s “truthy,” as Stephen Colbert would say; it offers a glimpse of what many on the religious right envision when they talk of making America great again. At the same time, it’s a novel of resistance: it inspires opposition to the forces that would restrict personal choice and freedom; essential reading for those who’ll fight to keep the hard-earned gains of recent decades.

And this: I read and review banned books for a periodic blog column titled “You Can’t Read That!” “The Handmaid’s Tale” has been challenged again and again, from its publication in 1985 to the present day, by those would ban it from public and school libraries, by those who do not want it taught to students in high school and even college. It consistently places on the American Library Association’s top 100 list of banned books, and with the renewed interest in the book (and now the Hulu TV adaptation) fresh challenges are popping up across the nation. If ever there was a timely choice for a review in my banned book column, “The Handmaid’s Tale” is it.

Challenges to “The Handmaid’s Tale” come primarily from parents who don’t want their children reading or discussing it in high school English classes. As with other controversial books on school reading lists, some parents simply want teachers to offer children alternative reading assignments; others want it taken off reading lists and removed from libraries so that no students can read it.

The ALA summarizes the most common objections cited in challenges to “The Handmaid’s Tale”: the inclusion of profane words; passages about sex; statements defamatory to minorities, god, women and the disabled; the book’s offensiveness to Christians; violence; hopelessness; moral corruption.

From the Parents Against Bad Books in Schools web site, here’s a description of one such challenge:

At a Fairfax County Public School Town Hall meeting on May 2, 2002 to discuss book selection a former FCPS teacher spoke about The Handmaid’s Tale. She spoke about the obscenities, masturbation, graphic violence, homosexuality, the use of drugs and alcohol, and abnormal sex in the book. She asked FCPS the following question: What are students in Fairfax County being inspired to do and to value by studying books like The Handmaid’s Tale?

From the ALA, here’s a description of another, more recent challenge:

The book was challenged for being “sexually explicit, violently graphic and morally corrupt,” according to the ALA’s annual roundup for Banned Books Week in 2013 and 2014, but was not ultimately removed from Page High School’s International Baccalaureate class. In Guilford, parents complained to members of the Board of Education that Atwood’s novel and Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle both “denigrate Christianity” and “tear down traditional values,” and circulated a petition to try to convince the district to change the curriculum.

I think the second challenge gets to the real issue, which is often unspoken. Parents who challenge the book, who want it banned, will count the number of dirty words and say it pushes a message of sex and violence; they’re less willing to admit to discomfort with the novel’s message. “The Handmaid’s Tale” describes a theocratic society in less than flattering terms, from the point of view of those it oppresses (women, in this case), with plenty of pokes at the hypocrisy of theocrats. The message is feminist, therefore liberal, therefore to be opposed. That is, I believe, what most of these challenges come down to, and is what they mean when they say the book is “offensive to Christians.”

Another Stephen Colbert quote comes to mind: “Reality has a well-known liberal bias.” People who challenge books that put their own conservative and religious fantasies to the test of real life fear the power of the written word. They fear novelists who, like Margaret Atwood, are articulate and insightful. They fear the power of “The Handmaid’s Tale.”

The challenges cited above, and others mentioned in the links below, were all overruled. “The Handmaid’s Tale” is still widely taught and studied across the USA and Canada. Still, only a fraction of challenges and attempts to ban the book are a matter of public record:

A recent survey by the National Coalition Against Censorship with the National Council of Teachers of English found that only seven percent of challenges get reported in the local press [and] three studies conducted in recent years—by the Oregon State Library, the Missouri School of Journalism and the Texas ACLU—… found that [only] three to 18 percent of challenges are reported.

We see only hints of the opposition to “The Handmaid’s Tale.” Offred saw only hints of what America was becoming … until she was swallowed up by Gilead. There won’t be any copies of this novel in the re-education camps, so you’d better read it now.

Links and references:


Wednesday’s Child Is White & Privileged

Poor Maxie. I called her Schatzi this morning. I don’t know if she noticed, but I did, and it set me back a little.

Donna’s away again, though not far. She’s at a retreat with fellow members of the local American Sewing Guild. Every year about this time they hole up in a Tucson resort hotel with their machines and materials. They attend seminars and workshops, get things done without the distractions of spouses and children, socialize at night. I am, as usual, fine. Plenty of leftovers, good books to read, a few small labors of love to keep me busy.

One such labor is my motorcycle. I’m riding over to Ed’s this afternoon to install a new control panel for the heated handgrips. We replaced the grips a few months ago, but I didn’t spring for factory parts, and the aftermarket heater control was a little plastic box you stuck on with two-sided tape. No matter where we put it, it looked cheesy. Ed’s a perfectionist, and with his wife Sue (ditto) designed a recessed panel for the control. I’ll take photos later … I think it’s going to look nice.

Another is my mountain bike. I bought a rack to go over the rear wheel and need to bolt it on tomorrow morning before it gets too hot to work in the garage. This is the bike I use to set hare & hounds trails, and now I’ll be able to carry extra flour on the bike, not on my back. Flour and bicycles, you ask? Yes. You mark trail with blobs of flour. You carry it in a bag strapped over your shoulder, dip into it with a free hand every few hundred feet, and drop a blob on the ground. The bag doesn’t hold enough for an entire 10- to 15-mile trail, so you need to pack extra flour. The rack’s going to be ace, and I’ll be the envy of all the hares.

A friend told me she no longer goes to Twitter for news. Well, yeah, who does? A couple of years ago Twitter was great for breaking stories: terrorist attacks as they were happening, first hints of major news before the media had time to react. Stories still break on Twitter, but there’s so much other stuff it’s hard to tweeze them out. Everyone is angry, shouting at one another, retweeting the same put-downs over and over, mobbing up on anyone who says something stupid or incorrect.

I check Google News two or three times a day to stay current. Twitter’s where I go to post comments on what’s happening. Sometimes my short tweets turn into longer Facebook comments or full-fledged blog posts. Expressing yourself in 140 characters or less is good practice.

Here’s a tweet I posted yesterday:

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Here’s the Facebook post that followed:

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And here’s what I’ll say on the blog:

I haven’t forgotten how Comey torpedoed Hillary Clinton a few days before the election. At the time Comey was up to his elbows investigating Donald Trump and his campaign’s collusion with the Russians, but he deliberately said nothing about that. Granted, after the way he was fired Comey has plenty of reason to turn on Trump, but I’ll be very surprised if he reveals anything damning tomorrow.

I also remember Comey looking right into the camera and swearing the Russians didn’t tamper with voting machine results on election day, and yesterday we learned they tried to. Comey must have known at the time. He lied. The fix is in, as they say. It’s going to be a whitewash. Or a nothingburger, take your choice.

Lately my thoughts, like those of the shouters on Twitter, are disturbed. It’s despair over the stupids being in charge. We live in a winner-take-all country. Over the past 20 years I’ve petitioned my representatives and senators several times. Only once did I get an answer, a form letter saying nothing. My representatives in Congress don’t represent me. They represent the people who voted for them, and then only the ones with money and power. Shit, we don’t even get to pick our president. The American people voted for Hillary Clinton but got Donald Trump, and as far as he’s concerned we can go fuck ourselves. Maybe it’s always been this way.

For sure, things have been worse, and that’s a thought to cling to: we’re not in the middle of another civil war, after all.

My previous blog post was about air travel in the days before deregulation. I cross-posted it to Daily Kos, where a couple of commenters took me to task over race and privilege. One maintained that pre-regulation air travel was the province of wealthy whites. Another implied I must be wealthy and white, seeing as how I flew to and from Germany in the 1950s. Who knew flying could be such a sore subject?

Every year during the Cold War. tens of thousands of military personnel and government employees, often with their families, traveled to and from overseas postings. We didn’t go by steamship. We flew, and Uncle Sam picked up the ticket. My father was an Air Force lieutenant when we were sent to Germany in 1955. He was a captain when we flew home in 1958. He made less than $400 a month, and he never would have considered himself privileged. Those old prop airliners were full of people like us.

As for race, the commenters have an undeniable point. Although the military integrated in 1948 and black along with white military families flew to new assignments, racial segregation played a role in aviation as it did in every other aspect of American life. The airlines themselves were not segregated, not in the sense that black passengers had to sit in the back or anything, but as this short article points out, many American airports had separate accommodations for whites and blacks, and when it came to hiring pilots and cabin crew, the industry was all white.

Guilty as charged, Daily Kos readers. I am white, and therefore privileged.


Air-Minded: the Golden Age


Dinner service on an SAS Lockheed Super Constellation

Let’s talk about the golden age of air travel.

… those good old days, maybe, are more mythical than we admit. Do you really want to travel like people did in the 1960s? Are you sure? No, you don’t have to love flying. But you shouldn’t take it for granted, either.

The author, an airline pilot who writes about commercial aviation for the New York Times, says the golden age is a myth. His arguments read like airline industry talking points:

  • Air travel is cheaper than ever
  • Flights are plentiful
  • There are fewer stopovers on many routes
  • Airplanes are better, quieter, more economical
  • People used to smoke in the cabin
  • Legroom hasn’t really shrunk that much
  • Seat backs often feature personal video screens
  • Safety is better than ever

I can’t argue with most of that. Air travel is undeniably cheaper. There are more, and more frequent flights between airports at home and around the world. Aircraft themselves are better: lighter, less polluting, more economical. Smoking is no longer allowed, a huge improvement in passenger comfort. Safety? Accident rates are at historical lows.

Fewer stopovers, though? Depends on where you’re going. I can fly nonstop from Tucson to Las Vegas or San Diego or Los Angeles. But if I want to go to Sacramento I’ll have to change planes in San Diego or Oakland. A company I used to work for flew me regularly between Tucson and Fayetteville: I had to stop and change planes twice each way, in Dallas/Ft Worth and Atlanta. I doubt things are different today.

Legroom? In 1985, economy class seat pitch on different United Airlines aircraft varied from 32 to 36 inches. Legroom across the UA fleet today is 30 to 31 inches. That’s a big deal, especially if you’re tall. And what about seat width? Our industry spokesman doesn’t mention that at all. Again using UA as a guide, in 1985 its economy class seats were 19.5 to 20 inches wide. Today they’re 17 to 18.3 inches wide. Considering that American hips, on average, are about 20 inches wide, that’s quite a squeeze.


Cabin of a Douglas DC-7

Also not mentioned: even if you book with a major air carrier—United, Delta, American—you’re likely to wind up on a small commuter plane: more than 60% of United, Delta, and American domestic flights are subcontracted out to regional carriers operating aircraft with narrow cabins, reduced headroom, and tiny overhead luggage bins.

Unaccountably, the airline pilot who writes that there was no golden age of air travel leaves out the impact of deregulation. Before 1978, airlines were regulated as a public utility by the Federal Aviation Administration. The FAA set ticket prices and the number and frequency of flights between cities. The FAA, for example, would set the number of daily flights between Washington DC and New York City, then assign those flights to various carriers. On less-traveled routes, say Missoula to Great Falls, the FAA would set a lower number, perhaps just one flight every other day. If the carriers filled those seats, fine. If they didn’t, they’d be compensated by the government—either way, the flights would go, empty or full.

I remember flying in the days before deregulation, as do many my age. There might be 80 to 100 passengers on a 140-seat 707, and quite often the seat next to you would be empty. Today it’s a major stroke of luck to sit in a row with an empty middle seat. With deregulation, airlines are perfecting the art of stuffing planes: US airline load factors increased from 67% in 1985 to 83% in 2013, and overbooking to achieve full loading is now standard practice. Today, if your flight isn’t full the airline might cancel it at the last minute, leaving you stranded.

Going back to the 1950s, I remember flying to and from Germany on Lockheed Constellations. No way my family could have afforded those tickets, but we were on military travel orders and Uncle Sam footed the bill (I’ll wager most middle-class flyers, then and now, fly on their employer’s dime). They served breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Stewardesses would round up all the kids and take us up front to the cockpit. It was a magnificent adventure!

There was no TSA. There was no security to speak of, even though people have been setting off terrorist-style bombs on airliners, killing everyone on board, since 1933.

We didn’t know any better—actually there was nothing better—so we didn’t mind a 15-hour flight with intermediate refueling stops in Gander and Shannon. Most adults smoked in those days, and none of us kids thought anything of it (my own dad smoked at home and in the car, and I’m ashamed to say when it was my turn I subjected my non-smoking wife and young children to more of the same). I can still remember the loud drone of those mighty engines, the constant vibration of pistons and propellers, the blue flames coming from the exhaust stacks. As a kid, all that was exciting. For the adults, it must have been something to endure, but once again, in the days before jet travel, there was nothing better to compare it to.


Eero Saarinen’s TWA terminal at JFK

The golden age of air travel is a myth? The hell you say. The golden age of air travel dawned after WWII with the widespread introduction of pressurized airliners that could fly above the weather and turbulent air closer to the surface, flourished under FAA control, and ended in October 1978 when the Carter administration deregulated the industry. The high points of the golden age—no invasive security checks, comfortable seating, inflight meal service, less crowding and the possibility of sitting next to an empty seat—undeniably existed, and are now gone.

Arguing for FAA re-regulation of routes and fares is a non-starter, especially with a Republican administration hell-bent on privatizing one of the FAA’s remaining core missions, air traffic control, so I won’t waste any time on that. What I do know is that stuffing more passengers into ever-smaller seats started with deregulation. I fear that when air traffic control is privatized, the airlines will start to optimize routes and schedules on some kind of “last-minute/just-in-time” business model, and that this will result in increased passenger crowding, discomfort, and misery. As for its effects on safety, we’ll have to see.

Curiously, the passengers acting out against overcrowding, slow boarding, limited luggage storage, and smaller seats are of the post-deregulation generations, rarely the old heads who remember better days. We veterans of the golden age suck it up, resignedly acknowledging that while the arc of history is long, it bends toward the lowest common denominator.