Tuesday Bag o’ Asshattery

Phillips-web copyLynch mobs rule on social media, Twitter especially, and I try not to react to or comment on stories, photos, or videos of people being racist until the mob moves on.

I do believe my own eyes, though, and the MAGA hat and smirk that teenager’s wearing put the lie to the both-sides spin being applied to the story of the Covington Catholic High School boys’ confrontation with a Native American activist. No matter if this photo represents only part of the story of what happened in front of the Lincoln Memorial last weekend, it is what it is and nothing will change that.

On the larger subject of MAGA hats and what they represent, I’ll just say that every time I see someone wearing one I expect a young boy in a brown shirt to jump up on a beer garden table and start singing Tomorrow Belongs to Me. Which, like almost everything people who wear MAGA hats stand for, sounds better in the original German.


Barrett-Jackson 2019

Scenes from the Barrett-Jackson Collector Car Auction in Scottsdale, Arizona.

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Remembering the crowds at Barrett-Jackson 2017, I stayed home in 2018. The memory faded, and when my friend Ed said he was going this year, I asked to come along. We drove to Westworld in Scottsdale yesterday, accompanied by Ed’s son Nick and grandson Andrew, who were making their first pilgrimage.

Last year excepted, I’ve made every Barrett-Jackson Scottsdale auction since 2009. It’s part car show, part auction, and part state fair: lots of shiny cars to ogle, food and drink vendors on the midway, crowds of people. This year was no exception.

We entered through the main exhibitor and auction tent, densely packed with gawkers and bidders, but as soon as I found an exit door and stepped out onto the midway … well, as you can see in the top pair of photos, the crowds thinned out. Once I wandered into those football field-sized tents, though, the feeling of being crushed in the middle of a rugby scrum returned. And the rental scooters, my god. They were everywhere, at least half the people sitting on them not even remotely disabled, and who knows how many innocent toes they silently snuck up on and crushed? Gah!

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As I explain in virtually every car show post, I’m not a muscle car buff. I like the old stuff, the real classics, along with oddball mini- and micro-cars, orphan cars from companies that went out of business when I was still a kid, and motorcycles.

The tents this year were packed with muscle, resto-mods, well-preserved daily drivers from the 1980s and 90s, and tons of pickup trucks from the 1940s and 50s, I suspect cheaply restored and repainted. In past years, indoor exhibitors included Rolls Royce, Bentley, and Porsche. This year it was pretty much the Big Three and Tesla. At previous auctions outdoor exhibitors displayed airplanes, helicopters, and cigarette boats … this year, electric bicycles. The whole affair seemed more downmarket than in the past.

Happily, a few of the cars on display spoke to me. Here are some that caught my eye.


BMW Isetta


’58 Buick Century


1970s Moto Guzzi V7 Ambassador


1949 Case Streamline tractor


1947 Crosley pickup truck


1951 Frazier Manhattan convertible sedan

Click on any thumbnail image to see the full-sized photo on Flickr. You can see my entire Barrett-Jackson 2019 album (95 photos) by clicking here.

Note: I edited this post a few hours after posting it, adding observations I meant to include but didn’t have on the tip of my tongue the first time around.


Air-Minded: Tankers … in Spaaace!

Here are some things I’ve been thinking about this week:

I recently read Michael Chabon’s “Moonglow,” which contains a long chapter about Wernher von Braun and the Nazi’s V-2 rocket program.

The V-2, Chabon rhapsodized, with its sleek cigar-shaped body, pointed nose, and swept-back fins, entered the imaginations of people the world over. It lent its iconic shape to the science fiction spaceships of the 1950s and 60s, and still has a firm grip on our dreams. Many of us remember a centerpiece of the original Disneyland, the needle-nosed TWA Moonliner standing tall on its launchpad in Tomorrowland.


Photo: SpaceX

Elon Musk posted this image on Twitter yesterday, helpfully pointing out that it’s an actual photo, not an artist’s rendering as most viewers might at first assume. If you look closely, you can see a SpaceX engineer standing beneath it. The rocket is a small test version of what will some day be the SpaceX Starship.

Michael Chabon, you are so right! And Elon Musk, you’ve got your problems, but I’ll take you over that blood-stained Nazi Wernher von Braun any day!

Until now, mankind has been unable to penetrate it. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the next Chuck Yeager, determined to push beyond the Lie Barrier to see if it’s true that fact and fiction are reversed on the other side.

This rivals even Chico Marx’s famous line, “Who you gonna believe, me or your own eyes?” Trump literally says he said Mexico would pay for the wall, then in the same breath says he never said it. Absolutely staggering.

Years ago, on a lonely stretch of road, I hit “scan” and the radio locked onto an AM talk station where some asshole was blaming the recent crash of an airliner not on pilot error, weather, or mechanical failure, but on Democrats. He repeated the point several times, with piggish single-mindedness. What a stupid fuck, I thought. That was my introduction to Sean Hannity.

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If you’d told me then that stupid fuck would some day be the trusted advisor to an even stupider fuck installed in the White House by a foreign government, I’d have floored it and aimed for the nearest bridge abutment.

Finding money to spend on aerial refueling tankers instead of fighters and bombers is as much of an uphill battle as coaxing politicians into spending tax money on repairing infrastructure: there’s no glamor in it, and little sense of urgency.

Apart from 60 KC-10 Extender tankers, introduced in the 1980s, the USAF’s tanker fleet is made up of KC-135 Stratotankers, almost 400 of them, the newest of which rolled out of the Boeing plant in 1965. We plan to keep the 135s in service until 2040 and perhaps a little beyond, if you can believe it.

You can’t say the issue’s been totally neglected, though. In 2001 the USAF decided to lease a fleet of new tankers from Boeing. That turned into a corruption scandal: people went to jail, others were fired, and the deal fell apart. In 2006 the Air Force tried again, this time deciding to buy and operate its own tankers. After reviewing proposals from defense contractors, the USAF in 2008 awarded a contract to Airbus for a couple of hundred tankers based on the 330 airliner, to be built with American labor in a new factory in Alabama. Boeing protested the award and everything ground to a halt. In 2011, after a new round of proposals and reviews, the Air Force gave the contract to Boeing. The new tanker, as with the original leasing scheme of 2001, would be based on the 767 airliner and would be called the KC-46 Pegasus.

Eleven years later, this is the latest headline: USAF Finally Accepts Its First KC-46A Tanker, but the Design Still Needs Years Worth of Fixes. Yes, the new tanker’s been in flight test this whole time. I can’t find the exact number, but I think fewer than ten have been built. Four KC-46s from Boeing’s test program will be turned over the the USAF this month; the first one, as the article says, was handed over yesterday. Eventually, the USAF will have 179 KC-46s.

KC-46 refuels A-10

KC-46 refueling A-10 (Boeing photo/John D. Parker)

The linked article is the best I’ve seen to date in terms of explaining ongoing problems with the new tanker’s refueling system. One problem that jumps out at me is that the KC-46’s boom, in its present state, won’t positively lock into a receiving aircraft’s refueling slipway without a firm push (1,400 pounds’ worth) from the receiver (and without a positive lock, you don’t get fuel).* This could be a problem with aircraft that don’t have a lot of thrust in reserve, like the A-10 in the photo. Reading the article closely, it even appears receiving pilots might have to push against the boom the entire time they’re refueling, and that doesn’t sound like any fun at all.

I’ve been there with malfunctioning KC-135 booms, where I had to bump the F-15’s throttles to push against the boom until it locked. In my experience, at least, once the boom lock engaged I didn’t have to keep pushing. Once, though, on a cross-Atlantic flight from the Netherlands to Florida, one of our squadron mates had a malfunctioning slipway that required him to keep a constant push against the tanker’s boom the whole time he was refueling, which amounted to five or six 10-20 minute sessions over the course of the flight. He was exhausted by the time we finally landed.

Normally, development problems encountered in flight test are fixed before the USAF accepts a new aircraft, but hey, we’re on the other side of the Lie Barrier now and all the rules are different. Did I mention Trump’s new acting secretary of defense, Patrick Shanahan, was a Boeing executive from 1986 to 2017? He has a long history with the 767 program, over a time span encompassing both the original leasing scandal and the subsequent protest of the Airbus contract … but I allege nothing, and will even throw in a couple of extra allegedlies to cover my ass:

Allegedly. Allegedly. There.

By the way, that Airbus tanker? It’s called the Airbus A330 Multi Role Tanker Transport, and it’s been in service since 2011 with the UK, Australia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, France, and the UAE. It will soon join the air forces of Poland, the Netherlands, Norway, and South Korea. And it works just fine.

*Update (1/12/19): A friend who works for the USAF as an aeronautical engineer at Wright-Patterson AFB points out that the 1,400 pound force resistance issue is on the USAF, which specified it in the contract, not on Boeing, and that the USAF has agreed to pay Boeing for modifications, which may take up to two years.


Transonic Cat Wars

Spotted on our neighborhood message board this morning:

My kids are very worried about a black cat that we have seen roaming about for a few weeks now. They want to find its home. Does anyone know if this cat belongs to anyone. Thanks!

The black cat, which has no name, is one of our daughter Polly’s creatures, a stray she took in. What do you want to bet Sunnywood Estates is soon at war, with us at ground zero? God damn it, they were right all along … black cats are bad luck!

Moving on: I remember when Ellen DeGeneres was an up & comer known for intelligent standup, and later as a brave pioneer for coming out on TV when doing so could easily have killed her career. That’s not the Ellen I see today when Donna (who can unerringly find her on one or another of 400+ channels with no more than two clicks of the remote) takes over the TV. Ellen’s appeal now seems, to me at least, depressingly lowest common denominator: daytime TV-style celebrity infatuation, with a screaming studio audience.

I’m coming to dread what I once welcomed: the future. Specifically the looming threat of assisted living, where we all know what’ll be on in the TV room: Good Morning America, soaps, Wheel of Fortune, infomercials, Ellen in the slots between. When the men get their turn, it’ll be Fox News and ESPN.

Well, maybe I’ll be able to lock myself in my room and read … let’s hope I don’t go blind.

My interest was piqued this morning by an article headlined “Boeing’s radical ‘transonic’ wing design could mean higher, faster airplanes.” Wait a minute, I said to myself, jet aircraft have always been transonic. Some WWII prop fighters could go transonic. What’s radical about that?

I clicked the link, where I read this astonishing statement:

During development, which is still at conceptual phase, engineers have also been able to obtain an increased top speed from a planned Mach 0.70-0.75 to Mach 0.80, only slightly below the speed of sound, or Mach 1.

The fuck? Was this written in the 1940s? Every jet airliner cruises in the transonic range, Mach 0.72 to 1.0. Boeing 777s cruise at Mach 0.84, 747s at Mach 0.86. The slowest jetliners today are older models of the Boeing 737, bricks with wings that putt along at Mach 0.74.

The F-15s I flew, though capable of speeds in excess of Mach 2.0, cruised at Mach 0.9 or slightly faster. Boosting airliner cruise speeds into the Mach 0.9 range would be a significant development, and perhaps that’s what Boeing’s “radical transonic wing design” is meant to help achieve. Meanwhile, when reading about aviation and aircraft, keep a grain of salt handy … the people who write those articles often have only the haziest notions of the subjects they’re assigned to cover.

For example, the brouhaha (love that word) over the Israeli F-15D that recently lost its canopy at 30,000 feet. Media reports, like this one on the Jalopnik website, breathlessly portrayed the incident as a catastrophic emergency, one from which the crew’s safe recovery was nothing less than a miracle. Which gets clicks, and I suppose that’s what it’s all about.

In fact, though, there have been other F-15 canopy losses over the years. I once talked to a fellow Eagle driver who lost his canopy in a single-seat F-15A; he said it was no big deal. The windscreen, which is fixed to the airplane, protected him from the wind blast. He lowered the seat, pulled the throttles back, descended to a lower altitude, and found a safe place to land … which is exactly what the Israeli aircrew did in the most recent incident, the difference being they were flying a two-seat family model. The guy in back was exposed to considerably more wind blast than the guy in front, but he survived … he didn’t even lose his helmet.

As long as we’re on fighter jets and fighter pilots, get a load of this: the American Family Association is advertising a 12-disc video series it says will convince Christian men to abandon pornography by showing them men at war … specifically fighter pilots in fast jets … and a “battle plan for purity.”

I’m thinking they didn’t run the idea past any fighter pilots first. Porn was an order of magnitude harder to come by in my fighter pilot days, but whenever I sat Zulu alert, which I did in the Netherlands, Alaska, and Korea, we always had a shelf of porn videos to play when we were sitting around between scrambles. I remember a huge flap at Soesterberg Air Base in the Netherlands when a new guy, one of the first of a wave of evangelical Christian officers from the Air Force Academy (a wave that continues to plague the USAF today), recorded Spielberg’s awful “1941” movie over all the alert shack’s Betamax porn tapes. Funny now, but an existential crisis at the time!

Speaking of Soesterberg Air Base, here’s a photo our friend Peter sent yesterday.

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Peter, who was our Dutch liaison officer at Soesterberg, took this photo one night in the American Officers’ Club bar. Donna and I are on the right, talking with two of our 32nd Tactical Fighter Squadron mates, Steve Beck and Jeff Cliver. I didn’t know this photo existed until yesterday, and today memories of those days are flooding back. Thank you, Peter!


Would You Like Some Hitler with That? (Updated)

new-horizons-ultima-thule-mu69-flyby-1546292568420-articleLarge-v5It’s an old tactic, attempting to shame and shut down one side of a debate by invoking the evils of Nazi Germany, as in “Oh yeah, you know who ELSE wanted a wall?” A Norwegian friend tells me they call it “Hitlering” over there.

A couple of days ago, as the New Horizons probe neared the distant planetoid 2014 MU69, NASA began calling the object “Ultima Thule.” Newsweek was quick to sound the alarm: NASA Named its Next New Horizons Target Ultima Thule, a Mythical Land with a Nazi Connection.

Ultima Thule, a name for distant unknown regions and the extreme limits of travel and discovery, has been in use for thousands of years. Now it so happens that Nazi mystics in the 1930s and 40s co-opted the name to refer to a mythical homeland of the Aryan race. Many seized on this small part of Ultima Thule’s history to label NASA’s use of it Nazi-like and even anti-Semitic, a slap in the face of the 6 million killed in the Holocaust.

Social media was filled with amateur examples of Hitlering. To give you a flavor, here’s a representative tweet from a concerned citizen:

Hey everyone who feels compelled to write me and say, BUT THE DEFINITION IS THIS. Stop. I am aware that the words Ultima Thule were around before Nazi’s. The point is that any whiff of Nazi *anything* doesn’t belong near a NASA mission. This is not hard to understand.

Here’s another:

If my father was still around, he would be devastated that @NASA has chosen to use the name “Ultima Thule” as part of its scientific exploration.

“Ultima Thule” tastes like white supremacy and violence and genocide.

It does not taste like science or space exploration.

I’m not making fun of anyone. These complaints are sincerely felt … the author of the second tweet, for example, is a Jew whose father experienced horrific anti-Semitism in his day, and who has every right to Hitler NASA over the name Ultima Thule. But in this case at least, invoking the memory of Hitler and the Holocaust failed. NASA still calls the snowman-shaped object Ultima Thule, and the controversy seems to be dying down.

Did anyone ever really think invoking Hitler and the Holocaust was a sure-fire way to shut down the other side in a debate? I ask because both progressives and conservatives have been Hitlering one another’s arguments since the end of the Third Reich and to my knowledge it’s never once shut the other side up.

This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t ever invoke Hitler. Trump’s demonization of Latin American and Muslim immigrants and his policy of separating migrant families crossing the southern border and locking their children up in internment camps: these actions are plainly Hitleresque and cry out to be condemned as such. Not to do so … that would be the real slap in the face of the 6 million killed in the Holocaust.

Just don’t expect it to stop Trump from what he’s doing.

Update (later, same day): My Norwegian friend had a point to make about Hitlering, and I didn’t mean to ignore it in this post. It’s not entirely true that Hitlering never shuts anyone up. Anyone on the left, that is. A lot of well-intentioned people are reluctant to voice concerns about large immigrant populations that resist assimilation and the long-term effects that may have on society and culture, lest they be accused of racism. Others are reluctant to speak out against Israel’s treatment of its Palestinian population lest they be accused of anti-Semitism. I’ve zipped my own lip a number of times on various topics where I sense my opinions would alienate friends and people I respect. Hitlering, in these cases, does have a chilling effect on debate, at least on one side of it. The other side, of course, could not care less, and probably takes pride in its racism and anti-Semitism.


PASM Photoblog XV

I was tapped yesterday, New Year’s Eve, to escort a tour group visiting Pima Air and Space Museum. They had their own Grey Line-style bus and driver, and the only way to get them from the parking lot onto the museum grounds was to drive around the back of the museum and through the restoration area, normally off limits.

The first batch of photos are of aircraft parked way back behind the restoration area, not visible from the public areas of the museum. Until I saw them, I didn’t know about the Canberras in Royal Navy markings (there can’t have been very many of those in the first place, and here we have two).


Grumman A-6 Intruder


Lockheed P-2 Neptune


English Electric Canberras


McDonnell-Douglas F/A-18A Hornet

The second batch of photos are of aircraft you can see from the museum grounds, but only if you’re willing to hike to the less-visited area where we keep our old fire-fighting aircraft. There are several new acquisitions here, including a French Marine Super Étendard and a USMC Sea King, a VIP transport model similar to one I hitched a ride on in 1986 with CNO Admiral Trost from Norfolk NAS to the Pentagon (wood paneling inside the cabin, uniformed stewards serving coffee and pastries, what a life). I wonder if this one might have done Marine One duty at some point in its career … can’t wait to find out!


Sikorski VH-3D Sea King


Dassault-Breguet Super Étendard


F-16A & F-16B Fighting Falcons


Boeing 777 & 747

Finally, here’s a selfie I took yesterday with another of our new acquisitions, a cherry little Cessna 140. Dig that selfie stick shadow!



A Violation of Trust

At one point in my marginal military career, I was a wing commander’s executive officer. Part of my job was reviewing enlisted and officer fitness reports sent up for his endorsement. Maybe once a week I’d get one praising a ratee’s off-duty political activities (always Republican and conservative, never Democratic or liberal) or extolling his or her Christian faith (always Protestant, never Catholic or Jewish).

I’d circle the inappropriate comments in red and send the reports back to be rewritten. Most of the questionable reports were written by officers senior to me, a mere captain. Sometimes they’d pull rank and demand I send their stuff on as written. The boss, though himself a conservative Protestant, would always back me up. You don’t promote partisan politics or religion on duty or in uniform. The Uniform Code of Military Justice makes that perfectly clear.

You may remember an Army general named William Boykin. During the George W. Bush administration, Boykin began giving speeches denouncing the Muslim religion and promoting Christian fundamentalism. He wore his uniform during those speeches, in violation of the UCMJ. His speeches were widely denounced in the media, and while the Army and the Department of Defense investigated him, Boykin was never punished. I said at the time that was a mistake, one that will have consequences. Here’s a short excerpt from that post:

Now we come to … the thing that’s really bothering me: military personnel abusing the uniform to advocate for political causes. Officer or enlisted, active duty or retired, the UCMJ says you can’t do that. Period. You can vote for whomever you like, and you can speak freely as a private citizen. But the minute you associate yourself with the military, whether by wearing a uniform or introducing yourself with your rank and branch of service, you’ve crossed a line. Why? Because people will assume, at some level, that you are speaking with the approval of the military and thus the government, that what you say is somehow sanctioned.

The military should have come down hard on General Boykin, the Christian fundamentalist who crusaded against Islam to civilian audiences while wearing his Army uniform. But it didn’t, and now who’s to tell another politically active general he or she can’t speak out in uniform?

White House reporter Jennifer Epstein, who accompanied Trump on this week’s surprise visit to front line troops in Iraq, took these photos of USAF personnel lined up in a hangar to see their commander-in-chief during a brief stopover in Germany on his way home from Iraq.


Some of the airmen in the first photo are waving MAGA hats. The officer in the second photo, an Air Force captain, is holding a Trump MAGA flag. She dropped it as soon as she saw Epstein taking her photo. That is slightly encouraging, because it tells me that some military members, even though openly engaging in partisan political activity in uniform, at least still understand it’s illegal. As for this officer, she’d better be running for cover … it’s one thing to be General Boykin, but another thing entirely to be a no-name captain.

But whatever happens to the airmen in these photos, the fact is we’re growing accustomed to seeing photos and videos of uniformed military officers, NCOs, and troops lending their support to Trump in what are, no matter what the administration calls them, political rallies.

Trump has only one mode when he speaks to the public, and that mode is political rally. In Iraq, he staged yet another political rally. Although this is the first time he’s visited serving troops overseas, he’s spoken to military personnel here at home many times, and always—always—his remarks are partisan and political.

Just by the mere act of sharing the stage with him while wearing their uniforms, let alone waving partisan flags and campaign hats, these military personnel are violating the UCMJ (and more importantly, undermining our trust in the military to stay out of partisan politics), and their commanders know it. That they are allowing it to happen is a direct consequence of military leadership letting General Boykin off the hook. The military is being—has been—politicized, and no one seems interested in stopping it.

Trust me, we don’t want our military politicized. That’s what happens in dictatorships and banana republics. I just hope it’s not gone too far to reverse.


Just Nice

IMG_4166Trite but true: it’s better to give than to receive. The act of giving is what finally sparked a glimmer of Christmas spirit in us this year.

Here’s Donna with her dachshund wine glass, a present from Maxie and Mr. B. You can read the words if you click on the image to see the full-sized version on Flickr, but if you’re click-averse, they say “It’s been a long day.” As for me, I gave Donna books, socks, a monogrammed wallet, and a windbreaker. She made me a new bathrobe and an embroidered zip pouch for my GoPro camera and accessories, perfect to keep in the motorcycle’s saddlebag. My favorite gift, though? A DVD box set of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, all eight seasons!

All in all, it beat our first Christmas, when I pawned my pocket watch to buy her a tortoiseshell comb, only to come home Christmas Eve to find she’d cut off her hair and sold it to a wig-maker in order to buy me a chain for the watch. Oh well. Or should I say oh Henry?

Every year we’re invited to a Boxing Day party hosted by a wealthy couple we met through social connections, and that’s where we’re going tonight. Our hosts don’t have servants, so it’s a Boxing Day event in name only … the other guests are similarly wealthy people, plus, unaccountably, a few poor folk like us.

Speaking of Maxie and Mr. B, here they are unwrapping their presents: they each got a strip of bacon from Santa.

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Christmas was lovely, but Christmas Eve was even lovelier. Our dear friends Mary Anne and Darrell came over for our traditional clam chowder and shrimp boil. Polly was with us, bright and lively and participating, not hiding in her room as she so often does, and it was just nice.

You know, if you read this blog, that I’m not religious. I’ll take just nice, and be thankful for it. So should we all.