Paul’s Thing

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August 2016
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© 2004-2016 Paul Woodford. All rights reserved.

Recharging My Battery

A good motorcycle ride will do that every time.

Here’s a four-minute GoPro video I put together yesterday after a ride to Arivaca, one of the oldest settlements in southern Arizona. The town is located just 11 miles north of the Mexican border, dead center in one of the Southwest’s busiest drug smuggling and migrant corridors. Toward the end of the video, in fact, you’ll see me stopping at a “temporary” US Border Patrol checkpoint (a polite fiction: that checkpoint’s been there as long as I’ve lived in Arizona, 19 years now).

Arivaca’s one of my favorite local area rides, a 150-mile round trip from my home in northeast Tucson. Getting there involves riding from one corner of the city to the other, then south on Interstate 19 through Green Valley to Amado … a blah ride, nothing to write home about … but the payback comes on Arivaca Road, a nearly-deserted two-lane blacktop through gorgeous country with rolling hills and curves. You have to keep an eye out for wandering cattle (it’s open range country down there), but what a ride. Each of the short clips I spliced together to make this video was filmed on the road to and from Arivaca.

I stopped at the Gadsden Coffee Company in Arivaca, a popular destination for motorcyclists, and enjoyed a cup of dark roast under the shade of a tree. An hour later I retraced my way home, making a quick selfie stop at the old Longhorn Grill in Amado.


A nice day, my Sunday, and I hope yours was too.


Dog Days

It’s National Dog Day. Everybody gets a belly rub!


While we’re at it, let me plug a favorite Twitter account, @DogSolutions.

Screen Shot 2016-08-26 at 10.16.44 AM

So peace. Such soothe. Deg best antidote to times of hate.

My cell phone rings all the time now. Spam, scams, once in a while someone calling the Tucson Police Department’s seized property division (transpose two digits and you get me instead). This is a new thing: sure, we get spam calls on the landline all the time, but up to now only a few on our cell phones. Suddenly it’s several a day. I don’t answer unless it’s someone I know, but still, what a pain in the ass. Our cell phone numbers are on the national Do Not Call list; obviously they’ve found a way around that.

Yesterday the office landline started ringing. Our old office phone doesn’t have caller ID so I answered. It was a robocall from a credit union. I was about to hang up when I realized the recorded message was from the credit union that handles our car loan. It instructed me to fax an insurance document. What, they couldn’t call in person or send a letter? Am I wrong in thinking that’s not how you conduct business, that if it’s official, you call in person or send a letter by post? In the end I hung up, but made sure to tell Donna about the call. Turns out Donna was on it: they’d sent a real letter last week and the paperwork they wanted was in that day’s stack of outgoing mail.

If I die first, the worst that’ll happen is Donna will have to hire a kid to work the remotes so she can watch Call the Midwife. If Donna dies first the cars will be repossessed, the utilities cut off, and the house foreclosed before I get a handle on the checking account and monthly bills.

Oh, for the life of a dog!


Paulgram, Instagram, Abstigram

Did you know I write email newsletters from time to time? They’re called PaulGrams, and I just sent one out this morning. You have to subscribe to get them; the signup box is on the left sidebar under PaulGram (duh). Just enter your email address and click “Subscribe” (duh again). Don’t worry, I won’t flood your inbox with them … the first one went out on Christmas Day, 2015, and today’s newsletter was just number three.

The latest PaulGram celebrates my 21st anniversary of publishing online. The original Half-Mind Catalog went online in August 1995, the humble beginning of today’s vast publishing empire. Gosh, where does the time go? And when do I start getting paid?

Speaking of web empires, I now have Instagram and Pinterest accounts, and have posted lots of photos. Link up if you’re interested, and I’ll follow back.

Back in March I marked another anniversary, my ninth year of not drinking. I’ve learned not to toot my horn about that too often. People are defensive about drinking—my Hash House Harrier friends in particular—and they don’t like wet blankets and party poopers. But over the last few years I’ve seen drinking expand into places and situations that were once thought inappropriate. If you don’t live in a state that still enforces blue laws, you can now drink in movie theaters and even department stores, and I’m talking hard liquor. Where next? The DMV?

I was raised to believe there are times and places for drinking, and that the surest sign of alcoholism is starting to drink at the wrong times and places. When I first quit drinking, nights were the hardest thing to deal with, because that had always been drinking time. Places and situations were easier to avoid. I stayed away from bars, avoided friends who drank heavily, and made sure I had a bailout option—a car stashed somewhere nearby—for when the hash circle started to drag. Later on, once I was sure I wouldn’t be tempted again, I loosened up.

I had an easier time stopping than most people (I don’t know why, I just did). At first, though, I felt like this woman, who talks about “dog-paddling through the booze all around me.” How hard must it be for people who need to quit when everyone around them, almost everywhere they go, at almost any time of day, is drinking? Unless you go live with the Amish, it’s difficult to keep drinking culture at arm’s length.

It’s especially hard for young people, those who least want to listen to anti-drinking talk, because they’re going to live forever and they can quit any time they want, etc. On my other blog I’ve written about sexual assaults at hash events. Most hashers are young, and most of them drink. The kind of hash events where sexual assaults have taken place—the ones I know about, anyway—are pretty much all about drinking. Knowing what we know about college drinking and campus rape, it’s pretty obvious there’s a connection between drinking culture and rape culture. I’m not saying one causes the other, but there is a clear connection, as strong at the hash as it is on campus. Hashers don’t want to hear that shit, neither do students … and neither did I, when I was younger.

Speaking of drinking, are we sure Donald Trump doesn’t? I’m starting to have my doubts.


Paul’s Book Reviews: Memoir, Essays, Fiction

“Rivers perhaps are the only physical features of the world that are at their best from the air. Mountain ranges, no longer seen in profile, dwarf to anthills; seas lose their horizons; lakes have no longer depth but look like bright pennies on the earth’s surface; forests become a thin impermanent film, a moss on the top of a wet stone, easily rubbed off. But rivers, which from the ground one usually sees only in cross sections, like a small sample of ribbon—rivers stretch out serenely ahead as far as the eye can reach. Rivers are seen in their true stature.”
– Anne Morrow Lindbergh, “North to the Orient

north to the orientNorth to the Orient
Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Whenever I read anything by or about Charles Lindbergh, I feel a personal connection. That, in turn, engenders a feeling of connection to Anne Morrow Lindbergh. It’s entirely illusory, this connection, but strong nonetheless: Lindbergh was an icon to me, still a heroic figure when I was a boy in the 1950s, quite possibly a major influence on my decision to become an aviator later in life. Anne was the beautiful woman who married this heroic figure, the most famous man in the world at the time, who went adventuring with him as copilot and radio operator, who suffered with him after the kidnapping and death of their first child, who stuck with him when his reputation bottomed out in the late 1930s and early 1940s, who became an environmentalist, who found her voice as a writer.

Yes, adults who had been around in the late 1930s and early 1940s knew Charles Lindbergh was a Nazi sympathizer, anti-semite, and racist. They wanted to keep their heroes, though, and didn’t allow any of that to be taught in schools. As far as children in the 1950s knew, Lindbergh was as a pure a hero as he was in 1927 when he flew from New York to Paris. I learned about the other stuff as an adult, along with revelations of bigamy: a secret wife and children in Germany, children by yet other women.

None of this lessened my admiration of Anne, or my desire to read something she’d written. Learning later still that Anne herself had feet of clay and had had more than one extramarital affair—not that a woman of her era would ever write about either her own husband’s or her own infidelities—made me want to read her even more. Even her own embrace of fascism during the heyday of Hitler, which damaged her reputation along with Charles’, did not dissuade me.

I chose “North to the Orient,” her first book, the memoir of a epic 1931 flight of exploration to map potential air routes across the roof of North America and westward to Russia, Japan, and China.

This is a fascinating, lyrically-written little book; an engrossing read, conveying—without unnecessary detail—what it was like to pioneer air routes that had never been flown before: the preparation, the equipment and survival gear so meticulously packed into compartments and pontoons, Anne’s experiences learning to send and receive Morse code from the cockpit and the constant reeling out and in of the long trailing antenna,, navigating by compass and landmarks below, harrowing descriptions of blind descents in fog.

Her descriptions of the places they visited, places only a handful of people had ever been to, are fascinating and well told: isolated trapping outposts and Eskimo villages, the Kamchatka Peninsula, remote Japanese islands, teeming China. Some of her casually-related details will jar modern sensibilities; in particular Anne’s acceptance of the cultural separation of European whites from everyone else as the natural order of things, so apparent in her descriptions of tiny Canadian and Alaskan settlements, where the few white inhabitants segregated themselves from indigenous inhabitants.

Anne was a shy woman who had been raised to efface herself; this is ever apparent in her writing. I now want to read her later diaries and letters (there are several collections of these in print) to see how she developed as a person once her husband’s heroism had faded, once she herself had experienced adversity and discontent, once she had become her own woman. I don’t know what I will find, but that’s part of the adventure.

fields of fireFields of Fire
James Webb

I took my sweet time getting around to reading this famous Vietnam War novel: 38 years, in fact. Vietnam was huge in my life, though like many other young men of my generation I didn’t go. I had a deferment. I protested while other young men my age fought. I have always felt guilty about that. I think most of us—the draft dodgers, the lucky ones with deferments—came to feel that way, some sooner, some later. Over time, we came to admire those who answered what they felt to be the call of duty.

I use the word duty intentionally, because James Webb exemplifies it, both in his novel and his career in government and politics. I met the man in Washington DC in the 1980s. He was a deputy secretary of defense and I was an Air Force major sent to brief him on a readiness program my command was developing. He radiated duty. He was the kind of man words like principle and probity and rectitude were invented for. At the time I knew he had been a Marine officer in Vietnam and that he had been wounded there. I did not know about his novel, but when I got back to headquarters everyone told me about the book.

Huh. This review is turning out to be more about me than about the book. Funny how that happens when Vietnam, and having not served there, looms so large in one’s life.

“Fields of Fire” is as gritty and realistic as it gets, from shitting in catholes to ringworm and intestinal parasites to being pinned down by relentless machine gun fire from a tree line on the edge of a rice paddy. It’s hard today to read of gooks and VC and starving villagers, but that is how it was and Webb never flinched from it. It’s hard to read of fragging, but that was part of it too. It’s hard to read of young marines becoming so inured to war and to the Vietnamese they were nominally sent to assist that they would strip a dead girl naked just to see her pussy. But that too is how it was, and Webb includes it all. It is almost unbelievably intense; one fire fight after another, dead comrades left and right; but that too is how it was, and Webb captures it all.

Webb succumbs to preachiness in one final chapter, when the college boy Goodrich comes home—minus the leg he lost in a firefight that resulted from his own carelessness and which cost the lives of the best men in his platoon—and Goodrich’s father speaks for James Webb (I think), lecturing about duty, but this is a mere page in what is otherwise the most intense novel of ground warfare I have ever read.

This book. It’s like “The Call of the Wild,” a book that should be in every young man’s library. It’s the seminal novel of the Vietnam war. Shame on me for putting the experience off for so many years, and yes, experience is the word I meant to use. “Fields of Fire” is to be experienced, not merely read.

girl with giftsThe Girl with All the Gifts
M.R. Carey

I used to love a good zombie movie, but a zombie book? After wading through “World War Z” a few years ago I thought I’d paid my dues. Zombie stories are best told in movie format, nice and short. The stories are so simple, after all … you don’t need more than an hour and a half to satisfy your zombie hunger, and you certainly don’t need to spend days reading a 450-page novel about the poor creatures.

But then Hollywood cashed in on George Romero’s originality, and the zombie movie genre became diluted with hundreds of knockoffs. Buried in that pile of cinematic crap, however, two British films stood out: “28 Days Later” and “28 Weeks Later.”

I don’t know if there’s any intentional connection between those movies and M.R. Carey’s novel, but “The Girl with All the Gifts” goes deep into the 28 Days/28 Weeks universe, deeper than I expected, and is a marvelous read: exciting, fascinating, satisfying. Of course it’s all bullshit, this zombie stuff, but what great bullshit this novel is!

By which I mean I was wholly taken in; I entered M.R. Carey’s universe and engaged with the characters and the situations they found themselves in as if they were real. The only time I was tempted to say “Oh, come on!” was when the intrepid band of humans (and one zombie) find the safe haven of an unmolested armored research vehicle in the heart of an abandoned and looted London, but I forgave the author that small deus ex machina.

This is a hell of a good read. A beach book among beach books, the zombie novel.

partly cloudy patriotThe Partly Cloudy Patriot
Sarah Vowell

“The Partly Cloudy Patriot” is a collection of magazine pieces, radio readings, and original essays (the title piece, for example), similar to Sarah Vowell’s earlier collection “Take the Cannoli.” There is no unifying theme, as with later books like “Lafayette in the Somewhat United States,” “Unfamiliar Fishes,” “The Wordy Shipmates,” and “Assassination Vacation.”

Unless, that is, you enjoy reading anything Sarah Vowell writes, as I do, in which case the theme is Sarah Vowell herself: her worldview, her likes and dislikes, her life, her family. Here’s part of the review I wrote after reading “Take the Cannoli”:

“Sarah is a great observer of people, places, moods, trends, culture, and society at large. She is also a disarmingly frank observer of herself. I always feel, after reading Sarah Vowell, as if I’ve just had a long conversation with an unusually open and honest friend.”

I have yet to read Sarah’s first book, “Radio On: a Listener’s Diary.” That’s next, and then I’ll have to wait till she writes something new. It won’t be easy.

hero of franceA Hero of France (Night Soldiers #14)
Alan Furst

I started noticing the change in Alan Furst’s writing two novels ago. This is from my review of “Mission to Paris” (Night Soldiers # 12):

“Furst’s latest, ‘Mission to Paris,’ seems different from earlier novels in his Night Soldiers series. It is not as atmospheric, not as noir. Furst’s omniscient narrator is more omniscient than normal: one feels Furst explains more than is strictly necessary.”

I’m not nearly as down on Furst’s new style as other fans. Here are some detailed objections listed by another reviewer:

  • All nuance has been obliterated in favor of simplistic moralizing and reeking explicitness
  • Lyrical, well composed prose has given way to a direct, factual-reporting style
  • Sex and nudity have been shoved in for purposes of titillation only, in ways that add nothing to the plot or characterizations
  • The realistic gritty-noir moody tone has been replaced by that of a commercial, superficial action-thriller

These comments are spot on, unfortunately. The last three Night Soldiers novels read less like novels than outlines of novels, with characterization, world-building, and nuance yet to be added.

Mind you, a hell of a great Alan Furst novel could be built upon the tale he tells in “A Hero of France.” The story is gripping, almost certainly based upon fact: actual wartime activities and accomplishments of what were most likely several resistance fighters, rolled together and attributed to the fictional Mathieu and his accomplices.

This tale, though, is told in documentary style by an omniscient narrator, and because characterization is absent, along with the feel of occupied Paris (so very much present in earlier Furst novels), so too is tension and suspense. Overall, a disappointment.

the north waterThe North Water
Ian McGuire

I won’t say much about “The North Water” because there isn’t much to say, nor does there seem to be a point to the novel. It’s the tale a doomed whaling voyage, filled with doomed characters, some of them evil, and the evil that results from evil. Maybe that’s the point. It struck me, though, that the point was simply to be grim.

You know you’re in for gothic nastiness when you start to encounter words like fetor and incohate. Mr. McGuire deploys these words in lavish fashion to describe cold blooded murders, bouts of vomiting, spurts of diarrhea, gouts of blood. Oh, did I mention ichor? There’s lots of that as well. Along the way are drownings, clubbed seals, gruesome injuries, a captain’s plan to sink his ship and kill his crew for a little insurance money, and an ill-used Irish surgeon’s revenge.

All very grim, as I mentioned. Yes, it’s a page-turner, but other than that I got nothing out of it. How the publisher managed to get a book-cover blurb from the sainted Hilary Mantel I cannot imagine.


Blasphemy Is Hard Work

This is the time of year in southern Arizona where evening thunderstorms form right about the time you want to cook on the patio. Last night’s storm was a teaser. It looked like it was going to stay parked over the mountains, so I tempted fate by lighting the grill. The first gust hit as I walked back into the kitchen, snuffing out all three burners in the covered kettle gas grill. We had to broil our steaks in the oven, and if that isn’t blasphemy, I don’t know what is.


I should have known better

Speaking of blasphemy, I’m not quite willing to toe the party line on this widely-shared blog post. In it, Erin, an attractive young woman, describes running a daily gantlet of leers, unwanted sexual cracks, and verbal assaults from strange men. Erin, speaking for herself and other women, says hey, leave me alone. I should be allowed to wear what I want when and where I want, without being verbally or physically assaulted. I deserve this, we deserve this, as much as men.

Well, who could disagree with that? I don’t stray into the dark corners of the net, so I don’t know what the trolls are saying about Erin’s post. Most of the commentary I’ve seen has been positive. But I have to admit my first thought, upon reading Erin’s post and looking at the photos she chose to include, was that she’s pulling our legs. Click the link. Go take a look.

You’re back? Good. Now tell me those photos aren’t meant to showcase Erin’s physical attractiveness. They’re like the posed glamor shots aspiring actors carry around in their portfolios. In fact, I’m pretty sure they’re exactly that: posed glamor shots from Erin’s own modeling portfolio. And then read her words: “I wear a size small in my Nike compression shorts that I like to wear when I workout … and looser baggy clothing just gets in my way of my workout”; “I often run in just a sports bra …”; “We deserve to feel sexy in our own skin without feeling like we’re here to bait you.”

The last statement is important. I totally agree: we all want to feel attractive or sexy in our own skin, but that doesn’t mean we want strangers touching our skin or coming on to us, especially in a crude or aggressive manner. At the same time there’s such a thing as going out of one’s way to look sexy, and Erin here isn’t exactly hiding her light under a bushel. She clearly wants to be seen as sexy and attractive, but not to have to endure the looks and unwanted attention that comes with it. She may be trolling for attention from the right man or woman, but she doesn’t want any from me, or you, or that gross old man over there. And she shouldn’t have to put up with it.

Well, yeah, that would be nice. And that is how civilized people should behave. I know women feel uncomfortable in coed gyms. I go to Anytime Fitness, and make a conscious effort to not ogle the women working out next to me. I’ve noticed we all do that, men and women who share gyms: we look at the equipment or the wall TVs, never at one another. Nor would I ever talk to women the way Erin says strange men talk to her. I don’t know any man who would … which is another thing in Erin’s blog post I wonder about. Do you know men who talk to women like that, who would walk up to a strange woman at the gym, tell her they like her leggings, that they make her ass look great, and that they’d look better off? Because I don’t, and I’ve been around men my whole adult life. We might talk that way about women who aren’t there … locker room talk … but we don’t talk that way to women who are. Unless we’re really drunk.

No, I’m not saying Erin exaggerates. I’m sure strange men do come on to her with inappropriate comments, and she is right to ask to be left alone. But the photos she chose to include with her blog post suggest to me she wants to have her cake and eat it too.

I’m in enough trouble already with my social justice warrior friends, so I’ll say no more.

But hey, my blasphemy pales beside that of Rebecca Schoenkopf, editor of the satirical news website Wonkette, who wrote about Juanita Broaddrick’s claim that Bill Clinton raped her many years ago. Ms Shoenkopf defended Bill by arguing some things we call rape today were regarded as mere alpha male sexual aggressiveness back then, that Bill himself probably never believed he raped anyone, and that even if that’s what he did, a man can redeem himself by being sorry and not doing it again. The flying rage monkeys of the internet swooped down upon Ms Shoenkopf within minutes and are still gnawing on her bones two days later.

As for me, I take no position. I don’t think the old rape accusation has anything to do with Hillary Clinton or her campaign for the presidency, though it’s clearly being dug up again to hurt her chances. As for what may or may not have happened in an Arkansas hotel room almost 40 years ago, hasn’t that been investigated and commented on to death? I might not mind this being stirred up again if anyone in the media was asking about accusations Donald Trump raped a thirteen-year-old girl, but on that subject all I hear is crickets chirping. If similar accusations were directed at Bill Clinton we’d hear about nothing else.

The last thing I’ll link to this morning is this eyewitness account of the stampede at JFK Sunday night, after someone started a panic about terrorists firing shots inside the terminal. There were no terrorists, no shots. It’s a frightening story nonetheless, and it shows what all the airport security we’ve invested so much money in has bought us: absolutely nothing. The people who should have been in charge fell all over themselves. TSA agents deserted their posts and joined the stampede. Police and airport officials had no idea what to do. There was no evacuation plan, and at one point panicked passengers from the terminal were milling around outside on the tarmac next to a Korean Airlines jumbo jet from which other panicked passengers had escaped by sliding down the emergency ramps!

How frightened we are, how likely to bolt and run screaming at the least provocation! I was going to go on a rant about the home of the brave, etc, but really people would have reacted the same way anywhere in the world. We are herd animals. There are very few Chuck Norrises among us.

Whew, blasphemy is hard work. I think I’ll take a break now and go read the ads on Facebook.


In One End, Out the Other

We got a safety recall notice on our GMC pickup. Actually, two of them: one about a potentially bad trailer hitch, the other about a defective part in the seatbelt mechanism. I took it in this morning. The service rep said they’d fix the seatbelts and inspect the hitch, and if the hitch was bad they’d have to order a new one and install it at a future date. Two hours later they called to say come get your truck. Our trailer hitch was bad but they had a new one after all and it’s good now … it was the seatbelt stuff they didn’t have, so we’ll have to pay them another visit.

As far as I can tell the seatbelts work correctly. The recall didn’t say it was a don’t-drive-your-car-until-it’s-fixed issue, so I’m cool with waiting. Knowing the trailer hitch has been replaced with a good one is a relief, since we do pull a trailer sometimes.

Donna’s still happy with her new Ford Escape. She wants a set of those fitted rubber floor mats they advertise on TV. I priced them on Amazon and damn, them things ain’t cheap. What a racket, aftermarket parts. Speaking of parts, the Goldwing is ready for the Death Valley trip in November, but I think I’ll put a fresh battery in between now and then. Back in the day you could tell when an old battery was starting to give up the ghost. These days your first warning is when the starter goes click-click-click.

The air museum tram team leader climbed aboard yesterday and gave me a check ride, or, as he called it, an annual recertification. Then he asked me to ride along with him and do his recert. I take this sort of thing seriously. When I flew jets, every evaluation, check ride, test, and recertification was a big deal. As for yesterday, we both passed. He caught me in a couple of small errors; ditto me him. I learned something, so did he, and now we’re both smarter.

I’m thinking about writing a post on early jet engines. This grows out of the air-minded post I recently wrote on the FH Phantom, and my own experiences flying the T-37 Tweet, both of which were powered by early and comparatively primitive turbojet engines: axial-flow Westinghouse engines in the Phantom; centrifugal-flow Continental engines in the Tweet. The Westinghouse axial-flow design resembled that of the Junkers-Jumo engines that powered the German Me-262 in WWII; the Continental centrifugal-flow design came straight from the British Whittle engine of the same time period. Obviously I’m going to have to do some research before I write about the differences between axial-and centrifugal-flow engines. For now, you can feast your eyes on these photos I took at the air museum yesterday:


Early axial-flow turbojet


Early centrifugal-flow turbojet

To assist in orientation, you’re looking at the right side of each engine: intakes on the right, exhausts on the left. The principle’s the same but the designs are radically different.

Call me a nerd, but I dig this stuff. You’ll be hearing more on this subject soon.


Saturday Bag o’ You-Know-What

junior bag dispensers1007-2 PolyUp & at ’em: my Saturday morning motto. My weekly outdoor chores include poop patrol, replenishing wild bird feeders, checking the pool, and just generally looking around the property (describing our yard as “the property” makes us feel prosperous & successful).

Dog poop can be tricky. You clear one area and move to the next, glance back at the first area from a different angle, and there’s some you missed. And this: Schatzi likes to help, and her idea of helping is to follow behind and make more poops for me to rake up.

This morning I expanded my patrol into parts of the back yard our dogs never visit and found some strange scat, possibly coyote. I know they can jump high walls and fences, but I didn’t think they were jumping ours. And what if it was a bobcat? Oh, well, the dogs have been pooping in the back yard for years, and I’ll just have to trust they know when danger is about.

I saw a spider web in time to avoid walking through it with my bare legs. That made me happy, and I hope the spider too. Our pool guy backwashed the filter yesterday. When he does that, he runs a hose over the cinderblock wall by where we keep our garbage bins. I usually find javelina tracks when it’s muddy, but didn’t see any today. It’s been two weeks since their last visit; two weeks since they last tipped over the bins and spread trash everywhere. When we have especially stinky garbage, I drag the bins inside the fence. Javelina, thank goodness, can’t jump an eight-foot cinderblock wall.

The chores are done and I’m back indoors, enjoying my first cup of coffee and watching the bird feeders through the window. The pigeons are always the first to arrive, and then word spreads. Casa Thing is ready for another week.

What else is in Saturday’s special bag?

This election. On Twitter a guy observed it’s like unexpected guests drop by after work and you’re discussing dinner options: some want to call for pizza, some want to kill and eat the others. Even if pizza wins, there’s a problem.

The Olympics. My gosh, NBC’s coverage is horrible, and every night it gets worse. More commercials than Superbowl, puff pieces on popular athletes in place of actual events, a relentless focus on certain events to the exclusion of others, the constant grubbing for ratings. It’s like a visit to a dentist’s office where the only magazines in the waiting room are People and Us.

Simone Manuel. Please don’t misinterpret, but I think the deluge of social media posts about America’s horrible history of segregated swimming pools and beaches is an awfully negative way to celebrate her great accomplishment. Yes, absolutely, we should cheer her success in breaking a barrier, and yes, we must acknowledge our racism … but has it occurred to anyone that all these posts about how things were in the Jim Crow and segregation days are coming across as fun nostalgia to the dinner guests who want to kill and eat the rest of us?

Facebook. All of a sudden the advertisements once confined to the right sidebar are now in the newsfeed, in the form of “suggested posts.” And there are a lot of them, more than what used to appear in the sidebar. Whenever I complain about unwanted advertising, some goody-two-shoes will remind me commercials are what pay for “free” services like Facebook. I have an all-purpose response to that: fuck off. I’ve said for years it would take a lot to drive people (me included) away from Facebook, this wonderful tool that puts us in daily contact with friends, relatives, and family. But this might do it.

Necessary entry-ending uplift. There are three books under “Reading Now” on the left sidebar, and for a change I’m literally reading all three at once. Usually I get wrapped up in one to the exclusion of the other two, but not this time. Sarah Vowell’s “The Partly Cloudy Patriot” is a collection of short columns, ideal for dipping into between other books. I’m continuing my education on the Vietnam air war with a book about the Misty FAC pilots, “Bury Us Upside Down” (a line from a toast every fighter pilot knows). After a break of several years, I’m re-engaging with David Foster Wallace’s “Infinite Jest.” The first time around, Wallace’s suicide was still fresh, and there’s a suicidal character in this novel who is so sympathetic and real I quit reading out of fear it might be contagious. Time heals, as they say, and I’m now ready to finish what I started, including re-reading the parts I read before. Oh, here’s the uplifting part: there’s still enough class-action lawsuit settlement money in my Barnes & Noble account for two more books! To tell the truth, I agonize more over what books to buy with this free money than I ever do when it comes out of my own pocket.

It’s the weekend! Even as a retired person, weekends are still different somehow. I hope that never changes.


Hello Roadblock, My Old Friend

roadblockDonna asked today how The Book’s coming along. She prods me every couple of weeks, usually when I’m in the middle of a blog post. She thinks blogging is at worst a waste of time, at best a way to put off serious writing.

I admit that when I started blogging I hoped my talent would be recognized and rewarded (hey, it’s happened for other bloggers). To some extent it has been: I’ve written for Hash House Harrier magazines. I write book reviews for a couple of publishing houses. I contribute aviation articles to a major air museum newsletter. So far, though, my only payment has been “exposure,” and you know what they say about exposure? Right … people die of that.

No, they aren’t going to come to me. I have to write a manuscript that’s worth publishing, go to them, and sell it. Or self-publish and market myself. What sort of book? Three obvious ideas: compile the flying posts into a book, write a memoir, cook up a novel with a military aviation theme. I know I should do something, and here’s how I know it: the spasm of guilt I feel whenever Donna brings up The Book. Every time she reminds me, I make a fresh resolution to start drafting an outline. But then I think “Who’s going to pay to read anything I write?” I’ve learned enough about writing to know every writer has the same dark thought, and that it’s a roadblock to getting anything done. But what a roadblock it is.

And here’s another: I like blogging. I like it that people read my blog. I feel good when I put up a fresh post. So while I may never get past the first roadblock, at least the second one feels like an old friend.

So, what to write about today? Well, this has been making the rounds:

“What I like about Trump is he says what he means.”

“So when he said that thing about Second Amendment people …”


I don’t want to talk about Trump. I’ll just say this: it doesn’t matter what he meant when he suggested “Second Amendment people” might do something about his rival. What matters is that he said it, and that some of his supporters might try to follow through. It’s not what he meant, it’s what he said.

The Olympics? I’ve never hated network TV as much as NBC’s Olympic coverage is making me hate it now. Thank goodness for cable and streaming TV … not that you can watch the Olympics there, but at least there’s decent ad-free programming.

Critters? Yeah, that’s the ticket. Yesterday was a shared birthday. Schatzi turned 11 and Chewie turned 21. I took Schatzi to her favorite place, the old-fashioned country feed store by Pantano Wash, and let her pick out a new squeaky toy. I’d have bought something for Chewie, but she doesn’t like anything. Except for Schatzi, and that’s a new development. I’ve mentioned how Chewie’s behavior is changing as she nears the end. One of the changes is palling around with the dogs, Schatzi in particular. Schatzi has her doubts about it, as you can see:

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Dad, Chewie’s on my side of the couch!