Paul’s Thing

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© 2004-2016 Paul Woodford. All rights reserved.

Fifty-one Years Later

12-02-1965_5I woke up in bed with a woman I’ve been married to for 51 years. And I remembered to say “Happy anniversary” to her. Which is more than she said to me, but one of us can’t articulate words until she’s had her first cup of coffee, so that’s okay.

I think back on Donna’s courage in those early days. She was living pretty much on her own in Sacramento when we met, fellow students at American River Junior College. It was the first romance for both of us. A few months later my father, an Air Force officer, was posted to Wiesbaden, Germany, and along with the rest of our family I went. Donna and I were teenagers and our lives were just beginning. We assumed we’d never see one another again.

But Donna was soon to discover she was pregnant. She told me and I told my parents, still somewhat shell-shocked from marrying off my next-youngest sister in similar circumstances just a few months before. I asked Donna to come to Germany and marry me. She did it, all on her own, with no support from anyone. Imagine traveling that far from home to marry a young man you barely know, with no inkling of what might happen next or how you’re going to make ends meet. And how would my family receive her?

Would I have had the courage to do that? I don’t know.

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My family loved Donna from the minute she stepped off the plane in Frankfurt. They gave us plenty of support as we started on our lives together. I worked at the Wiesbaden base exchange, and after Gregory was born Donna got a job there too. We rented a little apartment and commuted to work by bus, occasionally borrowing my mom and dad’s old VW for trips up and down the Rhein River. We saved our money and two years later had enough to fly back to the States, buy a car, and make our way to Sacramento to start a life that would wind up who knows where. It all worked out, but who knew that at the time?

Donna had courage enough for the both of us. I can’t imagine life without her, and for what it’s worth, I never think about what life might have been like if we hadn’t married. I love her.

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Wednesday Bag o’ Hot Takes

balloon boyDoes anyone actually believe a 34-year-old northern California housewife was abducted for by two mysterious Hispanic women, held for 22 days with no ransom demand, then released by the side of a road 150 miles from where she was taken, bound, branded, and beaten?

This Sacramento Bee article drips with skepticism, citing disbelieving cops and even a racist blog post written by the abducted woman nine years ago. And I love the headline: “Sherri Papini’s husband says she went through ‘true hell’ and calls online gossip ‘sub human behavior.’”

If you Google “Sherri Papini” you’ll find dozens of news stories about her abduction and return, nearly every headline featuring a variation of “according to her husband.” Why am I thinking of Balloon Boy? Perhaps because I think it’s possible both husband and wife are working together to perpetrate a hoax, just as Balloon Boy’s father and other family members worked together on an earlier, even more sensational hoax. Why? To get on TV and be briefly famous? Hey, that’s what motivated Balloon Boy’s family, but at least they didn’t try to stir up ethnic hatred by blaming it on anonymous Hispanics.

You don’t even have to read between the lines to know the police are furious with the husband for going public with stories about his wife’s post-abduction injuries. Clearly, they were patiently waiting for her to break and tell them what really happened, and now the couple will dig in to defend their story. How long will they stick with it? Long enough to get on TV, I bet. Nancy Grace must be salivating in anticipation.

I can’t resist quoting from Sherri Papini’s blog post, “Being aware and having pride,” written in 2007 under her maiden name, Sherri Graeff:

I got excellent grades, 3.9 – 4.2, but grew more and more resentful of school and conditions around me. I used to come home in tears, because I was getting suspended from school all the time for defending myself against the Latinos. The chief problem was that I was drug-free, white and proud of my blood and heritage. This really irked a group of Latino girls, which would constantly rag and attack me.


Another thing I’m skeptical about is the ongoing Dakota Access Pipeline protest outside the Standing Rock Native American Reservation in North Dakota. My instinct is to believe protesters—who almost always have a legitimate beef with authority—but I’ve noticed that most of what I read is one-sided in the protesters’ favor, and one-sided coverage is rarely accurate.

The Daily Caller is a libertarian/conservative site, but this article on the pipeline protests is worth a read. I don’t doubt it’s slanted, but parts of it ring true. Between 1995 and 1997, during my last USAF tour of duty, I was involved in military training range and land use planning in Nevada and Utah. A big part of the job was working with the public. That experience tells me the Army Corps of Engineers, as the article states, did in fact make good faith attempts to meet with tribal leaders and accommodate tribal concerns.

Also, too, this:

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The #NoDAPL (the Twitter hashtag for the pipeline protests) stuff I see on social media has become creepily doctrinaire, as you’ll see in the screenshot above, where protesters—virtually marching in lockstep—now call themselves “water protectors.” This sort of glassy-eyed conformity always sets off the old master caution light.* It reminds me of when Marxists moved in on our student protest movements in the 1960s and 70s, trying to impose discipline and the party line.

All of which is to say if you’ve wondered why I haven’t taken sides on the Dakota Access Pipeline, this is why. Healthy skepticism for now, even though my heart goes out to the protesters.


Fake news, another topic du jour, is nothing new. I sincerely doubt it’s any worse now than it was twelve years ago, when New York Times reporter Ron Suskind repeated a conversation with an unnamed George W. Bush aide (now said to have been Karl Rove):

The aide said that guys like me were “in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” … “That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors … and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

Egg-fucking-zactly. Some on the left, and most on the right, have fallen victim to epistemic closure. For decades, they’ve lived in informational bubbles, never reading, hearing, or seeing anything that conflicts with their beliefs and prejudices.

My inner skeptic says we can’t do anything about it. Have you ever tried to argue with right-wing nut jobs? If you have, you know they have answers for any point you bring up, answers learned at the feet of Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. Snopes? It’s a liberal site! The New York Times? Even worse! The polls? Who says?

Someone, back during the 2016 presidential primary debates, tried to warn Democrats about their losing strategy. “You’re bringing fact checkers to a culture war,” he said. If there’s one thing we’ve learned with this election—and should have learned two presidential administrations ago—it’s that facts no longer matter.

Trump now claims he won the popular vote. Never mind that Hillary Clinton got almost two and a half million more votes than he did, the media sources his supporters get their news from will repeat Trump’s lie, and you watch, Trump’s popular vote landslide will become an article of faith with them. We’re not going to get anywhere trying to explain to Trump voters that the American people actually voted for Hillary Clinton. We’re not going to get anywhere with our puny “facts.”

So screw them. They live in another reality and have for a long time, and we shouldn’t waste a minute trying to talk them around. It won’t even matter when their reality collapses—they’ll go right on believing the nonsense their leaders tell them, even as the coastlines flood and their Medicare is taken from them. We outnumber them, we reality-based citizens, and we can put our time to far more productive use by organizing to resist and oppose the Trump administration and the GOP-led legislative branch, pushing weak-kneed Democratic congressmen and senators to resist and oppose in turn.

* In the F-15 Eagle (as in most complex aircraft) a master caution light is located on top of the instrument panel at the pilot’s eye level. When it lights up you check the annunciator panel down by your right knee to see which of 40-odd system alert lights have been triggered by some malfunction or other, then deal with the problem. You always punch the master caught light off afterward so that it will light up again in the event of another malfunction.

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Vigilance & Resistance

fullsizeoutput_29b1What now? Does anyone have a plan?

Trump’s electoral vote victory reeks of GOP and Russian trickery. Hillary Clinton’s popular vote lead is now approaching two and a half million. Efforts to start recounts, at least in a few states where vote tampering was most apparent, are underway. But if you’re hoping for a surprise electoral college reversal, you’re going to be disappointed. Trump will be inaugurated on Friday, January 20th.

As a retired white male, I could easily go with the flow. After all, I’ve got mine and no one is coming after me. But I’m part of the majority who voted for Hillary Clinton and when it turned out our votes didn’t count, I got angry.

In addition to getting angry, it’s time to get real. We’re Americans too, and we love our country. Leaving is not an option. We have to not just stick it out but actively work toward making Trump a one-term president (gee, where have we heard that before?). As an active citizen, a participant in an active electorate, I for one am not quitting.

Not quitting means vigilance and resistance. Turn your anger over yet another stolen election into resolve. Pay close attention to the Trump administration’s plans and actions. Refuse to passively absorb what news the media deigns to share. Search out media sources willing to go deep and report what’s actually going on, and support them in their efforts. Support and encourage those in Congress who resist Trump, McConnell, Ryan, and the billionaires. Loudly protest voter suppression and the return to Jim Crow in Red states. When the administration or legislature tries to enact mass deportations and torture, or to privatize Social Security and Medicare, write your representatives. Live and act on the values you and a majority of your fellow Americans share. Stand up to the bullies and thugs who think Trump’s victory has given them permission to abuse others.

As for co-existing with and among those who voted for Trump, of course we must, but we owe them nothing. Fuck their calls for civility and unity. They voted for a racist. They knew what they were doing. They showed their true colors.

People of good will are looking for effective ways to resist and oppose the things Trump, McConnell, and Ryan have promised to do. I’m going to be part of that resistance, and I’m looking for ideas, things I as a citizen can do. If you have ideas, please share.

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Thanksgiving 2016

Our son Gregory, daughter-in-law Beth, and grandson Quentin are here from Las Vegas. Our daughter Polly is here too. The only missing family member is our granddaughter Taylor, who had to stay in Vegas and work, but she was here in early October and we had a good visit.

Dinner included the traditional turkey with dressing, gravy, mashed potatoes, a sweet potato casserole, a green bean casserole, and a smoked pork shoulder. Everyone played a role in preparation, and everything was just great.

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I’m not normally a sap about family, except for when they’re all (or almost all) here, and then I run for the camera and tripod and make everyone squint into the sun.

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I posted another family photo to Facebook, but in it Quentin was standing behind us and you couldn’t see his feet. Friends and relatives refused to believe he’d gotten so tall in the last couple of months, but in this photo you can see he’s not standing on a dictionary. That’s all Quentin, shooting up like his grandfather and father did at that age (he just turned 14).

Today’s agenda: Donna and Polly are going out to do a little shopping. Greg, Beth, and Quentin ditto. I’m meeting everyone at the mall cineplex later to watch Arrival. Polly’s boyfriend Joel will take her away later today; the Las Vegas Woodfords drive home tomorrow. Everyone is taking leftovers home … even so, Donna and I will still be eating turkey and stuffing for a while.

Isn’t Thanksgiving great? It really is the best holiday.

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Paulgram

I sent out my latest Paulgram newsletter this morning. You can click here to view the Paulgram archive. If you’d like to receive new Paulgrams by email, here’s the subscription form:

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Videoblogging Mt. Whitney

Here are three short YouTube videos I made by splicing sections of GoPro videos filmed while riding from Lone Pine, California to a trailhead on the eastern side of Mt. Whitney.

My riding companions were Dave, a friend from Tucson who rides a BMW RT1200, and my son Gregory, riding a rented Indian Chief. We started our ride in Lone Pine (elevation 3,727 feet) and stopped at the end of the road, a trailhead called the Mt. Whitney Portal (8,000 feet). From there, hikers can climb to the top of the mountain (14,505 feet, the highest elevation in the continental USA), a round trip my friend Dave says takes 22 hours … he’s done it, so he knows.

We left Lone Pine at three in the afternoon and quickly rode into shadow of the eastern Sierras, which explains the twilight appearance of the videos. We weren’t able to carve our way up the mountain because a flagman at the foot of the road made us wait our turn on a long one-way section closed off for road construction. Once traffic coming down had passed and it was our turn to go up, we found ourselves at the end of a slow-moving train of cars.

When we arrived at the Portal, we met a young woman from Moldova (there’s a brief glimpse of her at the end of the first video above) who was getting ready to sleep in her car until 3 AM and then start up the mountain. She and Dave exchanged information about the route, and she kindly took our photo.

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Yours truly, Greg, Dave

The way down was a bit more fun, since for a good part of it we had the road to ourselves, and when we got to the top end of the road closure we were first in line and got to have a nice chat with the flagwoman while we waited (you’ll see her in one of the videos below).

And here is the last spliced video, descending into Lone Pine.

By the time we got back to Lone Pine and started north on Highway 395 to the WWII Japanese internment camp at Manzanar, it was too dark for video and I shut off the GoPro. The next day we rode from Lone Pine down into Death Valley, the lowest point in the continental USA, and on into Las Vegas. I taped most of that day’s ride and will share some more YouTube videos in a later post.

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You Can’t Read That!

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

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Something tells me I’ll have plenty of material for this column over the next four years. The Cattle Car Caucus is in power, and the Thought Police will be feeling their oats. Let the book burnings begin!

YCRT! News

What does “pervasively vulgar” mean? If you’re a school superintendent inclined to cave to parental complaints, it’s a handy label to apply to books and graphic novels you’re removing from school reading lists and libraries.

“Imagine for a moment how the world would be different if Star Trek had never aired on the grounds that the mixed-race, mixed-gender bridge was against ‘natural law,’ so the FCC forbade it.” From a discussion about censorship, comics and graphic novels, and the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund.

Take the Banned Book Quiz! I got a perfect score!

Is it any surprise that in the face of repeated parental challenges to books and teaching materials, school administrators, teachers, and librarians preemptively self-censor?

Dateline Blountville, Tennessee: angry mom demands school district stop using history book that mentions Islam.

There is something very disturbing about this report from Kansas City, Missouri, describing how a librarian was arrested and is now facing criminal charges for standing up for a library patron’s free speech rights at a public event.

In the 1930s, the Nazi government had an agent in Hollywood. That agent persuaded Universal Pictures to shelve, at least for a time, three films: “The Road Back,” “All Quiet on the Western Front,” and “Three Comrades.”

I’m a little late to this party: racist internet trolls have been using code words to avoid having their accounts shut down: Google=black person, Skittle=Muslim, Skype-Jew, and so on. Hey, I’ll add one of my own: alt-right=racist! It’s like the secret menu at In-N-Out Burger!

Key sentence from this outraged conservative editorial about PC culture at Cal State University Chico: “True the N-word is nasty and unacceptable, but is Chico State going to ban students from listening to Hip-Hop music that makes prolific use of the word ‘nigger’ in songs?” In other words (stop me if you’ve heard this before): “Waaah, they get to use the N-word and we don’t! Its so unfair!”

Here’s one dad’s brilliant response to the cognitive dissonance created when his son’s teacher demanded a permission slip before allowing him to read Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451.”

The Lifeway religious bookstore chain has pulled all books by a Christian author who describes LGBT couples as “our brothers and sisters in Christ.”

One of the many books banned from Tucson Unified School District is Rudolfo Anaya’s classic “Bless Me, Ultima.” The ban, instituted in 2012, is still in effect, and in light of the election of a president who is openly hostile to Mexicans and Mexican-Americans, I’m reposting my earlier review of Anaya’s novel:

YCRT! Banned Book Review

bless me ultimaBless Me, Ultima
Rudolfo Anaya

I read “Bless Me, Ultima” because it is frequently challenged, often banned, sometimes even burned. I read it because it has been banished from Tucson classrooms and school libraries. I read it because I live in a majority Mexican-American community in the southern slice of Arizona that until relatively recently was part of the state of Sonora, Mexico. I read it because many readers have praised it.

Anaya wrote his novel in 1972. Copies were confiscated and burned at a New Mexico school less than a year later. Burning, it turned out, was not to be a one-time aberration: “Bless Me, Ultima” has been burned again and again: the most recent burning was in Norwood, Colorado, in 2005.

My interest in what is sometimes called Chicano pride literature began in January 2012, when Tucson Unified School District administrators cancelled Mexican-American Studies classes in mid-session, pulling novels and textbooks from students’ and teachers’ hands and packing them in boxes labeled “banned books,” a story that resulted in international outrage and made Arizona a laughingstock. “Bless Me, Ultima” was one of TUSD’s targeted books.

Why do non-hispanics hate this novel? The most-often cited reason is that it contains profanity, violence, and sexuality. I can attest to two instances of the English word fuck. Then there’s the Spanish word chingada, which roughly translates to the same thing. Chingada appears so many times that if you were to eliminate all the other words in the novel, you’d still have 20 pages of chingada. Also, the kids in the story frequently address one another as cabrón (asshole). Yes, there is violence … murders among the adult characters, frequent fights among the schoolboys … but I must say that if there’s any sex I missed it.

Other challenges spell out what I consider to be more likely objections: the story is irreverent toward Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular, full of pagan mysticism, and frankly pro-magic (in that Ultima is a practicing medicine woman who uses her arts to stymie and even kill witches). This aspect of the novel, of course, should be neither here nor there in a society that respects the separation of church and state (insert ironic emoticon here).

Arizona State Schools Superintendent Tom Horne dared utter what I believe to be the real reasons behind conservative white antipathy toward “Bless Me, Ultima.” In interviews leading up to the infamous TUSD book bannings he characterized Mexican-American studies and the books used in those classes as “civilizational war” and stated that in his view the histories of Mexican-Americans and Native Americans are not based on “Greco-Roman” knowledge and thus not part of Western civilization. Oh, yes, he really did say that.

So there you have the reasons Anaya’s novel generates so much hate. Now I come to the difficult part, explaining why I didn’t fall in love with the novel. I’ll refer back to the 20 pages of chingada and a host of other Spanish and Indian words sprinkled throughout the narrative: yes, Mexican-Americans living near the US-Mexico border use Spanish and Indian words in everyday speech, but after a while all this multiculturalism becomes a burden.

Antonio keeps telling us Ultima is not a witch, but she has an owl as a familiar and casts counter-spells against three known brujas (witches), killing two of them before she herself is killed … not directly, but by the father of the witches, who kills the owl and thus Ultima. So she’s a witch. C’mon.

Apart from Antonio and Ultima, the other characters are paper cutouts, acting and speaking in predictable ways. It was interesting to see Antonio begin to question the teachings of the church and to embrace the paganism of Ultima and the mysterious golden carp, but that was all the excitement the novel offered, and Antonio’s doubts (like the 20 pages’ worth of chingada) grow tiresome after much repetition.

It’s an okay story. I question how relevant it is to today’s readers, but as a cornerstone of Southwestern and Mexican-American literature it is undoubtedly important. I’m glad I read it, but having read it, I remain more interested in the reasons white people hate it than I am in the novel itself.

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Gypsy Tour Photoblog

Tuesday, November 8 to Sunday, November 13: six days and three states, about 1,700 miles, and lots of fun.

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Heading out on Election Day*

My riding companions were my Tucson friend Dave on a BMW RT1200 and my son Gregory on an Indian Chief.

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Dave & Greg at one of many pit stops

Dave and I rode to Las Vegas to hook up with my son, who lives there. We went out to dinner, then retired to our hotel rooms for what we foolishly thought would be a fun night watching Hillary kick Donald’s ass from one end of the country to the other. Greg joined us at the hotel Wednesday morning and we pointed the bikes west to Chino, 30 miles from downtown Los Angeles.

In Chino we visited the Planes of Fame Museum (photoblogged in my previous post), then hunkered down for a somber night of election postmortems on TV. Thursday we rode north to Lone Pine on Highway 395. The low point of Thursday’s ride was a miles-long backup on I-15 east of Chino, caused by a range fire next to the freeway; the high point was two side trips after we checked into our hotel in Lone Pine: one to the 14,000′ level of Mt. Whitney, then a short ride north to the WWII Japanese internment camp at Manzanar. My friend and motorcycle maintenance guru Ed will be proud of me, though … I bravely led the three of us between lanes of stopped traffic on I-15.


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Gregory on the Indian, Mt. Whitney

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The Portals, Mt. Whitney

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GoPro still, Mt. Whitney

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GoPro still, Mt. Whitney


Dave had to be home Friday night, so he left us early that morning, riding home through Death Valley and the road south to Needles and Blythe before cutting back east to southern Arizona. Greg and I had breakfast at the hotel, then rode down into Death Valley, stopping for photo ops here and there, and finally back to Vegas through Pahrump. I took a day off Saturday, since Greg and my daughter in law Beth were celebrating my grandson Quentin’s 14th birthday that day, and rode home solo to Tucson on Sunday.

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Helping a rider in distress, Death Valley

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Las Vegas traffic

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Old boron mine @ Furnace Creek, Death Valley

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Dante’s View, Death Valley


The ride photos are from my iPhone along with still captures from GoPro videos I took riding up and down Mt. Whitney and later through Death Valley. It’ll be another day or two before I edit the videos and put them up, but the Death Valley ones are toast: there’s a dead bug smack in the middle of the lens, upstaging all the pretty scenery. Fortunately, the Mt. Whitney videos are fine.

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Mexican ice cream bar stop in Kingman AZ

I love my cross-country Gypsy tours, and am already thinking about the next one. Don’t know yet where I’ll go, but I am going, probably in the spring.

Click on any of these images to see the full sized originals on Flickr. There are even more photos in my Gypsy Tour Nov 2016 album on Flickr.

*Yes, I wear gloves. I took them off to fish the iPhone out of my pocket so Donna could take that photo. ATGATT: all the gear all the time, baby!

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