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Tuesday Bag o’ Chorizo

chorizo bagOne of Tucson’s attractions is its abundance of carnicerías, Mexican butcher shops, each with loyal customers who swear by their favorite shop’s hand-made chorizo. We buy our chorizo at Safeway, philistines that we are, but the brand they carry actually does come from a local carnicería, and that’s what we had for breakfast this morning, scrambled with eggs, flour tortillas on the side.

Polly slept over last night. Donna and I kick the covers off in our sleep, so I closed our bedroom door lest Polly see our nakedness and die of shock. That in turn guaranteed that at some point in the night Mr. B would wake up and realize he was locked in the bedroom. That happened at 4 AM. We got up and cracked the door for him, at which point he curled up in his doggie bed and went back to sleep. He just wants the option, that’s all. I get that.

“Sovereign citizens” and Bundy Militia types have a boner for county sheriffs, have you noticed? Besides yammering about maritime flags and posse comitatus, they hold up elected country sheriffs as the only legitimate authority, whose word trumps not only state and federal judges but other law enforcement agencies, from the FBI all the way down to local police departments.

I hadn’t made the connection between the sheriff fetish and racism before, but yesterday Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a former Deep South senator with a lifetime history of racist and segregationist activism, praised sheriffs as a “critical part of the Anglo-American heritage of law enforcement,” and it all clicked into place. Sovereign citizens, the Tea Party, evangelicals, armed militia groups, survivalists, Trump voters, Republicans in general? They’re all one, and the thing that unites and motivates them is race.

I realize the rest of you came to that conclusion long ago. Well, me too, but sheriffs weren’t in the mix until Sessions made the connection explicit.

Here’s another fetish for you: Yeti products. I bought a Yeti coffee thermos a few months ago. Every time a millennial or Gen Xer comes by the house, it disappears. It eventually comes back, but sometimes not for weeks.

Only a fool would believe Trump’s proposed increase in the military budget will go toward pay, retirement, or health care. It would be nice if some of the money was used to pay for more training hours and better equipment, but I suspect almost all of it will go directly to defense contractors. Major General Smedley D. Butler nailed it back in 1935: War Is a Racket.

Like attracts like, and nowhere do we see that more clearly than in the Trump White House. We’re nowhere near the bottom, if there even is such a thing (and I’m beginning to believe there isn’t).

On a more cheerful note, I’m off to the library for a reserved book that has come in, then to Safeway to get what I need to make a Valentine’s Day dinner for my bride.

Stay safe, eat more chorizo, and #Resist!


You Can’t Read That!

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

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YCRT! News Roundup

This news roundup leads off with prison book banning:

  • The draconian New York state prison book ban I described in the previous YCRT! turns out to have been a limited test program, shut down the minute controversy erupted. The media, eager to peddle a story, buried that important nugget of information, witness the feeble update tacked onto the end of this blistering New York Times editorial condemning the ban.
  • Banned in Pennsylvania prisons:
      Book: The Nude Female Figure (A Visual Reference for the Artist)
      Author: Mark Edward Smith
      Reason: “This book was originally permitted; (1/5/16) however, it was re-reviewed and shall be DENIED. Inmates are not using this material for artistic purposes.”
  • ACLU fights New Jersey prisons’ ban of “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness,” gets it reversed. The same book was banned in North Carolina prisons; once again, the ACLU succeeded in unbanning it.
  • You can kind of understand why prison officials would want to prevent certain books from falling into the hands of inmates. Now try to understand the minds of your neighbors, who don’t want you reading them either.

We now return to the non-carceral world:

  • Mentioned in a previous YCRT! column, the YA novel “The Hate U Give” is once again available to students in Katy, Texas, but only with parental permission, and the novel is still under committee review with permanent banning a possibility.
  • The same book, “The Hate U Give,” was challenged by one parent of a Reed Academy student in Springfield, Missouri, where it was immediately banned, pending review.
  • Censorship in public libraries: sometimes it’s the librarians, as in a 2012 incident where artwork depicting the horrors of black life in the Jim Crow South was donated to a Newark NJ public library and, once library employees took a good look at it, covered with a cloth (you can see the offending art at the link).
  • Citizens in Maryland are demanding oversight of public libraries. All right, let’s hear what they have to say:
      “Last year, the public library invited a DC activist to teach a sex class for children only at our library. This community agitator was not vetted by any educational system. When concerned citizens protested, a group of secular humanists sponsored the class and insisted on ‘teaching’ it to children at the public library: an indoctrination of lewd sexual practices that could not be printed on The library sex class targeted children as young as 12 years old and, with the help of police, barred parents from entering the class.”

    Yeah, sure, I bet that’s what happened.

  • “When Donald Chauncey took over for the late Mike Anguilano as Miami-Dade Public Library System’s Film Librarian in 1982 he never dreamed that he’d one day be labeled ‘Dade County’s official pornographer‘ by a local Miami pastor.”
  • Republicans in the Texas legislature, apparently unconcerned with white supremacist recruiting on college campuses, turn their attention to the supposed censorship of conservative professors and students in the name of political correctness.
  • Librarians are beginning to feel some pressure to remove or restrict books written by “high-profile men who are amongst the growing list of those currently facing allegations of sexual misconduct or assault.” This American Library Association editorial defends the rights of people to read the books these men have written.

YCRT! Banned Book Review

In the last YCRT! I reviewed the first book of Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” trilogy, “The Golden Compass.” In this YCRT! I review the second book, “The Subtle Knife.”

subtle knifeThe Subtle Knife (His Dark Materials, #2)
by Philip Pullman

As other reviewers have noted, it’s unfair to judge “The Subtle Knife” as a stand-alone story; it should be read as the middle installment of the “His Dark Materials” trilogy. Fair or not, I found it slightly less rave-worthy than the first in the series: more dogmatic, less (despite the title) subtle, a detour from the path I so happily walked in “The Golden Compass.”

The entire trilogy was controversial when originally published in the 1990s, banned in some places and challenged in others. It remains so today, still appearing on the American Library Association’s 2016 list of the top 100 banned and challenged books. The bans and challenges are in essence meant to keep the books out of the hands of children and young adults, for the erstwhile reason that the trilogy promotes atheism, and that its author, Philip Pullman, is an atheist.

In the trilogy’s first book, “The Golden Compass,” the enemy is not God but the Church. “The Subtle Knife” introduces an explicitly anti-God theme: Lord Asriel is preparing to wage war against not just the Church but against God himself, here called “the Authority” (and lest there be any doubt, at least once as “The Creator”). Still, the Church remains firmly and explicitly the primary villain, reviled throughout “The Subtle Knife” for opposing everything that gives humans pleasure.

Parallel worlds were the promise of “The Golden Compass”; Pullman delivers them in “The Subtle Knife,” with characters crossing between three of them, which is great fun and continues the grand adventure that so attracted me to the series in the first place.

I was slightly put off by the Angels and their dark cousins, the Specters. I place alternate worlds in the science fiction sphere and am willing to believe. Although I nodded along with the witches who appear in the first book, they, along with Angels and Specters, play a larger and more central role in this installment, and I found myself resisting their presence, these creatures of fantasy. Yes, I love the daemons and witches of the first book and love them just as much in the second. Do I claim my reaction makes sense? Sue me.

Going back to the controversy surrounding “His Dark Materials”: although atheism is what people who want Pullman banned will admit to, parents a decade later began attacking other YA authors for writing material they perceived as “too dark.” That would certainly apply to Pullman as well. My slightly less enthusiastic reaction to “The Subtle Knife” is at least in part due to it being darker than “The Golden Compass.” I recall from reading the trilogy the first time around many years ago that the third book, “The Amber Spyglass,” is darker yet.

Nevertheless, the adventure beckons, and I shall continue down the path.


Air (& Space) Minded: Any One You Can Walk Away From

Having done one or two of these in my day:

I think I’m qualified to give a passing grade to Elon Musk and SpaceX on their first attempt at a formation landing.


Air-Minded: Bitchin’ Betty (Updated 2/5/18)

Update (Feb 5, 2018): My collaboration with Joe Coles, publisher of the excellent Hush-Kit aviation blog, continues with his reprint of my article on aircraft aural warning systems, collectively referred to as “Bitchin’ Betty” by military pilots. Naturally Joe did some editing. You can click on the image below to see his version of my original post:

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In reformatting my original article, adding new images, and moving older images from my original article around, some of the links I’d embedding in the original may no longer be where readers would expect to find them, so I decided to re-run the original Bitchin’ Betty article here on Paul’s Thing, and move it back up to the top of the blog.

Here’s the original, first posted here in March 2016:

With the recent retirement of Boeing employee Leslie Shook, there have been a number of media reports about military aircraft aural cockpit warning systems. Leslie Shook is the voice behind the aural warning system in the F/A-18 Hornet fighter aircraft; Hornet crews affectionately call her “Bitchin’ Betty.”

Why is this newsworthy? I think it’s because the media seek any excuse to repeat mild profanities like “bitchin’.” Notice, though, that the NPR report I linked to above bleeps out the offending word. One TV news reporter I watched got such a case of the tee-hees she almost couldn’t go on, and another TV talking head actually said the words “Witchin’ Wetty” while making air quotes.

joan elmsThis is not Leslie Shook. It’s actress and singer Joan Elms, the first Bitchin’ Betty, though they didn’t call her that then: in the 1960s she was known to supersonic B-58 Hustler flight crews as “Sexy Sally.” Joan’s taped voice alerted Hustler crews to critical information and emergencies demanding immediate action: her warnings included phrases such as “weapon unlocked,” “hydraulic system failure,” “check for engine fire,” “nose too high.”

Wikipedia names Kim Crow as the first woman to provide digitized cockpit voice warnings to military aircrews. That’s true, but it’s a truth hinging on the word “digitized.” Joan Elms was of the pre-digital age, recording her warnings on old-fashioned magnetic tape. To my knowledge, the B-58 Hustler was the first military aircraft to employ aural cockpit voice warnings, and Joan Elm’s was the voice behind them.

The digitized voice of Kim Crow was my Bitchin’ Betty, the aural warning system in the F-15 Eagle. When I first flew the Eagle in 1978, Bitchin’ Betty said only a few things: “warning,” “engine fire,” “overheat.” Additional voice warnings were added over the years, and by the mid-1990s Bitchin’ Betty could recite an extensive litany of cautions and warnings. I can’t find an audio clip of my Bitchin’ Betty, but here’s a YouTube recording of F-16 Fighting Falcon voice warnings (General Dynamics, the F-16’s maker, used the voice of Erica Lane).

When Sexy Sally started warning B-58 Hustler crews about engine fires in the 1960s, it was a major innovation, and using a woman’s voice was considered a brilliant stroke: human factors researchers thought a woman’s voice—rarely heard on the radio and never on the intercom—would cut through other chatter and get the crews’ attention. This belief prevailed in my day as well, probably because flying military fighters was still a male-only occupation.

I always had doubts about that, though. For one thing, by my time many FAA and military radar controllers, both on the ground and in the air, were women. Women flew the tankers we refueled from and the C-5s ahead of us on final, forcing us to go around to avoid wake turbulence. You heard their voices all the time; there was no longer any novelty to it. For another thing, there were times Bitchin’ Betty spoke right into my earphones and I didn’t hear her, especially in the heat of an engagement or dogfight. I didn’t know she’d spoken until I reviewed my own cockpit videotape during debrief. The times I did hear her, I’d already seen the master caution light, felt the unusual thump, or heard the strange noise that always seems to accompany a mechanical failure.

Today, I understand, some commercial and military aircraft manufacturers use male voices for aural warning systems. They probably work just as well, and I’m sure the aircrews have colorful nicknames for them as well.

Is Bitchin’ Betty any kind of big deal today? Military aircraft, ships, tanks, and for all I know trucks have had Bitchin’ Betties for decades. So have commercial airliners, and I hear some general aviation aircraft as well. Ground-pounding civilians too are used to aural warning and guidance systems, witness Siri and automotive GPS. If you tell me civilian voice systems leave military voice systems in the dust, I will not be surprised. Heck, I can select Morgan Freeman’s voice on my Garmin when I get tired of listening to Arnold Schwarzenegger, and I don’t think you can do that in any military jet, not even the F-35!


Air-Minded: Cold War Nightmare Reawakened

Note: the photos from the original post (April 15, 2011) succumbed to web rot. I have replaced them, and have added the post to the Air-Minded category.

Thursday, as part of my Pima Air Museum volunteer training, I took a tour of the affiliated Titan Missile Museum south of Tucson. I’ve now audited each of the guided tours offered by the air museum and have to decide which ones I’m interested in leading. The next steps will include extensive reading, a test, live practice, and certification. I hope to have all that done by the end of May.

When I arrived at the Titan Missile Museum yesterday, I was just in time to tag along with a class of high schoolers from nearby Vail. I mention this because you will see a lot of students, and some teachers, in these two photos.

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USAF pilots of my era universally dreaded the possibility of a missile launch officer assignment. In the post-Vietnam drawdown, there weren’t enough airplanes to fly. Many of us were swallowed up by the Strategic Air Command to man missile silos. Captains and majors wearing both pilot wings and pocket rockets were a common sight. When you saw one of those benighted figures you’d turn around three times with your fingers crossed behind your back to ward off the curse.

Descending down into the launch control facility yesterday, I felt that old fear creeping up my spine. After all these years, SAC still gives me the willies. I’m afraid I’ll wake up to find myself 30 years younger, down in a hole in the ground, listening to endless alphanumeric radio transmissions from Omaha, thinking of the blue skies above.

4-14-11_4 copy 4-14-11_5 copy

They can call it STRATCOM all they want … it’s still SAC, and it still sucks. This will not be one of the tours I volunteer for, though I admire the folks who do, because they do a great job (they certainly reawakened my Cold War memories).

And no, I really don’t want to hear how close we ever came to launching those missiles. I think I know anyway, and I think it’s “pretty damn close.”


But What About All the GOOD Kids with Guns?

kid with gunThirty-plus years ago, Donna and I decided to drive to Key West for a three-day weekend. We left our house in Tampa in charge of our 19-year-old son, who had just started his first year at USF. While we were away, he threw a party. When things got out of control and his guests began wrecking the house, it wasn’t him who got my hunting rifle from its hiding place in the rafters above the second-floor hallway and chased them away. It was my 10-year-old daughter. Naturally, we didn’t hear about all this until a few years later.

Yesterday in Los Angeles, a 12-year-old girl brought a gun to her middle school and shot two other students and a teacher with it. Police are saying the shootings were unintentional. A student who witnessed it was quoted as saying, “Someone decided to bring a gun, I guess someone was accidentally playing around with it … they thought it was a fake gun.” Yeah, witnesses are often wrong, but I think this one has it right.

In all the coverage of school shootings … by now on its way to becoming a weekly column in major newspapers … I don’t recall any speculation on how many kids might be bringing guns to school, unknown to anyone but themselves, either with the intention of shooting someone, or to protect themselves, or just as a goof. I bet it we knew the numbers, we’d turn into a nation of homeschoolers overnight.

There are as many guns in the USA as there are people. Most guns are kept at home; some under lock and key or in safes, some cleverly hidden but ready for use, some carelessly left out.

It’s nearly impossible to keep secrets from our kids. They know where the guns are, and even when they’re securely locked up probably know where we keep the keys to the padlock or where we hide the scrap of paper with the gun safe combo. The temptation to take the gun out and hold it, to invite friends over and show it off, to take it from the home to impress other kids at school, to have it as protection from bad kids, or … in the rarest cases, thank god … to use it to commit a crime or shoot someone … must be ever present in well-regulated American militia households.

It’s a testament to the goodness of most kids that they don’t sneak guns out of the house, or that if they do they resist the temptation to show it off or let anyone know they have it. I bet there are a hell of a lot of kids in the second category. There’s probably a kid packing heat in one of the middle or high schools in your town right now. And 99% of the time we’ll never know about it.

Something to think about, and who wants to bet I’m wrong?


Tuesday Bag o’ Sound & Fury

DUvS4Q3VwAAxOq0Are you watching the state of the union speech tonight? Yeah, me neither.

I can’t stand listening to Trump’s unfounded boasts. I can’t stand listening to his schoolyard taunting of anyone not named Putin. I can’t stand listening to him take credit for things another president accomplished, or his constant denigration of that president. I can’t stand listening to him take another poke at Hillary Clinton, whose crusted-up frying pan he’s not good enough to scrape clean. I can’t stand listening to his fucking voice.

Do my feelings toward Trump help me understand the stupid-ass tea party racists who couldn’t stand President Obama? Perhaps.

I saw one of those giant-font pass-it-on posts on Facebook this morning. It said: “If Mueller asks Trump ‘did you try and fire me?’ and he answers ‘no,’ then Trump is guilty of perjury. If he answers ‘yes,’ then Trump is guilty of obstruction of justice.” I have to say, it reminded me of the wistful posts we saw during Obama’s presidency, holding out hope that when the truth came out about Obama’s Kenyan birth, every law, executive order, and judicial appointment he’d signed would be revoked. That was never going to happen, any more than Trump will ever be held accountable for perjury, obstruction of justice, treason, racketeering, or rape. Nope. Tax evasion, maybe … one can always dream, right?

The difference is, the charges against Obama were without foundation and motivated by racism; the charges against Trump are in most cases demonstrably true (and in the remaining cases highly likely to be true) and motivated by love of country and hatred of corruption. So yes, my contempt toward Trump helps me understand others’ hatred of Obama or Hillary or whoever … but not to relate, not to shrug and say “I guess both sides are guilty.” No. One side is guilty. Fuck Trump. The American people elected Hillary Clinton by a nearly 3,000,000-vote margin. He is not our president.

Some squirrelly shit went down at the air museum yesterday. Most volunteers come in at 9 AM and sign in on a computer located in a trailer next to the administration building. When I clock in Monday mornings there are usually 8-10 other volunteers in the trailer, grabbing coffee and exchanging greetings before going to work. A friend and fellow volunteer comes with his wife, who is also a volunteer … he works the trams with me and she greets visitors out front. Yesterday, she briefly hugged another volunteer, an old-timer who’s been at the museum for ages. They’re friends, and none of us (or so I thought) even noticed the hug.

Twenty minutes later, as my friend and I were getting the trams ready for a busy day, the older volunteer came out to warn us of trouble brewing. Apparently one of the other volunteers in the trailer that morning had reported the innocent hug to management. Sure enough, a few minutes later we saw the older volunteer walking with our supervisor between hangars, and she was doing all the talking. We were too far away to hear what she was saying, but he was missing afterward.

I know there’s some tension between museum management and the volunteers, but I’m generally unaffected and can afford to ignore it. This, though, has me worried … it seems a major escalation, and I wonder what’s behind it.

So perhaps you’ll understand my unsettled state when I came home yesterday … home to a swimming pool full of debris from Monday’s high winds, home as well to a chronically unemployed 42-year-old daughter who was supposed to be at Home Depot on her first day of a new job, but was instead sitting in the family room with the TV on as if nothing had changed. Reader, forgive me, for I voiced my concern.

I asked Polly why she wasn’t at work and learned I’ve been the victim of yet another game of telephone: Polly doesn’t know when her first day is going to be and I must have made up the idea she’d told me it was Monday. Or maybe Donna had told me she was starting work yesterday, and Donna had made it up. Like all the times she’s told us she had an interview on this day or that day, only to clarify when this or that day came and she was camped out in our family room watching animated sitcoms that it was actually an online test or some such. We sure do misunderstand a lot of things she tells us … you’d think we’d learn.

As if that wasn’t enough, I made additional comments about the pool. Our pool guy comes on Monday, and I knew he’d been here because the pump was on, something he always does (normally it runs at night on an automatic timer). Not only was the pool full of debris, the crawler was plugged with twigs and one of our extendable poles was laying on the bottom. I used another pole to fish it out and then realized the skimmer basket from the first pole was missing. It was a mess and I couldn’t believe what a half-ass job the guy had done. So I made the mistake of asking Donna about it.

Turns out the high winds had blown the cover of our outdoor fire pit into the pool. The pool guy tried to fish it out but couldn’t, so Polly did, using the pole that somehow later wound up at the bottom. Donna had been out there too, helping clean up all the crap the wind had blown around. So the two of them were sensitive about the pool and anything I had to say about it, and of course the entire unpleasant homecoming was my fault.

Well, one good thing: I wore the new hat to the museum yesterday. The wind was even worse there than it was here, but the stampede strap worked and I didn’t lost the hat. I’ll take my blessings where I find them, however small.

IMG_5234It’s a new day. A new leaf, a new page, possibly one day closer to Polly starting a new job and being able to pay her own rent. Things are looking up.

I got a haircut this morning, which always cheers me up. I took Mr. B for a walk, which ditto. Donna fried leftover polenta with eggs for breakfast, and I got a little blogging in. Later today I’ll take Mr. B for a ride to the car wash and a visit to the wild bird store for a big bag of seed.

The wind is no longer blowing, and would you believe it’s 80°F outside? I’m beginning to suspect the February cold snap, normally the last gasp of winter in southern Arizona, will be a no-show this year.

Donna tells me our son Gregory is thinking of riding down on his motorcycle in March, then going on a ride somewhere with me. It’ll probably still be too cold to go north to Flagstaff, so I’ll have to put some thought into possible routes and destinations. San Diego? Albuquerque? Mexico? Tell you what, San Diego sure sounds nice!


Tubac Car Show 2018 Photoblog

A couple of firsts this year: one, Donna came along (and on the motorcycle yet); two, my first-ever Twitter meetup.

Jan 2018 pano_1

My favorite thing about this car show, held every January on the golf course at Tubac, Arizona, is parking my motorcycle on the green next to the first row of show cars. Cagers (car drivers) have to walk in from remote parking lots, but the organizers want us front and center, and our bikes wind up being part of the show. I was surprised this year when Donna and I were the first bikers to arrive (the two Harleys you see next to our Goldwing came putting in five minutes later). When we left a couple of hours later, there were two rows of motorcycles, and dozens of car show visitors checking them out. As Donna and I were saddling up, two spectators came up to ask questions about our Goldwing, and I gave them a quick tour. One wanted to know about my engine covers, which made me think he was a fellow Goldwinger who has lost a few, and might have been thinking about “borrowing” mine when we walked up.

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I favored the ’55 Lincoln Continental Mk II behind us, but Donna went for the ’57 Chevy

I mentioned the Twitter meetup in my previous post. We had exchanged cell phone numbers beforehand, and that’s how we found one another in the sea of visitors at the car show. Our new Canadian friends, Les and Mary Ellen, live in Peterborough, Ontario, and winter over in Green Valley, just a few miles north of Tubac. We went to lunch after the car show at a trattoria in Tubac, where the hostess kindly took a photo of the four of us together.

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Delegates to the first Canada/US Car Show Summit at Melio’s Trattoria, Tubac, Arizona

Sometime in March we’ll meet again at the air museum, along with a former RAAF fighter pilot friend of theirs, and I’ll give them a tour. Les tells me their Aussie friend flew two of the aircraft types at our museum, and I can’t wait to hear what he has to say about them.

The car show seemed awfully crowded this year, but that may be my nascent agoraphobia speaking. I skipped the annual Barrett-Jackson car auction in Scottsdale this year because the crowds have grown too immense. I don’t want to give up this show, which, like another favorite car show, the one at Tucson’s St. Gregory Academy in October, is held outdoors in a lovely setting. But damn, it gets harder every year to take unobstructed photos of cool cars, what with spectators obliviously stepping in front of my camera and then just standing there. But I keep trying. Here are a few of my favorites from yesterday.


1933 Pontiac


1953 Airstream


1955 Sears Roebuck Allstate scooter


So that’s where they went!


Selfie with a ’61 Crown Imperial


Grandfather Estes always called ’em Pee-Ewwicks


Our hands down favorite


’42 H-D WLC, Canadian version of the WLA

The rest of yesterday’s photos are in my Tubac Car Show 2018 album on Flickr.