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December 2017
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© 2004-2017 Paul Woodford. All rights reserved.

Air-Minded: Ode to Mr. Moto


Ode to Mr. Moto!

Six Mitsubishis — with bombs all set to slide —
The sailor gave his guns a squirt — and there were only five.
Five Jap bombers thirsting still for gore,
Our N.A. blipped another burst, and now — there’s only four.
Four grim and deadley Nipponese droned o’er the Eastern Sea,
But one more crossed the “ring sight”, — then there were only three.
Three gangsters still destruction bent, to wipe out ship and crew,
Navy guns chattered a few times more — Banzai! — there’s only two.
And what’s two Japs to a guy like that who’s just grabbed his spot in the sun,
So he poured on the coal with these Nips for his goal — Hell, shipmates — there’s only one.
One lone Jap on the carrier intent, to crash decks aft — or fore,
But our lad in the fighter wasted no time with this blighter,
Now Moto doesn’t live here any more.

Is that some shit or what? I recently started a Pinterest collection of military aircraft ads and posters, inspired by a Republic Aviation Thundercraft ad I featured in a previous Air-Minded post.

The exuberant racism and goading of the enemy in this WWII Aeronca ad caught my eye and brought back memories of flipping through back issues of Popular Mechanics in my grandfather’s garage, wartime magazines filled with ads for Mustang fighters, Mitchell bombers, Sperry ball turrets, and other implements of death and destruction from the air.

Did the military-industrial contractors who armed the U.S. and other Allied powers during WWII really need to advertise, or were such ads designed to keep home-front hearts burning with patriotic fire? The latter, I’m sure.

In my childhood, leftover wartime jingoism and boosterism was everywhere. I was born in 1946; for the remainder of the decade WWII remained the biggest greatest thing that had ever happened. It was in the air we breathed, in movies, on TV, in grandpa’s garage. The vastly unpopular Korean War, which started in 1950, ushered in a more subdued era of military advertising, just as Germany’s defeat five years earlier made ads like this a memory few people ever discussed:



Paul’s Book Reviews: My Top Ten for 2017

This is collection of reviews previously posted on Paul’s Thing: these are the books, old and new, that I most enjoyed reading this year. I’m about to embark on Philip Pullman’s “The Book of Dust,” a potential contender, but doubt I’ll finish it before the end of the year (also, I’m sometimes disappointed with long-delayed comebacks from writers I once loved, so hesitate to make predictions). —Paul

golden hillGolden Hill
by Francis Spufford

I don’t throw stars around. When I give a book five of ’em, you can be assured I’m in love with it.

Francis Spufford’s brilliant first novel “Golden Hill” has everything: fascinating historical detail, adventures high and low, social commentary, romance (also high and low), double- and triple-dealing, fascinating twists, squalor, riches, even a duel. It excites from the first page to the last. My emotions ran the gamut while reading it, ending on a happy, satisfied plateau. What more can you ask of a novel?

1746, and a young man steps off the brig Henrietta in the city of New-York, freshly arrived from London. He makes a beeline for a counting-house, where he presents a note for a thousand pounds, refusing to state his business in the new world, thus becoming the most spoken- and whispered-about stranger in town.

The mysterious Richard Smith is closely observed, up close and from a distance, by everyone from the governor to the butcher to the slaves toiling in the homes of the wealthy. In the home of the merchant banker who now holds his note, he meets the Lovell family, striking up an almost immediate love-hate relationship with Tabitha Lovell. In a premonitory way, he notices (and is noticed by) the Lovell’s slave Zephyra.

The setting is pre-revolutionary New-York, a small city of just over 7,000 inhabitants, half Dutch, half British, both languages still in force though English is in its ascendency, with its Broad Way, its green common, its tall Amsterdam-style houses next to lower London-style structures. It is the New-York of Golden Hill, the Bouwerij, the British fort, Trinity church, and, a day’s ride away, Rutger’s Farm.

Taking breakfast at The Merchants, he is sought out by Septimus Oakeshott, secretary to the governor and master of the slave Achilles, characters who play increasingly-important roles as the story develops. The city and the characters come to life, contemporary and immediate. I felt I could step right into New-York with Richard Smith.

I love historical detail, especially when it is presented as fact, without unnecessary explanation. Here, for example, is Mr. Lovell, making change for Richard Smith, who needs spending money but does not yet understand the odd mixture of currencies and paper notes used in the colonies:

“A Mexica dollar, which we pass at eight-and-fourpence. A piece of four, half that. A couple of Portugee cruzeiros, three shillings New-York. A quarter-guilder. Two kreutzers, Lemberg. One kreutzer, Danish. Five sous. And a Moresco piece we can’t read, but it weighs at fourteen pennyweight, sterling, so we’ll call it two-and-six, New-York. Twenty-one and fourpence, total. Leaving a hundred and twenty-nine, tenpence-halfpenny to find in paper.”

Which is almost immediately stolen, setting in train a series of complications and blunders imperiling Richard Smith’s secret mission, a mission which remains secret until the final pages.

The secrecy is no cheap trick on Spufford’s part; it’s necessary and the reader will understand when the twist occurs, a twist that is at once revelatory and inspiring, the novel’s penultimate reward to the reader (the ultimate reward being the coda, written after the revolution by an older and wiser Tabitha).

God, this was a great read. I haven’t been this happy with a novel in years.

by Tade Thompson

A Goodreads friend said this about “Rosewater”:

“This book is one of those discoveries that not only is enjoyable for itself; it’s good enough to make me feel overall cheerily optimistic about the future of science fiction writing. Of course, this is not to be confused with ‘feeling cheery about the future;’ the effect here is quite the opposite, in fact.”

With an endorsement like that, I had to read it. It was everything she said, and more. As I read, I found myself as excited as I had been, decades ago, when I first read “The Fifth Head of Cerberus” by an up & comer named Gene Wolfe, or later, when I discovered the work of William Gibson.

“Rosewater” tells a hell of a story. Thompson says his science fiction stories are “about people, with incidental science,” but neither the people nor the science is incidental in “Rosewater.” Both are central to his complex first contact/alien invasion novel.

I particularly liked the main character Kaaro’s flashbacks to 2055 and his first encounters with the super-secret S45, the xenosphere, Femi, Wormwood, and Bicycle Girl. As other readers reported doing, I occasionally paged back to chapter heads to remind myself which timeline I was in, 2055 or 2066, but it was not bothersome: in fact, the very minor effort this entailed drew me even more into the story and enhanced my understanding of the world Thompson built.

Thompson is a master of introducing shocking plot elements through throwaway one-liners: when you run across one like “When America went dark,” your hair wants to stand on end. I suspect most Western readers will know enough of present-day Nigeria to be somewhat frightened of it; for sure I have heard of “necklacing,” and was perversely happy Thomas didn’t paint a prettier picture of the future Nigeria. Nigeria, along with the cast of characters who inhabit Lagos and Rosewater, is gritty and entirely believable.

There’s not a hint of the didactic in “Rosewater.” Thompson is a master of showing, of putting you in the story. “Rosewater” is brilliant, and I agree with my friend: the future of SF is assured.

word by wordWord by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries
by Kory Stamper

Without naming the book, I posted a mid-read review of “Word by Word” to Facebook:

“I heard educated-sounding people on NPR pronounce ‘dour’ and ‘banal’ in ways that were new to me. It no doubt says something about me that I immediately assumed I’d been saying those words wrong all my life. That, in turn, made me feel insecure about other words I might be mispronouncing. Well, I’m reading a cool book about the making of dictionaries, and one of the chapters describes how lexicographers nail down pronunciations. I learned that online dictionary entries now include speaker icons you can click to hear how words are pronounced. It turns out I was saying dour and banal correctly and the snobs on NPR were saying them wrong. My self-confidence has been restored!”

As you might infer, I obsess over language and words. As a writer, I own several print dictionaries (including a giant library Unabridged Random House Dictionary that once sat, open, on a special stand by the card catalog cabinet), Strunk & White, Fowler’s, multiple copies of the AP Stylebook, and more. I have all the major online dictionaries and style guides bookmarked.

Kory Stamper, I feel a strong kinship with you. If Sarah Vowell and I could hang out with you (that is if Sarah Vowell would let me hang out with her in the first place), I’d be in heaven. Until we disagreed on some definition or point of style, that is. Just kidding.

This is a language enthusiast’s book, engagingly written and full of fascinating detail, not just about the words themselves, but about the process of revising and updating dictionaries, an amazingly rich and rigorous field … I literally had no idea how much work and research is involved.

Sadly, the book ends with an epilog about something I knew of but didn’t want to think about: layoffs and the decline of the dictionary publishing industry. Online references have decimated print sales, and the dream jobs of lexicographers and English lovers are fast disappearing.

the great passageThe Great Passage
by Shion Miura

Clearly, I’ve been reading too many mysteries and thrillers, where every new object or action introduced into the story comes back later in some significant way. In real life … and Japanese novels … the second thing does not necessarily follow.

Just one example: at several points in the story, Nishioka brags about how easily he could move in on Kaguya, the woman loved by his seemingly timid co-worker Majime. He finds a love letter to Kaguya on Majime’s desk, reads it, and makes a copy. Aha, I thought, he’s going to do something awful with that copy.

Not so. Nishioka stays out of Majime’s way, and the copy doesn’t come into play until the epilogue, when Nishioka and Kishibe, the woman hired to replace Nishioka after he transferred to another department in the publishing house, read it together in a strangely affecting passage that moved me deeply.

Is it coincidence I read and loved a non-fiction book about the making of dictionaries, Kory Stamper’s “Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries,” just last month? As a word lover, I learned much from Stamper’s book. I have to say I learned at least as much about dictionaries from Miura’s novel (have you ever thought about the paper dictionaries are printed on?). Along the way I learned a great deal more about Japan and the Japanese, the language and the people.

Mostly, though, I was swept away by a beautifully-told story about people passionately dedicated to their professions and to one another. This is one of the most enjoyable novels I’ve read in a long time.

handmaids taleThe Handmaid’s Tale
Margaret Atwood

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Links and references:

legacy of spiesA Legacy of Spies
by John le Carré

From my review of an earlier le Carré novel, “A Delicate Truth”:

“Le Carré long ago moved on from the Cold War espionage era of his classic George Smiley character to the post-9/11, counter-terrorism, civilian contractor-dominated intelligence world of today, his later novels featuring mid-level actors in Britain’s foreign office and intelligence ministries. … You can feel le Carré’s anger with the direction covert intelligence-gathering has taken since the days when the Americans, led by Dick Cheney and his puppet George W. Bush, subverted and politicized the process, dragging Britain’s spy services down with them into a Keystone Kops frenzy of cherry-picking intelligence from favored sources, special rendition, torturing innocent and guilty suspects alike, and achieving nothing but failure after failure. Le Carré’s anger shines with a special intensity when he describes the yes-man atmosphere within Britain’s intelligence services today.”

I’ll say this, le Carré keeps us on our toes. His latest, “A Legacy of Spies,” returns to the Cold War era, populated (if in some cases at one or two removes) by his best-known characters, men like Peter Guillam and George Smiley. It expands on the tale originally told in le Carré’s most famous novel, “The Spy Who Came In from the Cold.”

I grew up in the Cold War; I served during the Cold War; I visited East Berlin multiple times during the Cold War. “The Spy Who Came In from the Cold” defined that era to readers of my generation. I don’t know about my fellow Baby Boomers, but I was terrified of it all; this is why I so admire the understated panache of le Carré’s spies as they fearlessly move about in Soviet-occupied territory, observing and being observed, playing targets and being played themselves, ever alert to the life-and-death stakes of the game they play. I love the attention le Carré lavishes on the Circus and its army of full- and part-time minders, technicians, and “housekeepers.” I hope such selfless servants of democracy exist in the real world, despite the depredations visited upon intelligence agencies during the Cheney-Bush-Blair era; le Carré almost convinces me they do.

“A Legacy of Spies” is entirely satisfying; the spymaster has lost none of his power.

The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O.The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O.
by Neal Stephenson & Nicole Galland

A collaboration, and I’m hard-pressed to guess which author wrote which parts, though I note that overall the novel has the feel (and heft) of a solo Stephenson epic.

The difference with this epic is the combination of the supernatural (witchcraft and magic) with near-future science fiction (the cryogenically-cooled isolation chambers that allow magic to be performed in a non-magical world).

Fantasy and the supernatural have little appeal for me, but the matter-of-fact way Stephenson and Galland mix magic with science, along with believable contemporary characters, the inevitable bureaucracy growing around what started out as a shoestring operation to explore the possibilities of magic in the modern world, and a cast of witches and anachrons brought forward from past eras, make it palatable. In fact, this is a most enjoyable read, and despite the novel’s 700+ page length, I breezed right through it.

It’s written in epistolary style, consisting of journal entries; in-house D.O.D.O. message traffic, taped conversations, and directives copied from the organization’s server; letters sent to a spymaster by an Elizabethan-era Irish witch; diary entries written by a scientist’s wife (who turns out to be a witch herself); and a fascinating Viking epic titled the Lay of Walmart.

Also, too, I liked Stepenson and Gallande’s take on messing with the past: with great persistence you can change small things, but if you seriously threaten the future, you’d better be ready to run.

“The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O.” is a blast to read, at once playful, funny, and suspenseful … an ambitious task for any author, but Stephenson and Galland pull it off.

boy on bridgeThe Boy on the Bridge (The Girl With All The Gifts #2)
by M.R. Carey

From my earlier review of “The Girl with All the Gifts“:

“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.”

The vehicle is back. The Rosalind Franklin is sent out from the besieged human enclave of Beacon on a research mission through England and Scotland, manned by military personnel and a scientific team. The scientists’ mission is to collect tissue samples from Hungries, tissue that may help humans find a cure or at least a vaccine to prevent infection. The story centers around one member of the scientific team, the autistic teenaged boy of the title, who makes an amazing discovery.

“The Boy on the Bridge” is set in the world of “The Girl with All the Gifts,” a world devastated by a fast-acting fungal disease that turns humans into “hungries,” zombie-like creatures that exist only to eat flesh, human or animal. Think of the British zombie movies “28 Days Later” and “28 Weeks Later” (I actually checked to see if M.R. Carey had a hand in writing those screenplays–to my surprise he didn’t, although he did work on the movie adaptation of “The Girl with All the Gifts”).

The story laid out in this novel takes place prior to the story of “The Girl with All the Gifts,” but the two novels tie together, and the Girl herself makes an appearance at the end of Boy. That’s not meant to be a spoiler–it’s meant to entice you to read this one if you loved the first one as much as I did.

M.R. Carey is a gifted storyteller. As with Girl, I was completely taken in by the plot and characters, on the edge of my seat from the first page to the last.

warmth of other sunsThe Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration
by Isabel Wilkerson

“The Warmth of Other Suns” examines the lives of three southern black Americans who moved north and west during the period of the Great Migration. The two men and one woman Isabel Wilkerson focuses on are good representatives of the 6 million who made up the whole: one follows the seacoast from Florida to New York City; one follows the well-worn path from Alabama and Mississippi to midwestern cities like Chicago and Detroit; one heads west to California, as so many from Louisiana and Texas did. The stories of these three people, along with the stories of their wives, husbands, and children, are told in separate and short biographical chapters.

Isabel Wilkerson’s book also recounts the overall history of the Great Migration. She fills in the gaps between biographical chapters with broad-brushed chapters about the South the migrants came from; vivid and chilling examples of the increasingly draconian Jim Crow laws southern blacks had to navigate in every aspect of their daily lives; the routes and patterns followed by black migrants from different parts of the former Confederacy; the nature and types of discrimination they faced in the North. I knew about the North and the historical patterns of segregation there; I had no appreciation of the scope and extent of the Jim Crow laws in the South. These chapters in particular opened my eyes and will stay with me for a long time.

I will note, as I see other reviewers have before me, that absolutely none of this was taught in school to anyone in my generation. I am willing to bet it isn’t taught now. There is thus great value in this book and others that examine the experience of black American citizens and their struggle. I salute Isabel Wilkerson. She made an impact on me.

“The Warmth of Other Suns” feels like one of those books challenged by parents and sometimes yanked from school libraries and reading lists by timid administrators looking to avoid confrontation. I searched for information on challenges and bans and found nothing. Perhaps, as I speculated above, this book is infrequently taught in middle and high school, if it is taught at all. That would be a shame.

Now for my only quibble:

There’s a pattern to most of the 30-minute automotive shows on cable TV. Each consists of four or five short segments, broken by commercials. During each segment, we see a preview of what’s to come in the next segment. When each new segment starts, we see flashbacks to the previous segment. Thus, minus commercials, 22 minutes of car show contains roughly 12 minutes of content.

There are no commercials in “The Warmth of Other Suns,” of course, but each biographical chapter previews the next, while each new chapter repeats details we already digested while reading earlier chapters. This is the repetitiveness so many reviewers complain of. It is unnecessary and I wish Isabel Wilkerson had cut out the previews and flashbacks … her great work would have been tighter and more impactful without constant repetition.


Persuader (Jack Reacher #7)
the enemy
The Enemy (Jack Reacher #8)
one shot
One Shot (Jack Reacher #9)

The last review is for a series of escapist thrillers, Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels, which I’m reading in order. I started last year with the first one, “Killing Floor,” and, if I outlive the author, may some day get to the last one (right now that is #22, “The Midnight Line”). This is a combined review of three I read this year, the seventh through the ninth novels, “Persuader,” “The Enemy” and “One Shot.” Of these, I rated “The Enemy” at four stars, my highest rating to date for a Jack Reacher novel. —Paul

A couple of the first six Reacher novels are terrible. The rest are good to very good. The thing is, Jack Reacher in his natural state is a great character: he’s strong, skilled, smart, taciturn to a fault. By choice he has no job and no fixed address, but wherever he goes he winds up investigating a crime, either on his own volition or at the behest of strangers. He’s a keen observer. He figures things out. He gets into horrible scrapes, often (always?) winding up in jail himself, accused of committing the very crimes he’s investigating. He beds a succession of smart women characters who help him solve crimes. He beats up the bad guys. He’s the world’s deadliest sniper. And so on.

And yet in every novel Reacher breaks character to become another kind of detective, not the man of action but a tough-guy version of Hercule Poirot, subjecting possible culprits and baffled policemen or FBI agents to lengthy monologues where he explains what when down, how he figured it out, and naming the guilty. The culprit, dead to rights, makes a move, the lights go out, gunfire ensues, yadda yadda.

Which is to say Jack Reacher is a unique & memorable character trapped in a series of conventional & not so memorable mystery plots. Sometimes Child handles this well and you don’t notice so much. Other times he handles it poorly, and you want to throw the book across the room.

“Persuader,” Jack Reacher #7, is tightly-plotted and tense. Reacher is fully in character. So are the bad guys. So are the alluring women from Reacher’s past & present … surprisingly, he doesn’t bed the current woman until halfway through the novel. A subplot involving an investigation from Reacher’s military days is very well done, as are the descriptions of weapons favored by gangsters and terrorists. The fight scenes are as good as any I’ve read. I noticed that this novel is narrated in the first person. I think most of the earlier ones used the third-person voice. I liked this one better, and will be watching Child’s narrative technique more closely from now on.

“The Enemy,” Jack Reacher #8, is my favorite Reacher novel to date and earned four stars. I think I liked it as much as I did because it echoed aspects of my own military career, set as it is during Reacher’s time as a military police officer, working high level criminal activity inside the Army. The earlier novels are set at later dates, after Reacher left the Army and became a rootless solver of crimes and friend of the oppressed. I hope some of the later novels return to Reacher’s Army days. What I know of the Army (I was Air Force myself) seems well-researched, another reason to like the book.

“One Shot,” Jack Reacher #9, jumps ahead to Reacher’s post-Army days (as do the first seven novels), but some of the opposing characters in this one were known to him when he was in uniform, and his experience as an MP goes a long way toward helping him solve the case he’s investigating. There are a lot of 180-degree turns in this novel, so many that it became a bit of a distraction in later chapters. I came to believe that Lee Child was lurking over my shoulder, just waiting for me to think, “Oh, I get it,” before springing another loop on me. Child’s trickiness came across as gratuitous, and I rated this novel a little lower than the previous one.

All three novels are good reads for Jack Reacher fans, and I guess by this point I’ve become one. As with James Bond, Jack Reacher is escapist bullshit, but what great fun this escapist bullshit is!


And Your Little Horse, Too

I firmly believe that Americans who try to live up to the civic and social values they were taught as children outnumber those whose only values are winning and spite. If everyone voted, people like Mitch McConnell, Trey Gowdy, and Donald Trump would never hold public office.

That’s not what happens, though. Half of us, at most, vote in presidential elections; far fewer in state and municipal elections. With those lower numbers, racists and haters stand a better chance of winning. Our inaction has, effectively, made our majority a minority.

I’m enormously gratified to see Doug Jones win over the odious Roy Moore in yesterday’s Alabama special election. Values beat tribalism, but it was a squeaker. It shouldn’t have been as close as it was; if all Alabamians had turned out, Jones would have won by ten or more percentage points and there’d be no talk of recounts. I wish I could believe this small victory marks a turning point, but I can’t. Too many of us stay home on election day—and after the presidency was stolen from Hillary Clinton, who won it by a three million vote margin, who can blame us?

Black Alabamians put Jones over the top, in spite of gerrymandering and restrictive voter ID laws meant to keep them from the polls, and we owe them our thanks. I’d like to think Alabama women put up some kind of unified front against Moore, but then I think about all the women who voted for and still support Trump and I wonder if we can ever pin our hopes on women voting as a bloc.

I hope minority populations in other states are taking note of what happened in Alabama. I live in Arizona, a state with a huge Latino population. They could, if they wanted to, flip this traditionally conservative state from red to blue, a thought that must terrify the Republicans who run things now.

It’ll never happen under a Republican Congress, Justice Department, Presidency, or Supreme Court, but if Democrats ever get back in the driver’s seat we need to pass new voting rights legislation to mandate motor voter registration and mail-in ballots in all states while outlawing discriminatory voter ID laws and partisan gerrymandering. Oh, and get rid of the Electoral College. I don’t think there’s anything we can do to make all Americans vote, short of making voting mandatory (and even I wouldn’t go that far), but making it so that exercising our constitutional right to vote isn’t a struggle will help put the true majority of Americans back in charge.

These are my thoughts on a morning that dawned a little brighter than it did yesterday, before Alabama elected Doug Jones to the Senate.


Air-Minded: A Visit to the Museum

A few years back a friend told a friend of hers to hook up with me on Facebook. She thought we’d hit it off, since Kevin had been an F-15 maintainer at Kadena Air Base, stationed there at the same time I was. I didn’t know him then, but was happy to add him as a friend, especially since in his post-USAF life he’s a musician, entertainer, and producer, and I always read his posts about concerts and other Tucson events with interest (he’s currently president & CEO of to the Southwest Soul Circuit).

Last week he asked about visiting Pima Air & Space Museum and I encouraged him to come on my next volunteer day, which was yesterday. He took my tram tour and explored a couple of the display hangars, and wrote a great post about his day on Facebook.


Part of it’s about me, and it’s head-swelling stuff, but that’s not why I’m sharing it here. It just felt good to help a fellow vet and Kadena Eagle mate reconnect with a past we share, and to finally make a personal connection with someone I knew only on social media.

A few people who likewise knew me only through my blog posts here and on Daily Kos have looked me up at the museum, and it’s always exciting when they do. Kevin’s visit was especially fun, since we had the tram almost to ourselves and were able to have a dialog, instead of me sticking to the script and doing all the talking.

Here’s Kevin’s writeup of his visit to the air museum:

WOW…. yesterday I had a WOW moment, a moment in which words escaped me because of the gravity of the moment.

A little over four years ago, I became Facebook friends with Paul Woodford at the suggestion of our mutual friend Martha Retallick. Paul and I quickly realized that we just so happen to have been stationed at Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, Japan at the exact same time in the early ‘90s. He was an F-15 fighter pilot with the 44th Tactical Fighter Squadron, I was an F-15 avionics technician with the 12th Aircraft Maintenance Unit.

Paul had invited me to the Pima Air & Space Museum to see some cool stuff and to take a tram tour. I immediately jumped on that opportunity and met Paul face to face for the first time. I had always had a healthy respect for those who possess the mental, physical and emotional ability to be a fighter pilot, and Paul didn’t disappoint. I just so happen to be on the tram tour that Paul conducted. I was particularly impressed with his knowledge of aerospace history, his knowledge of aircraft capabilities, his mental prowess and skills as an orator. It reiterated to me that he had always been a man with “The Right Stuff.”

I can’t express to you all how good I felt seeing my favorite airplanes at the museum. It’s been since the mid 90s that I’ve been exposed to the aviation world. My Air Force days were a big part of my maturation from a kid to a man. I will always cherish my time in the military.

I was too thrilled to walk up to an SR-71 Blackbird. It took me a moment to take in the fact that I was able to stand next to this aircraft, given that it was such a top secret plane you couldn’t go anywhere near it unless you had the clearance to work on it, of which I never had. This was my favorite plane. Without saying too much, I remember having to leave the flight line every time this aircraft was launched, because it was so top secret. It took me a moment to take in the fact that I was standing underneath, and touching, such an amazing aircraft.

The most impactful moment of the day for me was when I had the chance to walk out to, and look around, an F-15C. At that moment, I came to the realization that my current work ethic, attention to detail, sense of pride in my work and the integrity I needed for others to trust my work was formed mostly from my time maintaining the flight controls and various other F-15 systems which were monitored by it’s various cockpit indicators. You can imagine how I must have been “getting into my feelings” at the museum yesterday.

I also took a moment to visit Hanger 3. My most notable moment there was learning about the B-24. I found new respect for those brave souls who fought and died in combat while flying any of those earlier aircraft.

I had a cathartic experience at the Pima Air & Space Museum and I think that you all should visit this jewel of a place whether you live in Tucson or visit.


Air-Minded: The Hell You Say

This morning one of my fellow air museum docents forwarded an email making its way around the USAF fighter pilot community. It is, as most chain letters are, a pile of steaming Neanderthal teabagger feces, straight from the anus of Fox News.

Here it is:

Some of his language is very basic, fundamentally it carries a sore theme with many pilots…born with a sense of adventure, a risk taker based on challenging ones mettle, one’s own abilities, skills, and courage while trying to avoid all the PC BS run amok.


If only the right people would read this and adhere.

Even the Main Stream Media Mutts reported our Air Force is short 1500+ pilots and that number is increasing because of all the PC bullshit. But with President Trump, bringing people like Secretary of Defense “Mad Dog” Mattis and others on board, hopefully things will change.

I received this from a retired Air Force officer. It is written from an Air Force perspective but a lot of truth here for all branches of the service. Other than Marine generals, check the ribbons on the other armed forces “senior leaders” the next time you see them on TV. Most are of the Colin Powell’s ilk – staff officers sucking up to commanders to enhance careers. Most of their ribbons are admin type of awards, not combat.HE PILOTS GONE?

We used to go to the Officers Club or Stag Bar on Friday afternoons in our flight suits to drink, smoke, and swap lies with our comrades. Think about this when you read the letter below.

Drinking then became frowned on and flight suits were not allowed in the clubs. Smoking caused cancer and could “harm you.” Stag bars became seen as ‘sexist’. Gradually, our men quit patronizing their clubs because what happened in the club became fodder for a performance report. It was the same thing at the Airman’s Club and the NCO and/or Top 3 clubs. Now we don’t have separate clubs for the ranks. Instead, we have something called All Ranks Clubs or community clubs. They’re open to men and women of all ranks…from airman basic to general officer. Still, no one goes there. Gee, I wonder why?

The latest brilliant thought out of Washington is that the operators (“pilots?”) flying remote aircraft in combat areas from their plush desk at duty stations in Nevada or Arizona should draw the same combat pay as those real world pilots, actually on board a plane in a hostile environment. More politically correct screwed up logic, right?

They say that remote vehicle operators are subject to the same stress levels as the combat pilot actually flying in combat. —– REALLY? …you’re bull-shitting me, right?

Now that I’ve primed you a little, read on.

There are many who will agree with these sentiments, but they apply to more than just fighter pilots. Unfortunately, the ones with the guts to speak up or push for what they believe in are beaten down by the “system” and are soon pushed out of active duty.

“Unfortunately there is a lot of truth in the following text – supposedly, SecDef had a force beating the bushes to learn who wrote this….

Where have all the fighter pilots gone?

Good Question.

Here is a rant from a retired fighter pilot that is worth reading:

It is rumored that our current Secretary of Defense recently asked the question, “Where are all the dynamic leaders of the past?” I can only assume, if that is true, than he was referring to Robin Olds, Jimmy Doolittle, Patton, Ike, Boyington, Nimitz, etc.?

Well, I’ve got the answer:

They were fired before they made Major or left for a National Guard unit
or the airlines!

Our nation doesn’t want those kinds of leaders anymore. Squadron commanders don’t run squadrons and wing commanders don’t run wings. They are managed by higher ranking dildos with other esoteric PC goals in mind.

Can you imagine someone today looking for a LEADER to execute that Doolittle Raid and suggesting that it be given to a dare-devil boozer – his only attributes: he had the respect of his men, an awesome ability to fly, and the organizational skills to put it all together? If someone told me there was a chance in hell of selecting that man today, I would tell them they were either a liar or dumber than shit.

I find it ironic that the Air Force put Brigadier General Robin Olds on the cover of the company rag quite a few years past.

While it made me extremely proud to see his face, he wouldn’t make it across any base in America (or overseas) without ten enlisted folks telling him to zip up his flight suit, get rid of the cigarette, trim his mustache or better yet, shave it off.

I have a feeling that his response would be predictable and for that crime he would probably get a trip home and an Article 15. We have lost the war on rugged individualism and that, unfortunately, is what fighter pilots want to follow; not because they have to but because they respect leaders of that ilk. We’ve all run across that leader who made us proud to follow him because you wanted to be like him and make a difference. The individual who you would drag your testicles through broken glass for rather than disappoint him.

We better wake the hell up! We’re asking our young men and women to go to really shitty places; some with unbearable climates, never have a drink, have little or no contact with the opposite sex, not look at magazines of a suggestive nature of any type and adhere to ridiculous regs that require you to tuck your shirt into your PT uniform on the way to the porta-shitter at night, in a blinding dust storm, because it’s a uniform.

These people we’re sending to combat today are some of the brightest we have ever produced, but they are looking for a little sanity, which they will only find on off active duty if we don’t get a friggin’ clue. You can’t continue asking people to live for months or years at a time acting like nuns and priests without killing their incentive.

Who are we afraid of offending? The guys that already hate us enough to strap C-4 to their own bodies and walk into a crowd of us to detonate it? Think about it.

I’m extremely proud of our young men and women who continue to serve. I’m also very in tune with what they are considering for the future and I’ve got news for whoever sits in the White House, Congress, and our so-called military leaders. Much talent has and will continue to hemorrhage from our services, because these warriors are tired of fighting on two fronts – – one with our enemies, another against our leadership’s lack of common sense.

BTW, whose great idea was it to put women and openly LGBTQ types in combat units? Not to mention same sex marriages, transgender operations, and babies being born on naval ships at sea. And I thought having an ORI at an F-4 fighter wing in Vietnam during combat operations in 1970 was the epitome of nonsensical thinking…and not one inspector flew a mission with us. But I think we passed anyway.

Take it or leave it….that’s just the way it is, no if’s, and’s, or but’s………..

And here’s my response:

Dear ______,

There’s a structural issue here. Where does the introduction end and the actual letter from a former USAF pilot begin? At “WHERE HAVE ALL THE PILOTS GONE”? At “Now that I’ve primed you a little, read on”? Or farther down still, at “Here is a rant from a retired fighter pilot that is worth reading”? Presumably one person wrote the introduction and another person wrote the fighter pilot part, but it all reads the same to me.

Whoever wrote the intro clearly knows nothing. If he did know anything, he’d know RPV pilots are real pilots who come from actual cockpits and will return to actual cockpits after their Predator assignments, and that rated personnel get flight pay whether they’re flying F-16s, Predators, or desks. He’d also know the “pilot shortage” is not a shortage of pilots in cockpits but at desks in headquarters buildings, command posts, and the Pentagon.

I almost quit reading at “Colin Powell’s ilk.” That’s some racist shit right there, buddy. Later on, where is Chappie James in the list of “dynamic leaders of the past”?

Stag bars and strippers went away over 40 years ago. Women have been flying USAF aircraft since the 1970s, and flying fighters since the 1990s. Does this guy seriously think Trump or Mattis is going to reverse time? Or that treating women as property and sex objects makes leaders?

If this guy knew anything about the fighter business, he’d know fighter pilots are the same as they have always been. Fighter squadrons still have after-hours bars. Fighter pilots still sing Sammy Small and fly with their hands, girl pilots included (who, though their numbers remain small, hold their own with the boys, something I know from personal experience). I was at a Command Barstool Association meetup not long ago. Our USAF Barstooler comrades are still going strong, as are our Navy Tailhook Association brethren, more underground than in the past but still there.

You and I both have encountered former naval aviators who still can’t get over McNamara standardizing military aircraft designations in the mid-1960s, changing F4Ds to F-6s and so on. This whole letter seems like the same kind of disgruntled old man whining.

Undermining the premise an actual fighter pilot wrote this is the assertion that in today’s USAF, enlisted personnel would correct a colonel or general over flight suit zippers or moustaches. Yeah, right.

Fighter pilots and fighter pilot culture haven’t changed much from your time or mine. Sure, there are sniveling yes men in senior military leadership. Always have been, always will be. Sure, guys like Robin Olds rarely make it past lieutenant colonel … until there’s a real war and leaders are needed. They’re still there, and we know where to find them.

Anyway, thanks for giving me fresh fodder for a blog post!


Or, as USAF pilots still say when they get chickenshit directives from higher headquarters, “Fuck you, strong message to follow.”


Air-Minded: PASM Photoblog X

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This photoblog is primarily about the newly restored F-15A at Pima Air & Space Museum. I wrote about this Eagle in September 2011, when it was moved from the back acreage of the museum to the head of fighter row. What piqued my original interest was its tail number, 74-0118, because I flew 1974 Eagles at Elmendorf AFB, Alaska, in the mid-1980s.

[Some of you may be tempted to call me out on the existence of 1974 Eagles, seeing as how the first F-15s weren’t delivered to the USAF until 1976, but the year in the tail number indicates the fiscal year the Air Force paid for it, not necessarily (in fact hardly ever) the year it was built or delivered.]

The hope that I might have flown this particular jet evaporated after I looked through photos of my days in Alaska and realized our jets had earlier tail numbers than this one. Later, though, a reader who’d been a maintainer at Langley AFB, Virginia, wrote to say he thought 74-0118 had once been assigned to the 27th Tactical Fighter Squadron there. I did NATO top-off training at Langley in the fall and winter of 1978, en route to my first operational F-15 assignment at Soesterberg AB in the Netherlands. We newbies flew some of our NATO training missions in the brand-new 1977 jets we’d later fly at Soesterberg, but we also flew missions in older jets assigned to the 27th TFS. So I may have flown this particular jet after all, a happy thought.

I don’t know which bases 74-0118 was assigned to after it left Langley, but its last assignment, as indicated by the TY code on its tail, was Tyndall AFB, Florida, where from 1983 to 2010 the USAF trained new F-15 pilots (in my day it was Luke AFB in Phoenix, Arizona). Here are two older photos of PASM’s Eagle, the second showing the sorry state it had fallen into prior to restoration:


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And here it is fresh out of the hanger with new paint and markings, plus wing pylons, AIM-9 Sidewinder launch rails, and external 600-gallon fuel tanks, looking now like it means business:

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The decals in the second photo are for the 1st, 2nd, and 95th Fighter Squadrons, all of which flew F-15s under Tyndall’s 325th Fighter Wing. I used to think the 95th had one of the coolest patches in the Air Force. I still do. Even though the pilots who wore them used to be coneheads.

[From the 1950s to the late 1980s, the 95th was an interceptor squadron, flying F-94s, F-86Ds, F-102s, and F-106s for Air Defense Command: fighter pilots flying for Tactical Air Command called ADC interceptor pilots coneheads. The 95th later flew Eagles, and today flies F-22 Raptors, and no one has called its pilots coneheads in a long time.]

Sticklers may quibble about the glossy paint on PASM’s F-15, and I agree: it’s not accurate. Camouflage paint on operational military aircraft has a matte finish. You don’t want sunlight glinting off your shiny airplane and giving some MiG pilot an early tally ho. But several of the newer restorations at the museum have a clear coat on top of the camouflage paint, giving them a glossy appearance they never had in real life. It’s for a good cause: the clearcoat holds up better under the brutal Arizona sun, and this way the museum doesn’t have to repaint aircraft nearly as often. I can live with that.

Walking through the main hanger I noticed they’ve mounted a big-ass Browning machine gun on our OH-58D Kiowa Warrior (technically, an M2HB .50 caliber machine gun). This mean little helo used to have LAU-68 rocket launchers loaded with 2.75-inch Hydra rockets on each side (there’s still one on the right side).

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As I took that photo, a fellow volunteer docent asked me about the difference between machine guns, cannons, and mini-guns, all of which arm various combat aircraft. I didn’t answer, and I wish I could say it was because I was shocked at his ignorance, but I was as much in the dark as he was. Aren’t they all guns anyway?

Here’s what I did know: the F-15s I flew are armed with a 20mm 6-barrel rotary cannon called the Vulcan, which is also used on other fighters. F-86 Sabres in the Korean War were armed with six single-barrel .50 caliber machine guns. The museum’s attack helicopters are armed with side-mounted miniguns, 4- to 6-barrel rotary machine guns firing 7.62×51mm NATO rounds (except for the Kiowa fitted out with the single-barrel .50 caliber machine gun).

I looked it up and here’s my simple-minded explanation (gun nuts are welcome to rip me a new one in the comment section): yes, they’re all guns, just as all ships are boats. The size of the projectile is what separates a gun from a cannon, and in general use that means a .50 caliber round is fired from a rifle or machine gun, not a cannon. When the round is in the 20mm or larger range, it’s fired from a cannon. I used to stumble mentally when describing the “Gatling-gun style cannons” in the F-15 and the A-10 to museum visitors, because how could they be both guns and cannons? I stumble no more: the term is accurate after all. The original Gatling gun was a rotary-barrel machine gun, like the ones mounted on our museum attack helicopters, firing smaller projectiles. The Gatling guns mounted in modern fighter aircraft are cannons, firing 20mm and even 30mm rounds. Both fire at high rates of speed.

The last photo shows the tail of the museum’s F-105D Thunderchief. I was curious about the RE tail code so I looked it up. Turns out it was the tail code of a squadron I used to fly with, the 44th Fighter Squadron at Kadena AB, Japan. When I flew for the 44th at Kadena, it was under the 18th Fighter Wing, and our tail code was (and is) ZZ. In the Vietnam war, though, the 44th, which then flew the Thud, was part of the 355th Tactical Fighter Wing at Takhli Royal Thai Air Force Base. So in addition to the F-15A which I probably flew at Langley AFB in 1978, the museum has an F-105 that used to fly for a squadron I flew with in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

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I’d be hard pressed to say exactly what that makes me so happy, but it does. Now if I can just talk the museum into painting my name on the side of that Eagle!


Taking the Cure

The cure for what ails me, that is: see photo.


Ed and the bikes at the I-10 rest area near Dragoon, Arizona
(we took turns because some bad hombres in a Jesus van were eying our rides)

Apart from weekly trips to and from the air museum where I volunteer as a docent, I haven’t been out on the Goldwing for a proper ride in a month or more, but a window of opportunity opened Sunday and I called my friend Ed to see if he could break away with me. A slight problem: he was grounded. His sweet old dog Ruby had died and he decided to get a new puppy. His wife Sue asked him to wait until after the holiday season when they’d both have more time to deal with training a new dog, but he didn’t and now in addition to all the things she had on her plate there was potty training too. So she ordered him to stay home and attend to the new pup until it’s housebroken.

That meant we couldn’t get away Sunday, but Tuesday—yesterday—we pulled it off. Ed appealed to Sue’s mercy, telling her his poor friend Paul was suffering from depression and really needed to get away for a motorcycle ride. It worked, and she cut him loose for the day.

Ed and I arranged to meet at ten at a nearby gas station and head out for lunch. At a quarter till I saddled up, turned the key, and pressed the starter button. There was a muffled click and everything went black—no electricity whatsoever. I knew it wasn’t the battery because it had happened before, about two weeks ago. That time the juice came back after I wiggled the key, so that’s what I tried this time, with no luck. I called Ed to tell him I had a dead bike and couldn’t come. He was at the gas station, not far away, and said he’d be right over.

We did a little troubleshooting in my garage. I turned the key and fortuitously the lights came on, but when I pressed the start button there was that muffled click again, followed by blackness. I thought it might be a problem with the ignition module, but Ed thought the click came from behind the side panel that covers the fuses and battery. I pulled the panel off and Ed checked both battery terminals to make sure they were secure. I turned the key again. The instrument panel lit up. I pressed start. Click! This time, with the panel off, we could hear it clearly, and the click came from the positive battery terminal. I unscrewed the positive lead, took a wire brush to both lead and terminal, screwed them back together, and all was well. There was no corrosion, but some invisible piece of grit had gotten in there and now it was gone. Problem solved.

Our day salvaged, we decided to ride to Willcox, a little town near the Arizona/New Mexico border, about 90 miles from Tucson. The day was overcast with temperatures in the low 60s. Halfway to Willcox the temperature dropped into the high 50s and I turned on my heated grips, glad I’d worn my full face helmet and leather jacket.

Along the way we passed the occasional billboard advertising wine tasting in Willcox. This is a little cow town with feed and farm implement stores, flat dusty streets and pickup trucks, one traffic light. It’s not anybody’s idea of a wine tasting destination, but when we got to the restaurant, a converted railroad car near the train station, there was the wine tasting parlor right across the street. We took a pass on that and went in the diner for lunch.

When we came out the temperature had dropped into the low 50s, so for the ride home I wore a balaclava under my helmet and ski gloves under my regular gloves. It stayed cold all the way home (or maybe riding at 80 mph just made it seem cold), and for the last couple of miles in Tucson we rode in the rain. We left at ten and were home by two-thirty, a nice little jaunt and just what the doctor had ordered for both of us.

More of this, please, especially now that it’s cooler and my motorcycle’s electrical issues are fixed.


Friday Bag o’ Remorse

remorse bagRemorse, yes; major-sin remorse, no. More like mild feelings of guilt for neglecting the blog, and you, my reader. I knew this would happen when I took on a competing writing task, my memoir, which creeps along in the background, one painfully-extracted sentence at a time.

The day before yesterday I sent out a Paulgram newsletter. One of the things I promised to do with those newsletters is to write candidly about things I’m reluctant to share here on Paul’s Thing. The newsletter’s visible only to subscribers; anyone can read my blog. Yesterday’s Paulgram was about a painful subject and it was frank. It took something out of me to write it. If I’m going to be equally frank in my memoir, I can anticipate more pain ahead.

Yesterday I worked on a memorial service for a friend. I’ll read it at his service tomorrow. I hope his will be the last death to touch our lives for a while. I know there’ll be many more, the numbers and frequency accelerating as the years pass, but a short break would be most welcome. I know what you’re thinking: good luck with that.

Tomorrow’s memorial, which promises to be an all-afternoon-and-into-the-evening affair, will upstage our 52nd anniversary, so we’ll probably celebrate that on Sunday instead. December 2nd, 1965, joined at the hips ever since. Luckily for us, there’s been more better than worse, more richer than poorer, more health than sickness. I don’t know what we did to deserve the good life we’ve shared, but we’ll take it.

Here’s a first-world problem for you: I’m over a month behind on The New Yorker. New issues are piling up; I’m still reading ones from mid-October. Sometimes there’ll be an issue with nothing of interest in it, but lately every damn article in every damn issue is required reading. And friends are always trying to talk me into subscribing to The New York Times or The Atlantic … I’d never come out from under!

Some good shows are opening new seasons on Netflix. Just in time for the FCC to repeal net neutrality and for Comcast to start throttling Netflix again. Good times ahead. But no one wants to talk about current events or politics; it’s all too depressing. Just keep in mind, folks, that’s how they get away with it: wearing us down. Also through corporate control of the media: have you noticed MSNBC’s lack of coverage on net neutrality? Chris Hayes isn’t talking about it. Neither is Rachel Maddow, or Lawrence O’Donnell. Guess who owns MSNBC. Yup, the same outfit that can’t wait to monetize the internet, Comcast.

The day before they drove home to Las Vegas, our son and grandson put up our outside Christmas lights. That put us a step ahead of the neighborhood Griswold, if only for a day. Now he’s got his stuff up, giant motorized inflatables and all, and I noticed while walking the dog he’s hung baubles from a tree on the other side of the street, encroaching onto another neighbor’s property. So far the aggression stands. How can anyone say no to Christmas? When fascism comes to America, it’ll be dressed as Santa Claus. Merry Christmas. Say it. SAY IT!