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Hi! I'm Paul. This is my blog. It is the best blog.

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© 2004-2017 Paul Woodford. All rights reserved.

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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“The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” by Sherman Alexie will stay part of the ninth-grade English curriculum in Sauk Prairie, Wisconsin.

Schlump: The tragic story behind a forgotten masterpiece, a fascinating bit of history about one of many books banned in Nazi Germany, lost but now rediscovered.

This Canadian op-ed, Why I Love Schools that Ban Books, is exactly what it seems, a screed against schools teaching anything conservatives disapprove of.

Did you know HBO is producing a screenplay of Ray Bradbury’s classic (and often banned) Fahrenheit 451? Also on the horizon: a Disney movie adaptation of another banned classic, Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time.

For two weeks in July, a judge presided over a trial to determine whether Arizona’s law banning Mexican-American studies classes in public schools is legal or not. As of today, 19 August, he has not ruled. MAS courses remain illegal and the books banned from Tucson classrooms in 2012 remain banned. If you’re squishy on whether schools ought to offer ethnic studies programs, maybe reading this will explain why they’re more than easy-A gut classes, and how, if the Arizona judge rules on the side of white supremacy, similar bans will quickly come to your state, and yours.

Somewhat forgotten: the House Un-American Activities Committee-inspired book burnings of the 1950s. If this is merely of historical interest, why is my spidey sense tingling?

Activists in Cuba say North Korea, like their own country, is fighting a losing battle against censorship. I, for one, wouldn’t mind seeing this battle draw to a quick conclusion.

Here at home, looks like our activists are busy too. Only ours are scientists, taking pre-emptive action by leaking an alarming climate report before the current administration orders it suppressed.

Why do schools set up review committees to rule on books challenged by parents if principals and administers are going to overturn their recommendations and ban the books anyway?

Look, if TSA “suggests” checking books and other printed material in passengers’ carry-on bags, why is anyone surprised  when TSA agents take it as a rule? You know this is headed in a bad direction. How do we stop it?

From time immemorial, bluenoses have combed through books, counting swear words. It remains one of the primary tactics of book banners today.

YCRT Banned Book Review (originally published in YCRT! in Oct 2015)

the boy came backThe Boy Came Back
Charles Knickerbocker

The Book

“The Boy Came Back” is about characters in a Maine seacoast village during the Korean War. Most of the men of the town are veterans of WWII. They and the rest of the townspeople have had enough of war and are eager for peace and prosperity. The trouble in Korea, which keeps those who know they won’t have to go glued to the radio at Joe’s Beer Garden, is otherwise kept at arm’s length.

A young man with a history of juvenile delinquency, now a war hero from WWII, returns to town after a years-long absence. He has different names, but everyone calls him The Boy. He brings with him a wife. She too has a name, but everyone calls her The Girl. The Boy suffers from what is today known as PTSD. He gets in vicious fights but otherwise keeps to himself.

The Girl takes a troubled middle-aged man with a sexless marriage, Dr. Snow, under her wing (by which I mean she fucks him). The Girl’s act of mercy saves the marriage of Dr. and Mrs. Snow, and for them at least life improves. For everyone else, not so much. The village heavy, Lea, a small-town bully and the cause of many of The Boy’s problems in earlier life, goes after The Girl. The Boy kills The Girl, then Lea, then disappears.

“The Boy Came Back” is worth reading for its portrayal of American attitudes toward the Korean War alone; overall it’s engagingly written and stands the test of time. I don’t know how well it sold initially, but once it became notorious as the object of a book-banning witch hunt, I’m sure sales soared. Today it’s forgotten and out of print, and I had to search out a used copy from Amazon in order to read it.

The Witch Hunt

The novel was published in 1951. At the time, Illinois’ state library program distributed books to rural communities through public schools. In October, 1953, a teenaged girl borrowed a copy of “The Boy Came Back” from the state library distribution point at her high school in Richland County. The girl’s mother read it, confiscated it, and turned it over to County Sheriff Jesse Shipley. The sheriff wrote a letter to Governor William Stratton urging that “the guilty persons be prosecuted and that the legislature conduct an inquiry into the matter.” The sheriff went on to condemn the book for its “communistic intent of attempting to lower the morality of American boys and girls.” The school superintendent of Richland County, Loren W. Cammon, also got involved, writing to the state librarian and including this description of the novel:

Without a doubt, it is the worst form of reading material I have ever seen in a high school. It is lewd in every sense of the word. I strenuously protest having such immoral reading material issued to the schools of Richland County.

Illinois state library personnel apologized, saying they made a mistake in including this adult novel in its shipment of books to the high school distribution point in Richland County. By then, though, the witch hunt was in full swing. In November, 1953, Illinois Secretary of State Charles Carpentier, presumably under orders from Governor Stratton, publicly rebuked Helene Rogers, the state librarian, ordering her to remove all “books of a salacious, vulgar or obscene character” from circulation. Other conservative politicians jumped on board, demanding the removal of “sex education” books from libraries and schools.

Rogers, noting that “if we acted on [the order] as it stands we would start with the Bible,” and without informing the state library advisory committee, began pulling all books not on a core list of suggested titles for library collections. By the time Rogers’ purge came to the attention of the press in December, 1953, she had removed between 6,000 and 8,000 books from state libraries, including popular novels by authors Sinclair Lewis, John Dos Passos, and Mickey Spillane.

In mid-December, 1953, Secretary of State Carpentier’s hometown newspaper, the Moline Dispatch, broke the story, which quickly spread. Illinois was held up to national and even international ridicule. The Washington Post called it “the Illinois Book Controversy.” Other papers, and some public officials, decried “witch hunting in the libraries.” Public opinion in the state turned against the book-banning, and the governor and secretary of state were forced to backtrack. Governor Stratton issued a clarification: while child readers should be protected, adults should be able to read what they want. Secretary of State Carpentier tried to lay the blame on state librarian Rogers, saying her “overzealous and wholesale withdrawal of hundreds of books from general circulation goes far beyond protecting school children in the selection of reading material, and has the tendency of making [my] original intention appear ridiculous.”

In January, 1954, Carpentier ordered Rogers to restore all the withdrawn books (including “The Boy Came Back”), but with this stipulation: he insisted Rogers “make it impossible for school children to obtain smut or objectionable materials from the Illinois State Library.” Rogers’ response was to stamp controversial books with the label “this book is for adult readers.”

Stamping books did not quell the controversy. Newspapers as far away as Great Britain carried news of the book stamping, one writing that “they are not burning books in the state of Illinois, they are putting ‘red flags’ on them.” In February, 1954, Carpentier said the incident had “turned into a comedy of errors,” and that he was “ready to climb the walls over this thing.” In March, 1954, on the day librarian Rogers was to appear before the state library advisory committee to answer questions about the book purge, she suffered a stroke and never was able to testify about her role in the scandal.

Echoes Today

Wow, things have certainly changed for the better, have they not? No, not really. Things haven’t changed much at all, and this is why I get mad when people suggest we no longer need a Banned Books Week in the USA.

One year ago, in 2014, Highland Park, Texas school administrators began red-flagging school library books and books used for class reading assignments that were not on an approved list of titles deemed “safe” for high school students to read. Regular readers of my YCRT! columns know that parental demands to red-flag or completely remove controversial books from school libraries and classrooms occur on a weekly basis in the USA. Regular readers also know that school administrators often cave to these demands, either placing books on restricted “parental permission only” lists or removing them altogether.

In February, 2015, the Kansas senate passed SB 56, which when signed into law will allow for the arrest, prosecution, and, if found guilty, imprisonment of teachers and school administrators found to have taught anything considered harmful to minors, including controversial works of literature. At this point it’s anyone’s guess what “harmful to minors” means.

In 2012, Arizona became a national and international laughingstock after banning textbooks, novels, and plays (including Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”) taught in Mexican-American studies classes, eventually backing down in embarrassment and reintoducing the banned books. Mexican-American studies classes are still banned in Arizona, I should note, derided and ridiculed by white supremacist Arizona politicians in the same McCarthyite terms used in 1953 to describe “The Boy Came Back” as communistic and revolutionary in purpose, pushing principles that lie outside Western civilization.

As for Illinois, state politicians and fearful civil servants still willingly engage in book-banning, witness the 2013 banning of the graphic novel “Persepolis” from Chicago public school classrooms and libraries, as well as a follow-on attempt to find and punish the teachers responsible for its adoption in the first place, a witch hunt ordered and carried out at the highest levels of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration.

Differences between then and now? Not that many, it seems to me.

References

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Do I Feel a Draft?

Twitter is a great help when it comes to not writing my memoir (or exercising, taking walks, doing chores, etc). Hella depressing though, especially the recent chorus of tweets from those who believe the military is rife with racism and Nazi worship. Yes, I know I’ve been out twenty years, but that wasn’t my experience at all, and I don’t believe things can have changed that much since I was in.

One of my lasting childhood memories is of going through sixth grade in a whites-only segregated school in Springfield, Virginia. I was not a politically-aware child, but even at twelve I knew something was wrong. From the third through fifth grades I’d been in an integrated Department of Defense school at Ramstein Air Base, Germany. Many of my classmates there were black, and that was normalcy to me. Now, back in the States, black kids my age were nowhere to be seen. I knew it wasn’t right and I knew it would have to change.

I’m not naive about military resistance to President Truman’s 1948 executive order to end segregation in the military. Resist it the military did, but not for long. By the beginning of the Korean War in 1950 the fight was over and the military was way out ahead of the country in racial integration. Sure, racial tensions have disturbed the force from time to time since then, but never for long: military leaders are always quick to clamp down and IMHO the military remains the example for the rest of America to follow.

Military culture is the opposite of what we see with torch-carrying white supremacists (and, frankly, what we see in many police departments around the country). Sure, racists do join the military, recruit weak-minded followers while they’re there, and later use some of their military training once they’re out and terrorizing minorities in the streets of America. But that doesn’t originate in the military: it’s outsiders coming in, using the military for whatever they can get out of it, then returning to civilian life and the racist culture they originally came from.

Yesterday and today, I’m seeing headlines about military leaders condemning racism. Which is fine, except there’s something about the way the headlines are worded that makes me think the reporters and editors who wrote them believe the military is the source of the racism tearing the country apart, and that military leaders are just now beginning to realize it. What worries me is that people will read these headlines and come to the same conclusion. Considerably less than ten percent of living Americans have ever served in the military, so there are few of us able to counter this narrative, as I’m trying to do here.

My suggestion to military leaders is this: find the troops bringing white supremacism into the military and recruiting others, and show no mercy in drumming them out. How hard can it be? Any good noncom or company-grade officer knows who their shitbirds are, and the Aryan Brotherhood types must be the shitbirds of all time.

And that leads me to another suggestion, not to military leaders but to the president and congress: bring back the draft and stop creating a military caste in this country. Those assholes in khaki Dockers and white Polos we saw chanting “blood and soil” in Charlottesville? Had they spent a few years in the military, working alongside the rest of us, most of them wouldn’t have been there in the first place.

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Tuesday Bag o’ Wet Dog

wet dogYou walk around indoors in stockinged feet, you notice right away when they go squish. In my case it was Sunday morning, and the squishy spot was the carpet by the bookcases in our home office.

The little room that houses our furnace and air conditioner is on the other side of the wall behind the bookcases. The plastic pipe that drains condensate from the AC coils was plugged up, so instead of draining outside, water drained down to the floor and into the home office, where the carpet soaked it up.

We quickly realized the cardboard boxes of files and other junk we keep in the office closet were soaked too, and started carrying everything out to the living room to prevent further damage. That wound up taking a good part of the day. The AC folks came by Monday morning and fixed the problem with the pipe, followed by an adjuster from our insurance company, followed by an emergency cleanup crew sent by the insurance company. They moved the bookcases and pulled up the carpet to get at the padding underneath, which they removed and threw away. They laid the carpet back down and filled the office with industrial drying fans, which will run around the clock for three days.

All of which is to explain why one whole end of our house smells like wet dog, and all you can hear is the roar of these blue industrial fans:

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When it’s all over, we’ll get a payment to cover the cost of replacing the carpeting, minus a $500 deductible. There’s a good argument for having homeowner’s insurance right there. Of course now that I think about it, if you have a mortgage the lender requires you to have homeowner’s insurance anyway. But there are different levels, and those are optional, and I’m glad our deductible isn’t as painful as it could have been.

We replaced the carpeting in our bedrooms with laminate wood flooring a couple of years ago, and had planned to do the same in the home office in another couple of years. Reflooring the office just moved from the bottom of our to-do list to the top.

Every table and flat surface in our living and dining rooms is covered with the contents of those soaked boxes, spread out to dry. I brought Donna’s bridge club card tables in from the garage and they’re covered too. You forget about stuff you boxed up and put in closets twenty years ago, and it’s a bit like Christmas around here. Look at some of the cool stuff I found:

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Jon-E hand-warmer from an Alaska hunting trip in 1985

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Elementary school science fair project (check those labels!)

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Going-away plaque from the 32nd Tactical Fighter Squadron

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Going-away plaque from the 44th Tactical Fighter Squadron


There’s tons more, most of which I’ll also photograph for posterity. No question, the last couple of days have contained mixed blessings. On the one hand, a wet dog-smelling disaster. On the other hand, a treasure trove of rediscovered mementos … and how serendipitous they should turn up just as I’m starting work on a memoir!

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Moral Absolutes

Tell you what, they didn’t just come out of the closet when Donald Trump stole the election, they came out running. A year ago, what’s going down in Charlottesville would have been unthinkable. How much worse is it going to get before we come to our senses?

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Trump rode a tide of racist resentment right into the White House. Some of my friends are trying to convince me his supporters didn’t know that, that they hated Hillary’s laugh or whatever. Bullshit. Trump was the racist candidate. No matter what Trump voters say, they knew what he was and should have had a pretty good idea how his base would act if he won.

One of my few remaining moral absolutes: you don’t vote for the racist candidate because you don’t like the other one. You don’t vote for racists, period.

Because look what’s happening to our country. If you voted for Trump, this shit is on you. You chose this.

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Streetcar to Disaster

Last night we joined our friends Darrell and Mary Anne at the Mercado San Augustin, a hipsterish collective of shops and eating places in a Mexican-style enclosed patio a few blocks from downtown Tucson. The Mercado sits at the southwestern end of Tucson’s streetcar tracks, and after dinner we hopped on for a ride. It was our first experience with the new streetcar (now two years old, which shows you how often we get out these days). Old Tucson is booming, and the streetcar seems to help pull it all together. Our little town is turning into a real city.

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Getting into town and back was fraught with peril. A thunderstorm rolled through our northeastern neighborhood a few minutes before we left, and it was still raining hard when we pulled out of the driveway. A mile from home the direct route into the city was blocked by police cars with flashing lights: fallen trees were blocking a four-lane road. We turned around and took a longer, more out of the way route, and two miles later ran into another roadblock: this time it was the fire department, responding to an apartment complex where huge trees had collapsed into the second-story units, smashing walls and balconies. There was one cleared lane, and eventually we got through … to more downed trees and a series of non-functioning stoplights. A half-hour trip turned into a hour-long drive from hell, but we got there.


I’m casually following the story of the jogger who pushed a woman into the path of a bus in London. What lodges in my mind is the part where the jogger, doubling back on his route fifteen minutes later, ran past the woman he’d tried to kill while ignoring her attempts to talk to him. Also this: that the incident occurred three months ago, and since then this asshole’s been living his life, to all appearances free of guilt and remorse. Now London police say they’ve arrested an American investment banker, who says he can prove he was in the US on the day the woman was shoved, so we’ll have to wait and see if they have the right guy.

Imagine being able to live with yourself after doing something like that, to go on with life as if nothing had happened. I can’t. If the culprit turns out to be American, I bet I can guess who he voted for.


My problem has always been that I’m stuck in the reality-based community. As Karl Rove once said, back near the beginning of George W. Bush’s first term, “That’s not the way the world really works anymore. We’re an empire now, and when we act we create our own reality.”

I’m starting to fear our unelected president creates his own reality, that he actually believes the things he says. He probably does believe he’d have won the popular vote if only three to five million illegal aliens hadn’t voted for Hillary. He probably does believe he’s done more in the first six months of his administration than any president ever.

More to the point, he seems to believe the military and other government agencies scramble to implement his every word, and I worry about how this belief might affect his decisions.

Trump’s tweets about kicking trans servicemen and women out of the military, for example: to my knowledge it hasn’t happened, and military leaders have been clear in saying it won’t happen until they receive actionable orders from the commander in chief … which they haven’t. But yesterday, answering questions from the press, Trump said things about his trans ban that suggest he thinks it’s a done deal, that he gave an order and the military had carried it out.

Which takes me to North Korea and Trump’s bellicose “fire and fury” rhetoric. I hope he’s not thinking about a pre-emptive nuclear strike, but if he is his recent statements claiming credit for revamping our nuclear arsenal are alarming. Our nuclear arsenal hasn’t been revamped or modernized or changed in any significant way. True, there is a long-term project to modernize the nation’s nuclear weapons, but it was proposed by President Obama, not Trump, and it’ll take three decades and a trillion dollars (even supposing Congress will ever appropriate the money) to complete. Trump acts as if he believes it’s been done.

Maybe Trump is thinking of conventional military force when he threatens to rain down fire and fury on the Norks. Maybe that’s what he meant this morning when he said this on Twitter: “Military solutions are now fully in place, locked and loaded, should North Korea act unwisely. Hopefully Kim Jong Un will find another path!”

Does he believe this? Christ, I hope not, because it isn’t true. While our forces in Korea can certainly react to a North Korean strike against South Korea, any US-led conventional strike against North Korea would be preceded by a months-long buildup of troops, armor, aircraft, ships, and weapons. West coast seaports would be overwhelmed with military shipping. Tens of thousands of American military personnel would be receiving orders to US bases in South Korea and Japan. Entire units, with their equipment, would be deploying to WestPac.

You can’t hide mobilization on that scale. We’d know if it was happening. It isn’t. But Trump seems to think it already has.

Does Trump believe his wishes, expressed in tweets and Q&A sessions with the press, are commands? It’s starting to look that way. We already know his staff shields him from day-to-day reality. They may well be nodding and saying “Sure, boss,” when he makes baseless claims. If so, he might decide to act on his own unrealistic view of the world. For all the talk about Kim Jong Un being irrational, Trump’s the one I worry about.

By the way, are we still taking his word he’s sober?

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Drive-by Bloggage

PhotoFunia-1502384589It’s time for a Paul’s Thing break—the memoir will still be there when I’m done.

Progress to date? I roughed out a longish chapter about joining the US Air Force in 1973 and my experiences in officer and flight training, sent it to a couple of friends for feedback and criticism, and am now outlining other chapters and an intro. It continues to be hard work (not that I expected it to be anything else).


Perhaps because I was in the USAF and spent some time in South Korea, friends sometimes ask if I know what we should do about North Korea. Hell, I don’t know, but like everyone else I’ve thought about it.

The best and least destructive option is of course diplomacy, but this is the real world and North Korea is a real threat, so any diplomacy has to be backed up by containment, sanctions, and the old Eisenhower doctrine known as MAD: mutually assured destruction. Which is essentially Trump’s “fire & fury,” with the exception that you don’t brandish the ultimate threat. I’m sure Kim Jong Un is well aware of our capabilities.

Meanwhile, I keep seeing statements like this, statements the media never seems to follow up on (emphasis mine):

“Thus far … no one in the administration can move Trump to start a war because he doesn’t want to have his Iraq,” the military analyst said, referring to the 2003 US invasion. “With Iran, they are looking at regime change but coming up empty. There are no good plans, no decapitation strikes possible, like in North Korea.

Tell me more about that last sentence! I assume “decapitation strike” means targeted assassination of NK’s leadership; i.e., Kim Jong Un and other senior civil and military figures. I’d really like to know how that’s going to work. And by “work,” I mean successfully killing the targets without at the same time causing the deaths of up to a million civilians in Seoul (not to mention the thousands of US service members and their families living in and around South Korea’s capital city).

How can any self-respecting reporter let a statement like that go by without questioning it?


A pet peeve for the internet age: the news link double-tease. Here’s a screen grab of the Wonkette home page, taken this morning:

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Maybe you’d like to read the story about the dumb things Trump has said about nuclear weapons. Here’s what you get when you click on it (and mind you, this isn’t a screen grab from a smart phone or tablet, it’s from a full-size desktop PC monitor):

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That’s what I mean by a double-tease. You don’t go straight to the story. You have to scroll down past the same headline, photo, and lede you’ve already read and digested. I know, from several years of working with HTML for my own websites and blogs, that you can anchor links wherever you want to anchor them. Why do they make us view everything twice? Why won’t they take us straight to the first line of the news item we want to read?

These modern problems: how vexing they are!


My friend and motorcycle maintenance guru Ed is back in the saddle, cleared to ride again by his eye doctor after recovering from surgery on a detached retina in his right eye. We took a short shakedown cruise Sunday morning, riding east to Benson and breakfast at the Horseshoe Cafe.

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We’re already talking about a California run, north up the Coast Highway, south down the eastern side of the Sierras. No idea yet if I can even afford to go, but I’m excited already.

Now back to work.

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A Different Kind of Writing

I’ve been taking time off from the blog to work on a memoir. It’s a different kind of writing from what I normally do. I like the little bit I’ve done so far, but since it’s about me that’s no surprise. What I don’t know is if anyone else will have the patience to read it, never mind pay for it.

I’ve been blogging since 2004, but really since 1995 if you include the articles I wrote for my old Hash House Harrier website, the Half-Mind Catalog. Writing for online readers is different. You’re going for short and digestible, two or three main points total. You link to outside sources, you spice things up with graphics and photos. When you’re writing a memoir, you’re writing a book. There aren’t any links, and while you might consider adding footnotes or a bibliography, you know no one’s going to read them. Photos? One or two at most, and that’s for the entire book: you’re going to have to do a better job describing things.

We’ll see. I’ll press on with the memoir for now, but after taking a week off from blogging I find I miss it. The question is, what to put on the front burner, the memoir or the blog? Magic 8 Ball says “check back later.”


Gym again this morning. The wall TVs were all set to Fox, but only one had the volume on, and it was loud enough to hear from one end to the other. I was on one of the leg machines when Fox started playing a Trump speech. I hate the way he talks. I hate what he talks about. I hate his voice. And I guess I’m not alone … a younger guy asked everyone if it was okay to turn the volume down, and the other two or three of us said hell yes, and then he turned it off altogether.

I don’t want to use the Trump administration’s vocabulary, but obviously the transcripts of Trump’s telephone conversations with Australian and Mexican leaders were, well, leaked. If you were a foreign head of state, would you now be willing to speak on the phone with the president of the USA? Of course not. You might not even be willing to speak with him face to face, unless there’s no one else within earshot, and even then you’d wonder if your conversation was being taped somehow. These kinds of leaks, no matter how hard you want to see Trump fail, are not a good thing.

So who’s doing the leaking? Someone close to the man. Someone with access. Someone in a position of trust. Someone who wants to bring Trump down. Here’s an AP photo from January, taken during Trump’s telephone conversation with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull:

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Who was in the room (besides the photographer who took this shot)? Steve Bannon and Michael Flynn. That’s where I’d start my witch hunt (damn it, Trump, stop putting words in my mouth).

As for Trump’s obliviousness during those calls, it’s nothing we haven’t seen before. He lives in his own reality, impervious to outside voices and events. I think he really believes his own bombast: the size of the crowd during his inauguration, the imaginary congratulations from the president of the Boy Scouts, the millions of fake “voters” who marked their ballots for Hillary Clinton. He thinks he’s leading. He probably thinks the military has already shown the door to trans servicemen and women. It’s becoming obvious, even to his supporters, that no one’s on the bridge. How much longer can this go on?


Speaking of links: on Wednesday a teenager opened an emergency escape hatch, climbed out and slid off the wing of a jetliner that had just landed at San Francisco International. I jokingly tweeted that copycats are coming: when I drove school buses a few years ago, teenaged boys would sit in the back and egg each other on until one would open the emergency door and jump out. My joke was nothing compared to Steven Slater’s one-word tweet: “Amateur” (it helps if you remember who Steven Slater is). 

This morning, though, I see there’s more to the story: other passengers on the flight said the kid seemed emotionally distressed, and he’s now being evaluated at a mental health facility.

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My stitches are out, and I think the scar will heal up nicely. Still a little red, but fading fast. That’s my favorite gym shirt, by the way.

We got word this morning that a hashing friend from our days with the Honolulu and Aloha Hash House Harriers has died. Over the weekend our neighborhood’s oldest resident died as well. He was the man who put on our annual 4th of July parades. We last sat down with him a year ago, when we needed to get the neighborhood architectural committee’s approval for a fence. Active well into the last year of his life, died at home. Something to strive for.

Hey, I’m in my 70s. I’m allowed to write about stuff like this now, right? When you start thinking about memoirs and friends dying off, it’s time to start paying attention to certain details. Like the location of the nearest emergency hatch.

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Friday Mystery Bag

mystery bagDon’t look for a subject or coherent theme in today’s overdue blog post. All I have are disconnected observations on current events (lord, how can anyone keep up with the news today?), mixed with bits of personal news.


You have to keep some perspective when it comes to Arizona Senator John McCain. Today, he’s a hero for helping to defeat last night’s Senate attempt to kill the Affordable Care Act. Two days ago he was a heel for voting to allow debate on ACA repeal to proceed. But before all that, in a long ago time, he was a corrupt politician who narrowly avoided prison for taking bribes from the savings & loan industry. In the years since, belying his reputation as a maverick, he’s been a loyal Republican, voting in lockstep with conservatives 95% of the time.

But he’s also a former Vietnam War POW, and that’s behind the feelings of respect and gratitude most Americans have for him. He sacrificed, and sacrificed hard. As for Democrats and liberal Americans, we can never forget the day he shut down that racist bigot at a 2008 campaign rally by praising Barack Obama, his opponent, as a patriotic American. A little bit of decency, with us, goes a long way. Yes, I have mixed feelings toward John McCain, and I’m not ashamed to admit it.

Adding to my ambivalence toward John McCain is this, nicely expressed in a Facebook comment posted by a young Vietnamese-American friend:

I’ve always admired him (though I didn’t always agree with a few of his decisions, such as choosing Sarah Palin). He’s always been rather supportive of the Vietnamese-American community so lots of Vietnamese-Americans like him too. He pushed through legislation in the 1990s allowing Vietnamese refugees bring their families to the US. Before that he also often pushed to the Senate to help South Vietnamese veterans get to the US in addition to pushing the interests of Vietnamese refugees in general in the Senate.

I don’t know what McCain’s reasons were for voting no on Obamacare repeal. The two Republican senators who broke ranks with him, Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski and Maine’s Susan Collins, were probably looking out for their constituents, many of whom depend on Medicare and the ACA for medical coverage. My personal experience as a politically-active Arizonan who has tried to engage John McCain on several occasions tells me the only constituents he answers to are major Republican donors and the NRA, and I suspect his vote was more a calculated act of revenge against the unelected president, who has never retracted or apologized for the disrespectful things he said about John McCain and the other American POWs. Capture this, bitch!

Well, whatever the reason, last night’s no vote was a great big affirmative YES to the American people, and I’m happy John McCain will end his long political career on a positive note.

You all know what I’m talking about, right? Most of my readers (even my Canadian and European friends) have been following the American health care repeal story, so I shouldn’t have to fill this post with links. In any case, I don’t plan to.


I survived another of my dermatologist’s periodic attempts on my life.

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This time it was a squamous cell skin cancer on my right cheek. When I went in for the surgery two days ago my dermatologist discovered a second one an inch to the right of the one we knew about, so he went after both of them, including the skin between in case they were connected. The resulting scar is five centimeters wide, about two inches. As the before & after photos show, what looked pretty dire on the ride home from the clinic seemed altogether less so the next day, when the big dressing came off. Now I just have to keep the steri-strips dry until next Thursday, when the stitches come out.

Since 1997, when I had my first basal cell skin cancer removed, I’ve had a dozen skin cancer surgeries (ten basal cell and two squamous cell, thank goodness no melanomas). All have been on my face. Some have left pronounced scars, especially up against my hairline, but most healed up well. I think this one’s going to heal well.

I take a lot of precautions these days … sun hats, sunblock, long sleeves and full-face helmets on motorcycle rides … but I’m not willing to take the ultimate precaution of staying indoors all the time, and anyway most of the damage was done years ago. Pilots spend a surprisingly large amount of time out on the flight line, unprotected from the sun, and years of cross-country running and partying with the Hash House Harriers hasn’t helped either.


Today’s liquor industry propaganda masquerading as news, courtesy of CNN: “Can frequent, moderate drinking ward off diabetes?” (warning: autoplaying video at the link).

Frankly, I’m surprised my Hash House Harrier friends on Facebook haven’t swamped the news feed with shares. Hashers, frankly, are quick to pick up on anything that justifies drinking or makes it look like a harmless activity, and of course they all think of themselves as moderate drinkers. To paraphrase Dylan Thomas, to a hasher a heavy drinker is someone you don’t like who drinks as much as you do.

Speaking of links that take you to autoplaying videos, and especially links that take you to instructional* YouTubes and podcasts, I hate ’em. I’m a reader, and when I’m looking for information I want it in writing. Videos and podcasts take forever, and I don’t feel the need to see or listen to some talking head telling me what I could have read and absorbed far quicker on my own. Also, if I need to refer back to a sentence in a textual link, I can find it fast. With a video or podcast, I have to sit through the whole damn thing again.

My policy at Paul’s Thing is to avoid links like that, and if I have to use one, to include a warning like the one above (“warning: autoplaying video at the link”). I sure wish everyone would do that.

*Mind you, I’m not talking about entertainment links. You say you have a YouTube of a sea lion dragging a little girl into the water or a podcast of Sarah Vowell talking about Johnny and Rosanne Cash? I’m there, baby!


Yesterday, July 27th, was the 45th anniversary of the first flight of the F-15 Eagle. I’m proud as hell of having flown the Eagle, which I did from 1978 to 1997, and as you know I often blog about my experiences. So instead of saying things I’ve said before, or linking to F-15 videos you’ve seen before, how about a link to my F-15 photo collection on Pinterest? Lots of good stuff there … and not a Mudhen to be found.


This one’s tricky: U.S. admiral stands ready to obey a Trump nuclear strike order. The usual suspects are horrified. One comment from Facebook:

No leader of any nation has the right to end the human race. Particularly a leader who is clearly demented. But any officer or even soldier has the right to refuse an order from a senior to fire on unarmed civilians, to torture prisoners of war, to bomb schools full of children. “I was just following orders” didn’t cut it at the Nuremberg trials. No senior officer all the way up to the Commander in Chief has the legal right to order crimes against humanity.

No military officer, commander, or leader is going to preemptively declare that he or she will refuse an order from the commander-in-chief, no matter what the order or who the commander-in-chief is, until the order is given. Had the admiral said “Nope, I won’t obey a Trump nuclear strike order,” he’d not only have undermined the doctrine of civilian control over the US military, but undermined the basic concept of compliance with military orders, and sabotaged our nation’s nuclear deterrence to boot. He’s also have been summarily retired and busted down in rank.

No, I don’t think our unelected president can be trusted with nuclear weapons, and should he ever order their use, I hope senior military leadership will carefully weigh it, and if it comes from senility or mere pique, refuse to carry it out (as in the final drunken days of the Nixon administration), but that ain’t gonna happen until the order’s given, and that’s if the moron survives long enough to give it.

We and several other nations have nuclear weapons. They are a fact of life and they aren’t going anywhere. Our weapons are meant as a deterrence to nuclear aggression by other nations. We can say “no first use,” sure. But we can’t say “we’ll never use them,” or “don’t worry, the military will ignore commanders-in-chief it doesn’t like,” or the deterrent effect of having nuclear weapons … or even a military … goes away.

That’s how the world works.

Speaking of the military and orders from the C in C, it’s good that CJCS General Dunford refused to react to Trump’s out-of-the-blue Twitter announcement that trans troops are no longer allowed to serve. Because the fact is trans troops are allowed to serve, a DoD policy introduced during the Obama administration, and there are thousands currently in the ranks.

How many trans servicemen and women are serving is speculation, since some (many?) have not declared their status and might prefer to keep it private, as is surely their prerogative. The day of Trump’s idiot tweets, the media reported numbers varying from 5,000 to 15,000 trans troops on active duty. By the end of the day and the evening cable news shows, the number had settled back down to around 5,000, and the next day Rachel Maddow said the actual number is closer to 2,500.

I suspect the actual number of trans people serving in the ranks is small, but that in no way is meant to diminish their contribution. For more than a year now it’s been official policy that trans people can serve in the Navy, Army, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard. Moreover, they’ve been told it’s now safe to come out … and indeed many have. It would be a huge betrayal to change the rules retroactively, which is what Trump is blithely trying to pull off, probably to appease religious zealots in his administration (like Mike Pence).

But back to General Dunford. Any military or government agency that reacts to a tweet from Trump would be setting a horrible, irreversible precedent. Dunford’s absolutely right to refuse to react to Trump’s tweets, and I just pray Secretary of Defense Mattis doesn’t undermine the CJCS when he returns from vacation. Trump probably has it within his power to issue an executive order reversing the current policy allowing trans members to serve, just as Truman had it in his power to order the military to racially integrate in 1948. The thing is, he has to issue the executive order, and so far all he’s done is peck out a couple of tweets while sitting on the White House toilet at three in the morning.


Well, as long as I’m talking tweets, how about I end the post with this one?

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My god, how far we’ve sunk, and how fast. I seriously cannot forgive anyone who, knowing what Trump is and what kind of people he surrounds himself with, voted for him.

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