Paul’s Thing

blogprofile The weblog of Paul Woodford, a veteran USAF F-15 pilot living in Tucson, Arizona
April 2015
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Saturday Update

I feel bad about not blogging. With the house full of company the past week and a half, my only internet access has been via iPhone or iPad. Sure, lots of folks are perfectly happy typing with one or two fingers, but I’m not one of them. I took a typing class in 9th grade for an easy grade. To my surprise, I not only learned to type but discovered I liked it. Now, it’s two hands or none.

Our daughter Polly was here for several days, the first few of which were anxious ones. She’d found a lump in her breast and had a referral from a clinic in Ajo for a mammogram in Tucson. She doesn’t have a car and could only come on the one day her boyfriend could drive her here, which was three days ahead of her appointment. It turned out the lump was just fibrous tissue, so the rest of her visit was a happy one, thank goodness. She drove back to Ajo with her boyfriend last night.

Polly’s visit overlapped with our friend Angie’s, here from Tampa until Monday. The dogs have been loving it. Different laps to curl up on by day, a wider selection of warm bodies to crawl into bed with at night!


Schatzi & Maxie curling up with Angie

I put our old hybrid bikes back into riding condition so that Polly and Angie could ride together, and they did. Angie and I rode too and will ride again tomorrow: earlier in the week we scouted a bicycle hare & hounds trail through downtown Tucson, tomorrow we’ll hare ahead of a pursuing pack. Angie talked me into putting metal baskets on the handlebars of the hybrids. We had to buy them at Wal-Mart, which made my skin crawl, but the price was right and Angie was buying. The baskets will hold our trail-marking flour bags.

Thursday was a motorcycle day. With our friends Jim and Mark, we rode to the old mining town of Bisbee and dropped in on hashing friends who live in one of the historic homes there.


Jim, me, Angie, and Mark with our Bisbee friends Benjamin and Candace.

It’s been a lively week. There’ll be a couple of quiet days after Angie flies home, but then I’m off on a five-day, three-state motorcycle run with my friend & maintenance guru Ed. Gotta ride now while it’s still cool enough, am I right?

Our mama hummingbird is back on her nest under the patio roof. I observed what I thought was her turning the eggs last night, but Donna thinks she was actually feeding chicks. We’ll know soon enough; I’m not going to pester the little family with my camera this year.

It occurs to me that I haven’t ridden the hybrid with two five-pound flour bags in a handlebar-mounted basket, and that I’d better go practice lest I trip myself up tomorrow. Wish me luck!


Time for an Update

IMG_1272Our friend Angie is here, along with our daughter Polly. Polly’s in town for a medical appointment. Angie’s visiting from Tampa, catching up with us and other old friends in Tucson. The two of us are scheduled to lay trail for a bicycle hare & hounds event on the 19th. We’ll work in an air museum visit and a motorcycle ride to Bisbee too. Donna’s at a sewing guild workshop all day today; I’m supposed to go on a salmon quest this morning, since that’s what the girls want for dinner. Costco, I’m thinking, which is always dangerous: I love their French bread, and who knows what else will catch my eye?

Since Polly’s using the Murphy bed in the home office, I can’t get to my desk to work on the blog until much later in the morning than I’m used to. It’s 10:00 AM now; I never write this late in the day and consequently my mind is mostly blank.

I think we’re going to buy a new Ford pickup truck before our big Labor Day weekend road trip to Northern California and Oregon. Now to figure out how to pay for it.

I downloaded a free iPad airport game and started playing, only to learn there’s no way to advance to higher levels without spending actual simoleons. You can advance only so far in the free version; when you try to upgrade your airport or add airliners to your fleet, you discover what amounts to a paywall. Wow, that’s evil. I pity people with no self-control. Me, I’m going back to Tetris.

That’s my new Seiko up there in the corner. We used to joke about fighter pilots having big Seikos and little dicks. It made more sense in the Vietnam days, when big Seiko self-winding watches were the thing. I had a beauty, but water got into the movement and it’s a paperweight now. Turns out Seiko still makes self-winders, so I got one. I had to decide what I wanted worse, a replacement Seiko or an Apple watch. Of course I want both, but it’s always cooler to go retro than to embrace the latest consumer product. Plus, there’s that new truck to pay for.

I’m looking forward to some time with my daughter, our friend, and the salmon I’m going to grill tonight.


Who You Gonna Call?

Do even white people trust the police any more? What should I do if a cop wants me to pull over? Try to keep rolling until I can stop in an area where there are witnesses, hoping someone will take a cell phone video in case things go sideways? Is the cop going to tase me if I don’t bow and scrape? Do I have any recourse if he does? Well, at least being shot to death isn’t my primary concern, being white and all.

Like everyone else, I’m thinking of the videotaped murder of Walter Scott, an unarmed black man, by a white cop in North Charleston, South Carolina. I’m not surprised to see conservative whites in denial over this or similar videos showing cops beating, tasing, choking, shooting, and killing unarmed black men. I’m not surprised to see conservative whites expressing racial solidarity and a fawning devotion to authority by setting up fund-raising pages for white cop executioners on Facebook. A certain segment of the population simply will not learn or grow when it comes to race; they are lost and will never change.

So ignore them, right? Don’t let them get under your skin. Yes, but the media keeps handing them an open mic. Driving home from the museum yesterday, I listened to one such, a veteran white policeman interviewed by a BBC correspondent on my local NPR station.

The authorities in North Charleston did everything right, according to this veteran law enforcement officer, firing the cop who shot Walter Scott and charging him with murder. The BBC interviewer failed to point out that the authorities didn’t do anything until the New York Times published the video.

The veteran cop insisted the killing in North Charleston “can’t be linked” to other confrontations between black men and white policemen that have been in the news. He said this two or three times during the interview, and the BBC interviewer never called him on it.

The killing of Walter Scott can’t be linked to other killings of unarmed black men by white cops? Really? Because you say so, buddy? Let’s look at just two other videotaped killings of unarmed black men by white cops: the shooting of Oscar Grant at a BART station in Oakland, California and the chokehold suffocation of Eric Garner in New York City.

  1. White cop stops black man for some infraction (broken taillight, disturbing the peace, selling cigarettes)
  2. White cop employs deadly force against unarmed black man (shooting, choking)
  3. White cop kills unarmed black man

Well, shit, there’s three links right there. And there are plenty of other videos, going all the way back to the beating of Rodney King.

The veteran policeman finally got to his real beef: Al Sharpton. He complained (again, several times) that every time a confrontation between a cop and a black perp gets into the news, “racial profiteers” like Al Sharpton come “crawling out of the woodwork,” anxious for publicity and the opportunity to make trouble. Mercifully, the BBC correspondent had had enough by this point and started talking over him.

Suppose you’re a black woman whose son or husband has been killed by the police. The authorities aren’t investigating and the killing didn’t even make the local news. You know your loved one did nothing wrong and suspect the only reason he was killed was his color. Who you gonna call, Crimestoppers? 911? The citizens’ complaint hotline? Good luck with that. Me, I’m gonna call Al Sharpton. He may be a sleazebag, but he can get on nationwide TV.

I know, I’m all over the map here. I don’t have a proposed cure for racial problems in the USA. Sadly, I don’t think anything’s going to change, at least not in my lifetime. I’ll even go out on a limb and say the cop who murdered Walter Scott, like most of the other white cops who’ve murdered unarmed black men and boys, will eventually skate. He may have trouble finding work in law enforcement again, but he won’t to to prison. Black Americans will never trust cops, and before you try to turn my words on me and ask why can’t they learn or grow, it’s more the case that they have learned, over the centuries they’ve lived in this country, that white authority will never trust them, and grown distrustful in return.


Another Day, Another Letter

Oh boy, Fox News again. Last Thursday Donna and I drove to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base so she could renew her military identification card. The pass & ID office was packed, and Fox News was playing on the TV in the waiting room.

Yes, military members skew conservative. Yes, many of my colleagues feel Fox News is “their” network, or at least more on their side than the others. I get that. But I wonder how many of my fellow servicemen and women see the naked partisanship of Fox News, not merely in its editorial and commentary segments but in its “straight” news reporting as well.

When I express my concerns to military fans of Fox News, most react in one of two ways: they either deny any bias exists or they embrace it as a necessary counterbalance to other, more liberal news sources. Very few think it’s a matter of concern.

The thing I find most problematic about Fox News, in a military context, is its open hostility toward President Obama and members of his administration. A steady diet of Fox News, to the exclusion of all other news sources, can’t help but foment disrespect toward the commander in chief, which is antithetical to the mission and the core values of military service.

Many years ago the Department of Defense issued guidance on what could be shown on public area televisions in military facilities. When it came to news, the guidance called for the selection of neutral, non-partisan news channels. At the time that meant CNN. Granted, CNN is a far different news network today, but it is still arguably closer to neutral in its editorial outlook than Fox News or MSNBC.

I don’t doubt the individual military services have their own regulations, supplementing DoD guidance. And I’m certain airing Fox News in military waiting rooms violates those regulations.

As I did once before, I’m writing a letter to the DMAFB commander to express my concern and ask that he direct units under his command to stop allowing the airing of Fox News or other partisan news channels on public area TVs. I still believe letters … on paper, sent via snail mail … are the way to go with complaints or suggestions you want taken seriously.

The last time I wrote the base commander about this, even though he didn’t answer my letter, something must have happened, because afterward waiting room TVs on base were set to CNN, and they stayed that way for a few years. Now that Fox News is creeping back in, it’s time for another letter.


Saturday Bag o’ Bawdy

Screen Shot 2015-04-04 at 10.54.52 AMI started learning and collecting bawdy songs when I was in the Air Force; every fighter squadron I flew had an unofficial songbook (that’s one of my old squadron songbooks on the left). Midway through my USAF career I started running with the Hash House Harriers, who, like rugby players and fighter pilots, share a love of bawdy song.

Eventually I put together my own songbook. Hash chapters all over the world use it; I get requests for copies every week. There’s a copy in the American Folklife Archive of the US Library of Congress. I’ve shared my versions of classic and little-known bawdy songs with scholars and folk singers.

Hey, it’s a hobby, but an increasingly disreputable one. Today, witness the witch hunts on Twitter, people are quick to take offense and pile on. There are a hell of a lot of songs in my collection that belittle women and depict them as depraved sexual wantons. Many are racist (though I must say not to the level of those frat guys on the bus with their n-word chant). The truly gross ones are traditional military songs about war: have you heard of a little ditty called Napalm Sticks to Kids? Jesus.

A group of sexual assault victims is suing the Department of Defense. They want to force the military to bring in outside investigators and stop allowing commanders to whitewash sexual assaults in-house, a topic I’ve addressed here before. This time they’ve introduced an “unofficial” USAF squadron songbook into evidence, claiming it exposes a “continuing culture in the Air Force and military that glorifies sexual violence.” The songbook bears the logo of the 77th Fighter Squadron, based at Shaw AFB in South Carolina. It probably looks a lot like my old 43rd Fighter Squadron songbook, and it’s very likely I know all the songs in it.

There are literally hundreds of organizations — hash chapters, military units, fraternities, athletic clubs, fire and police departments, even corporations — whose members Xerox and pass around unofficial songbooks. Unofficial they may be, but all the ones I’ve seen have organizational, corporate, or unit labels on their covers. In the wrong context — a courtroom, say, or on the front page of a newspaper — they look mighty damned official.

I no longer sing the really offensive songs in my collection (in fact I’ve deleted a few of the worst ones), but the songbook’s out there, with my name on it, and there’s no taking it back. Good thing I’m not looking for a job, I guess.

From all I hear, nuclear proliferation experts and other grownups are very happy with the framework agreement we worked out with Iran. That’s more than I dared hope for; the talks could easily have broken down, especially with conservatives in this country and elsewhere working overtime to sabotage them.

We know what Netanyahu and Republicans in the US Congress think of these negotiations, but so far only one of my Jewish friends has weighed in: she’s opposed to any talks or agreements with Iran, period. This doesn’t surprise me, and I expect I’ll hear similar opinions from other friends soon. But I have to ask, what’s the alternative?

What we’re working toward with Iran sounds a lot like the policy of containment we adopted toward the Soviet Union after WWII. I seem to recall we negotiated several several nuclear weapon and ICBM treaties with the USSR during those years. Our policy was an effective one.

I think I’ll try to wait out the overheated rhetoric coming from the bomb-bomb-bomb-Iran crowd.

April’s stacking up to be an active month. One, I’ve been slacking on gym visits and bicycle rides; that’s over and I’m working out again. Two, there’s a hash next Sunday. Three, our friend Angie is coming to visit and she and I will be the hares for a bicycle hash the Sunday after that, which means at least one trail-scouting outing beforehand. Four, I’m going on a four-day motorcycle ride with my friend Ed through Arizona, Utah, and Nevada at the end of the month.

The bicycle hash is on the same day (Sunday, April 19) as Tucson’s annual Cyclovia, a combination bicycle ride and street fair. I emailed Angie to suggest we plan our trail so that it intersects with the Cyclovia route, preferably the street fair part where there’ll be a bicycle swap meet and food trucks. Should be fun.

Naturally, though, for the next three weeks Tucson is repaving a major east/west street that runs right through the middle of our planned route. Crossing points will vary from day to day: crossings that are open the day we scout trail may not be the same ones that are open two Sundays from now, when a pack of riders will be chasing our asses. Drama!

As for today, I just finished the weekly outdoor chores: dog poop patrol, adding water to the pool, adjusting spa chemicals, refilling bird feeders. Speaking of birds, the mama hummingbirds are on their ceiling hook nests again, sitting on the next generation’s eggs.

Later this morning, Donna wants me to hold the cat while she shaves its butt. Chewie’s in her 19th year and letting herself go, the poor old thing. Her coat’s a rat’s nest, and apparently she soiled herself last night and drug her bottom on the floor to scrape it off. I have a small beard trimmer I no longer use; after this I might just throw it away.

The world needs a bawdy song about shaving a cat’s ass. Maybe I’ll write one!


Thursday Bag o’ Comments

keep-calm-and-never-read-the-commentsTwo things that distinguish online from print news are links and reader comments. Online news articles include embedded links, making it easy for readers to call up sources and related stories. This is the best thing about online news IMO.

The worst thing about online news is reader comments. Print newspapers and magazines filter comments, generally publishing only those that are germane to the topic and have something useful to say. This is not the case with online news, where hate-filled misogynist and racist rants flood in and drown reasoned conversation.

Online news-savvy readers know better than to scroll down to the comments. And I do, too … except for when I forget.

A local newspaper posted an article to Facebook earlier this week. It was about illegal immigrants being beaten and tased by Border patrol officers and Customs agents. I knew the comments would be ignorant, racist, and vile. I read them anyway. I might as well have dived into a vat of liquid shit.

BTW, what is it with writing ILLEGAL!!! in all caps with multiple exclamation points? Don’t these people routinely speed, run red lights, and cheat on their taxes like the rest of us? You know damn well they do, but hypocrisy is not an operative concept with them. Nor is irony, nor basic human decency.

To compound my stupidity, I added a comment of my own. Here it is, along with another reader’s response:


Yes, these proud Americans. The few. The white. The semi-literate. When they say they want the borders closed, what they mean is that they want illegal border crossers shot dead. When they talk about deporting the 11 million illegal immigrants already in the country, they’re dreaming of boxcars and concentration camps.

Imagine if Mexico and the Central American countries most illegal immigrants come from were former slave nations, like Haiti, and we weren’t just talking about latinos, but black latinos. The boxcar crowd wouldn’t just be making a lot of noise, they’d be getting their way.


Air-Minded: Contrails, Winter/Spring 2015

The winter/spring 2015 issue of Pima Air & Space Museum’s volunteer newsletter Contrails contains an article I wrote on the Douglas F3D Skyknight.


An Infamous Friend

I wrote, on one of my other blogs, about the time my wife and I knew John Wayne Bobbitt: The Story of Stitch. Parts of it may be NSFW, but at least there aren’t any dirty pictures.