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January 2018
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© 2004-2018 Paul Woodford. All rights reserved.

Stampede String

UntitledMy old cloth sun hat, the one I wear while volunteering at the air museum, has given up the ghost. After multiple washings to remove sweat stains, the brim no longer holds its shape: one side flops down to my eyebrow while the other juts up, giving me the appearance of a deranged Aussie.

I decided to visit a proper hat store and get one that’ll not only hold its shape but resist sweat stains, and this is the one I picked. Those of us who work outdoors at the museum are encouraged to wear brimmed hats for sun protection, but there the guidance stops. Guidance or no, outdoor docents settled on white hats. I’ll break ground with a tan hat, but at least I’ll be able to say, if challenged, that it matches our uniform pants.

I wore bling on the cloth hat: miniature USAF pilot wings, a little gold F-15, my International Society of Air Safety Investigators pin, and the like, but with the new hat I’m going clean.

I’m not wearing it tomorrow because it doesn’t have a chin strap. I can’t bear the thought of seventy bucks’ worth of hat blowing off and rolling around in the dirt. I should’ve asked the haberdasher if he had accessory straps but didn’t think of it until this morning, so I looked online. Turns out they’re called stampede straps, and yes, Amazon sells ’em. By next week, the hat’ll have a strap and I’ll be in business.

UntitledIn hat-related news, I bought a replacement visor for my motorcycle helmet, one with a secondary dark visor that flips up and down. Riding from Beatty to Yuma a couple of weeks ago, I was looking into the sun all day. The visor I had at the time was clear, so I wore sunglasses inside the helmet. The trouble with that was they felt like they were digging into my nose. When it comes to glasses I’m like the princess with the pea; they can be light as a feather but after a while I feel the weight pressing down.

My son rode with us that day and he had one of these double visors on his Arai. Now that I have one too I can say it’s a great improvement. All motorcycle helmets should come with them. I wonder how many riders and drivers have crashed due to temporary sun blindness. It was a huge issue flying fighters, especially in a visual engagement, and I often wished for three hands: one for the throttles, one for the stick, and one to put between my eyes and the sun.

I like this. Nancy’s still got it.

Screen Shot 2018-01-21 at 10.26.08 AM

I could rant and rave about Trump and his first year in office, but plenty of intelligent and insightful people already are and I have nothing new to contribute. Just this: he’s not going to be impeached. Nor will he be brought up on criminal charges by Mueller; nor is it likely he’ll stroke out and become incapacitated. No Republican in the House or Senate will take action against him, and since they’re in the majority, no Democrat can. In addition to having a majority in both houses of Congress, he has the Supreme Court in his pocket. He literally can “stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody” and get away with it. It’s tribalism run amok, which explains why evangelicals stick with him through scandal after scandal, and will still support him even if the Russian hooker videotapes come out.

The one shot we have is to vote that tribe out and put ours back in charge. Our tribe is larger. We can flip Congress from red to blue in 2018, then vote in a Democratic president in 2020. Until then it’s survive and resist. Tell you what, if we don’t vote in 2018 or 2020, then fuck us, we deserve whatever we get.


You Can’t Read That!

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


YCRT! News

  • A federal judge has ruled that Arizona’s ban on ethnic studies classes (and the associated wholesale banning of books in the Tucson Unified School District) was motivated by racial discrimination, a potentially lethal blow to the ban. I say “potentially” because as of now the ban is still in effect. Stay tuned.
  • “The word that he didn’t understand was, ‘masturbate,'” Hampton said. “I was like, ‘What are these kids reading?'” You’ll never guess … oh, wait, yes you will. Sherman Alexie’s “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian” takes another bow, this time outraging protective parents in Las Vegas, Nevada.
  • Recent attempts to remove “The Handmaid’s Tale” from a Pennsylvania high school’s summer reading list prompt a well-written editorial in support of teaching banned books.
  • All copies of a highly-regarded young adult novel, “The Hate U Give,” have been pulled from school library shelves in Katy, Texas, after a parent complained about vulgarity. The censorious parents, apparently, are totally cool with the book’s subject matter: the extrajudicial murder of a black teenager by police.
  • M.K. Asante’s memoir, “Buck,” was removed from the reading assignment list at a Baltimore, Maryland, high school after a parent posted excerpts on Facebook, prompting a flood of complaints to school administrators. No word on whether administrators end-ran the district’s challenged book review process, or if the district even has such a process.
  • One Million Moms takes aim at Scholastic, one of the world’s largest publishers of children’s books, for “publishing and promoting pro-homosexual and pro-transgender books for children.”
  • Here’s an interesting interview with a “porn shop” librarian.
  • Speaking of porn and libraries, balancing patrons’ rights to view what they want on library computers with other patrons’ wishes not to be subjected to open displays of pornography is, in the words of this report, a “tough needle to thread.”
  • Should libraries be required to include dangerous books in their collections? Is there such a thing as a dangerous book? What about “The Turner Diaries,” “Mein Kampf,” “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion”?
  • Not much has been said about how the Federal Communication Commission’s suspension of net neutrality rules will affect the nation’s public libraries. But it will, as this ALA editorial points out.
  • I guess it’s okay for high school journalism students to learn about television by broadcasting news to other students over a closed-circuit network, so long as they don’t report news that might make adults uncomfortable.
  • By now everyone has heard about the Trump administration directive banning the use of seven words and phrases in Centers for Disease Control reports. It may seem funny at first glance, but it is in fact an existential threat to science.
  • Speaking of Trump administration attempts to censor information it doesn’t like, the Department of Health and Human Services is withholding over 10,000 public comments critical of its proposal to roll back regulations on funding religious and faith-based groups.
  • Under a directive going into effect in New York, families and friends will no longer be allowed to mail packages or books to prisoners. Instead, they will have to order items from a limited number of authorized vendors, which will then deliver packages to state prisons. Only 77 books are currently available through these vendors: one dictionary, one thesaurus, five romance novels, 11 how-to books, 14 religious texts, 21 puzzle books, and 24 drawing or coloring books.

YCRT! Banned Book Review

golden compassThe Golden Compass (His Dark Materials #1)
by Philip Pullman

I finished Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” trilogy several years ago, before I started this banned book column, before I’d gotten in the habit of reviewing books. I didn’t need a paper trail to help me remember them as the best young adult adventures I’d ever read, so when “La Belle Sauvage,” the first book of a new Pullman trilogy, “The Book of Dust,” (which builds on the first one) came out late last year, I made sure to read and review it.

This is from my recent review of “La Belle Sauvage”:

“I was literally breathless when I finished the book. How long has it been since I’ve read anything this gripping and engaging? A while, for sure. Oh yes, I read lots of thrillers, and they all have gripping plots, but I always know some bozo like me wrote the book. With Pullman, I forget about the bozo behind the book. When Malcolm’s excited, I’m excited. When he’s frightened nearly out of his wits, so am I. This is how it was when I first discovered my love of reading as a child, when a good book could sweep me off my feet. That Pullman can do that to me as an adult is … well, it’s genius, is what it is.”

You will understand, then, why I am now re-reading (and this time reviewing) the original “His Dark Materials” trilogy. This is my review of the first novel, “The Golden Compass,” which will be followed by reviews of “The Subtle Knife” and “The Amber Spyglass.”

When I first read the “His Dark Materials” trilogy, all three novels were being challenged and in some cases banned from school reading lists and libraries around the country, and were listed on the American Library Associations’s list of frequently banned and challenged books for 2008. As a matter of fact “His Dark Materials” remains on the current ALA list, compiled in 2016.

Objections to the novels center around the books’ portrayal of organized religion. In the world of “The Golden Compass” and the other novels of the first trilogy, the church–very similar to our world’s Catholic church–is strong and repressive, acting in opposition to the values and morals most of us are raised with, manipulative and controlling, more than willing to embrace evil in order to preserve and advance its power. This of course puts organized religion in a bad light, and since the books are meant for young readers, they were and are considered a threat by the Catholic church and religious right conservatives.

My take: the hero of “The Golden Compass,” Lyra Belacqua, is the living embodiment of morality: pure and good in action and thought. Everything she does, knowingly or not, is in direct opposition to the cruel schemes of the Magisterium and the Oblation Board; i.e., organized religion. Philip Pullman claims to be an atheist, but I think he is not that dogmatic: his humans–and only the humans–have dæmons, very near to souls.

My childlike delight in reading these novels has less to do with the books’ message on religion and morality (which which I quite agree) than with the pure joy of reading a grand adventure. A meticulously crafted and detailed alternate world, so like our own yet so different. The beguiling Lyra Belacqua, a heroine no reader can ever forget (or get enough of). Hairbreadth escapes, armored bears, journeys by river and sea, visions of alternate universes in the Northern lights, witches, cliff-ghasts, Mrs. Coulter … and most of all, the dæmons. I totally get Iofur Raknison, King of the Panserbjørnes, who wants nothing more than a dæmon of his own, and my dachshund Mr. B, my constant companion, is no doubt wondering why I’ve started having long one-sided conversations with him.

As to the novel’s “young adult” label: yes, Pullman’s trilogy is meant for young readers, but the books are written at an adult level (by which I mean not just Pullman’s vocabulary but the sophistication and complexity of his ideas), and are as good as the best mainstream fiction. If these novels had not been labeled YA, I would never have known.


Ridin’ & Writin’ & Fixin’

When I returned from the Death Valley ride earlier this month, I uninstalled the helmet-mounted Bluetooth comm system I’d put in for the trip and sent it back to Amazon for a refund. No, I’m not that big an asshole … the unit was defective. I may get something to replace it, or I may not. Around town I wear a half-helmet with speakers mounted in the ear flaps. With that I can listen to NPR or music while I’m putting around, and that’s good enough for now. The cord that connects the helmet to the motorcycle was frayed, though, and a couple of the wires had broken, so I rode down to J&M Motorcycle Audio yesterday to buy a new one.

J&M is set up like an auto parts store. You ask for what you want from a guy behind a counter. He goes to get it, enters your info into a computer, then hands you your part and a receipt. When he asked my name and I told him, he gave me a look and pulled a magazine out of his inbox. This magazine:

Screen Shot 2018-01-12 at 5.21.38 PM

Which he then opened to this page, already marked with a paperclip:

Screen Shot 2018-01-12 at 5.20.00 PM

And I said, “Yeah, I wrote that.”

“I know,” he said. “We all read it.”

So how about that? People who know nothing about this blog are reading things I’ve written. I submitted two stories to Wing World last fall, each about the motorcycling misadventures of my friend Ed, and they published them both in the January issue. If you’ve been reading this blog for long, you probably already know the stories, because I first posted them here on Paul’s Thing. They’re easier to read on the blog than on a screen grab, so click away:

I have a copy of the magazine itself, but the two photos above should be enough to give you the idea. I’ll just say this: as when I used to write for Harrier Magazine, it’s nice to see my own stuff in an actual glossy-paper magazine.

I spent some time with Ed this afternoon, replacing an engine side cover that blew off on the last leg of our Death Valley ride. I told him about the guy at J&M, and how he said everyone there had read the stories. Ed saw the stories when I first wrote them for this blog, and it was his idea for me to submit them to Wing World. He gets partial credit for the first one, because I could not have written it without his assistance … I wasn’t there, as I was for the second story. Read them and you’ll understand.

About that engine side cover: I’ve lost four of them over the years, all at speeds over 85 mph. They’re held on with plastic pegs which fit into rubber grommets, an iffy proposition. My latest replacement cover, which I bought from a guy on eBay after getting home from the trip, didn’t have foam padding on the inside, and looking back I’m not sure any of the others did. Ed pulled the same cover from his bike and it had a foam lining, so we cut some rubber to fit and tried it that way. The lining seems to help the cover fit more snugly. That should cure the coming-loose problem, but we added a velcro strap as a last-ditch safety, a sort of tether secured to the foot peg mount at the bottom and fastened at the top to a velcro pad glued to the the cover. You can see the strap sticking up from the bottom of the cover, just above the foot peg:


No, it’s not pretty, and if I had a newer bike I might have looked for a more elegant solution, but having bought several replacement covers to date, at prices ranging from 50 to 100 bucks each, I’m going with what’ll work. Or at least what I think will work … I won’t know for sure until the next time I pull the ton!


Paul’s Book Reviews: YA, Mystery/Thriller, Memoir, SF

Then it started to rain, so she went inside and made some coffee and did what she had never done in her life: tried the newspaper crossword. “What a stupid exercise,” said her dæmon after five minutes. “Words belong in contexts, not pegged out like biological specimens.”

— Philip Pullman, La Belle Sauvage

la belle sauvageLa Belle Sauvage (The Book of Dust #1)
by Philip Pullman

I devoured Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” trilogy several years ago, enrapt from beginning to end. I hadn’t realized, before that experience, how rich “young adult” fiction could be. Afterward I sought out good YA fiction and science fiction, finding authors and series to love, but all this time what I’ve really been waiting for is more of the world and characters Philip Pullman invented in his original trilogy.

It’s been worth the wait. It all came back, from the first page on: dæmons, alethiometers, Gyptians, Oxford, the witches of the North … and then a reference to Lyra, then Lord Asriel, and then, chillingly, Mrs. Coulter. To my delight I realized “La Belle Sauvage” is a prequel to “The Golden Compass,” with a child protagonist as fascinating and believable as Lyra Belacqua in the earlier works (Lyra, as mentioned, is here too, this time as an infant, along with her infant dæmon Pantalaimon).

The protagonist, this time around, is the 11-year-old son of a couple who run an inn just upriver from Oxford. His name is Malcolm Polstead, and his dæmon is Asta. The adventure starts in the first chapter, when mysterious guests ask Malcolm about the priory across the river and the nuns who live there. It soon becomes known that the nuns have taken in a baby. The baby is Lyra, and sinister forces are determined to snatch her. As in the “Golden Compass” books, the sinister forces are sent forth to do their dirty work by the Magisterium, aka “The Church.” Saving Lyra from the Magisterium’s clutches falls to Malcolm, and good lord it’s a hair-raising tale.

I was literally breathless when I finished the book. How long has it been since I’ve read anything this gripping and engaging? A while, for sure. Oh yes, I read lots of thrillers, and they all have gripping plots, but I always know some bozo like me wrote the book. With Pullman, I forget about the bozo behind the book. When Malcolm’s excited, I’m excited. When he’s frightened nearly out of his wits, so am I. This is how it was when I first discovered my love of reading as a child, when a good book could sweep me off my feet. That Pullman can do that to me as an adult is … well, it’s genius, is what it is.

My understanding is that Philip Pullman actually started working on what became “La Belle Sauvage” before writing the “Golden Compass” trilogy in the early 2000s. He returned to “La Belle Sauvage” two or three years ago, and it’s meant to be the first installment of a new trilogy, “The Book of Dust.” There’s no publication date for the next two books, but in the afterword to “La Belle Sauvage” Pullman says the next one will jump ahead two decades, and feature Lyra in her 20s.

I cannot wait, but I must.

by Lauren Beukes

Apart from initially downloading a Swedish-language version of “Moxyland” to my Nook, then having to go through the thrash of correcting my mistake with B&N, this book was a pleasure to read.

I had earlier read Beukes’ “Broken Monsters,” a police procedural with supernatural plot elements set in the American city of Detroit, and compared her favorably to the writer Mo Hayder. There’s nothing of the supernatural in “Moxyland.” Instead there is an oppressive regime against which young people resist and rebel, using technology, and I am reminded of William Gibson.

“Moxyland,” Beukes’ debut novel, is set in South Africa, Beukes’ own country. Its young characters try to survive in, work around, protest, and even topple the repressive corporate security state SA has become. Set in the near future, it’s full of fascinating (and chilling) cyber extrapolation. One example: cell phones the police can remotely “defuse” (think taser) you with, or, perhaps worse, disconnect from the grid, rendering you an unperson, unable to communicate, use transportation, make social or commercial transactions, even access your own apartment.

Some reviewers see racial apartheid in Beukes’ near-future SA, I did not. Her characters, black and white, are socially & personally connected; the repression is all-encompassing, directed at citizens of all races. The apartheid I see in “Moxyland” is between the privileged–those who live relatively cushy lives after signing on to work for life with corporations–and everyone else.

The main characters, as mentioned, are connected, but I had a hard time figuring out how and as I read on it wasn’t getting any clearer. Halfway through, I took a short break to read some reviews of “Moxyland.” In addition to clearing things up, it enhanced my enjoyment of the rest of the novel. I do not think this would have happened with a Gibson novel: he’s somewhat better at crossing Ts and dotting Is for dummy readers.

Still, a very impressive novel, and I will certainly read more by Lauren Beukes.

thud ridgeThud Ridge: F-105 Thunderchief Missions over Vietnam
by Jack Broughton

I remember reading “Thud Ridge” in 1974 as I was going through USAF pilot training, trying to get a feel for what flying fighters in combat was like, since I so badly wanted to become a fighter pilot myself. At the time, the very tail end of the air war in Vietnam, single-seat fighter pilots were the manliest men in the business, and that’s the kind of pilot we all wanted to be. A few of us made it.

Today I volunteer at an air museum. I saw a copy of “Thud Ridge” on the docent library shelf and took it home to re-read. Forty-plus years hasn’t changed my appreciation of the book much. I was a little less patient with Jack Broughton’s complaints about the restrictive rules of engagement that exposed American aircrews to needless danger, but only because he was repetitious. The complaints are entirely valid; Broughton and other warriors who spoke out against the restrictions were right, and I am not at all convinced, after a 24-year career flying single-seat fighters myself, that things have changed all that much since Vietnam.

I read the book then for its descriptions of aerial combat; these remain the most gripping parts of Broughton’s tale. Again, little has changed, and with experience I can now fully appreciate just how dead-on Broughton was. And macho? Good lord. Yankee air pirates and steely-eyed killers. If you ain’t a fighter pilot you ain’t shit. That’s what you read this book for and that’s what you get. I will never not admire anyone who flew the F-105 in combat.

At one point Broughton mentions singing “Mary Anne Burns, Queen of All the Acrobats” with other pilots in a squadron bar and I haven’t been able to get that great old song out of my head since. Excuse me while, re-energized, I go back to work on my memoir!

tool of warTool of War (Ship Breaker #3)
by Paolo Bacigalupi

I’ve been waiting for a follow-on to Bacigalupi’s earlier YA novels “Ship Breaker” and “The Drowned Cities,” and it’s finally here. I devoured it in two days and wish there was more, but at least the stage is now set for a fourth installment, so I’ll be patient.

The principle characters of the earlier novels, children and teenagers of a near-future world profoundly changed by pollution and climate change, ruled by warlords and corporations which rose with the fall of nation-states, populate “Tool of War,” which is set a few years on, the children now teenagers, the teens young adults. They are survivors, now wiser in the ways of war, power, and corporate politics.

The main character in this book (also present in the earlier novels, though in smaller roles) is an augment, a human with spliced tiger and hyena genes, incubated in a tube and raised in a creche, trained in warfare and obedience. He is the Tool of the title, now breaking the chains of genetic subservience and striking out on his own, seeing himself as new kind of human, no longer a servant.

Here’s a relevant paragraph from my review of “Ship Breaker”:

“‘Ship Breaker’ is killer good: a young adult adventure set in a post-environmental disaster, post-nation/state world where powerful clans control global trade conducted by sailing ships and dirigibles, and society is divided into two classes: the very rich and the very poor. It’s a Margaret Atwood Oryx & Crake scenario on steroids, and like Atwood, Paolo Bacigalupi has rich narrative and descriptive powers: you can see the world of the shipbreakers on their oil-stained beach, you can feel the rust and sharp edges on the steel plates the breakers pry off their beached oil tankers, you can hear the hammer blows and the pop of forced rivets, you can smell the fuel oil and sweat. There’s nothing theoretical about Bacigalupi’s writing, nothing that requires page after page of dry explanation; his fictional world is immediate and gripping, fully revealed through the context of a kick-ass story, all but real.”

Here’s another relevant paragraph, from my review of “The Drowned Cities”:

“I really should list this as a banned book and beat the rush, because when the helicopter parents who have challenged ‘Lord of the Flies’ and ‘The Hunger Games’ see the darkness here, they will surely put “The Drowned Cities” on their target list.

Relevant how? Because some of what impressed me so in the earlier novels is missing or muted in this one. The lives of the young protagonists are less gritty and feral. The physical world is less threatening and immediate, though there are intriguing elements, as in the islands and arcologies of Seascape, the former Boston. The exciting feeling of reading something those who want to limit our knowledge and control our thoughts might try to ban or burn is absent as well. It’s as if Bacigalupi has damped the fire that burned in the previous novels … only a little, mind you, but it’s noticeable.

Hella good still, some of the best YA science fiction around, and I’ll be there for Ship Breaker #4.

p.s. Many of the ideas and concepts explored in the Ship Breaker series come from Bacigalupi’s masterful adult science fiction novel “The Windup Girl.” Another of his adult novels, “The Water Knife,” inspires parts of the future world revealed in “Tool of War.” Any fan of Bacigalupi’s YA fiction should read his adult fiction as well.

the lost onesThe Lost Ones (Quinn Colson #2)
by Ace Atkins

I’m reading Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels in order, and now that I’m two books in with Ace Atkins’ Quinn Colson, I may as well read these in order too.

Lee Child and Ace Atkins write character-driven suspense thrillers featuring strong men with military backgrounds. Each new Lee Child novel puts Jack Reacher in a new location with new bad guys. Ace Atkins is going for something different, as far as I can tell from reading the first two Quinn Colson novels: Quinn is the sheriff of Jericho, Mississippi, and the supporting characters are people we got to know in previous novels. Quinn Colson is a little less hard-headed and a little more emotional than Jack Reacher. Otherwise the similarities in these two characters should guarantee that a fan of one will enjoy reading about the other.

I enjoyed “The Lost Ones,” particularly in that it finishes a story introduced in the first novel, a childhood memory of running away and living off the land in the forests of northern Mississippi. We learn here what really happened, and there’s significant emotional growth, not only in Quinn, but in his sister Caddy, who was rather a villain in the first novel.

Good escapist reading with plenty of action and memorable characters. I plan to stick with Quinn Colson.

gone tomorrowGone Tomorrow (Jack Reacher #13)
by Lee Child

Still plugging away at the Jack Reacher series and have now finished the 13th installment.

This one takes place in New York City, and Lee Child offers so many geographical details I was tempted to call up a street map of Manhattan on my iPad so I could trace Reacher’s wanderings around the 14th and 17th precincts and get a feel for directions and distances between the subway stations, parks, and hotels where the action takes place.

Reacher is riding the subway into the city late one night when he sees a woman fitting the profile of a suicide bomber, one who appears close to detonating herself. Which doesn’t make sense, because it’s the middle of the night and there are only five other passengers on the car. He confronts her and she kills herself with a pistol, pulling Reacher into a complex conspiracy, which, as always, he reasons out on his own and thwarts at the last bleeding minute. Yeah, Jack Reacher novels follow a formula, but they’re almost always good reads.

“Gone Tomorrow” is not the best Jack Reacher novel, but it is far above some others. Lee Child sometimes writes the novels in the first person, sometimes in the third person. This one is first person, so we’re in Reacher’s head all the way through. I think the first person novels are somewhat limited, because we never back away for a larger view of what’s going on. It’s a good thing Reacher is Sherlock Holmes smart and willing to share his thinking with the reader.

My Kindle doesn’t give page numbers, but rather indicates % read. I was past the 75% mark before Reacher had sex with the woman working the case with him, in fact the only woman he has sex with in the entire novel, and only the one time. That was notable, and now I have to read the rest to see if there’s one where he remains celibate.


Tuesday Bag o’ Bluetooth

bag of blue teethMy son bought a wireless Bluetooth comm system for his motorcycle helmet and I thought that might be a dandy thing to have too, so I cashed in my Christmas Amazon gift cards on one. My friend Ed helped me install it, but the first time I turned it on there were indications of trouble. Sound came from the left earpiece but not the right, and there was no feedback from the mic. It paired with my cell phone but wouldn’t make or receive calls. The intercom function, with which my son and I should have been able to talk to each other, helmet to helmet, didn’t work. I was able to listen to music on Pandora while paired to the cell phone, and FM radio too, but only through one ear.

I wondered if Ed and I had forgotten to connect a wire, so this morning I took the helmet apart, uninstalled the unit, and laid it out on my desk. I checked all the connections, which were solid. I went through the menus while listening to first one and then the other earpiece. Only the left one worked. The mic was definitely dead.

Whew, it wasn’t me!

Amazon is pretty great about returns and refunds. They approved the return and sent me the shipping labels. I boxed it up again (never throw original packaging away for at least a year, kids) and have it ready to take to the UPS drop-off. I don’t want a replacement. I’d rather take the refund and buy a helmet system locally, where I can check it out in the store first and get some instruction in how to use it. Huh, I guess there are exceptions to my all-Amazon-all-the-time policy after all.

It could be … I won’t deny the possibility … that as with Snapchat, I’m simply too old for Bluetooth. I bought a Bluetooth selfie stick a while back and never could get it to work. We’ll see. In the meantime, I’m becoming quite proficient in taking apart and reassembling the inner pads and linings of Arai full-face motorcycle helmets.

Chili is on the menu tonight, and I’m cooking. It’s good to be home.


Air-Minded: Flying Chainsaws (Updated)

This is an older Air-Minded post from April 2014, updated in January 2018 with new photos and descriptions of experimental McCulloch aviation engines. —Paul Woodford

McCulloch: it’s not the first name to spring to mind when you think of aviation, but it’s not a name you should ignore, either.

The McCulloch Motors Corporation was founded in 1943 to make small two-stroke gasoline engines. Initially known for outboard boat motors, today McCulloch makes engines used to power lawn and garden equipment. During the company’s first three decades, McCulloch also made small aviation engines, most of them used to power military target drones. Their aviation engines, like their outboard motors, were two-stroke designs and came in horizontally-opposed two-, four-, and six-cylinder configurations. A number of these reliable little engines have been repurposed to power manned experimental aircraft. Here’s one I photographed at the Pima Air & Space Museum today:


McCulloch TC6150 target drone engine, circa 1965, Pima Air & Space Museum (photo: Paul Woodford)

From 1948 until the early 1970s, McCulloch had a subsidiary company, the McCulloch Aircraft Corporation, which produced two manned aircraft: the MC-4 helicopter and the J-2 autogyro.

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McCulloch HUM-1 (proposed Navy version of the MC-4), 1949 (photo: Paul Woodford)

Only a small number of MC-4s were ever built. The one in the photo was one of the first to fly, a military variant called the HUM-1, which McCulloch hoped to sell to the US Navy. A similar model, the YH-30, was marketed to the US Army. In the end, neither service ordered any, and the few MC-4s built were sold on the civilian market. I don’t think any are still flying today, but it you’d like to see one in action, scan your TV guide for late-night science fiction movies from the 1950s: there’s an MC-4 in the 1954 movie Gog.

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McCulloch Super J-2 Autogyro, produced from 1969-1972 (photo: Paul Woodford)

McCulloch’s J-2 Autogyro had a larger production run, with more than 80 built. The one in our museum’s collection is a Super J-2 with a three-bladed controllable-pitch propeller. A clutch allowed the helicopter rotor to be spun up by the engine for takeoff, typically a short roll of 25 to 200 feet. Once in flight the helicopter rotor was uncoupled from the engine to rotate freely and act as the aircraft’s wing, with all the propulsion coming from the pusher propeller. The J-2 could fly for slightly more than two hours at about 85 mph, and looks like it would be a lot of fun. The J-2 was one of the few production (as opposed to experimental) autogyros to achieve success in American aviation, and several are still flying today.

In addition to the exhibits I’ve photoblogged above, PASM has several target drones with McCulloch engines, plus two experimental engines that never went into production. The first (left, below) is a five-cylinder two-stroke radial developed in the 1960s as a general aviation powerplant. The second (right, below) is a four-cylinder diesel radial developed in the 1970s for evaluation by NASA.

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McCulloch TSIR-5190 2-stroke

McCulloch experimental 4-cylinder diesel radial

McCulloch Radial Diesel Prototype

Earlier today I was scratching my head, wondering why our museum has such a large collection of McCulloch aircraft and engines, but a few minutes ago, while looking up information on the company, I learned that McCulloch moved its headquarters to Tucson, Arizona in 1988. I don’t know that our McCulloch exhibits were donated by the corporation, but let’s hear it for corporate donors anyway!


Refreshed & Reinvigorated (Mini-Gypsy Run 2018)

I-8 rest stop n/Gila Bend AZ, day #4

Layered up for the cold near Gila Bend AZ

So I get home from a four-day motorcycle ride yesterday and no one’s home but the dogs, who are delighted to see me (as am I to see them). I have a quick errand to do, so I take Mr. B with me in the truck. Bicyclists ride up and down Catalina Highway all the time, us included. At the corner two miles south of our house, riders returning from Mount Lemon have to turn left across five lanes to get back into the shopping center lot where they park their cars. Local drivers know to slow for them. So when a solo bicyclist started to turn left up ahead, I slowed down. Rather than riding into the center turn lane, though, he suddenly stopped in my lane and I had to do a panic stop to avoid hitting him from behind. If it hadn’t been for anti-lock brakes I would have. Poor Mr. B was pressed up against the dashboard. The guy on the bike must have heard death approaching from six o’clock, but he never even glanced back. I can’t imagine why he stopped right in the middle of a traffic lane when the left turn lane he was going for was right there and open. It was almost as if he wanted to be hit. I’m glad I didn’t hit him, but I wish he’d have given the least little hint he knew how close he came to a trip to the emergency room.

So, anyway.

Death Valley CA, day #2

Down into the Valley of Death behind Steve & Ed

The past four days I’ve been riding in Arizona, Southern California, and Nevada with my friend and motorcycle maintenance guru Ed and his brother-in-law Steve, the same crew I rode with in November 2015. That run, like the one just finished, included a ride through Death Valley, but the route we took was different. On that trip we overnighted in Calexico, Lone Pine, and Lake Havasu; this time the points of our triangle were Palm Desert, Beatty, and Yuma.

Death Valley CA, day #2

You know you’re in DV when you see this sign

My son Gregory rode up to meet us in Beatty on day two, then rode south with us on day three to a tiny desert airstrip and casino 70 miles past Las Vegas on Highway 95 (wouldn’t you know it’s called Cal-Nev-Ari?) before peeling off and heading back to Vegas and work. It was really great to hook up with him, and I think Ed and Steve enjoyed talking with him.

Cal-Nev-Ari NV, day #3

Greg, Ed, me, & Steve being photobombed by a truck @ Cal-Nev-Ari

That’s the four of us, and if you click to see the original on Flickr you might be able to make out the Stay Off the Runway sign in the background (if you want to see them, there are more pix in a Flickr album titled Gypsy Tour January 2018).

When Gregory was a boy, I wondered what kind of man he’d grow up to be. I sure like the man he’s become. His career is quite different from mine, and he has gifts I never had, and to see him talking about work and Las Vegas and his family with Ed and Steve, I see not just my son but a man among men, and I am so proud.

Beatty NV, day #2

Greg disrupting the line of Goldwings with his BMW

So, anyway.

I have to include this, my favorite photo of the whole trip, taken on my way to meet Ed & Steve just before sunrise on the first day.

Sunrise, day #1

Sunrise over the Rincons in Tucson

I will add for the record that before the trip Ed and I installed a Bluetooth headset and intercom system in my helmet. I couldn’t get it to work, but knowing Greg had a similar system in his helmet, figured that with his help I’d crack the code when we met in Beatty. Despite our best efforts, that didn’t happen. I’m now thinking I have a defective unit and am sending it back to Amazon. That was the only motorcycle-related glitch of the whole ride, if you don’t count the side panel that blew off at 85 mph on the last day, gone and lost forever. Would you believe the same panel blew off on the November 2015 trip? And again on a ride in November 2016? I’m starting to consider the cost of replacing the damn things an annual good times toll.

It was good times this trip, but I confess these long days in the saddle … the third day, Beatty to Yuma, was a solid eight hours … are getting harder on my legs, which stiffen up quicker than they used to. Still, I’m refreshed and reinvigorated; at the same time happy to be home again with Donna and the doggies.


Post the First

As in first post of the new year. Hooray!

If I have resolutions—and I’m not saying I do—one would be to finish writing the memoir I started last year. Others would be to keep posting to my weblogs, perhaps setting up a separate blog for Air-Minded posts, while continuing to send out Paulgram newsletters. Perhaps I’ll try to climb out of the lowest common denominator sinkhole we call Facebook. That last one feels like a dieting resolution, one I know will be nearly impossible to keep.


Our daughter was over New Year’s Eve, taking photos of herself in party attire (in lieu of actually going to any parties). I do believe she intended to sneak off with my selfie stick, but I thwarted her nefarious plan by hiding it. Stick in hand, I took my first selfie of 2018 at the air museum on New Year’s Day. The aircraft behind me is a Balair C-97. Balair, a Swiss airline, was a major participant in the Biafran airlift of 1967-1970, the second largest humanitarian relief airlift operation after the Berlin airlift of 1948-1949. Balair bought old USAF C-97 freighters, hired former USAF crews to fly them, and painted the aircraft in the colors of the International Red Cross. Which did not stop Nigerian Air Force fighter pilots in the air, nor Nigerian Army gunners on the ground, from trying to shoot them down. Click the link; it’s a hell of a story, and that old plane is a piece of history.

I’m starting 2018 with a four-day motorcycle ride. My friend Ed and I leave tomorrow for Palm Desert. Thursday we’re riding north through Death Valley to Beatty. My son Gregory plans to ride his BMW up from Vegas and meet us there. Friday we head south: Gregory will peel off in Vegas and get back to work; Ed and I will continue to Yuma and a night in the historic Coronado Hotel. Saturday it’s home to Tucson.

I installed a Bluetooth rig in my full-face motorcycle helmet and am hoping Gregory can show me how to work it when we meet up in Beatty. But who knows? Maybe I’ll have it figured out by the time Ed and I get there.

Today I’ll get the Goldwing sorted out and ready for the trip, then make a run to the credit union for cash. I’m not taking the big camera on this run, just my iPhone and GoPro. And what’s left of our Ibuprofen so my knees don’t ache too much.

When my sister Sue died I made a commitment to attend a reunion with my other sisters in Missouri this October. We’re planning to drive there and back, mainly because airline travel is so awful. That’s the only big event on our schedule for 2018.

That, and doing what I can to take Congress away from the Republicans. #Resist.

Happy New Year, everyone!